Are you stuck in a cultural rut? Do you feel disconnected from local life? Don’t fret – there is life beyond Chaoyang Park and jazzy Sunday brunches. Beijing is a city rich in history and culture, which can often be accessed at often dirt-cheap prices. We forego the usual suspects to bring you a roundup of cultural activities, centers, classes, and parks that bring you closer to finding your inner Beijinger. We start off with activities…
Fly an Iconic Kite
Kite flying is a seasonal tradition in China and signals the arrival of spring. The kite of choice for many locals is called yashayan (崖沙燕) or sand martin, a migratory bird that closely resembles a swallow. The legend goes that Cao Xueqin, author of Dream of the Red Chamber, taught poor villagers how to make a living from making this simple kite. In Beijing, it’s tradition to cut the kite string to symbolize that bad luck is – quite literally – gone with the wind. Try Sanshizhai Kite Store, or make your own at China Culture Center.
Make a Traditional Chinese Handicraft
Test your dexterity (and patience) with one of China’s many traditional handicrafts. No good at knot-tying? Then try your hand at painting clay figurines, fashioning iron lanterns, building your own kite, blowing a delicate sugar sculpture, egg carving, papercutting, or calligraphy. The beauty of this variety is that there’s something for everyone. To book a class, try Gift of Hope, Shuiguiqi Traditional Cultural Workshop, or China Culture Center.
Seek Out Birds of a Feather
At various parks around Beijing, old men in faded Mao suits gather to indulge a curious hobby: showing off their pet birds. They hold clothcovered bamboo cages with tiny robins, sparrows, finches, and more. Some can perform elaborate tricks, which their owners show off with pride. Strike up a conversation with one of these bird tamers, bring your own feathered friend, or simply take in the scene. Birds, cages, and other accessories can be found at Guanyuan Bird and Fish Market.
Play Jianzi at the Park
If you know how to play hacky sack, then you know how to play jianzi (毽子). Also known as “Chinese hacky sack” in English, this popular folk game features a weighted shuttlecock with four feathers attached to a stack of plastic disks. The goal is to keep the jianzi from touching the ground using various body parts, but not the hands. Want to make friends fast? Show off your fancy footwork by joining a “circle kick” at the park or on the street. Jianzi are widely available at markets (see May 2012 issue on p58 for a list) and the sporting section of major supermarket chains.
This is an excerpt of a May 2012 article termed Don’t Dream, Be It that was first posted on May 26, 2012.