Beijing, TUESC: Yuan Ming Yuan Gardens

When they do parks in Beijing, they really go all out.

Yesterday Emma, Ellie and I (all of us Exeter University girls!) headed out to a park not 15 minutes cycle from us; it’s just outside the east entrance to Tsinghua and was a perfect post-teaching day relaxation for three worn-out volunteers. It can be hard to muster up the enthusiasm for trips post 9am-4pm days as it takes huge amounts of enthusiasm, coaxing, encouragement and hard-work to keep next to 60 students motivated!

But a good wander round the park, however, is just what the volunteers ordered!

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The parks are not only absolutely alienly beautiful, they’re full of people! From school children to gossiping women, to old oba-san and oji-san walking arm in arm, the park is at some points along the clean paved paths bustling with Chinese talk and laughter between long, wafting fingers of the willows that tickle the crowd.

We’re drawn into a silent crowd of transfixed children and parents by one of Beijing’s ever present back-drop of hawkers and stalls; this man shows children how to blow a balloon of liquid sugar as he shapes them into animals of their request. This is a real life Willy Wonka and us girls are dumbed as the crowd listening to his heavily accented commentary. It’s something strange to see a late fourties man peddling his sugared sweets in a park, there’s something reminiscent of another age here, which he no doubt capitalises on, but it’s only really looking back at these photos that I think that. That said, his well-prepared mic and sound system bring this fabulous talent well into the 21st century.

Amazing.

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Moving away from the crowds for some peace and quiet we take some of these obvious tourist shots! And I’m mesmerised by an old man weeding glacial pond surface of pond weed – traditional style (Awwww yeah.). It looks like heavy going, but his back remains turned to us and his slow, practised movements are other-worldly.

Maybe I’m just too tired today, but everything seems a little surreal.

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Well, things don’t get much more surreal than the incessant paparazzi style photography that goes off all around us at any tourist spot. Looking foreign (given, some more than others) the girls attract all manners of sly photographs, but none in the realm of surreal as this.

A man, in full camoflague, tripod and ridiculous zoom lens, obviously originally taking nature shots, turns without a single trace of embarrassment to snap several of Emma, Ellie and I as we walk along from the pagoda. It’s impossible to miss the click of the shutter, and completely baffled, we can think of nothing better to do in retaliation than to catch this shot of our perpetrator (courtesy of Emma).

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I’m left pondering what exactly what I should have done in that situation, what I would do differently, and what kind of personal invasion of privacy I feel I’ve experienced. It happens so often here in Beijing that I’m baffled as to any power we have to stop it. I laugh, but I wish I was a law student so I could recite some rights…

Law students, do I even have any in this situation??

Another typical day in China, folks!

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