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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 48: 11 November

Shanghai, China 
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The great Chinese workout beside the gardens of the Bund.
Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysOut early to film the Chinese at their mass, public, morning exercises. We're on the Bund at half past six, but the Tai Chi classes are already under way, and, horror of horrors, in the middle of eighty pairs of slowly circling arms is a television presenter, clutching his mike and delivering a long piece to camera. He is only one of three TV crews, not including ourselves, who are also recording this unusual and highly visual social phenomenon. I notice that they tend to concentrate their cameras on the group activities, whereas, for me, the fascination lies in the peripheral, individual behaviour. Respectable middle-aged gentlemen, looking like civil servants, can be found with legs up on a fence, foreheads bent low toward their knees, twirling swords about their heads, or literally spinning themselves around. A woman of advancing years bounces her back gently and repeatedly against a plane tree, a younger woman instructs a clumsy soldier in some balancing act, a silver-haired man who looks into his seventies is doing amazing things with an unfurled umbrella, sweeping the ground with lithe, balletic movements and ending in the splits.

All this is being done, not in any special area or with any special clothing, but on the way to work. There is none of the western paraphernalia of jogging suits and trainers and designer sweatshirts. Nor is the exercise punishing or demanding or violent. It's all controlled movement, bending, stretching; relaxing and co-ordinating rather than body-building. A young man comes up to me to practise his English. He's already done his Tai Chi - thirty minutes at six o'clock - and he's rather dismissive of the group everyone's filming. They are only doing 24 variations. Some people do 88.
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  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 48
  • Date: 11 November
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Shanghai
  • Book page no: 165

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