China: A Twenty-Year Perspective: Members Travel to the Far East to Gain Perspective on Parks and Recreation at Home

By Hoover, Dianne; Neal, Larry | Parks & Recreation, September 2007 | Go to article overview

China: A Twenty-Year Perspective: Members Travel to the Far East to Gain Perspective on Parks and Recreation at Home


Hoover, Dianne, Neal, Larry, Parks & Recreation


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China is a beautiful, vast country with huge population centers and wide open spaces. It is also getting ready to host two of the world's largest cultural and sporting events: the 2007 Special Olympics Summer Games from Oct. 2-11, in Shanghai, and the 2008 Summer Olympics Games in Beijing Aug. 8-24.

Prices for steel and oil-based products are rising in the United States as a majority of these products are headed to China in preparation for the events. About half of the world's cranes are now stationed in China to build and prepare venues for the Games. Indeed, the stadiums, apartments, high-speed rail and transportation areas are under massive construction.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal chronicled the coming of these Olympic Games with the headline, "Why China is Letting A Thousand Museums Take Root and Bloom." Yes, even parks, recreation and leisure areas are on the rise, as these places generate revenue and help share a long and rich history with the world. Chinese officials have jump-started their economic expansion by recognizing what we in parks and recreation already know.

The Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce (Calif.) offered us an inexpensive, all-inclusive trip to China. I had the privilege of visiting China 20 years ago as part of a People to People Citizen's Ambassador's Program which focused on park and recreation issues. That initial trip was a year before the incident at Tiananmen Square that showed the world the internal struggles in China. The difference in 20 years is remarkable; some very good and some not-so-good as observed from our Western eyes.

Twenty years ago, we traveled toward the Great Wall of China on a paved road, and when we got closer, the road became gravel. Cars were few and far between, since only those with a high-level government job could afford them. Indeed, one would be on a seven-year waiting list just to buy a bicycle for transportation. Otherwise, they walked or used public buses.

Home/apartment personal ownership was unheard of, and not mentioned. You did not tip your drivers, guides or waiters because anything they were given became government property. Public bathrooms were simply holes in the ground, no seats and no flushing. Sewers went directly to any open waterway, and since we were there in August, you could smell them everywhere you went.

Twenty years ago, workers still wore Mao suits to work, although that was starting to change. They would go to the park very early in the morning to practice Tai Chi while listening to instructions from their Communist leaders over the park's loudspeaker system. After work, they would have to stop at the market to pick up that night's ingredients for dinner since refrigeration was non-existent or very limited. Mass transit was packed and personal space, tight. One Sunday afternoon, we did witness families in the park flying kites, relaxing and also doing Tai Chi, again with information coming over the loudspeakers.

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Fast-forward to 2006. China is experiencing world trade like never before. Shanghai, 14 million people and growing, has a skyline that beats New York City with all its high rises and business hubs. High-speed rail transports people from the airport to downtown in less than 10 minutes; a trip that would have taken an hour by car due to the high volume of traffic. Our bus driver even engaged in several "road rage" incidents due to the amount of traffic and lack of roads to keep up with the growing demands.

The big news on CNN in China? McDonald's opened six drive-through windows in the country as of Nov. 10, 2006. With the faster pace, comes the desire for faster service and the lack of the sit-down, leisurely family dinners. One of their national treasures, the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing now even has a Starbucks in the center of the common area.

The parks and historic sites were packed with people, some tourists, but mostly Chinese seniors. …

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