For most Chinese students at Donghua University, June 9 was the Dragon Boat Festival and a day off from school. For IES Internships students, we had class all day including our evening seminar. But since the rest of the college was off, that meant our school building was locked for the night. Field trip!
It bit of a distance from Donghua’s campus is Zhongshan Yuan, or Zhongshan Park. Our professor, Nathan, decided that a walk around Zhongshan, observing life in the city, was just as good as sitting in our classroom discussing local life in the city and off we went. Zhongshan Park is a large park, but not the biggest in Shanghai, and even at past dark on a humid night it’s hopping. A few blocks away stands a giant nine-story mall with glitzy stores and towering LED advertisements, but the park itself only has a few street lamps. The front square is the outdoor ballroom where a speaker blasts an assortment of beat-heavy Chinese pop songs for older couples— and IES Internships students— to dance along with their partner. An older man taught some of my class how to chacha, while the rest danced on their own. If we didn’t know the steps we made up our own, and the other couples didn’t seem to mind as they danced around us.
We spent a while there, observing and dancing with the locals. One woman stood on the side with a pair of maracas dancing to the beat, older couples stood around watching the fun, and scooters lined the edge of the square. It was a nice sense of community, and not the only one we found in the park. Not too far from the elder ballroom couples, some middle to college students were woking on their hip hop and break dancing. Thudding electronic music beat out of a small speaker as some of the dancers popped and stepped to the bass, the rest standing and watching. Once again my class had to get in on this, and a kid taught us what to me looked like the cooler version of the running man.
Eventually we left the dancers to head into the actual green park of Zhongshan, which seemed just as peaceful and relaxing at night as I’m sure it is in the day. Open fields, stone paths, small ponds, pagodas, and flower gardens dotted the walkway through the park. Benches with lounging people dotted every now and then, most tucked off the path in winding rock or tree gardens. As we walked Nathan told us the history of the park and how like the rest of Shanghai has been rapidly developed. We even passed a construction site where a drill worked its way through whatever current project was going on. We walked deeper into the garden, 8 PM became 9PM and no one in the park looked inclined to head home. Most of the attractions were closed, including a small children’s amusement park, but people didn’t need more entertainment than sitting around and talking.
Eventually, we were told Zhongshan Park was going to close, and our class head back to campus. Everyone enjoyed our class field trip, and I felt like we really benefited more from seeing Shanghai than only reading about it. You can only read so much about the daily lives of a culture, but going out dancing with them is its own experience. Next week will be a normal seminar, but a part of me is hoping the door might be locked again.