I'm trying to maintain a workout schedule:
5 days per week; a minimum of cardio and crunches.
I'm not a runner. I doubt I've ever run more than five miles in any one go. But running has become the exercise that I fall back on. It's how I get the blood pumping. You can listen to music while you run. In my efforts to follow an exercise routine here in Xi'an I've divided my exercising into two kinds of days: outside days and inside days. The inside days are at my gym where I do a quick 2 km run and lift weights. The outside days consist of a 30-40 minute run at Xingqing Park. Regardless of whether it's an inside or outside day, I usually go to work out after I convince myself to get out of bed.
I enjoy my runs at Xingqing Park. The park is about .5 km away from my aparment, so I only really have to endure a limited amount of dust and truck fumes during my run. I also don't have to deal with cars and mopeds driving down the wrong side of the road or even on the sidewalk. The park itself is free, and the entrance is always lined with food and toy vendors. Inside the gates, the park has a little bit of everything. There are loud and dangerous-looking amusement park rides; fountains with intriguing rock formations as centerpieces; groups of elderly dancing; old men walking their birds; young couples sitting on benches; a bird sanctuary of sorts; ping pong tables; people practicing calligraphy using water on the dusty cement. The park is really an enjoyable place to run.
Aside from the air being a smidgen cleaner, my favorite part of running at the park is that I fit in a little bit more. Running on the streets of Xi'an feels more like an obstacle course as well as somewhat awkward since everyone stares at a running foreigner. In the park there are a few other runners and other exercisers, and when I have my earbuds plugged in blaring Nas or Jedi Mindtricks, it's easy to ignore the stares. Also, because it's so cold out I have very little incentive to stop. Movement equals warmth. So I just listen to my jams and watch the activities as they pass me by. I usually make a loop around the pond at Xingqing passing all that it has to offer. Every now and then I'll pause my iPod to listen to the elderly band that plays on Tuesday mornings as I run by. Or I'll slow to a walk when I toe my way around a large group of dancing women. It's nice to be able to see everything as I run, and as soon as the weather warms up I think I should slow down and spend some more time in the park: watching and maybe talking to the people there.
So far, I've been doing a good job of maintain my exercise regimen. Exercising is something that I've brought with me wherever I go. It helps to get the blood going and get the mind to stop overthinking. And since I'm here to research physical education and sports in China, I guess I'm killing two birds with one stone when I run. The next step is to start trying out the myriad activities that the park has to offer the body and the mind.
There's a word in Chinese, guàng jiē (逛街), which basically means to "stroll the streets." My Chinese friends use the word more often than you would think. In the United States, we use the phrase "go for a stroll" intermittently at best. For me, the term brings to mind retired elderly perched on leaf-covered park benches in autumn, post-dinner expectant newlyweds on cool summer evenings, or shopping-bag laden arms and rosy cheeks before Christmas. The times to "go for a stroll" are ordinary and momentous. Sure, "strolls" do not have the significance of weddings or graduations, but they also embody times when the body is active, the mind relaxed, and time abundant. Quite different from a "walk" or a "breath of fresh air."
Yet, in Chinese "stroll the streets" is said with a different timbre and frequency which has led me to believe that the translation is lacking in the nuances that "strolls" have come to possess. For example, working out at my gym, I asked one of the trainers, a short 30-ish muscle man with a wide face and wider grin, how his vacation was.
He replied, "I spent it with my girlfriend."
"What'd you guys do?"
This term, guàng jiē, is obviously not the same as "to go for a stroll." Nobody describes the time they spent off work as "going for a bunch of strolls." That makes the stroll seem too trite. At best ,you went for one really good stroll during you vacation.
In any case, this brings me to the point where I reveal that there's also another translation for "guàng jiē" which is to "window shop." This translation is probably how the phrase is used more often than not. Although the actual two characters do not really relate to shopping, the current usage of the phrase has adopted this implication. However, while this translation does a better job of describing the activity and thoughts involved, I still think that it does not totally encompass how guàng jiē is used. Another example from my friend Shijia, a 20-year-old college student at Jiaotong U.
"What do college kids like to do for fun? What kind of activities?"
"I don't know. Play computer games, go to karaoke, guàng jiē."
Again, I don't know that any college students I know would include window shopping amongst their activities. They might do it for fun, but few would consider it a hobby or activity. Therefore, I think that guàng jiē needs a third translation, one that looks at the context that the phrase is used in and the conditions in which its users live.
I've been lucky enough to have gone guàng jiē-ing more than I've wanted to with my Chinese friends. It seems that it is a good activity to do when you want to talk to someone and be their friend. The usual spot in Xi'an to guàng jiē is East Avenue (Dōng Dà Jiē) which is a street lined with all kinds of clothing stores. It's been to described to me as where "all the pretty girls (美女 měinǚ) are" or as always "lively (热闹 rènao) and trendy (火 huǒ)." It's here that 3 of Xi'an's 4 Starbucks are located. It's here where you can see the newest movies in the cinema. It's here where all the foreigners go to go clubbing at night. It's here that you can buy squid on a stick as you walk past stores selling Nike, Adidas, Lining, western suits, dresses, fashionable clothes, not fashionable clothes, records, graffiti spray paint, tattoos etc. Anyhow, after several trips to East Avenue, I've discovered that guàng jiē is to window shop, but it's also equivalent to "hang out." When people say they went to guàng jiē with their friends, they use it in the same way my friends and I back home would say "hang out." So in the example aboves, if you replace guàng jiē with "hang out" it sounds normal.
In a country where space is limited and costs money, China's youth don't have many places to "hang out." Having a semi-private place to sit around and shoot the breeze is not easy to come by. There are just too many people. Undergrad dorm rooms have between 4 and 6 students. There are not really common rooms to speak of, and anything that you would consider a common room is freezing cold. Thus "hang out" space is at a premium in China, and so the price of "hang out" space is far too much for the average college student. Starbucks or China's coffee houses offer places to sitt and chat (many of which have actual rooms for groups of people), but the average cost of cup of coffee in China is around 20 RMB (~$3) which is very expensive when you consider that you only make 4RMB/hr working part time at KFC. So guàng jiē-ing allows friends to "hang out" while on the move. They walk from store to store which is playing cool music and has heating, or AC as the seasons determine). They munch on the street food and sip hot drinks. And they just hang out as they walk around.
With all that said, I think it's also interesting to consider that "hanging out" for China's youth is very much entwined with shopping, with materialism. There's a couple ways you can look at this. The first is to consider that materialism is exactly what is hot in China. Not that it's not huge in the rest of the world, but it's precisely because materialism is prevalent throughout the first-world nations that it has captured the fascination of China's up-and-coming generation. To buy things is to buy prestige. However, what things should one buy? I would argue that going out as groups of friends provides a platform on which to discuss this question. Going from store to store talking about which backpack is nice or what shoes are cool helps to establish what the symbols of prestige are in a society that from the 50s until the 80s was told not to look upon material items as markers of prestige and class (for lack of a better word).
However, that's an argument that would need a lot more research. Another interesting thing to consider in a city like Xi'an is that it is necessary to guàng jiē. Guàng jiē-ing is confined to simply very popular streets like East Avenue. Xi'an, and all Chinese cities, are filled with stores. Streets are just lined with them, each one selling its own product. Unlike the U.S., grocery stores and department stores have only recently made their entrance onto the scene, and in fact their prices are rarely the best ones. However, after living here for almost five months the tiny, specialized stores have lost their charm, and I find myself craving the convenience of a one-stop-shop Walmart. Anyhow, survival and comfort living in a Chinese city relies on your ability to know the streets, to know where the store that sells vegetables is, where the store that sells bread is, where the store that sells beef is, where the store that sells goat is, and where the store that sells donkey meat is. You don't realize how many things are in your live until you have to run around buying them all at different stores. What is more, any China expat will tell you that many items (sports equipment, musical instruments, printers, TVs, underwear, Christmas decorations, etc) are all concentrated on one single street or market. So, it's imperative that you have a little bit of knowledge about where these places are, and thus it become imperative that you guàng jiē and explore a little. At least that's what I find myself doing, and it's wonderful. Each street brings something new. Maybe with time the internet will map all this out for us, but China's Google (baidu.com) is yet to have complete listings of all these tiny little stores. In a city where most people can't just drive to the store to pick everything, why not just go for a stroll?
In the last episode of the fall semester, we decided to look at all the different culinary delights of JiaoDa's study abroad students. The editors only managed to put together the Korean food segment, but there will also be Malaysian and Kazakh segments to come. At the end of this episode we also wish our audience "Happy New Year." Doing the subtitles during this part, I got a little impatient of trying to figure out good translations for Chinese "Happy New Year" sayings (and I just didn't have a Chinese buddy on hand to help explain them to me), so I kind of just gave up/half-assed it.
Also, I invited the whole 'Gorgeous Impressions' crew over to my house for a dinner but it didn't go off so well because most people were studying for their finals, so I'm going to try and do it at the beginning of the next semester when people aren't so busy. Hopefully, we can begin to make the show a little bit better next semester. Until then, I've been working with some Xi'an graffiti artists who are planning "the biggest graffiti event in China's history." They're spraying this HUGE wall that one of them found in a rail yard to the east of the city. I've been spending a lot of time researching graffiti (both in China and abroad), and thinking about how I want to film it.
Anyway, enjoy episode 3 (also, both screens below show the same thing. I just post the video from two different websites because Vimeo.com is blocked in China, and Youku.com is slow in the United States. So if you're in the US watching, use the Vimeo screen (top), and if you're in China use the Youku screen (bottom):