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september 2012

Catching the chinese at their workouts

Vidya Singh 
Modern airports, grand boulevards, fabulous high rises and the general hurried progress of its people welcome visitors to China. I ducked the structured sightseeing visits of a general tourist to explore and find things for myself. As it turned out, my morning walks became revealing encounters with the fitness consciousness of the Chinese. Let’s walk through it again…

Guilin is well known for its spectacular scenery. Chinese brush paintings draw their inspiration from the unique topography of Guilin’s limestone peaks. The Li River runs through the town. It’s a city that was developed way back in 214 BC under the Quin dynasty and went on to be the provincial capital under the Ming dynasty until 1914. It continues to be an important urban centre. With a pale moon overhead, I step out for a walk at an early hour. Soon enough, the sun shows up from behind the mountains, as I walk by the Li. A few elderly men are engaged in fishing from off their position on the bridge across the river, while upstream and downstream are hundreds of people enjoying a swim. Nearing, what is called the Elephant Hill, I spot people of all ages exercising, jogging, and walking. People who fancy walking backwards as a means of exercise and petite old ladies engaged in martial arts are the sights I take in! A Tai Chi class is in full progress and I notice that all parks are equipped with exercise equipment. The markets are just opening for the day, as I trace my way back; steaming wontons and soup are being served to the passers by. From between the cloud of dust that still covers the streets and the morning mist that is lifting, emerge children on their way to school.


This historic city is one of the oldest cities in the world. Two centuries before Homer wrote the Iliad or before Rome was founded and 500 years before Buddha’s enlightenment, Xian was already a classic world city. Its great mosque is one of the largest in China and its streets have been home to the Hui community for centuries. The discovery in 1974 of the magnificent array of the army of terracotta warriors has only made this city so much more an important tourist destination.

I trek on a cold morning with its light mist in the air. I bump into street cleaners in the dark and after several twists and turns arrive at the entrance of the Feng Qing Park. Built in over a 50-acre expanse, this park has tree-lined pathways crisscrossing within. Here too, there is a Tai Chi class in progress and an aerobics session is being held atop a small hill. The ubiquitous joggers and walkers, even backward walkers are all here. I specially take note of people walking barefoot – not out of poverty or any socioeconomic reason – but to reap the benefits of acupressure. The ancient city wall that is wide on the top also makes Xian the perfect place for walkers, joggers and cyclists.

This grand city is without doubt a fitting capital for China. Its very expanse is overwhelming and yes, Beijing is the place from where you get to climb the Great Wall! Across rolling hills and towering mountain ranges, this magnificent structure runs a length of 6,800 km in Northern China. Ideally it’s a 25-minute climb to get to the top most tower or the highest part of the Great Wall. The walk is a combination of steady, paced climbing to begin with. What follows is a flatter, steeped section or a walkway leading to another section of stairs. The famous China Marathon also happens on the Great Wall. The Forbidden City and the Summer Palace are two magnificent and imposing buildings, which also provide the space and aura for a wonderful walk. A walker or a tourist only needs to take care against tripping over hordes of other walkers or tourists!

It’s the city of giant skyscrapers, but the appeal of Shanghai is in its spectacular freeways. They offer scope for a very evocative walk. Striding along the Huang Pu River, one can witness structures in the style of the neoclassical 1930s downtown New York to grand edifices of some antiquity all thrown in together. The magnificent Shanghai Museum, which houses the best collection of Chinese antiquities, is situated right in the middle of the People’s Park. It makes for a complete cultural walk, if you’re looking for one.
Vidya Singh is Sports and Fitness Enthusiast, Chennai.