Publish the Word
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Walking in Qingdao     

            by Lynn

The Lord gave the Word and great was the company of those that published it. 
Psalm 68:11

           

 

 

One of the things we do a lot of in Qingdao is walk.  We walk from our apartment to the bus stop or to catch a taxi at the front gate (entrance) of the university.  This is about a ¼ mile walk one way.  We walk to classes and back when they are in session.   For me this is about a ½ mile walk round trip. And I will take this walk at least two times, sometimes more, per day.  

 

Michael, who is teaching at the adjoining campus at Ocean University east of Qingdao University, will walk (or he can take a bus if the weather is bad or he is in a hurry) 2 miles one way.  He may get a bicycle, though our friends here have been advising against it as it is not safe to ride a bicycle on the city streets these days. But he will likely ride through the campuses which adjoin each other without having to get onto a city street. 

 

And, like most people in China, we usually take a walk after dinner in the evening or we take a bus to the sea or a city park to walk there. 

 

Nearly everyone walks a lot in China.  Although now that more and more affluent and middle class Chinese people have private cars, walking for many may have declined.  And it seems to me [through casual observation] this less walking is beginning to show itself in how many in the city (young and old) seem to have grown somewhat in girth.

 

 Three years ago there seemed to be far fewer obese people than now.  Then the obesity seemed to be limited to children whose parents allowed them to eat McDonald’s or KFC, or sometimes in older folks who walked less perhaps due physical problems.  But now people in their early 30s to 50s seem to be gaining weight.  But that issue is for another time.

 

What I want to reflect on here is how there is on our campus, in the city parks and squares and in neighborhoods throughout this city and probably all China, a culture connected to the amount of walking people do here. 

 

If we define culture to be a set of norms, values and kinds of behavior of a people group then I think I can safely say there is a culture of walking that exists here that is unlike that of what we do in the U.S. related to walking or exercise.   

 

On many university campuses in China, though this is changing, many of the employees – professors, staff, workers, retirees and their families, as well as the students live within the compound of the campus — a small village within the larger city.  There are low rise apartment buildings throughout the campus along with dormitories. 

 

The campuses have small shops that offer nearly everything you need to survive—a supermarket which is like the old dry goods store of the past which sells everything from food to clothes to school supplies, also there are several small green grocers, street vendors, bookstores, an eyeglass shop, a small clinic (called a hospital – but it is definitely NOT a hospital by my definition!), coffee shop, bakery, game rooms, tennis and basketball courts, soccer fields, etc.  So there are generally a lot of people around even when classes are not in session. 

 

Every evening, on campus after dinner (between 5:30 and 9:00 to 9:30 p.m.) it seems that nearly everyone is gathered on the center of campus or walking around the campus, even though there are few lights in some areas.

 

 The Qingdao University campus front entrance is graced by a lovely, large water fountain (kind of like the one in front of our MSU Meyer Library).  There are flower gardens there and shrubs all within circular walkways which are crowded with people in the evenings.

 

Television is pretty boring and lacks variety here so there is not that to lure one to stay inside. 

 

Grandparents come to the fountain area with their grandchildren…young mothers and fathers, singles, couples gather at the fountain area.  Little kids ride their bikes, trikes or little battery powered vehicles.  Many older kids will inline skate around the fountain and the walkways.

 

 NOTE: What you need to know is this is NOT a big space…nothing like a boardwalk along a beach in California.  This is a space of probably less than one block in a wide circle around a water fountain and some gardens. 

 

The entire community seems to have come out of their homes at night. Young couples hold hands and gaze into one another’s eyes while right next to them a grandmother or mother calls to a toddler to come closer to them.  Men walk about with their shirts rolled up in front and pat or rub their bare bellies (what’s that about?) as they talk to one another.

 

On one evening recently, as we walked across the area to our apartment, I noticed there was literally no place around the fountain where another person could find a spot to sit or stand!  And everywhere there were little kids of all ages who narrowly missed crashing into each other as they rode their toy vehicles around the space. 

 

In the city parks morning, afternoon or evening (but especially on weekends and holidays) communal walking takes place everywhere.  In the mornings near our apartment exercise begins at first light (around 5:00 a.m. now) until the heat begins to drive people inside…around 8:00 to 9:00 a.m.  Men, women and young children walk about or do exercises in the courtyards of apartment buildings or on the streets nearby.  There is, however, a notable absence of teenagers or younger adults who I assume are either sleeping or heading off to work or school. 

 

Just below our apartment balcony a group of about 7 or 8 older women (late 50s to 70s) who do an interesting exercise. Each is holding a fan shaped paddle object in one hand upon which a small ball (the size of a tennis or handball) is balanced. They do

a kind of tai-chi in unison, moving the paddle with the ball on top around their backs to the side as they turn or kneel or lunge.   

 

It’s quite elegant and graceful looking, though I was happy to see that occasionally one of the ladies would lose a ball and have to chase it down the sidewalk.  This pleased me because I figured if I tried to do this exercise I would get a lot of running in!  Around the library courtyards and the hotel courtyard other groups of men or women do their tai chi exercises in the morning as well, many with swords or scarfs. 

 

Rarely does anyone walk or exercise alone here (unless they are a Westerner). And very few people jog or run either (unless they are a Westerner).  Exercise is softer, gentler but still vigorous.  Sometimes people who walk together may converse, but more often they do not.  The need to talk is not incessant here like it is in America where we seem to feel obligated to fill the silence even if we have nothing worthwhile to say. 

 

Mixed gender couples don’t walk side-by-side here very much either (except young lovers).  More likely pairs of men or pairs of women will walk side-by-side with women often linking their arms as they walk.

 

Older couples usually walk with one person ahead and the other trailing behind at his or her own pace.  If one of the members of the couple is weaker than the other, the stronger one may stop periodically, look back and pause a moment while their partner catches up.   But I haven’t seen anyone yet pause long enough for the other to come up next to them…only a bit closer.  Occasionally, a word or two is exchanged between one another (from a distance – people shout a lot here), but in general they walk silently. 

 

Sometimes in the evenings we walk off campus into one of the nearby neighborhoods — the real China.  As the day draws to a close, the pace is slower, but shops and outdoor markets remain open and bustling.  Neighbors come out to chat, kids run up and down the sidewalks, if they are not impeded by the cars parked on them.  The growing numbers of cars have forced owners to park wherever they can find a few square meters of space.  The sights, smells and sounds blend into a cacophony that threatens to overwhelm one’s senses. 

 

It’s not unusual to see toddlers and babies with their little bottoms exposed as they walk about or are carried in the arms of a parent or grandparent.  Diapers are not used much—even in public places such as restaurants, buses and shopping areas.  I admit this scene often makes me somewhat squeamish, but I’ve never seen anyone holding a child like that who had a soiled dress or shirt. 

 

Little markets selling vegetables, fruits, water or juice, candy and gum are common.  Many also have small kegs of fresh Qingdao beer where you can fill a plastic bag with a half liter or more of fresh beer to take home. 

 

I can’t figure out how they drink the beer from the bag, or why the bags don’t burst as they are being carried.

 

Eggs are also carried this way, unless you have your own egg basket (we do!), from the fresh vegetable and fruit markets.

I admit we thought it was pretty funny the first time we saw someone carrying a large plastic bag filled with a pale yellow liquid!

 

China has been said to be communal or collectivistic, but I find that may not be a completely accurate portrayal.  The communal relationships are limited to one’s family group, or a few close neighbors or friends.  Otherwise, the culture here can be as isolated and individualistic as our own.  You can get a glimpse of how that works on a walk in the evening in a neighborhood, in a city park, or near the sea, or on the university campus.

 

So when you come to China, plan to do a lot of walking—it’s the best way to see this fascinating country!