I discovered a lovely park pretty close to the apartment the other day. It turned out to be huge and I was rather flummoxed as to how I’d missed it for so long. In amongst the leafy clearings and sculptured water features however, I uncovered an outdoor gymnasium. Now, all over China these strange adult-friendly work-out machines pop up – on street corners, in apartment quadrangles, next to bus stops – and they’re used fairly regularly by elderly locals who want to keep a bit of fitness in their life. It’s quite admirable really. But here, in this park next to Hongkou Stadium were literally dozens of machines, all manned (or womanned) by pensioners in their pyjamas. Some were swinging about on cross-trainers, others were swivelling their hips on weird circular pads while others remained staunchly by the chin-up bars. My friend and I waited anxiously to see if any of the octogenarians would attempt a chin-up. Scanning the other gym-goers it seemed unlikely, what with grannies tiredly swaying on see-saws while their husbands gurned on a roundabout, this place was more a playground for the dead than a place to perform chin-ups. Suddenly, a bloke who looked like a turtle hobbled up, clapping his hands together in preparation. I set my chuckle levels to high. Then he took his T-shirt off. He was like Bruce bloody Lee. He had less fat on him than a Nutri-grain bar. Leaping up to the bar, he held his legs straight in front of him then hoisted his frame seamlessly upside down so his toes pointed perfectly skyward. Lowering himself like a hydraulic arm he then repeated this routine several times before shimmying off the bar and flexing his muscles for our cameras. It was the most impressive thing I’d seen in China and that includes the Great Wall. But the circus hadn’t finished. Suddenly, turtle-man had a rival in the form of an opera-singing nut in a blue-tracksuit. Warbling away like Pavarotti he then went ominously silent before performing what can only be described as a Cirque Du Soleil routine on the chin-up bar. He span around it repeatedly like a fussball player before dismounting and continuing with his opera. I had to leave as the rivalry was getting too much, testosterone levels hadn’t been as high on the set of the Expendables.
(Which is a very disappointing movie may I add, although it does include the following exchange – Arnie: “Maybe we should go out for dinner some time?” Sly: “Oh yeah?” Arnie: “Ja. In a thousand years.” Sly: “Too soon.” If the whole movie had been like this it would have trounced the Godfather).
I’m going back to the gym to teach them star-jumps.