Saturday, September 20, 2003

Saturday in the park. Saturday morning brought some new revelations. The AC is constantly dripping again, ensuring that my sleep Friday night was tormented by the drop-drop-drop, dribble-dribble-dribble, small gush, drop-drop-drop, etc. of Chinese water torture and having to get up several times to make sure the container I've set up wasn't overflowing.
But I got some exercise and discovered a small, lush, green world in a nearby park that my former student Linda's mother took me to on a "mountain hike." Linda and she showed up at about 9 a.m. When they had invited me previously, I assumed we would be taking a bus outside the city to one of the many large foothills that one can occasionally see through the smog and haze from the 37th floor of the newsroom in the mighty Shenzhen Press Group building.
Turns out the "mountain" is really a large hill in a sprawling park ("Lotus Hill") and only a 15 minute walk from my apartment. Imagine a small Central Park with palm trees and other foliage - lots of mysterious twisting trees dripping with moss and adorned with large waxy leaves - and a lake, a tea house, and paved trails that turn into a series of thigh-quaking steep steps up the hill.
I was dying. While Linda's mom, who does not smoke and jogs regularly and Linda who is a healthy, trim taekwondo student were kicking my ass and kindly pausing for me as we wound up the steps. The heat didn't help. It is still brutally hot and humid here, though slightly less so than in July and August, when I was last here. My shorts were so soaked with sweat that it looked as though I had wet my pants by the time we arrived at the top of "mountain."
What greeted us was an enormous bronze statue of the late Chinese Premier Deng Xiaopeng striding vigorously foreward, overcoat flapping and one arm outstretched, presumably leading the eager Masses to a future of Capitalism with a Communist Face. At the statue's base were what I assumed were requiste floral tribute wreaths and a couple of bored Chinese MPs in white helmets watching the throngs who were hanging out on benches and milling about soaking in the hazy vista of the city below.
The downward journey was a little more relaxing and we took a different winding route that had us on paths and stairs paved with large, polished rocks and granite tiles.
As we went down to the paths on a paved road that leads up the mountain we paused to watch two elderly men, stripped to the waist, in shorts. They held 3-foot plastic rods with water bottles jammed on the ends. The bottles were stuffed with large sponges and filled with water. The sponges protruded from the cut-out ends of the bottles and were being used as oversized pens, with the water serving as "ink."
The men were standing and patiently, gently and repeatedly tracing the same Chinese character on the road. You could see rows of it fresh and then fading for about 8 feet behind them as the water dried. Fragments of the character evaporating in the heat.
After each slow stroke they would pause to evaluate their ongoing work.
"What are they doing?' I asked Linda's mother.
"It is exercise," she said. She couldn't explain further.
"What does it say?" I asked.
"It is the character for 'young boy,'"she replied.
Old men commenting on youth fading fast, like the water strokes fading on the road?
I'll never know. But I'll never forget it.

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