It’s no secret that China has a huge problem with air pollution. Of course it is by no means the only country in the world struggling with this issue but it is the largest one and the situation here seems worse than anywhere else. The bonus of living in Guangzhou is that this area of the country is not nearly as affected by pollution as the rest of it. Sure, we get bad, sometimes really ‘bad air’ days but most of the time, we are able to enjoy clear blue skies -something very rare indeed in certain parts of China (*caugh* Hubei*caugh*)
Despite the air pollution and the increasingly unpredictable weather (absolutely abysmal recently) the local folk flock to all and any open areas in the city and its vicinity. Perhaps thanks to the pollution, we now have something similar to Eco-tourism here, whereby come weekend many city dwellers get in their cars and drive to a garden/ orchard/ field in the outskirts, wishing to explore nature and expose themselves to its benefits. It amuses and amazes me at the same time that places, which under normal circumstances, would have been nothing but unattractive patches of land or somebody’s allotments, at best, have suddenly become tourist attractions for the simple reason of offering a piece of nature, regardless of how ‘natural’ said location actually is.
Last year I was invited to one of such escapades, to a Sakura-tree park and I must admit, I did not come back with the most pleasant memories. The place was heaving with people. The ‘park’ was not accessible by public transport so everyone drove there, which meant hundreds of cars stuck in traffic on the way in-not a great start. I can’t even describe the level of noise and the mess that surrounded me. The Sakura trees, as pretty as they are when in bloom, did not look particularly attractive at that time of year but that clearly didn’t put hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists off. The park was hardly natural, all manicured pathways, fountains, complete with fake ponds and hawker stalls. I did not feel like I was bonding with nature in any way at all.
And yet, on reflection, I admire all those, who decided to spend their Sundays, often the only day off work, with their families in that little imitation of wilderness. They might have left a horrible mess behind but they definitely enjoyed being out in the open, having a picnic on the grass, taking carefully posed photos (this is China after all), picking strawberries from a neighbouring field and generally, spending time together whilst doing something else than dragging each other around shopping malls or going to see yet another pointless and rubbish movie at the local cinema, just for the sake of doing something.
Sadly, there are few proper forests left in China so it’s not like one can simply jump in the car and find oneself strolling among winding, wild paths after an hour/two driving. Naturally, there’s also the issue of extreme development and ever-present construction, which bit by bit claims whatever natural area is leftover in this once spectacular country (I know there are still many wonderful places around but nowhere near as many as there used to be, according to family stories and documentaries). Perhaps it’s no wonder that city dwellers, stuck in pokey offices and damp apartments long for even an imitation of the natural world. If that’s all they can get, then why not? One might perceive a long walk around a park on a polluted day a puzzling and careless experience but if the alternatives are a)being stuck in a moldy house in front of the laptop/tablet/the most boring TV ever, b)being stuck in an unbelievably overcrowded mall with hours-long queues to even the lamest restaurants then I’d join the strolling crowd.
And quite often I do. Whatever the weather.