By Sheena Rubino
At 6:30 a.m. in the center of Binhe Park in Baoding, China, about 25 retired women dance to Chinese music from the 1960’s and 1970’s with red, yellow and pink fans that flutter around like butterflies.
Not far away in the same park, a middle-aged man soulfully sings with great skill.
These people are not alone. Many retired people across China turn to outdoor parks. They do so to escape cramped apartments in dense cities, to get closer to nature and to stay physically fit.
Binhe, like many urban parks in China, has an outdoor gym, which looks more like a playground, and badminton nets. There are also groups playing Jian Zi, a game similar to hackie sack, only the sacks are much more colorful with feathers attached. And then scattered about the park, in gardens and among trees, are many people practicing Tai Chi and Qi Gong. The Chinese believe both of these ancient practices have many benefits, including improving digestion, muscle strength and balance.
In the early morning, Binhe, like most of China’s many parks, is filled with retired people, who follow the ancient Chinese adage: Early to bed, early to rise leads to good health. Many spend hours every morning working out in parks.
One such person is Liu, 64, who comes to the park every morning with his wife since he retired at 60. “I’m excited to come to the gym everyday and get my day started.” Liu said he enjoys his workout because it gives him something to look forward to and there is not much of that after retirement.
The park helps build a sense of community in the city. Locals say it is a good way to make friends. Wang Jianping, a computer science teacher at Hebei University, has been coming to the park to play batmitten for eight years. He plays for 2 hours everyday before work.
Jianping said he is also a member of a singing group that practices in another park not far from Binhe. “There is a good relationship among the group,” Jianping said. “One of the member’s daughter is getting married and the group will be singing at her wedding.”
The singing group consists of 89 members. They practice every morning from 8 – 9:30. “The group is taught by a professional singing teacher who volunteers his time,” Jianping said. “Anyone is free to join us.”