Me and Chairman Mao
  Staying active.
Those of who you read this blog on a semi-regular basis will know that, in general, not a lot of things work well in China, or at least not a lot of things work as well as they should. (The rest of you should just trust me. I'm extremely trustworthy. Usually. As long as there's no money involved, at least. ) Yet, despite the many, many, many things here that fall short of perfection, there are some things that the Chinese do extremely well. Four, to be exact: 1) beer is cheap and generally sold in large bottles; 2) taxis are plentiful and amazingly inexpensive; 3) the Chinese food is seriously good (sort of a given, I suppose); and 4) old people have plenty of exercise toys to help them stay in shape.

I figure the first three are fairly self-explanatory, but the fourth one might require a bit more exposition. Luckily, I don't mind expositing. (I would have sworn that wasn't a word, but Microsoft Word seems to think it is. Huh.) Anyway, wherever you go in Beijing, you will find strange looking playgrounds on the side of the road, generally placed in a small park, although they can be found in other places. I say strange because once you look at them for a few seconds, you realize that, while they the collection of brightly colored, plastic gizmos might appear to be a standard playground, they don't have any of the typical playground things, no slides, no see-saws, and certainly no swings.

Why? Because they aren't playgrounds at all, they are exercise machines for old people! Which is actually kind of cool, I think; in the mornings you can walk by the machines in Seasons Park and see people's grandmas and grandpas out there starting their day out with a light workout.

Here's the Old People's Playground (my own term--you down with OPP?) at Seasons Park:

Most of the machines are a pretty self-explanatory.

Some, on the other hand, I'm not so sure about. I've never been able to figure out what the point of spinning these discs is. DJ practice? That's the only thing I can think of ...

Here's a machine in action. Well, in inaction. She was taking a break, and refused to exercise on demand for my camera. I know, the nerve.

At some point, I noticed you mostly see women on the machines. It took me a while to figure out why, but then I realized that the men get their exercise in another way: by peddling their wives all around the city in a specially adapted cartcycle, like the one below. You see this sort of thing all over the city, and it always cracks me up, although for the maximum humor effect the old lady should have a ratty little Pekinese, or possibly a Chihuahua, on her lap. No sir, it just doesn't get any better than that.

Holly and I actually discussed getting one of these--they are very, very cheap--simply because it would be incredibly funny for me to peddle her around town, but we decided not to because it would be too cold to use in the winter and we won't be here to use it in the summer. Oh well. Instead we have settled on probably buying a moped/scooter in Shanghai, which is a much better choice. Because really, there's nothing like an unlicensed driver zipping through insanely chaotic traffic on an unlicensed knock-off Vespa. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? I know, I can't think of anything either ...
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