The Bearded Giant is a runner.
No, really! I have t-shirts and medals and everything!
Now, to be fair, they are finishers medals. It’s not like I am actually fast. Or even moderately fast. Or sort of, kind of fast. Ok… I am slow. What I do could barely be called running. If you don’t believe me, just ask the little old ladies who pass me in half marathons around the U.S. Or better yet, ask my teammates on overnight relays, who schedule their meal breaks during my legs, because it’s the best down time they will have all race.
But a lack of success or skill is no reason to give up. I ran my first half-marathon at age 39. And even if I get passed by people pushing strollers, I plan to keep doing it until I physically can’t any more.
Running in Changchun poses some problems. Sunrises before 4am make for a lot of nights ending at 8pm with apologies because “hey I have to run in the morning”. China’s pollution is another issue. Even on “good” pollution days, there is coal smoke everywhere at night. The local BBQ restaurants all grill outside on the sidewalks. And they don’t use propane, they don’t use charcoal. They use coal. Yes, actual coal. And to avoid choking their customers to death with a fog of burning coal smoke, they all set up fans directly over the coal fire to blow the smoke into the air.
That smoke doesn’t get very far, of course. Maybe to the 3rd or 4th floor of a nearby building. But the summer weather pattern ensures that it will still be hanging around next morning, ready to choke the lungs of unsuspecting runners.
Thankfully, there is a park near my apartment. It’s typically crowded between 4am-7am with people getting their morning exercise before work. It has a 1,092m loop (roughly 2/3 of a mile) that is nicely marked off. It’s far enough from the BBQ restaurants that the air is fresh (by China standards).
While the pollution haze is evident, the park is beautiful.
China’s low wages and commitment to full employment without concern for efficiency mean that there are probably four times as many workers maintaining this park as you would see in the United States. But it’s clear there is pride on display as well. On the right side of the pic above, you can see one of the waste receptacles.
These receptacles are scattered throughout the park, and are also found in many of the public areas around the city. If a wide road median has trees planted in it, the city has probably put out some of these containers.
The small container in the middle is for cigarettes, with “nonrecoverable garbage” such as fish skeletons in the yellow bin, and “recoverable” in the green bin.
I’m not sure how many people are throwing away t-shirts and bundles of newspaper while they are chilling in a park enjoying the flowers and sunshine, but hey… if the need arises? You’re all set!
Oh, you probably thought I was kidding about fish skeletons…
In addition to fish skeletons, this is the proper receptacle for extra wrenches, pith helmets, tampon applicators, Captain Hook’s severed hand, and any bananas that you started to peel and then were like “woah, wait a minute… I didn’t really want a banana right now… and eating it would be wrong… so I should dispose of it only partially peeled… oh look, there’s a receptacle conveniently labeled for partially peeled but uneaten bananas!”
Because that happens ALL the time…
Where was I?
Oh yeah, the park.
All these photos were taken midday, long after I ran, so the park is nearly empty. At some point I will head over at 4am on an offday so I can grab pics of how busy it is, but it’s a bit tricky to grab pics while running. 🙂
The haze is sadly evident here, both above and below. But Changchun definitely loves its flowers.
A few places around the loop, there are these handy signs shaped like a giant foot. They say… uhh… something something 1092 meters… something something dark side…
The loop is marked every 200 meters with large markers to let you keep track of your travels.
And this is the marker at the “end” of the loop. Depending on how many laps I have left to do, it’s either my favorite or least favorite part of the loop. 🙂
I don’t see many other runners while I am out. I see a few. But out of 1500-2000 people on the loop each morning, there are probably only 10-15 runners. I give each a hearty “jia you” as I pass them (or they pass me). “Jia you” (pronounced like ‘jyah yo’) is an exhortation used to cheer on sports teams and students alike. It literally means “add oil” or “add gas”, but colloquially it is a catchall for “do your best”, “keep it up”, “way to go”, etc.
I get occasional strange looks when I say it. After all, I am probably the tallest foreigner most people in Changchun have ever seen. I have the longest beard most of them have ever seen. And I am unexpectedly interrupting their morning exercise to cheer them on. But for every strange look I get, I get at least five smiles and “jia you”s back. 🙂