Wacky Weekday Workouts

Posted by Pete DeMola on 15. Apr 2009

A friend and I recently discussed how many Chinese practice healthy living on a daily basis via a natural, integrated part of their daily schedules that doesn't require the profound costs -- via gym memberships or purchase of equipment -- that many foreign residents use as feeble justifications for their tubby frames.

Physical fitness, Beijing-style, doesn't even necessitate that you change out of your business suit, as so many Beijingers will testify to.

Many foreigners dismiss the quirky habits (line dancing, marathon stretch sessions, adult playgrounds) as mere novelties.

Don't, for they're representative of a society that recognizes the benefits of a sound mind-body synthesis.

Although I don't engage in blustery bouts of sidewalk badminton or meander backwards through parks, I have been taking increasingly more cues from the populace as to how to get into better shape -- albeit in an extreme, heavily-competitive fashion.

I do it via my daily commutes.

I've learned to skip the morning coffee and awake naturally. Although difficult at first, I've found that weaving in and out of the sporadic pockets of empty space at subway interchanges, like an asphalt slalom skier, packs a meaner wake-up punch than my usual lukewarm cup of Nescafe.

Although there's no reason to rush, having been swept into a crowd of hundreds, my natural urge to compete intensifies.

Arriving at Xizhimen station from Line 13, I, like most folk, sprint rapidly as the doors open -- much like horses from their pens -- down the stairs, through the sprawling complex, and into the outside corrals for a brief reprieve; where I become one of many in a crowd that becomes glassy-eyed and sedated: shuffling in lockstep while loudspeakers bark orders.

Calf muscles may be stretched by leaping over the errant rucksack, small child or felled competitor. In addition to a great cardiovascular workout, I also set personal goals via the few nanoseconds from my commute that I try to shave off each afternoon.

Escalator not quick enough or too clogged?

If you're like me, you'll soon learn to sprint up those imposing flights of stairs, where you'll beat your challengers by mere seconds, only to find the subway doors abruptly hissing shut in your now-flushed face.

But that's fine: health experts claim that meditation is an integral part of any well-balanced health regimen, and public transit in the city makes for the perfect exercise in self-restraint.

For this writer, that extreme asceticism takes shape in the avoidance of punching those slow walkers -- or those who dreamily zigzag through the terminal -- in the back of the head, as well abstaining from slapping those who perpetually issue the exasperated tongue-clicking sigh (Tsk!) when something doesn't go their way.

The list of offenders also includes commuters who abruptly stop dead in their tracks in the center of the aisle, deformed subway musicians, and perhaps the worst of all, people who stand on the left while using the escalator.

At times, the stars will align to produce extra-challenging athletic circumstances.

That was the case recently at Dongdan when the competitors bottlenecked. To alleviate the conditions, the authorities reversed the flat escalator, which resulted in the transformation of several hundred sleepy-eyed commuters into participants in a reverse treadmill competition.

Feeling intimidated? You'd better take notes from the more experienced among us.

I did just that on one sunny morning in the transfer from Line 2 to 13 via Xizhimen, when forty-or-so giggling construction workers emerged from a side corridor and in a perfect act of synchrony, integrated seamlessly into the raging sea of fellow athletes, where their yellow helmets bobbled like serene little buoys.

In addition to dropping that excess weight, in pursuing this regimen, are there other advantages?

Sure. Consider not getting trampled underfoot your biggest blessing.

Photo of fellow athletes courtesy of Anita Zhang.

How do you stay in shape? Have an entertaining subway story? Complaints? Let us know below!


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