Changsha!

Trip Start Aug 02, 2006
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Trip End Ongoing


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Saturday, August 5, 2006

'Changsha, Changsha it's a hell of a town.
The Middle School's up and the Walking Street's down.
All the stray dogs are free to just run around'

Changsha is a sprawling metropolis that reaches as far as the pollution will let you see. With a population that already rivals that of New York City, it's only getting bigger. Everywhere you look older buildings are being torn down to be replaced with new offices or apartments. Their temporarily vacant lots are like missing teeth in the city skyline, waiting for bigger, stronger, brighter teeth to take their place.
The city has everything you could need. Hospitals, schools, malls, McDonalds, internet cafés, banks, hotels, car dealerships, parks, hair salons, brothels (more on that later), street vendors, and yes a Wal-Mart.
Our orientation takes place in the local school, Changsha Yi Zhong (Number One Middle School), is a ten minute walk from our hotel. Everyday we walk to class we put ourselves on display to the locals. A never-ending parade of 'Laowai' or 'Waiguoren'. Of course we take it all in stride, every stare and 'Hello' is acknowledged and returned forty-fold. Many people on the street simply stop whatever it is they are doing and stare silently with their mouths open at the string of foreigners that past them. There is no shame or attempt to conceal their abundant curiosity.
One of my favorite areas is the Martyr's Park.
The Martyr's Park is located on the same road as our hotel, just five minutes away. The park is enormous; hour-long walks only prove to reveal new paths and hidden attractions every time. Within its gates one can find meandering lakes, stone monuments, shaded forests and even a small amusement park complete with bumper boats and a roller coaster. By six a.m. the park is bustling with people performing their daily exercises. Pockets of kite fliers, singers, badminton players, rows of taichi, fan dancers, sword wielders and even ballroom dancers are scattered in every corner and around every bend.
Watching these people I notice two peculiarities within the park. The first is that not one person I see seems to be enjoying him or herself. Nearly everyone has a blank almost bothered look on their faces. It's as if they were gathered into the park against their will and forced to perform in front of the foreigners. I almost expected to see guards patrolling the area to make sure everyone is doing their respective exercise.
The second thing I noticed is the absence of anyone in the park under the age of 30. At first I dismissed this thought, simply assuming that it was too early for most people in the younger generation to be awake. However after several visits to the park in the afternoon and evening, my original question returned. Where are all the younger people? Have movies, videogames and the internet claimed the youth of China as well? One look in an internet café will show you that there are indeed a large population of adolescents in Changsha, but why do they not perform these rituals.
I can only hope this is not a trend that will continue in the future. How sad it will be if the number of people that visit the park slowly dwindle until there is nobody left. Nobody to continue the ancient traditions of the taichi routines and nobody who will even fly a kite.
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