Photo by Iñaki Lizarraga de Miguel
When I tell people about my favorite park in Shanghai, no one has ever heard of it.
That may be part of the fun. Sichuan North Road Park is small but, in keeping with traditional Chinese gardening techniques, it packs many different scenes and experiences into a tiny area. Climbing the steep rocky steps at the back entrance, I wind up in the bamboo forest area which screens out the high-rise offices and stories of the busy commercial district outside.
Turning a corner, I come across two older men sitting on at a small table playing Chinese chess. They drink strong green tea from glass flasks and their faces are tense with concentration. Around the next turn I find a young couple arguing. With a very short skirt and high-heeled shoes, she looks dressed for a night on the town, not a lazy Saturday afternoon in the park. She sits crying loudly on the steps, as her boyfriend stands nearby, attempting to explain himself.
I had intended to climb the steps but, deterred by the crying girl and the mournful cries of a stray cat, I veer away, out of the bamboo forest into an open high walk. People sleep, backpacks under their heads on benches under the trees as I pass an elderly exerciser, walking backwards and clapping his hands, followed by a woman in her pyjamas walking a little dog while talking on a cell phone.
This high path curves around the man-made lake at the center of the park, constructed with commercial units around it, none of which have yet been finished or filled. Children sit by the water with small nets, lunging for the fish that live in its shallows, while an elderly couple, their eyes sparkling with joy, bounce their infant grandchild on their knee.
One of my favorite things about this park is that it does not close at night. After dark falls, friends meet on the island in the center of the lake to drink beer and a group of dancers twirl to loud music on the wide plaza, attracting street sellers hawking cold drinks, fresh melon and cheap jewellery. The central water garden area reflects the bright lights of the city as well as the fairy lights that sparkling on the paths around.
Visiting the park is not just one experience, but many; the park is not a space, but a canvas on which the life of the city and its inhabitants plays out.
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