Early Morning Life in West Lake Park

In mid-July in Fuzhou, China, the sun rises at 5:20 AM. At that time of morning, the temperature is around 26° C (78° F). By noontime, the temperature can be 37° C (98°) or higher - much too hot to be outside. Subsequently, the Chinese take a long siesta (休息 (xiu1 xi1)) at noontime, reserving the cooler hours of early morning and late evening for exercising and socializing. That’s when I head over to West Lake Park.

West Lake Park covers 42.5 hectares (105 acres), 70% of it water. It has a history of over 1700 years, having been built during the Jin Dynasty (year 282). West Lake Park is the most well preserved, classical garden in Fuzhou, with temples, pavilions, lotus ponds, arched bridges, stepping stones, islands, and bamboo and pine forests scattered throughout. There are six main entrances, many minor entrances, and a walking path around the whole lake.

One entrance to the park is just across the street from our teaching residence, so getting to the park - for us - couldn’t be easier. At 5:30 AM, when I head out, the park is already filling with joggers, walkers, small groups of people socializing, and others who have found a special nook to stretch or to practice an art such as Tai Chi. I watch a woman stretching her legs using the nook of a tree and a man arching his back against a stone pillar. I wave to a group of women sitting by the lake gossiping and stop to admire a young baby with her grandfather. My destination each morning is a shaded area under a banyan tree, near a lovely stretch of water, where I find my 81-year old Tai Chi teacher. Each morning, she patiently goes through the steps several times, helping me to place my hands or feet in correct positions and inspiring me to be as active and limber as she is. She cannot speak English and my Chinese is limited, but we communicate through gestures, smiles, and a common focus.

If I could transport any part of Chinese culture back to America, it would be this. With your neighbors and friends, find a common outdoor space, and exercise together in the early morning light. In doing so, all your lives might become more tranquil and your community more connected. An old Chinese proverb says: if the spirit is in a healthy world, how can the illness enter you?

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