Invitation: To enjoy this particular post to the uttermost, I suggest that first you either go to google images and look up the West Lake, Hangzhou, China or that you go to our home page on the blog (if you aren’t already there) so you can see the lovely images of the West Lake (on the border) as you read this post. Otherwise, close your eyes for a second and think of arched bridges, shiny placid water, low hanging willow trees, benches along a water’s edge and pointed Asian pagodas rising into the sky.
Today is my birthday. I don’t like to talk about my age and I hope no one asks me about it. In character I want to age gracefully, and in looks, I want to be 28. I suppose it’s a compliment when someone tells me I only look 42, but it doesn’t always feel good to be told even that.
Now that I’ve gotten that confession on paper/the screen, let me tell you about a grand experience that I had this morning. Tim and I watched the kids board the school bus at 7am, then I climbed on a red rented bike with brakes that didn’t work so well and began to follow Tim as he took off jogging. He wants me to jog too, and I tried it again for two or so months, after taking a hiatus for a decade plus. I used to jog, when I was single, and it was a lot of fun to enter 5K runs with friends, but, overall, I have to say that I don’t like running. I much prefer pedaling a bike.
I followed Tim to the lake. The lake. Ah, the lake. We entered the causeway where only bikers and walkers are allowed. On the weekends there are thousands of people here. The bikers are on tandems, bikes for 3 and bike carts that hold 5 and 6 people. The women often wear flowing skirts and heels, and sometimes couples or a family of 3 (one child policy) are all dressed alike. Though it was chilly this morning, Tim only wore a t-shirt and shorts, and I wore leggings and a lightweight jacket. My Chinese teacher, who I speak mostly English to, asked me if Americans’ body chemistry is different from theirs because we don’t wear many clothes in cold weather.
On one side fog was slowly rising off the lake. On the other side the sun was already beginning to cast shimmering rays upon the placid water. There were a few people walking. Under trees, we saw two groups of 6-7 women dancing. Following a leader, they slowly and gracefully bent, stretched, swayed and twirled. On other days, I’ve seen groups of couples dancing. I’ve been told that these early morning outdoor gatherings are particularly popular for retired folks.
I heard bird like calls and I looked around, trying to find the source. Soon I came upon a group of about 40 older folks who were walking in a long line two by two. Walking next to them was their leader who was blowing a whistle. The sound was a strange combination of a military call mixed with a tweet sound of a bird, and the people walked in sync to it. It was a curious thing because the majority wore red jackets of various styles. The women wore nice slacks, an array of fashionable low heeled shoes, and a few carried paper shopping bags as though they had been shopping in a small boutique, all before 7ish am. I decided that they must be part of a tour group.
Suddenly, I spotted, at the water’s edge, a lone couple — a middle aged woman standing next to her stooped, gray haired mother. They had their arms across one another’s backs. The mother’s face wore a peaceful expression as she looked up at her daughter, and the daughter spoke quietly as she tenderly led the two of them in dance movements. Together they bent ever so slightly as they gently slid side to side, backward and forwards.
Tim sweated and my heart pounded as we ascended the last arched bridge before leaving the quiet causeway. I wished we could stay on the causeway all morning, riding back and forth, back and forth, but instead we turned onto a busy street where cars honked their horns. We were on the wrong side of the street and suddenly dozens of bikers and scooters were heading straight towards me. I slowly wove in and out, dragging my shoes on the ground as I inched forward. As soon as we could we crossed to the other side of the street where we could travel with the flow of traffic.
We passed vendors baking flatbread, boiling dumplings and scooping up noodles as fast as they could to hungry customers. At red lights we were surrounded by others. Within inches of one another, they looked at me and I stole glances at them, both us curious about the other. Were it the afternoon and I on foot, a grandparent may have approached with a young child in the hopes that the child might practice saying hello. But this was rush hour and there was no time for such things.
Tim and I turned onto our street. I recognized the places on the sidewalk where the concrete tiles are torn up; the grocery that alternates between having the same lab puppies, but perhaps not the same chickens in a cage outside; the banana family with their boxes stacked high, ready for business; the scooter repairman’s shop where tools and wheels spill onto the sidewalk and the shoe repairmen who sit under tarps. We passed the dress shop with the porcelain skinned owner who shook her head and pantomimed that I am too tall and broad in the shoulders for the clothes she sells. At the other end of the street is our favorite bakery and the corner grocery where Zoe buys a bag of candy for less than a dollar.
We were only gone an hour, but what a grand hour it was.