In search of green in China's Silicon Valley
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.