Here it is the heat of summer in Beijing and I found myself on ice skates last night. I looked down at the ice rolling under my skate blades in the “You Yi Shopping City” mall ice rink last night and I laughed out loud. I was wearing a light shirt and jeans and the sweat was dripping down my back. Ice skating in the summertime? I don’t think this Canadian has ever been skating without mittens on her hands! China, I keep forgetting how inventive you are!
Last night, a group of us went to a local mall to strap on skates and make some circles around the rink. It was a standard ice rink just like the ones back home, but this one was in the middle of a huge shopping mall – one of the largest in Beijing – and it’s not the only ice rink found in a mall in this city. In fact, naïve me thought that only our famous “West Edmonton Mall” in Canada had ever thought of such a crazy idea. Turns out, thanks to a quick chat with my Quebecois friends who came along, that there’s one in a mall in Montreal too. So, I guess it’s not so rare after all . . .
When we arrived, we descended down giant escalators into a wide walkway and saw gallery style railings that looked down and into the ice rink. People leaned over these railings all evening, intermittently watching the skating from above. I did the same for a moment before going down yet another set of escalators into the skating area.
Choosing skates was the first adventure. I don’t use figure skates because I’m more comfortable in hockey skates. When I asked for hockey skates, the overwhelming response was “Are you sure? They’re dangerous!” I assured the staff and my Chinese friend that I was sure and was reluctantly handed the skates without picks on the blades. It seems as though this choice is more rare here in China, especially for a woman. I explained that I thought it was more dangerous for me to have the picks on the ends of the blades because I’m not used to them and they catch the ice and could tip me forward. It all depends on experience, I suppose.
We all sat down and strapped our skates on and I was excited. It’s not every day that I get to go skating and, even though I live one hour from the longest skating rink in the world (Ottawa’s Rideau Canal), I did not make it into Ottawa for a skating day this winter. I love to skate but I had to go to Beijing to find the time!
My skates were laced and done up long before anyone else’s. I took to the ice and took a few loops to gather back my comfort on blades. I love the feeling of ice beneath me. It’s such a powerful sound, too, that slick scrape of skate blades on frozen water. The very pitch of that sound is nostalgic. Then, when I get the rhythm under me, I feel like I’m flying on the ice the way flying sometimes feels in a dream state. It’s as though you’re being carried along and not actually generating the flight, like the way your hand will catch and ride the wind when you dangle it out your car window while driving.
Like surfing the air.
I suddenly realized that I was daydreaming and ignoring my friends then, and so I went back to check in on them to find out why they were taking so long. There were some size confusions with the skates and then lots of switching between hockey skates and figure skates going on. All of my friends that came with me are male, but all but one settled on figure skates in the end.
It’s very common for men to skate with figure skates here. It’s very unusual back home, in my experience, unless they are training to be figure skaters. In fact, in Canada, I’m ashamed to say that as kids we used to differentiate hockey skates and figure skates as boys’ skates and girls’ skates, respectively. I no longer see it this way, of course, knowing that many women (like me) prefer hockey skates and/or play ice sports and many men (of all sexual orientations!) are accomplished figure skaters. Still, I realized last night that these assumptions are still in me when I found myself marvelling at all the boys in figure skates being so beautiful and graceful with their turns and spins while I roughly cut and scraped the ice at top speed, racing between people and wishing I had a hockey stick and a puck to chase.
Stereotypes are meant to be broken.
When I looked up at the posters hanging from the upper railings around the rink, I saw a maple leaf almost immediately. A picture of a local hockey team showed the kids wearing hockey jerseys with various NHL team logos. One of the kids in the front row was sporting a Montreal Canadiens jersey. I definitely felt at home in that moment and quietly complimented the photographer on placing that kid in the front row. Of all the teams to feature, I’d say that was a good choice!
There were many little kids on the ice as well — some who looked no more than four years old — and several were being coached in certain techniques by professional skaters. The center of the ice was being used as training areas as were the corner circles, thus making it necessary to skate a bit slower in order to avoid collision with the little ones. Speed could be increased as it got later, though. By around nine o’clock, the rink was clearing out and we had the last half an hour with lots of free space to mess around and practise tricks and have some races.
I had a great time. It was an unusual outing, for sure, but I enjoyed the exercise and the challenge of trying to remember how to skate backwards in a circle. The skills we learn as kids stay in our limbs, I believe, and I found my body recalling the movements and finding the steadiness bit by bit. I’ll have to go back and keep practising!
When we left, it was closing time at 9:30. Some of my friends spent most of their time off the ice, but everyone tried to skate, at least, and we all put on our shoes again in a good mood.
With the piped in Muzak still ringing in our ears, we watched the rink staff rolling large silver coverings onto the ice not unlike those used in the windshields of cars in the summertime to protect one’s interior from overheating. No zamboni and so I imagine that this technique enables the rink to maintain its frozen state, like a cooler. Still, I wonder how they do smooth the surface again? Perhaps the zamboni comes out in the mornings? I have no idea.
I woke up this morning with sore muscles and a bit of homesickness for Canada. Next year, I’m not going to miss the canal. That’s a promise to myself.
And I’ll be sure not to forget my mittens.