One of the sites I enjoy most seeing here is that people are very active in their leisure time. Retired people practicing traditional dances can be seen in the mornings. People are walking their dogs regularly. It’s a scene that reminds me that Chinese people love exercising their minds and their bodies and enjoy being with one another in the community. With that, here are some notable outdoor activities you will see happening on a regular basis. It’s also your chance to get in on the fun.
A nice activity played among friends or neighbors in the community. The jianzi is a weighted shuttlecock that is equivalent to the hacky sack, where play is facilitated only by the feet. The object is simply to keep a rally going or reach an agreed number of kicks. What’s great about this game is that it’s not physically taxing. You will see lots of older people standing around in a circle casually kicking a jianzi around. Jianzis are inexpensive and can be found at any market. If you and your friends are looking for some mild recreational exercise, get yourself a jianzi. Or better yet, join in on the fun with people in the community who are already playing and make new friends.
Xiangqi (Chinese Chess)
This is one of the most popular board games in China. You will often see elderly people playing this game on the streets, with other fervent spectators quietly observing. Like regular chess, xiangqi requires patience and strategy to win and may turn off foreigners looking for something more exciting. The simple setup makes it easy for people to start a game anywhere. This is why you see small crowds of people gathering around playing on park benches and small staircases outside an apartment complex and even on the floor. While not an attractive game for most expats, but it is nice to see old folks in the community getting together to engage in a friendly board game like xiangqi.
Badminton is one China’s favorite athletic sports and is played furiously in professional and Olympic competition. However, many Chinese people play badminton casually, without a net or court boundaries. Usually played in a non-winter season, badminton requires 2 people, 2 rackets, a shuttlecock and an open space. Sometimes, nets are even set up by those who want to play a little more seriously. Rules are lax because most people want to just maintain a rally and get some mild outdoor exercise. Badminton is played by both the younger generation as well as some middle-aged people. The game is easy to learn and requires quick reflexes and can easily work up a sweat for participants.
If you hear a loud cracking noise nearby, it’s most likely the sound of mahjong tiles being shuffled. The other popular pastime of China, mahjong is a 4-player tile game that is played among family members or local friends. It requires a table, 4 people and a mahjong tile-set. The game’s learning curve is steep, made even steeper because different regions have different rules. Thus,you probably won’t see many foreigners playing. And because younger Chinese people are growing up on technology and online gaming, mahjong is a game played almost exclusively by the older Chinese generation. In some neighborhoods, as many as 25 tables are set, inviting the retired population in the vicinity to come out and play. The game is hard to learn and hard to master.
China’s other gold-medal winning sport requires just as much quick reflexes and can work up a quick sweat as well. Games can be played at a fierce pace making make it a fun activity and double up as exercise. In many parks, ping pong tables have been built and are free to play. Compare that to the 15 RMB you have pay to get into a basketball court or soccer field. Just bring a pair of paddles and spare ping pong balls and you are ready to play. Because of its low impact on the body, this is a sport that people of any generation can be seen playing, mostly for recreation. Don’t get too arrogant though, because you’ll be surprised just how good an old person can be and quickly dismantle you in a friendly game.