We gazed over the railing at the increasingly large crowd and I silently thanked God we took the back way. I never thought panting up the steep side of Longevity “Hill” would save me so much heartache. The palace walls below us were simply stunning. Although it was another 90-degree day, Kunming lake filled with paddle boats brought a cool, gentle breeze. The Summer Palace or 颐和园 is said to be built in 1153 during the Jin dynasty. However, the Palace’s most notorious (I don’t use that word lightly) resident was Empress Dowager Cixi. Empress Cixi rebuilt the palace to celebrate her 60th birthday allegedly using funds intended for the Navy. Some believe this and many of her other practices (including placing her Emperor nephew on house arrest in the palace) are to blame for the end of the Qing Dynasty. Despite the corruption used to build it, the Summer Palace and its connecting park was a great start to my “tourist” agenda here in Beijing.
Since my visit to the Palace, I have also visited Tiananmen Square, the Qianmen Hutongs, Beihai and Houhai Park, and an amazing tea market! (I was told that it is possible to become “tea drunk” and I am sure I experienced it). However, I don’t want to use this post to spoil the attractions that everyone should come to Beijing to see. (Feel free to check out my photos though!) Instead, I want to post about the unique thing I noticed while at the Summer Palace. Something you cannot miss no matter where you are in China: the active elderly generation.
I mentioned before, a fellow intern (Ruth) and I took the back way to reach the top of the Summer Palace. I was quite relieved to do this when I noticed the sheer number of stairs that awaited us on our walk down. About 4 to 5 flights of steps is enough to leave even the fittest huffing and puffing. However, there were so many elderly men and women climbing the stairs that I almost felt ashamed. Whether they walked with their cane or were independent with bent backs, the older population of China can be seen on any terrain.
There is certainly a workout culture deeply seeded in the Beijing daily lifestyle. Every Friday at Zhicheng we can choose to work until the end of the workday or leave early at 3:30 for physical activity. This week we played badminton at the company gym (a room with a badminton net and some weights on the first floor). It was my first time playing badminton but I really enjoyed the sport. Although I am still learning technique I was quickly dubbed 小威 (Serena Williams) for my strong swings and competitive spirit.
In previous weeks, Ruth and I walked to a nearby park for a few laps. The park is only 1元 to enter but is certainly worth it, if not more. In the park, you can easily find children from the on-site kindergarten running the grounds or a group of elders singing karaoke. There is a section of the park made for mahjong and Chinese checkers, as well as an area with ping pong tables or people playing hacky sack.
My favorite part of the park is the adult playground. After circling the park a few times, we always go to the playground to stretch out our legs. The adult playground is built with equipment resembling rowing machines, elliptical bikes , and benches for sit-ups. Most of the equipment is covered in spiky material used to stimulate your pressure points. Ironically, I don’t believe anyone knows how to properly use most of the equipment. There are no instructions and I’ve seen people use one machine in five different and sometimes strange ways. However, I think making up your exercise routine makes the playground even more fun. As a collectivist country, Chinese grandparents watch their grandchildren while their parents are at work. The adult playground is a great area where the older and younger communities unite. Having older parents, myself, I think the adult playground is just another way to keep the elderly of China active and independent. It is certainly something more American developers should consider as we learn to deal with our growing elderly population as well.
Aside from adult playgrounds and mountain climbing, I have also observed the active elderly culture in groups of 阿姨s dancing in front of the mall. I am not sure where they practice or who choreographs it, but over 20-30 ladies gather on the mall plaza and dance in a coordinated fashion as part of a weekly workout. Seeing these examples of workout culture embedded in the everyday lifestyles of Beijingers makes me consider my own workout routine (or lack thereof). Normally, I focus on being so productive mentally that by the time I get home, I am physically exhausted and only want to eat and watch Netflix. The beauty of seeing elderly people exercise and leaving early on Fridays is understanding that being physically active is just as valuable as being intellectually active. Taking time from your busy schedule to climb a mountain or work out at the adult playground with friends is just as important as sitting at your desk and doing work.
Dean Douglas frequently says that law school “is not a sprint, it’s a marathon”. However, this saying should apply to life in general. We tend to live on the philosophy that our youth should be spent working hard so that we can live a comfortable, rich life in our old age. This is not to say I disagree with that philosophy (I am in law school at 24) but based on the way we treat our elderly, consume food, and treat our bodies, reaching that old age of comfort does not seem as viable as it used to be. The key to true productivity and living life to the fullest is understanding that life is a marathon, not a sprint. Why not take the time to travel while you are young? Why not learn another culture or take meaningful study breaks like going on a walk? Beijing is teaching me that we should take time to smell the roses while climbing longevity hill. We should take a moment to be happy and comfortable throughout our lifetime. That is the only way we can live a meaningful life with no regrets.
High of the Week: I had the most amazing jasmine and oolong tea.
Delta of the Week: Let’s maintain an active physical lifestyle!