There’s no space like home

One of the things I miss most about living in a small town is the space: the ability to stretch out my arms without hitting another person or walk for miles without seeing anyone.

It’s a luxury you lose in a city like Beijing, where even the widest streets sometimes feel every bit as cramped as the smallest alleys. The crowds are difficult to avoid, whether you’re riding the subway in the middle of the day or going to the bank on a Saturday. The feeling of constantly cramming into lines and bumping elbows with strangers can become overwhelming.

When I need a break from the crowds, I often head into one of Beijing’s 300 parks. For a city hell-bent on growth and economic development, Beijing has a surprising amount of space committed to leisure and recreation.

The largest is Chaoyang Park. At 713 acres, it is is comparable in size to New York’s Central Park. It’s home to a very unsafe-looking roller coaster (the only thing holding the safety harness down was a seat belt that looked like it had been pulled from a junked car), volleyball courts that were used during the 2008 Olympic games and restrooms that resemble a giant ladybug.

It’s easy to get lost, as I managed to do last summer when I rented a tandem bike with my girlfriend and made the fatal error of letting her lead the way. When we came to the conclusion that neither of us had any idea where we were going, I picked a direction and peddled like a madman to get us back to the rental office before it closed. Despite giving it my all we arrived a few minutes late and had to forfeit the deposit for the bike. Continue reading