Can't Stop The Spring

You can put the clouds up in your own little way
But the sun is gonna come up the very next day
It's gonna be so bright, it's gonna blow you away
And once it's over, your head will never be the same
-The Flaming Lips

Chinese people are very interested in American lifestyles. Typical questions may include: Do you know how to drive? In America, did you have a car? Is it true there are no subways? Was your house very big? How much money did it cost? How many children do people have?

People find it amusing that I grew up on a large country property with chickens, turtles, cats, a dog and a pond.  They also find it even more amusing that I have a Chinese father who can’t speak standard Chinese. They find it bewildering that we could live in a house in America and have cars, but we chose to move to a sprawling and polluted city crammed with 21 million people.

Yes, it is quite the conundrum. The six-story malls, the shoving and pushing required to board a subway car or bus, the garbage clogging the storm drains, the foul smells wafting from public restrooms, the dust, the grime, the spit-marked sidewalks, the air pollution—yes, all  the repercussions of a city with elbow-to-elbow people—have yet to drive me mad. In fact, the chaos continues to amuse and intrigue me.

But sometimes an escape from the concrete is necessary and reviving. (Forget about escaping people. That’s just impossible.) Fortunately, Beijing has a number of pristinely groomed gardens which are especially lovely during the spring. And this year's spring was especially lovely.

Here are some parks I visited during April that are great for flower viewing and people watching:

This garden is my new favorite place to escape the concrete. The hills are alive with blossoms upon blossoms upon blossoms! On the Qingming Jie holiday, I went sans birdMAN with a large group of friends. We picnicked, jump-roped, chatted, and enjoyed the sunshine.

I liked this park so much, I returned the same week with birdMAN and other fellow expats. We were quite the spectacle. Not only were we blatantly foreign (3 white people, one black guy, and one of ambiguous origin (that would be me)), we were loud. If you know me, and you know our friend Ming Jie, well—it is one loud combination. Jokes, laughter, and overly expressive reactions. It’s like opening a soda bottle that has just been vigorously shaken for three hours straight. Explosive and fun. Wish you could have joined us.

Cost: 10 RMB
The Free Radicals Free Advice: Do bring lunch and water. No need to buy the more expensive 50 RMB ticket. My friends tell me that the expensive ticket is not worth the entrance to the temple and greenhouse. There is plenty to see.

Fun times at the park. Click HERE
Expats know how to have fun. Click HERE

I have a Beijing auntie that I absolutely adore. She loves to laugh, chat, run, and sing. Even though she doesn’t speak any English and my Chinese is severely lacking, I can spend hours with her and feel totally comfortable. She invited me to experience the Jing Shan Park’s peonies and Beijing park life. Lots of dancing, singing, shuttlecock kicking, and sword wielding.

Cost: 10 RMB
The Free Radicals Free Advice: If limited on time and money, skip the Forbidden City and its expensive 60 RMB entrance fee. Hike to the top of the Jing Shan hill and view the Forbidden City from up high (and hope for a clear day).

Click HERE for more of Jing Shan

Yuan Dynasty City Wall Ruins Park元大都城垣遗址公园 

At the early hour of 6:30 am in an effort to beat the Qingming Jie weekend crowds, we took a half-hour bike ride with a group of friends. The early departure was to no avail. Everybody came out to see the cherry blossomed trees at the Wall Park. So what happens when two giddy expats (that would be my Brit-Aussie gal pal LD and me-- my husband would never be called a “giddy expat”) try to get cozy with the local, long-timers? A lot of picture taking, posing, and spectacle-making.

Cost: Free
The Free Radicals Free Advice: Do go while the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Be sure to bring a camera and find some elderly uncles and aunties to pose with.

Lovely day for a stroll
Met this cute elderly uncle in the park. He made his cane himself!
Click HERE for more pictures of City Wall Park

Olympic Forest Park and Bird’s Nest 奥林匹克森林公园

The Olympic Forest Park is my favorite place to run. The north section of the park has a 3K, 5K, and 10K running path that weaves through the ponds, trees, and flower gardens. In April, I went right after the Qingming Jie holiday (not to run, just to look around). The weekend hordes of people had left a trail of garbage and tramped grass in its wake.

Cost: Free
The Free Radicals Free Advice: Strap on your running shoes and join the walkers and runners along the running path. Go early in the morning to avoid peak people hours. Spend the hot summer evenings strolling the concrete expanse between the Forest Park and the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube. Eat some street food and join in on the dancing.

Click HERE for more Olympic Park pictures
 LK getting groovy with the locals
Summer nights are a good for running Olympic Forest Park

The park is large with lots of evergreen trees, but you don’t come here to see the trees. After seeing the blooms at other parks, the natural fauna seemed severely lacking. The real reason to visit the Temple of Heaven is to see the rather impressive wood altars.

The Temple of Heaven is listed as a must-do for Beijing Tourists, so the place is teeming with foreign and Chinese alike. The verdict: glad we went, but we don’t feel particularly compelled to return.

Cost: 10 RMB for the park + 20 RMB to see the temples = 30 RMB
The Free Radicals Free Advice: Bring your own water. A bottle of Nongfu water is 5 RMB, whereas it is normally 2 RMB.

Click HERE for more closeups of heaven
Chinese Word of the Blog: guàng  
English Translation: to stroll / to visit
Example sentence: 我们去公园逛一逛吧! Wǒmen qù gōngyuán guàng yī guàng ba!
English translation: Let’s go to the park and stroll!