I have lived in China for the first 6 months of this year, working as a teacher in Nanjing, a city of 7.5 million people. Before leaving Australia, I had every intention of maintaining my training and fitness, which I have done, and it has been through my early morning escapees on the city streets, that I have learnt the most about the Chinese people and their culture.
Disclaimer: I have actually probably learnt more by visiting museums, temples, memorials and other historical sites but that didn’t really suit the opening to my article and I have still learnt a lot on my runs!
DO make sure you spend some time in Nanjing and explore all the running options available. Nanjing is fast becoming a hugely popular city due to the education available and its historical significance with a twist of western influence. It also has running trails if you are willing to explore including paths alongside the Qinhuai River and Yangtze River, Xuanwu Lake circular footpath and the haven that is the Purple Mountains with a mix of made, gravel and of road trails.
DON’T expect a good long run in Shanghai. Shanghai is one city that confuses my orientation (those people who call me SarWays might find that hard to believe) and it has nowhere obvious to participate in physical activity, especially modes that require a long length on path. There is no river to run along, (there is the Bund but it is only a couple of kilometers in length) and no park that is central to the CBD.
DO take a phone with you when you run. The amount of times I’ve snapped photos of weird and random stuff or wished I had of bought my phone to capture weird and random stuff, is certainly worth the handful. Some of my favorite sights have been locals practicing kung fu and dancing in to music, one time I saw thousands of students doing afternoon exercise on the school oval and another time I got to witness the dragon boats training for the upcoming festival.
DON’T pat the dogs, or make eye contact! I feel very safe in China but one thing that scares me is getting bitten by a dog, especially border collies, I’ve been chased by two. You9 make be thinking stray dogs, they have not been a problem, I find it’s the pets (who are very well cared for), and are not used to ‘runners’, that freak out and launch at you when overtaking.
DO get up early to beat the crowds and avoid the searing temperatures. Actually, let me clarify, you will never avoid a crowd in a country of 1.3 billion people, (unless it’s raining), but you can avoid having to dodge in and out of crowds if you are up when the sun rises and out and about early. This also has the added advantage in summer of running when its 22 degrees at 5am instead of 30 degrees at 8am.
DON’T underestimate the distance on a map of a Chinese city. When traveling in Australia its quite reasonable to look at a map, spot a path or park on the other side of the city and expect to run there, do a few laps and run home. In China, to get from one side of a city to the other may be the distance of 10km or more, be prepared to use the public transport.
DO take some money with you. I am a serial splash downer and drinker from peoples taps on their front yards, but in China, you can’t even drink tap water, let alone find a tap in someone’s front yard, (come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen a front yard in China ever). The good thing is you can get a bottle of water, almost anywhere, for the equivalent of 20 cents. TIP: mangoes are delicious in China and sold commonly at fruit shops, they don’t need to be washed because they have a skin and are perfect post run.
DON’T look back! Observing traffic in China, motor vehicle, bike and pedestrian, you may think there is no order, and maybe there is isn’t, but the more of a road user I become, the more I realise there is a type of order. Order that relies on people committing to predictable (and sometimes unpredictable), actions. If you want to cross the road when the lights are red, or run in front of someone or something, commit to it, just go and don’t look back. Chinese people are generally much more forgiving and happy to slow down and go around, as long as you commit to what you’re doing.
DO (or DON’T) begin on your path to enlightenment, or at least learn about the religion of Buddhism. Among other beliefs, Buddhism values balance, wisdom, suffering, consequences, interconnectedness, compassion and meditation. Arguably, running requires a state of meditation and so learning about control of your mental state can only be beneficial.
DO give smile and give thumbs up! I may not be able to engage in conversation but I can certainly communicate with locals with a universal language, we all understand a smile and thumbs up.