Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Park Places

A day spent wandering around Beihai Gongyuan, one of the largest parks in the city, reveals a lot about the heart of old Beijing. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you will come across...

Ballroom dancers. As the music blares from a speaker, graceful couples decked out in fancy clothes perform well-choreographed routines. Alongside these Fred and Ginger's are pairs and singles who dance about as well as...well, me. Despite these, uh, limitations, these dancers don't hesitate to do their thing, in front of large roving crowds of onlookers.

Revolutionary anthems. Led by an enthusiastic conductor, the band strikes up decades-old favorites like "Wo ai Beijing Tian'anmen" (a particularly catchy tune). There is no shortage of willing crooners when it comes to songs like this. I know I certainly got caught up in the moment.

Storytelling. Do you know an old Chinese story? I sure don't, but I now want to learn. This would give me the opportunity to pick up the microphone and join the kids to old timers who take turns speaking, listening, and applauding one another's efforts.

Water calligraphy. This is the granddaddy of them all, at least for us. All you need is a supply of water and a really, really long sponge brush. The kids picked up their brushes early in the day, which gave them plenty of time to "perform" in front of admiring crowds. As they would be the first (and second) to tell you, their Chinese calligraphy is pretty basic. "I am a Beijinger." "Peking University." That sort of stuff. But, hey, who ever saw two waiguoren kids laying down some mean Chinese calligraphy and contributing in their own small way to the public performance scene that defines park life here in Beijing?

~Steve

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