I really enjoyed the article in The Economist‘s Christmas issue on Beijing’s Ritan Park–one of the few pieces of journalism I’ve read that really captures the flavor of daily life in the capital city. I lived near Ritan Park for a few years and frequented it regularly, and though I live near a different park these days, going to parks continues to be an important part of my routine. Here is a sample:
In every country tribes converge on parks at particular times of day. In the West, early-morning dog-walkers are succeeded by lonely buggy-pushing mothers, then lunchtime joggers. After school come running, shouting children, then lounging and smoking teenagers. A Chinese park’s rhythms are different. Dogs are banned. Most runners are gone by 10am (the activity is new enough to China that some jog in work boots and jeans). Teenagers, burdened with homework, are rarely seen during the week.
But Ritan Park has its own tribes, nonetheless. One is the bird-lovers. Every day Mu Xionglu, a former factory worker, comes to “walk the birds and walk myself”, meeting friends in a quiet corner, each with two thrushes shrouded by blue cloths. They unveil small wooden cages and hang them on trees, “to let the birds sing together and feel as if they’re in nature again”. An hour is enough for the birds to let it all out, he says.
You should read the whole thing, as it resists easy summary.