I am amassing an embarrassingly abundant collection of unfinished, half started blog posts. I keep these posts filed away for weekend writing, but now that spring is blossoming all over Taipei my pallid, vitamin D deficient body has insisted I soak up the sunshine. To sit inside and type away on the computer would be against everything that seems right and so lately my camera and I have been venturing out on romantic dates (sometimes David comes too).
The other day, I was sitting on a bench at my local park absorbing the world around me. To my left, I could see a man over by a tree. He looked about 75 if I had to guess, but his body seemed barely a day passed 30. I watched as he karate chopped the tree for a good 10 minutes. I am watching and I am waiting for blood to start trickling down his arms but it is clear that he knows exactly what he is doing. I feel enchanted by his elegance, strength and his Jackie Chan-esque moves. His routine continues. My jaw drops and eyes bug when I see him gracefully extend his leg higher that I am tall and sweep it over and around the tree trunk with a follow through that intentionally carries his body a full 360 degrees. I have two thoughts. The first – “Wow, I should really stretch more.” The second – “Life in Taipei is really quite different.”
To my right, a group of ladies were performing a ballroom dance routine. Across the park, I could make out 50 or so people practicing qigong. As I debate whether or not to join in, a grandpa carrying his little granddaughter cut across my view. They both shoot me a grin and Grandpa says to me “再見 /Zài Jiàn (Goodbye),” as his little granddaughter blows me a kiss and waves goodbye. Life doesn’t get more adorable than that, I thought, as my body melted into a puddle of gooey cuteness. Yes indeed, this was a people watching kind of day.
Our neighborhood park is a constant buzz of activity despite the uncooperative weather that often plagues this city, and on nice days it is a mecca. People, tons of people, gather here. Qigong, taichi, dancing, karaoke, chess, mahjong, massage, games, the park has it all. Stationary bikes, ellipticals, row machines, and more can also be found at the park. It is totally awesome!
By my observation, the parks here seem to be less about sprawling green-space and more about serving the neighborhood as a hub of activities. So here is what’s been going on at Ren’Ai park, Yonghe District, New Taipei city.
But the people watching is mostly why I hang out at the park. People gather for so many different reasons.
AND last but not least…
Last Saturday morning I got up early and walked over to the park. As I turned the corner that led to the library entrance my mouth let out a gasp and I clenched my chest as my heart skipped a beat. Had I turned a corner and stepped into some alternate reality? I had not, and before me stood hundreds of kids lined up, first thing in the morning waiting for the library to open. My gosh, of all the things for a teenager to be in line for!
When Dave and I first started learning Mandarin we made a couple trips over to the library (located in the middle of the park) to do some studying. To our amazement, studying at the library is no easy task as oftentimes there isn’t a seat in the house. The weekends are the craziest – kids are sprawled out across the floors of this 5 story building surrounded by tornadoes of geometry, physics or whatever else there is to study. These students lined up outside knew something that Dave and I didn’t – if you wanted a seat, you had to come early. Initially, my brain hurt for those kids but then I realized that while yes, they appear to be in a perpetual state of cramming, they are doing so in a social way that I have never experienced. It seems like a productive, and maybe even half fun way to spend time with your friends. Admittedly, I still have to fight hard against the urge to walk over, shake a couple of them and yell “Go outside and do something bad!”
That morning I realized that our mid afternoon attempts to study for a couple of hours seemed ridiculously lazy in comparison to all these hard working kids. I have to wonder if, embarrassingly, in that moment Dave and I typified why America is falling behind many Asian countries academically. I will take some time to ponder this notion and expand on that thought at some later date. For now, I have officially finished my first term (3 months) of Chinese language school. What does that mean? It means that I too have spent countless hours studying away in the library (though I chose the one in my school for its numerous seating options); it means I have a week vacation (yesssss!); it means that I can finally catch up on my unfinished blog posts and lastly, it means that right now I am off on another date with my camera!