It is the small details that really make one country stand out from another. I had attempted to go to a park in the western edge of Beijing, as it was suggested by the Lonely Planet guide. Arriving at the last stop on the Subway, I was informed that the bus I was looking for did not actually stop there, nor was I anywhere near the park in question. Thank you, lonely planet, that was two hours well spent in the solitude of the subway.
I was not really in a bad mood following this failed attempt, but it had put quite a dent in my plans for the day, and I wasn’t sure what else I would be able to see with the few hours that I had left (I tend to spend the morning writing, and then go out in the afternoon. If ever in a bad mood, or feeling overwhelmed, a walk through the small neighborhoods is always a good remedy.
There is a game that I frequently see being played along the streets in Beijing, and, as far as I can tell, it is played exclusively by men. I do not understand the rules, nor do I know the name, and yet I enjoy watching, as it is a communal activity. More often than not, I see one or two people standing to the side watching as the game progresses, and, on some occasions, a very large crowd can form. As I do not understand the workings of the board, I am left with a number of questions. Does the crowd depend on the skill of the players, or perhaps an unusual level of excitement or personality? Or instead, does the crowd gather simply because there are other people watching?
I am fascinated by the workings of crowds in China, the way in which people observe one another and are observed. Privacy as an idea is quite different here than it is at home. I have written in the past about the lives that people live on the street, particularly within the older neighborhoods and hutong. The street is, in many ways, an extension of the home, and a vital element of the community. It is interesting to observe the interactions that people have with one another, as some things on the street are a part of private life, while others are inherently public. This particular game seems to come with an unconditional invitation to watch and, in many cases, to offer comment and suggestion. Members of the crowd often look down at the board and make judgment on a move that has been made. Others just stand by and smoke. In all conditions, this is a form of entertainment within the older populations of the community. It is a small detail, but one that adds very rich culture to this part of the world.