Rise and Shine, It’s Tai Chi Time!
September 11, 2014
I have been quiet on the web for a little over a month as I continued preparations to leave the country. And now, finally, after thirty months of waiting, I am in Shanghai.
The first week of my experience has been more akin to a “vacation abroad”—dinner in the Pearl Tower, tours of river towns, and more photo opportunities than I would have conceived possible. All these things make great pictures, but I want to share my most fun series of observations from this week: and they all come from the same place.
On the west end of Hanzhong Road, nestled between hubs of modest skyscrapers, is a Tai Chi park. Tai Chi is a slow form of martial arts that many Chinese practice as a form of light exercise; it’s the yoga of China. It took me three mornings to capture even a sketch of this one little park, but it was worth getting up at 5:45 AM.
The park holds people from all walks of Chinese life. Retirees in jumpsuits are doing their first stretches. Scooters with fresh produce set up shop on the edge of the park. Chatty mothers stroll by, their hands full of produce from the scooter men. Business-class people power walk through the park, unperturbed by neither the utility men weaving through the paths to attend to various duties nor the local security officers who silently survey the surroundings.
Most dogs do not wear leashes. They mosey lazily behind their owners, occasionally pausing to observe the strange foreigner sitting on a bench. They aren’t the only ones that stare. Babies turn their heads. Retirees invade personal space for a better look. The occasional chatty mother slows down just to prolong the spectacle, her school-age children staring with wide brown eyes. Clearly no one is used to a foreigner invading their park armed to the teeth with pens, paper, and a Sony camera.
I was lucky enough to get approached on my first day in the park. The retiree was probably 70 years old, wearing loose fitting clothing typical of Tai Chi practitioners. The man wanted nothing more than to know who I was, what I was doing in Shanghai, and how old I was. He laughed at my Chinese [but not unkindly], and I laughed at the fact that I sounded like a 7 year old. And then he left. People are like that in the park. They are perfectly at peace to strike up a conversation with a foreigner, and then leave just as quickly as they came.
This experience was important for me because of one big reason—for the first time in my trip, I transcended tourist status. I was no longer part of a larger group visiting well-known sites. I was alone, surrounded by Chinese, and I was getting what I came to China for; this experience was my first step in immersion.
My life in China will ramp up in the coming days as I transition into my long-term apartment and begin classes. It is my hope that my immersion experience will continue to ramp up as well. It’s true, my limited Chinese makes me sound like a 7 year old. But if my memory serves correctly, I was a pretty precocious 7 year old. So let’s do this, and find out how deep this oriental rabbit hole goes.
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