Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A change is as good as a rest

In this case, the change required quite a lot of resting to recover from it. Whilst I'm not a natural runner, I have found that running around in the forest and up and down mountains is a great way to keep fitness and I enjoy the simplicity of a sport that doesn't involve an expensive bike or skis, helmets, Gore-Tex, and endless equipment maintenance. My greatest running achievement to date was the 50km Knee Knacker up and over the three North Shore mountains. Not only was this a mental triumph for me, but I was reasonably fast (in my opinion) and didn't get badly damaged by the experience. The point I am getting around to here is that I stepped back from ultra-marathon running into old-fashioned road-marathon running this weekend. I've never run a road race before, because I didn't want to. Living in China means some concessions need to be made and Lina proposed we traveled to Hangzhou to enter the well-regarded International Marathon. I don't mind trying something new, so with a bit of grumbling I agreed to run.

The concept of jumping on a bus and a 'plane after work on Friday and spending a day and a half in a strange city in China, running a marathon and jumping straight back on a 'plane again in time for work on Monday isn't exactly my idea of a good time. I like to have time to let my surroundings soak in and to enjoy the experience. I also think short-haul flying (and any flying at all for that matter) is a bad thing on just about every level. Swallowing my ethics I buckled in for the ride.

Saturday we spent doing some sight-seeing and a bit of impromptu clothes shopping in Hangzhou. We walked around Feilai Park and peeked at various Buddhist statues hidden in caves carved around the mountain. It was an interesting place to visit, though as with many things here in China, some rather unsympathetic "improvement" of the ancient sites with concrete street furniture and paving made the place feel somewhat fake. What was definitely real however was the gatherings of locals singing songs, praying in the caves, or playing cards at outdoor tables. Whilst recreation for the Chinese is not what I have grown used to living in Canada, the Chinese do a great job of social gatherings in what seem (to me) the most unlikely places. I will try to organize a "poker game in a Buddhist cave" night when I return to Vancouver and see how far I get.

A walk in the park.
Mystical trees.
Puff the magic dragon (possibly)
An ancient Buddhist monument to rain.
One of Hangzhou's major attractions is West Lake, which is renowned to be one of the most beautiful lakes in China. When we got a view of the lake from the top of a hill in Feilai Park I was a little underwhelmed. West Lake is certainly nice, but "the most beautiful"? Later that day I had a realization. I think my concept of beauty is the property something has in its natural form. A mountain is beautiful because it is a mountain. However, I think West Lake shows how the nature of beauty can be different in other cultures. Here in China, things described as beautiful usually seem to be heavily adorned with gold paint, red curtains, and possibly flashing lights. My theory is that in China, beauty is something that can be bestowed by man (given enough supplies of gold pain and red fabric), and not an intrinsic property. West Lake's unique beauty, in the Chinese sense,  seems to come from the island-temples, the causeways, and the pagodas and other auspicious man-made constructions on the surrounding hills. I feel that as a scientist I need to find two similar ugly objects then spray-paint one of them gold, wrap some red cloth around it, and put a flashing light on top... then get some Chinese and Western volunteers to rate each one's beauty. The results might possibly be fascinating.

West Lake... beautiful or beautified? 
Anyway, back to this running business. I ran a marathon. It took three hours fifty-three minutes. It hurt a lot and on the whole was something I would like to never repeat. Unfortunately, we are already entered in the Bejing Great Wall marathon. Oh dear.

Finally, here are some things I saw at the weekend.

Firebags prohibited?
Chinese fries. Yum.
Hello Mr Brown.