Public parks in much of Asia are vital parts of a community. From the size of postcards to sprawling, multi-level affairs with pools and gazeboes, parks are the place to go if you want to see real big-city community culture. Look for green swatches on a map, consult your favorite travel guidebook, and then just go.
A few years ago, HI Travel Tales’ female travel pro was in Shanghai, China, and couldn’t stand being stuck in a hotel workout room when the streets were buzzing with activity. So the alarm was set for 5 a.m. and out the door she went, a map clutched in her sweaty hand as she searched for Shanghai city parks. There are three reasons to be up and out so early:
- Traffic starts really increasing by about 7 a.m.
- Smog and heat start getting unbearable as the sun rises
- Most of the activity in public parks is over by 7-8 a.m., and much earlier is prime time.
Even in September it was so humid at sunrise that she left a puddle if she stood still for a minute. Her favorite of the Shanghai city parks was Lu Xun (formerly known as Hongkou), a large park built in the 1890s that has expansive swaths of concrete areas, plus winding paths, mini forests, waterways and benches. In fact, it is one of the most popular in the city. In the morning, especially on Sunday, you find tai chi groups, flag-waving aerobics, dance aerobics, badminton groups, backward-walking exercisers, runners, walkers, meditators, bird-tenders, ballroom dancers, you name it. And all the groups are free and open to anybody to participate.
She joined the back of a tai chi group for a bit when she realized she was better at it than some in the group. Nevertheless, she had those sitting on the sidelines twittering with glee. While running and walking a few exploratory loops, she stopped to watch the badminton game and was goaded into giving it a whirl by a younger man’s halting English. She missed four birdies with rather impressive air swings and had that group too giggling and grinning before she scampered off.
Bottom line: Shanghai city parks may look like just green or open space, but they’re so much more. So be sure to venture in – and be a little daring.