High-Heels, Cigarettes, Trench Coats, and Uggs: Sounds Like it’s Time to Exercise!

Now, before you picture me wearing high-heels with a cigarette in my mouth, remember that I don’t smoke.

As for the heels… well, I had to leave some precious items behind when I moved overseas and unfortunately, those didn’t make it.

I'm not kidding.

I’m not even kidding.

I currently live on the edge of the Nanjing University campus, which houses a great outdoor exercise facility about a ten-minute walk from my apartment. There’s a full-size track, basketball courts, soccer fields, volleyball/badminton courts, and various other fitness apparatuses, such as parallel bars, chin-up bars, etc. I go here every day or two to run on the track and use some of the bars for various exercises. Since the area is open to the public and it’s in the middle of a city of eight million, there are always a ton of people of all ages using the facilities. This provides plentiful opportunities for interesting sights and experiences.

So how does the title of this particular blog entry relate to exercise? Well, on my first day visiting the university exercise facility, I witnessed people either jogging or playing basketball or soccer with all the things described in the title. Yes, there were people (more than one) smoking cigarettes while exercising. I don’t mean they were sitting on the sidelines stretching or something; I mean that I was watching a man weaving through defenses with a soccer ball at his feet and a cigarette in his mouth. And before I could completely comprehend that cardio-vascular contradiction, I ran past a middle-aged woman jogging in high-heels and a trench coat. I immediately began imagining logical reasons as to why she may have chosen this outfit as her sportswear, but after visiting the facility regularly for three weeks, I’m beginning to think that’s just what she wears to exercise. Also, I have observed that in China (or at least in Nanjing) Ugg boots are popular for men as well as women, and apparently they make great exercise shoes.

These are just a few of the numerous sights I have seen that have left me scratching my head. Whenever I visited a track on a university campus in the states, I primarily encountered other twenty-something year olds wearing what I considered typical exercise clothing, such as shorts or sweatpants, t-shirts, hoodies, and running shoes. However, just as I’ve had other cultural eye-openings since arriving in China, I’ve learned that many of my notions regarding exercise are definitely not universal. I mean, I see just as many people running in jeans and dress shoes as I see elderly men doing pull-ups shirtless in sub-freezing temperatures, which is quite a lot.

While I have pointed out some of the stranger things I’ve seen at the exercise facility, I mustn’t leave out some of the other memorable moments I’ve had. We recently had a day with some light snowfall, and I decided to go out to the track for a run. I was surprised that there were still a fair number of people at the facility, one of which was an elderly man flying a kite. As I rounded the track, I peered up at the tiny dot of a kite high above the track, over the stadium and the trees, up near the top of a nearby skyscraper, barely noticeable in the white sky. The contentedness of the old man flying the kite in the falling snow gave me a sense of serenity I hadn’t experienced since arriving in this bustling city a month ago.

Just as I began to drift off into a sort of jogging daydream, I heard little feet running rapidly behind me. I looked back and noticed a preschool-aged girl wearing an enormous pink jacket sprinting behind me with a huge grin on her face. I smiled back and continued at my pace, which she maintained for another few seconds before tuckering out. The next time I came around to the part of the track where she was walking with her mother, she excitedly said something to her mother and then started sprinting next to me again. When she finally slowed to a stop, dramatically emphasizing her tiredness, I turned and clapped for her and gave her two thumbs up. She looked up with bright eyes, smiled a huge smile, and then turned to run back to her mother’s side.

These special moments are something I have begun to appreciate more and more the longer I’m here. Living among millions of frantic and weary people who seem to be losing their souls more each passing day has helped me to begin to truly understand the value of an honest smile from a child.