When I used to go for walks along the Nightcliff foreshore or around the many parks and neighbourhoods that I have lived in, I have always felt free to smile and say hello to people walking past me. If someone said hello or smiled at me first I found great happiness in saying hello or smiling back. It is just pleasant.
In my little neighbourhood I haven't found much happiness among the people. At the start of our compound (it sounds a lot more luxurious than it really is) there is a little office that is manned 24/7. I have no idea why there is a little office or what happens in this little office but it is there and there is always someone in it. I think it is 'security' for the compound but they never stop anyone from entering. In the mornings it is filled with the older ladies of the compound. They seem to gather and talk. In the evenings it is the men that sit around and talk and observe.
Each time I walk past I smile and say 'ne hao'. I usually walk past 2-3 times per day depending on what I am doing. If I am lucky about every third day I will get a smile and a 'ne hao' back. The recycler lady on the main street, who was the first person in China to ever say hello to me, will give me a smile when she is not busy stacking her bicycle with hundreds of layers of cardboard. The little lady who sells flowers is generally cheerful. Otherwise people are generally cautious, suspicious and unfriendly. When I catch people staring at me on the street, I give them a smile. It is greeted with a snarl or they quickly look away. Occasionally a spit will come my way... There is a lot of hacking and spitting in China so I don't take it personally. The people here lack joy. They lack that unbridled joy that allows them to say hello or return a smile. I was beginning to think that this was an incredibly sad place that was so focused on work, where the people were so controlled, their happiness was lost.
I went for my daily jaunt today. I leave home around 9am each day and return from roaming (or now riding) the streets around noon. I find little treasures here and there. Today I found the street where you can have custom shoes made for you. And today I found FuXing Park. It is pronounced FooShing. Today was a clear, sunny, hot day in Shanghai. The cicadas were deafening as I walked along this very leafy street. There was a dry wind blowing and I was feeling pretty good, sweaty but good. I walked through the gates of FuXing Park and wandered along the pathway towards the centre of the park. The cicadas were shrilling and there were even some birds chirping. The park itself was beautifully manicured, there were plaques on trees describing them in both English and Chinese. I felt that I had found a little treasure and a little haven of loveliness. The atmosphere felt lighter than it did on the street.
I turned a corner and through the cicadas I could hear music - as I looked up I saw people dancing the waltz. Smiling people, dancing the waltz. It made me smile a little. As I continued walking I came across a man flying a kite. It wasn't just a small kite floating a few meters above the ground. It was a huge, beautiful, brightly coloured kite flying so high above the ground it was, initially, difficult to find it in the sky. He was holding a steel reel complete with its own brake. He was happily watching his kite skate and dart across the sky. There was a group doing Tai Chi and then I came across a group that didn't just give me a little smile, they gave me a reason to smile and even giggle at them, or should I say, with them.
There were about 40 people each holding a set of maracas dancing and singing, smiling and laughing to "Que Sera Sera - What ever will be will be" as I scanned the people around them they were all smiling. Whether they were talking with their friends, playing badminton with their father, playing mahjong or just waving a paper fan to keep cool, everyone was smiling. People even smiled at me. I found a seat and sat in the shade of a tree and soaked up the abundant happiness. There was positive energy in the air. What a beautiful place I had found. As I continued my exploration I found a man writing on the pavement with a calligraphy brush and water. I don't know what he was writing but it was beautiful. It only lasted a few moments in the hot summer sun before it evaporated away, yet he kept on writing and happily talking to a friend. One of the happiest people I saw was a man, dressed in his gym gear, having a conversation on his phone, walking around the park... backwards. He was having a lovely conversation with someone, laughing and smiling and walking backwards. Odd. Yes, it was odd but he was happy and adding to the atmosphere within the perimeter of this park.
I eventually left the park after wandering around for 45 minutes. It was about 35C and I was sweating up a storm so it was time to head toward home. As I left the park and walked down the street I smiled at a lady that I had seen jogging within the park, she snarled back at me. I was a bit taken back and then realised that within the gates of FuXing park you could let your guard down and be free, exterior to those gates you were back in the dog eat dog world of China.