Interacting with old people and small children is probably one of my favorite and least favorite things about being in China. Their very open and honest nature is the very thing that makes me feel this way. Old people don’t care what other people think and children just haven’t learned better. There is no filter for what they say out loud. Those are the people who probably stare at me the most or point at me and say “black person” or “African” in Chinese, something that I’m still getting used to.
Recently I went to a park called Jing Shan Park. This is one of the many famous tourist sites in Beijing. It used to be the personal park of the emperor of China. Now, it is also a place where a lot of retired old people go to spend their mornings. Because of the single child policy and the Chinese government requiring people to retire after a certain age, the number of old people in China has increased dramatically in the past few years. Going out to parks is a way that a lot of the old people socialize and stay active in the city. There are several activities that they partake in while at the park which includes but is not limited to Chinese hacky sack, singing, dancing, walking, and taichi.
The particular old people that I had a great time with were the ones who were practicing calligraphy. Ever since I had started learning Chinese I have had a particular interest in Chinese calligraphy. I think that it is beautiful and mesmerizing to watch. They used sticks with wet, pointed sponges on the tip to write with on the ground.
These old people saw me and welcomed me in. They invited me to practice writing with them and told me about how to do calligraphy correctly. One old man in particular was very knowledgeable about the history of Chinese calligraphy and had mastered different styles like the more cursive form which I find highly illegible but very beautiful called grass script and the more formal style called regular script. He was originally from Shanghai so he had a bit of a southern accent but was very nice and gracious in teaching me how to write. And he said that my writing was not bad.
All in all my first few weeks in Beijing have been an adventure. Figuring out how to live in a foreign place in a way that is comfortable for you is not an easy task for anyone, especially when there are little things that remind you that you will never be able to truly blend in with the natives. Also,I find that after a few days of only speaking Chinese, writing this is a little difficult.
I look forward to the coming weeks and the excitement that they will surely bring!