Thursday, April 14, 2011

Saturday, April 9, 2011 (Beijing)

FIT FOR AN EMPEROR: The day began with a walk through historic Tiananmen Square, which was absolutely jammed with people waiting to see Mao's body (or "body"). The number of tourists of all ages (right) seemed very high. Don't know if it's the case for the family pictured, but it's a fitting place to bring one of the many "little emperors" in China. Conversation is certainly careful. One person told us that people in North Korea were "very happy." OK. We had a great stroll though the Forbidden City (home of emperors). We resolved to watch The Last Emperor sometime soon.

HAVE THEY EVER PERFORMED TOGETHER BEFORE? In the afternoon, we went to the area around the Temple of Heaven. The park was alive with people. And sounds. "O Solo Mio" for instance. We strolled over to find two singers belting out some grand tunes. A quick glance prompted me to rub my eyes (which are faulty). With a bit of imagination, it looked like a tanned, healthy Elvis and a younger, svelter Leonid Brezhnev were jamming in the park (with a somewhat mysterious assist from one of the bandmates from ZZ Top, perhaps?). They sounded fabulous, and we could have listened for a long time. A show like American Idol could do well to set up shop in a park like this. China's certainly got talent.

MAKING A RACKET: After enjoying the singing, we strolled around the park and found a remarkable range of activities. Clutches of people were playing poker. Another group hovered around a game of Chinese chess (no, Virginia, not Chinese checkers). Perhaps the best of all was the demonstration of a tai chi-related ball-and-racket exercise. It is evidently known variously as Tai Chi Ball, Tai Chi Rhythmball, Taiji Ball, Taiji Ballong Ball or, it seems, Rotoryball. We saw two brothers skillfully and fluidly passing the ball back and forth with small rackets with soft, rubberlike contact surfaces. We had seen a woman doing it solo in Hanoi on the previous Sunday morning. Encouraged by onlookers, Sandy (right) and I (top) tried it out and promptly bought a set of two rackets and two balls and a handy carrying case for 100 yuan (about $15). A quick search of the internet tells us the price seems to be OK and that Professor Bai Rong of Shanxi University evidently invented the activity in 1992. One selling point: “It is exercise without doing exercise.” Who can argue with that?

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