Out and About: Golden Oldies Youth Park

They were once young.

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Tai chi warriors

Guangzhou’s Youth Park is a bit of a contradiction in terms. It was designed by the city’s leaders in honour of the youth. Why then is everyone in this park over 65?

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It’s a nice place to go for a stroll before the day gets too hot. Lush tropical vegetation lines the circular path that leads from the busy South Coast Road around about five acres of flat riverside city land. A bored-looking guard keeps an eye on park activity from the comfort of a battered office chair. He must observe a lot. He recognises everyone but acknowledges no-one.

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A step back to a time of innocence when armchair translators hadn’t quite mastered English

Palm trees line the route that snakes past tai chi warriors, hacky sackers (using the Chinese equivalent of a feather attached to a rubber base), the Old Ladies Book Club (15 white-haired women all reading the same book), middle-aged but very fit men shooting hoop (basketball), a Soviet-era gymnasium – complete with rusty equipment, and a modern outdoor exercise area for people to loosen muscles, joints, and other connective tissue.

I’m starting to recognise a few of the regulars. They’d almost certainly recognise the only caucasian male to regularly visit the park. Uncle Jimmy Liang (my wife’s relative) does shirtless laps of the park at least twice a week and spends the rest of his time sipping tea with his workout buddies inside of the gym. The tea provides fortification for all the sets of ultra heavy bench presses and squats he does with perfect form (I kid you not – and this guy is at least 65).

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Fantastic!

No-one outside of this part of the old Liwan District seems to know about the Youth Park. This secluded spot is deep and mystic, undisclosed and unknown. I might be exaggerating its finer points here. Truth is, it’s a nice little spot to escape from the chaos that is Guangzhou – a city of over 14 million urban dwellers. There are plenty of bigger (and better) parks here but they all have Wikipedia entries. Apparently this place doesn’t.

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Please visit our friendly visitor centre for more information

You certainly wouldn’t want to arrange a family or work-related team building session here. Thirty minutes is quite enough thank you very much. It’s an oasis of unobtrusiveness, a place to enjoy a moment of mindfulness before being whacked about the head (figuratively speaking) by the chaotic nature of Cantonese life.

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The area outside Youth Park

As a 41 year old man I’m at least 20 years younger than everybody else here. In this sense, looking around at all the oldies, the Youth Park lives up to its name – and makes this visitor feel young again!

 

 

 

 

 

Old Man’s River

Keep it together man, just another floor or two to go, no-one is going to get in on our way up. The journey will be short. By all means decorate your door, wet your welcome mat, or throw up all over the threshold but open the floodgates once you get out. Don’t do it here.

These were my thoughts last night.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen in an elevator?

We’ve seen pretty much everything in Chinese lifts except X-rated activity. Thank goodness. People here are still pretty conservative.

I got into the lift on the minus one carpark level and proceeded to the 35th floor. It stopped at one (the ground floor in British Commonwealth countries). In stepped a youngish woman and her father. She smiled and said hello. He slurred something to me and tried to keep his balance. They were going to the 20th floor.

He smelt like a distillery.

There was a little burp, a bubbling sound emanating from deep below. Being vomited on by a sick toddler is one thing, how about by a 70 year old man?  This was becoming a very real possibility.

The lift wall was his pillar, his bastion of support. He head slumped forward. We’re not going to make it. Or are we?

“Have you been out tonight?”  I winced at my own question. It was blindingly obvious they’d been out. They probably thought it was none of my business. It would quickly become my business if I wore his technicoloured treacle.

Yeessssh” came his reply, sounding like a certain New Zealand prime minister of yesteryear.

Time slowed as it does when you’re exceedingly uncomfortable. His daughter looked worried. She seemed to have taken on a maternal role. I wondered if she had experienced this many times before. Certain parts of China seem to produce some of the hardiest drinkers in the world, up there with the Russians and Germans. I’ve also seen people turn pink after a glass or two of beer. Which category did he fall into?  Ironman or jellyfish?  Hooch hound or schlemiel?

He cocked his head, one-eyed, and looked in my direction. This is what a deer must feel like when he realises he’s in the hunter’s sights. The moment before impact, the calm before the storm etc. etc.

The lift stopped and dutiful daughter took him by the arm and led him out of the lift. There was a real urgency to her movement as she fiddled with the door keys. That was a narrow escape. As the lift doors began to close, I heard a sound…

SPLAAAAAAAAT!

A narrow escape indeed.