I know I need to lose weight. Everybody tells me this: My doctor, my wife, my colleagues at work, my neighbor, some old guy I saw at the park, a clerk in a store where I was buying a juice maker…everybody. I get it. I'm a large mammal in a country of mostly smaller mammals. But this is Beijing — free health advice comes standard.
Most people just shake their heads and blame “Western food,” assuming that I live on a steady diet of McDonald’s cheeseburgers and beer. Not true. I eat a lot of Chinese food which I am told - repeatedly - is so much healthier than Western food. Maybe I’m missing something, but the health properties of fatty pork steeped in oil and sugar and then deep fried somehow elude me. Whatever. The situation is that I’m an ex-rugby player in need of shedding a few pounds. How to do this in Beijing?
First of all, I’m skipping the gym and hitting the streets. But jogging in Beijing requires a set of skills not necessary in other countries. The most important is the anaerobic workout you get holding your breath while sprinting past a) a public toilet; b) a city bus; c) a two-stroke nightmare of a cycle; d) all of the above. Then there is the critical issue of head position and foot placement. If you keep your head up and eyes forward, you risk all manner of slop seeping into your knock-off Nike trainers that you bought because the store said your feet were two sizes larger than “normal.” After losing a pair of shoes this way (don’t ask) I began jogging with my head down.
I plodded along — diligently scanning the ground ahead with an attentiveness usually reserved for bomber pilots and BASE jumpers - and was nearly killed by a guy scooting the wrong way down the sidewalk.
Running in China is also something of a spectator sport. I try to go early in the morning to avoid the real crowds, but it’s never early enough. Our local park fills well before dawn with Oldsters-on-Parade and they treat the sweating fat guy in their midst with a mixture of humor, wonder, and the occasional suggestion that I am, in fact, too fat and should eat more Chinese food. I’ve found a way to make it work for me in a game I call “Oldster Slalom” - a necessity really, as my usual jogging path is always full of the strolling, chatting, shouting, tai chi-ing, line dancing, singing, bird walking, hackey-sacking, and meandering senior residents of our little neighborhood.
First of all: God bless ‘em. I think it is wonderful how active seniors are in China. But I’ve had a few near-misses when somebody would unexpectedly change course. I don’t want to even think about the patriotic lather on the Chinese Inter-web if somebody’s grandmother were taken out by a huffing-puffing embodiment of American gastric decadence.
Despite the clear and present danger I present to myself and others, it’s good exercise. Even in Beijing. I guess I’m born to run. Hopefully, it won’t be the death of me.