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  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 10:38pm
Trail Tales
PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 May, 2013, 5:39pm
UPDATED : Friday, 31 May, 2013, 5:39pm

In search of green in China's Silicon Valley


SCMP health editor Jeanette Wang discovered the joy of trail running in 2011, when she moved from ultra-urbanised Singapore to the country park haven of Hong Kong. She's since neglected road running and triathlons in favour of the trails, and participates regularly in local races. Why? Because, as, John Muir said: “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity..."

I take my running shoes with me wherever I go. Across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, round and round the padang in Georgetown, Penang, under freezing conditions in London, Ontario... my trusty trainers have been the best travel companions ever. Running is definitely the best way, in my opinion, to get acquainted with new surroundings. It helps me find my bearings in a new city, and often I discover quaint little shops or cafes along the way (that I return to at a more leisurely pace later during the trip).

Presently in Beijing for work, I haven't let up on my travel routine. Yes, the air's not great and neither are the dusty streets, but if you get up early enough and find some green space, it's actually not all that bad.

So, this morning bright and early, I set out to find that oasis. To my fortune, a quick search on Google Maps revealed a huge green space just round the corner from my hotel in Zhongguancun (中关村, aka China's Silicon Valley) in northwest Beijing's Haidian District. A few minutes' later, I jogged into the district's 40-hectare green lung that's Haidian Park. It certainly wasn't a nature trail, but it was quite literally a breath of fresh air.

I kept the pace easy and the run short, just enough to break a sweat, get the blood pumping and churn up some endorphins to start the day right. With Beijing's pollution, I decided that was the sensible thing to do.

Around the corner from Haidian Park is Peking University, another green and lush spot that's ideal for walkers or joggers. The university campus is in the former site of the Qing Dynasty royal gardens and it retains many traditional Chinese-style landscaping including traditional houses, gardens, pagodas as well as many notable historical buildings and structures.

Weiming Lake, located in the centre of the campus, is particularly calming. The lake reportedly got its name from Qian Mu, a famous Chinese scholar, who reasoned that many have tried - but failed - to capture the lake's essence in a name. So, Qian Mu called it "Weiming", or "without being named" in Chinese.

On the hill of the southern part of the Weiming Lake stands the Boya Pagoda, an imitation of the original Tongzhou Randeng tower built in 1679 and located some 40km east of downtown Beijing.

If you do happen to get a chance to jog through Haidian Park or Peking University one day, you'll realise, like I did, that you hardly break a sweat - because you'll be stopping ever so often to take in all the wonderful sights.


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This article is now closed to comments

I looked at this article today June 2, but before I went for a run I looked on line to see why was the air so murky looking. Here is what I found - PM 2.5 - 270, very unhealthy. Just 30 points away from hazardous. It's bad enough to breathe at all in this type of conditions, if you are out running, breathing deeply, this type of conditions is extremely dangerous.
It would be great if some people could research what all of this pollution is going to do to people's health now and in the future. I'm not a health professional. I sell equipment for coal-fired power station, particularly products that help to reduce pollution. In 10 years in China I can tell you that there has been almost no progress in reducing pollution at the power plant source. You'd think that after last winter people at the plants would be trying to get on top of this but from many, many visits to plants all over the country in the past three months I can confirm that in fact they are not. In the next 12-18 months China is going to complete another round of coal-fired power plant building. Their priorities are 1. Price 2. Speed of completion of the project. Neither of these bodes well for reduction of pollution. So what would be interesting to know is what are Chinese cities health conditions going to be like when pollution goes up by 50%, 100% and even 200%. I can't see any scenario in which air pollution doesn't increase 50-75% over the next 5-8 years in most cities in China.
Actually, interesting you mention that because I was in Beijing for the announcement of the major findings of the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Survey, which is a landmark study by an international team of researchers led by Peking University that tracks China's middle-aged and elderly every two years on a broad range of factors, from socioeconomic to health. And one of the things they're trying to find out is the correlation between respiratory illness and pollution.
Indeed, totally agree with you. I wouldn't run outside today in Beijing... I am even afraid of walking outside! Yesterday was much cleaner though...
I hope they can make a strong connection between pollution and human health. In this paper I have seen some reports that have come out of this research and the health of China's older people is surprisingly bad. I would have guessed that Chinese seniors might be close to as healthy as American and UK seniors, due to more Chinese working in manual occupations and also eating more fruit and particularly more vegetables and thus less obesity as well as more walking and bike riding rather than driving automobiles, but the results show the opposite. Chinese seniors are in much worse shape.! That they have worse medical care is not surprising but their overall relative poor health is a surprise. I wonder how much of that difference is related to all forms of pollution? By the way my technology for air pollution reduction from combustion (coal power etc.) is presented at www.airmonitor-asia.com


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