Isabelle C. is currently a junior at SYA China and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Iolani School in Hawaii.
On my first day in Beijing, my host family took me for a walk in the park directly next to my house. When they said “park by their house” I assumed it would be a small patch of grass with maybe a few trees and some picnic benches. It was actually a sprawling 9.2 acre wonderland filled with winding paths that turn around a large lake, fully equipped with Italian terrace gardens and landscaping like you’ve never seen it before.
As my host sister and I turned south towards the gate where we would meet our parents, we passed groups of dancing ladies enjoying the company of their friends and the warm breeze, and stopped at an extremely well stocked greenhouse with a porch that looked out onto the lake. The porch was filled with luscious pots of chili peppers and cotton plants, with vines of cucumbers and squashes winding their way up the walls of the greenhouse and flowering above our heads. In the middle of the lake, for no apparent reason, are six very large sword-like blue spikes that were about 50-60 feet tall if I had to guess. Old men like to cluster around the base, flying kites so high that they are just specks of color in the distance. Working our way towards the south end of the park, my host sister and I reached a traditional lily garden, with a maze of walkways jut out within the lilies. Bright pink and white petals that bloom in the morning are framed by cheerful looking lily pads that are almost perfectly circular in shape. Innumerable little black fish swim in and out of the roots, fascinating the crowds of children peering through the railings and straining to fit their nets through the gaps in the fence. Walking on, we pass a large mural depicting Greek architecture and a wall describing ancient Greek civilization (although it may seem strange in a park, Rendinghu Park was actually built in the 90s by two architects who were fascinated with everything Greek and wanted to bring a taste of the Mediterranean to Beijing.) We walk down a set of steps next to a fountain filled with statues of Neptune and his various related sea deities, into an exact scale model of a real Italian sunken garden. When I first saw it, I was quite taken aback. It was quite shocking to see 8-foot-tall naked statues of muscular white men when five minutes ago, I had just walked through a Hutong (traditional Chinese neighborhood) on our way back home from lunch. I was confused at first, but eventually got used to it. This park continues to unfold its treasures to me, even halfway through my time here in Beijing.
Every morning, at around 7:30, I walk (or awkwardly run with my backpack if I’m going to be late) through the park from the Small West Gate to the main West Gate. The beautifully peaceful way the early morning sun shines through the leaves in the poplar trees that line the path, the sound of an early morning dance track winding its way through the park kicks off my day to a great start. Recently, I befriended the security guard who patrols and maintains this area. He isn’t really an actual guard-guard. He is sort of more a friendly old man with a broom who spends his days reading and napping and having good natured chats with the everyday parkgoers. He smiles and waves when he sees me, and after a short exchange (“Where are you going so quickly?” “Just to school, again 😊” ) we go our separate ways.
As the weather got colder, I was amazed to see the leaves start to fall from the trees. Being from Hawaii, I can honestly say that I have never seen the seasons change, but here in Beijing I saw the leaves turn from green to gold for the first time in my life. Having to walk through the park every morning made me especially aware of the special nuances of color in each leaf I passed on the ground. The poplar trees surrounding the path to the west gate slowly turned from a dull shade of green to a beautiful, blazing yellow gold. Babies waddled along the pathway, gathering leaves that were yellow and putting them in their tiny coat pockets for safe keeping. My host sister collected two for me on her way home so I could remember my first autumn.
Obviously, I have many fond memories connected to this park. I met my host sister for the first time in this park, I walked with my best friends in this park, I saw the seasons for the first time in this park (now it is winter and the water is freezing- even stranger for a girl from Hawaii), and most of importantly, I got to know Beijing in this park. Despite the park’s designer’s intentions to make it a western style park, many Beijingers still come here in the mornings to do their exercises, play mahjong, kick a Chinese feather hackysack around or dance with their friends at the base of the blue spikes. And there’s so much more in this park. I haven’t even scratched the surface in this page of writing. I have learned so much about China, what it is, and who its people are, just from this park, my little slice of Beijing.
- Campus Reporters
- SYA China