It is a not uncommon cliche of those who observe China that these are a people comfortable being in close proximity with each other. They live right on top of each other and being comfortable around other human beings is something that is part of the their DNA it seems. Certainly they have a sense of personal space which is VERY different to our Australian culture, which likes to put wide open spaces between us, even between those who live in our capital cities. (Want to see a bunch of Australians at their most uncomfortable? Insist they crowd into an elevator or commuter train!)
But that does not mean the Chinese don’t appreciate their space. They seek it out in all sorts of ways and at different times of the day. In Xian I was in the habit of getting out as early as I sensibly could, to walk around the old Muslim quarter, eating their doughy breakfasts with them and wandering through Lianhu Park as they went through their exercise rituals. One morning I heard the clear, haunting sound of a flute carrying across the park and initially assumed it was being piped across a sound system. But as I walked around the lake I realised the sound was coming from a bushy knoll. When I climbed through the bushes and across a handful of rocks I found this flautist (I think that is what he is) playing his music. In his own space. A few like me had come to investigate the sound, and a couple sat and tapped along, keeping time with their feet. Everyone else ignored him and he had his own place and space in the middle of one of the most ancient and well lived-in cities on the planet. It was a magic time and place for me as well.
Here he is in the video, lost in his own music and creating a special place for the rest of us in the park and under the bushes on the knoll. At the end of the piece (I regret not filming more of it) he signed to me that the music was about a train – I fancy the sound of a horn can be heard in there somewhere. Travel in China is all about these special moments.
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