The last station on the metro line near our workplace is Panyu Square and we were curious to see if it actually is a square. So one day after work, we took the metro to there and turns out it is a massive square! (Yeah! So stupid of us to not see that. Skeptical us.)
The openness of the space was a contrast from the surroundings around our workplace: dense urban village and residential complexes. It felt great to be able to walk directionless and free in the square.
As we walked through the square, we heard music and then a little later saw a bunch of people break-dancing (B-boying).
We walked further and heard whiplash sounds. Then we saw a couple of people using a whip to spin a flashing top. It is a pastime/sport here! We even saw two people alternatively using their whips to keep the top spinning. Very weird but very fascinating. We came back to the square after an hour and there were still people whipping away.
People were gathering around watching others do their practices. Parents were with their kids, teaching them to cycle. Youngsters were walking around with their friends.
We left the square and walked around the area and after a while came upon another square. Here, the square had different sections with different activities happening. One section had little cones set up to make a practice field for the kids to learn skating.
The other side had a bunch of people, in couples, learning dance. We got invited but we politely declined. These couple dancing lessons happen in many parks and squares here. We have seen couples, old and new, two men, two women, all happily dancing away.
Then, there were a group of ladies doing a routine. Square dance. Guangchang Wu. It’s a thing here. Easy, cheap, fun. They are very popular in China, famous for ‘dancing grannies’, but I saw women, both young and old, enjoying it. The routine is pretty simple and is performed as an exercise. I was telling my colleague about it and she said that people beyond 60 can do anything they want! Haha. With concerns about aging population, their health and social life across the world, this has been refreshing to see.
We were invited to join this too. These are easier to follow, so we joined them and it is really fun. People have been really supportive of my bad dancing skills, smiling and encouraging me. The best part is you don’t need language to teach and learn dance.
Square dancing is everywhere here. In squares, parks, next to the metro station exit, in the street corner, wherever there is enough space. And the city has a lot of it. Thinking of it, I realized that India does not have many squares. The closest I can think of is India Gate and Raj Path.
Badminton is another common sight in the squares, parks and even side-streets. We even saw a bunch of guys practicing boxing and a guy filming them (either to evaluate later or to advertise his coaching school, I couldn’t tell). We also saw a guy figure skating in the square, very smoothly, chilled out, smoking a cigarette.
Jianzi is another sport commonly seen. A group of people stand in a circle and try to keep a shuttlecock (larger than the badminton one) in the air, using their legs. The people we have seen playing them have been very good at it.
The parks and squares also provide as music and dance performance spaces. People gather around, sit on stools they bring, old ladies beating the heat and humidity with their Chinese fans. It is a great way to see some of both the old culture and popular culture.
People here are really into singing too. There are KTVs everywhere (KTV is an establishment providing karaoke boxes/spaces. As Xerox has become synonymous with photocopy, KTV has to karaoke here). There are even karaoke booths in railway stations. There are portable karaoke machines in the parks and people singing.
The parks have a bunch of small round tables with seats around (permanent park furniture), set perfectly to accommodate another favorite pastime here: playing board-games or cards. One can see people playing in street alleys too, table and stools set up, next to a shop to keep the beer/wine flowing. It is a pastime for those playing it as well as those watching them. Some games like chess go pretty intense, with everyone around suggesting, exclaiming.
In corners, you can see people practicing Tai Chi. It’s like everyone finds a corner and starts doing whatever their thing is. The parks and squares are full of activities. People of all age groups, being active, enjoying. I found this study on public spaces in China, if anyone is interested.
On the sidewalk along the waterfront of the river, we even saw temporary play areas set up for kids. There were also these flashing light things. I think they are just flashing things for sale for kids to play with.
Basically, you can walk in any public space and it will never be boring. It will be full of activity. If nothing, you can always sit and people-watch, enjoy the openness, the breeze (if there is any or you can use the fan like the old ladies), away from the buildings for a bit.
Moreover, it shows that if there is public open space provided, people will use it and not lock themselves up in their rooms in denial. Every society has social activities and games, all it needs is the space.