Relaxing in China Part 2: A Walk in the Park

The twitter of birds, the fresh scent of flowers, a picnic on the grass — is this your idea of an afternoon in the park? If so, you’d better stay far away from China.

Recently, I discussed the decidedly non-relaxing experience of a Chinese massage. A walk in the park is another activity that might normally be peaceful in a North American setting, but is cacophonous in China.

As you probably know, there are a lot of people in China — well over a billion. This makes the Chinese a bit more used to crowds than those of us who grew up with any sense of elbow room. Add to that an amazing tolerance for noise and a love of anything carnivalesque, and strolling in the park becomes more like a day at Disneyland for the western visitor. Here’s what you can expect on any given sunny day in any given park in China:

%Gallery-94745%Noise. And not just the noise of hundreds of people clamoring for space. The Chinese have a penchant for synchronized dancing, often with props. You’ll find dozens of men and women moving in unison to a screechy boom box, waving fans or flags, or dressed in minority costumes. The dancing wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that several groups cluster near each other, so that the screeching music overlaps until you think you might lose your mind.

Paparazzi. The Chinese love their cameras, and equally love posing for them. If you’re in an area that sees few tourists, you can expect the cameras to focus on you as well. Any moment constitutes a photo op, but some of the more bizarre that I’ve witnessed include people feeding hundreds of gulls bread, snapping a shot just as the bird swoops down to grab its food (see album).

Junk. You’re at a park, not a shopping mall… right? Think again. Parks here are packed with more than just popcorn vendors. Need a key chain? How about a ceramic pig? Stalls selling trinkets and electronics line walking spaces, encouraging you to trade your yuan for more stuff. On the other hand, masseuses in white lab coats will help rub out your tension, and teahouses are surprisingly calm oases in all the chaos.

Other sights. Children in split pants peeing next to the sidewalk. Games of mahjong set up along walkways. Groups of men playing cards, a crowd gathered around them. Buskers playing screechy string instruments. Fake flowers, roasting nuts, beggars writing characters on the ground in chalk, old ladies knitting on park benches… the list goes on.

No matter what you encounter, you won’t be bored or understimulated. Don’t expect a bucolic scene, and instead prepare yourself for an onslaught on your senses, and you should be able to enjoy an afternoon in a Chinese park.

Photo credit: Flickr user damien_farrell