Detours: Fuxing Park

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 October, 2008, 12:00am

Finding a quiet, private place in Shanghai has its challenges, and Fuxing Park, located in the Luwan district, is neither quiet nor private. Yet the variety of activities and the ambience make it a green retreat unlike any other in the city.

Instead of finding groups of local seniors gently doing their tai chi, large throngs of people practise the foxtrot and quickstep. They fill the pathways with their well-rehearsed dance routines as they move skilfully, en masse, to each ballroom melody. In the absence of a dance partner, one old man grasps a wooden chair. But this is not a tacky tourist show, it's exercise - and it's fun.

Deeper in the park, there's another striking impromptu performance: a woman leads a group of 30 choristers in rousing song. Their vocals are loud and harmonious as they sing to the accompaniment of two accordion players. They're far enough away from the ballroom dancers not to interfere and close enough for a group of locals sitting in the park to enjoy. Their performance is passionate as they belt out aria after aria in Putonghua.

A large pond is ringed by several hopeful anglers. The older men are there to catch a fish or two while the young boys are looking for tadpoles.

At the eastern end of the park, a group of people are talking animatedly. Some have signs hanging from their necks while others have placed their signs on benches, using them as makeshift meeting places.

'They're trading,' a young man explains to me. 'She's advertising for a partner for her daughter,' he says, pointing to a woman wearing a grey overcoat.

To make sure their daughters - and sons - find spouses, the anxious parents do the searching for them. But none of the young people are anywhere to be seen - a meeting with them comes at a later stage in the negotiations.

A man dressed in an overcoat and scarf stands on the edge of a small pond. He dips a long stick tipped with a small pad into the water and skilfully writes Chinese characters on the concrete.

His words are no doubt auspicious as a small crowd of onlookers acknowledges his talent. The words soon evaporate in the warm sun.

Another man and woman pass by, walking backwards. There must be a reason.

In a pagoda on the opposite edge of the lake, two budding opera singers give a rendition of O Sole Mio. With intense concentration, they sing the lyrics in perfect Italian.

Fuxing Park may be busy and noisy, but it's happy.