Baiyin is a city that is full of rather nice parks. The nearest one to my apartment, Golden Carp park, is a large pleasant place full of intricate paths and, at this time of year, leafy green glades. It has a long curved lake and is a joy to walk around on a hot afternoon.
In the other direction is a tiny oval park where I can join the crowds watching people playing chess or mahjong or watch the kids playing hide-and-seek among the bushes.
A two minute bus ride or twenty minute stroll out to the west is another park that has winding paths and denser trees than Golden Carp and lacks the communal areas for the games players. It has been kept well-watered and is greener and lusher. Golden Carp park has trees but little grass, the smaller park has both.
There is however another park that, until yesterday, I hadn't looked at. It's a little further out to the west and hard to spot from the road.
I entered through the low iron gate and started off up the path. I had my walkman on, listening to the joyful sounds of a nineteen forties recording of the All American Jazz Band and I ambled around in a ridiculously good mood. The landscaping of the park is not as interesting as the others but it is a huge place with trees dense enough to constitute forest, though the paths are dull, wide and concrete which detracts somewhat from the experience. As I walked around I became aware of something peculiar, something unique to this park.
It wasn't busy. Perhaps because it is located a little away from either of the main residential centres people choose nearer places to walk, but I had been walking for ten minutes before I saw anyone else in there. Only once did anyone actually try to talk to me and that was simply to wish me a good day and exchange introductions. When I saw other people we always smiled and nodded greetings but didn't speak. And, truthfully, even seeing people was a rare enough occurrence.
I wandered aimlessly, just walking for it's own sake and came upon the reservoir where my flatmate has sometimes gone swimming. He has said that he wasn't sure if it was allowed. I can answer the question for him. It isn't. The fact that the whole reservoir is surrounded by an eight foot tall barbed wire fence might be a clue and even though I don't read any Chinese frequent signs with big red writing usually mean only one thing – DON'T!
There was a place where some kids had dug under the fence and crawled in to go fishing with sticks and string but personally I wouldn't be inclined to take that as meaning it's OK.
At the far end o the lake I considered continuing north and exiting at the far gate from the one I had entered by but I know that part of town and its grimy and industrial and the walk back to the city would have been tedious so I continued to circle the water.
The park has a number of stand pipes that trickle water into a complicated series of irrigation channels and at one of them I sat down on a low wall and took off my walkman to listen to the quiet. There was a drone of insects and in the distance I could hear cuckoos in the trees. Above me the leaves were whispering softly in the breeze.
There were bright butterflies grabbing the eye with their random fluttering, tiny spiders racing across the dirt, the smell of yesterday's rain on the leaves. It was wonderful. I had turned my back to the path so that it felt as if I were truly in the middle of a forest.
I sat there for around fifteen minutes. Doing nothing. Saying nothing. Simply sitting, looking and listening.
Silence is a rare commodity in China and I was surprised that I could hear no traffic, no loud music, no fireworks. Once I heard the distant sound of a train away to the north but apart from that the only sounds were those of nature.
When I was ready to leave it seemed appropriate to change the music to something more pastoral. In my bag I had a disc of classical music so I selected a collection of Vaughan Williams and to the sounds of Greensleeves and The Lark Ascending walked back through the park and ultimately rejoined normal life out on the streets.
I've said it before but it occurred to me again as I sat in the park. I don't remember ever being as content with my life as I am here in China. I have no worries and no responsibilities and most of the time nowhere I need to be and no reason to rush and race about. I can sit in the park for five minutes or five hours. I spend a few hours a week preparing lessons and then about thirteen hours a week teaching them and the rest of my time is my own.
It's really rather wonderful.