Never Alone

Tinny flute music pipes from a boombox in the park. Eight Chinese men and women move their arms and legs vigorously to the recorded exercise instructions. It’s 6 a.m. on the shores of Houhai Lake in Beijing, and the Chinese people rise early. None of the citizens stretching and bending in the yellow morning light look a day under 70.

A Chinese man sets up his fishing gear at the edge of the lake to catch an early fish or two, while people run, walk, and stroll past him. Although the sun has just risen, it’s already business as usual in the public spaces of Beijing.

Parks abound in this city, and they are full of life. Foreigners also gather on the shores of lakes to perform solo runs or bike rides before the day begins, which contrast with the communal morning exercises routines performed by the locals.

The life cycle of the park continues throughout the day. In the evenings, older women gather to play a Chinese game smilar to Hacky Sack with a feathered ball, while kite dancers unfurl their fabric and dance with the wind. Couples huddle on benches, nuzzling close to cell phones and electronic games.

In China, 90 percent of the country’s 1.3 billion people live in the fertile eastern third of the land. Whether out of economic or political necessity, most people live out most of their lives in public and surrounded by others. It’s a sharp contrast to the isolationist American rhythms of waking up, getting in your car (alone), going to work, driving home (alone), docking the car in the garage and spending the evening alone with your family.

It’s impossible to say how often Chinese people feel lonely. But it’s clear that unless they want to be, they are rarely, if ever, alone.


That must be an interesting contrast to Texas where, if you want, you can drive for a whole day and not see another person. Does that make them more introspective?