Thursday, March 18, 2010

'Culture, Space and'...something

A while back at Manchester we had to do a course on 'Culture, Space and...'...well 'and' something. Most of the course was badly thought out and taught, mainly because the flimsy premise of the entire course was based on one lecture. That lecture was about architecture in modern China, and in particular how people relate to each other as a result of the layout of public spaces. Following me? One massive legacy of the fifty years of socialism out here is in the design of Chinese cities. There is still a massive emphasis on public spaces, shared areas where people can socialize and do stuff - it's been a long hungover day so 'stuff' is the best word I can find for it.

Every textbook we've studied from so far has included a chapter on 'What happens in China in the morning', it's an obsession. What happens is that people, old people especially get together in these public places and practice qigong, taiqi, synchronized dance, yoga, ballroom dancing...etc. It's amazing to see, hordes of grannies lined up in rows practising what appears to be the macarena, someone's boom box blasting out cheesy mando-pop, all with serious serious faces.

What makes this more interesting is that through out the day the demographic of those using the space changes. A good example was in Beijing, next to the tube station I used was a sort of open garden thing:

Used by old people in the morning for qigong and in the afternoon for dancing.

However when the wrinkles weren't shacking out to pounding techno music the skaters moved in.

Whilst the youth on skateboards did their thing on the rails apparently erected for that purpose all the OAPs who apparently had nothing better to do just hung around. They chatted to the kids on skateboards , did a little exercise around the edges of the square, and everyone got along nicely and it was fine. When people started congregating again and the boom box came back out the kids that had been skating disappeared off.

Nothing about this seemed at all unusual. Compared to our situation back home however this seems a little crazy. The idea of people of such different generations so happily sharing a public space probably just wouldn't happen. It sometimes seems old people have been scared off the streets in big cities by the ever present threat of the youth of today. Out here although the idea which underpinned the building of these areas - to create a sense of community, is slowly being lost in the swirl of capitalism and money it hasn't fallen as far as back home and that cheered me up no end.


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