If you’ve been following along with our adventures in China, it is easy to see that I LOVE the parks here in Shandong province. Right smack in the middle of bustling Zibo, there is a two (long) block by 1 block oasis of green. Huge trees shade virtually the entire park, and a beautiful lake with paddleboats sits right in the middle. This is not why I love the park, though. I love People’s Park because there is always something interesting to see.
Instead of indoor community recreation centers, the People’s Park is an open air rec center. In one small open area, several couples are learning Latin ballroom dance. Oftentimes there are more women than men, so many of the women pair off and dance together. Further down the path, a larger square opens up and traditional ballroom dance is taking place. Along the edges of the square, people play badminton, hacky sack, mah jong and card games. Sometimes, a painter sets up an impromptu studio, painting and selling his pieces on the sidewalk. In yet another open area, very old people line dance with very colorful costumes and fans. I saw it several times- and there was always a donkey costume in the middle of the open area and everyone danced around it. It is seriously inspiring to watch such ancient people move with such balance and grace! And I have no idea what the donkey was for.
As we move past the lake and on to the northern edge of the park, we find grandparents taking their grandchildren for walks and picnics. Karaoke groups take turns wailing songs through the cheap speakers and microphones that are turned up WAY too loud. At the children’s playground, every day at 9:00 a HUGE group of older citizens get together to do gentle exercises. Others practice tai chi nearby. After the exercise period, many stay for choir practice in the shade. Even though it is quite off-key, it seems that everyone is welcome to join. A snack stand sells ice cream, meat sticks and cheap toys. I learned after Landon scraped his knee that they also have band-aids ready for children who need them. The children’s play area has a little play set, some big wooden obstacles to climb, and a dirt pit to dig. Around a little lazy river are a few swings, and a weird maze-house-thing without a roof where the kids love to run and hide. On weekends and holidays, a little pond is open for kids to fish for goldfish with tiny pieces of bread on a string.
Some park days are better than others. We try to go at times that are not super crazy, because Landon tends to get overstimulated if there are too many people. The boys are celebrities everywhere they go, but especially at the park people will come up to them, touch their hair, take a million pictures and try to talk to them in Chinese. Everyone thinks Owen is a girl, so I quickly learned how to say “Nigh-har” to let them know that he is a boy. Although I don’t speak any Chinese, I can usually tell what they are trying to ask by their hand signals. Usually, they guess that Owen is two and Landon is five or six. They are shocked when I say that Owen is one (You-sway) and Landon is four (Sue-sway).
Owen is the master of begging for snacks and innocently taking other kid’s toys. Landon is the master of not-so-innocently taking kid’s toys, although the past week or so he’s done a great job of sharing his toys and leaving other kids alone. In general, people here are much friendlier and happy to share and teach their kids/grand kids to share. In Ningbo, it seemed like no one wanted to share.
People’s Park in downtown Zibo is a great place to people watch, walk, and enjoy the greenery. My kids love it; we went there almost every day to exercise and get out of our hotel room. I loved that here in Zibo, the park was very clean and well-kept compared to other parks I have visited. If I didn’t have the kids with me, I would definitely join in some of the community dancing events. Austin and I agree that this sense of community with everyone coming out to the parks every day is missing in the U.S. What can we do to change that?