Monday, 17 November 2008

Morning exercises Chinese style

I knew before we came that students are required to attend exercises every morning - at least Monday to Friday and for the past 9 months or so at 6.20 am exactly familiar music is sounded out on the parade ground.

From my first apartment on the fifth floor I could see the students running towards the sportsfield across the little bridge over the canal, but I never saw anything of the exercise class itself. Some time later I would hear the hundreds of students returning to their dormitories, or their class rooms or the canteens.

I promised myself that one day I would go and see for myself. And today was the day! I'd almost forgotten my commitment to myself until I heard the first strains of the music, so quickly donned sneakers, and coat and went to see.

One student was on her way - via the canteen - and I said, "Don't you need to hurry?" "Oh, no. I'm early."

As it turns out the music that I had heard and thought was the beginning of the exercise program was only the "call to action."

At 6.30 am the exercises start. Rows of students - all in their class rows with a sign at the front of the line with their class number - await the instructions. Teachers are there also, I guess to make sure the students turn up as they appeared to do little else but watch the students.

The whole sports field was wall to wall students, and the basketball courts as well. I tried to calculate the number of students - no idea, but more than 1000 I guess.

A voice came over the loud speaker - "E, er, san" etc. One, two, three.

En masse all students followed what to them would be a familiar routine. Arms and legs in unison.

I was surprised that it lasted no longer than 5 minutes. Then I was engulfed in a wall of students on a mission. Most to the canteen!

Beside the basketball court were two elderly gentlemen going through their own paces in an exercise arena near the Student Centre. One - who must have been at least 70 was walking backwards on some elevated horizontal poles. Doing some Tai Chi movements as he walked confidently along the poles.

Another man, who also seemed to be in his 70's was doing other Tai Chi type exercises which were astounding. One thing that you often see here with older people is the massaging of their face, neck and head. Very strong movements to stimulate circulation.

He did this as well as other actions like pounding his chest, and thigh. I only watched him for a short period, but his exercise regime took much longer than did the students'.

Altogether fascinating. Another part of Chinese culture experienced that I can tick off my list.

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