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What a perfect way to start my China day
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It is 5:45 am and my alarm goes off. I don't really need it, though. My place overlooks a pond and the chattering of women gathered there vies for my attention with the birds who are off on their usual early start to catch worms. The women chat and move their arms and legs and for a while I think they are preparing to gather and walk. No. They just chat and move their arms and legs around. A form of exercise I may adopt if I get tired of my morning walk.

For now I relish getting in an hour of walking just as the sun is rising. I use Nordic walking poles so I never lack amazed glances as I stride along. Just being a foreigner gets me looks; add to that what looks like ski poles in the warm summer air and sometimes I have people nearly screwing their heads off as they do double takes. This is a bit dangerous for those on bicycles or motorbikes, but once I saw someone walking right into a sign, so I guess I can qualify as a danger to the general public on wheels or on foot.

I have a place where I stop to stretch, which overlooks a pond. I face the rising sun over the water and feel like the Egyptians who worshipped Ra. The summer sun promises to deliver a warm day. Since we have plenty of rain here in Hangzhou, it also means the trees and flowers will soak it in and grow to great heights and beauty. Often there is a fisherman on the bank trying to take home some delicious fresh fish. Or, perhaps, he is just using the fishing as a good excuse to enjoy the pond and the rising sun.

I love passing by the regulars on my morning jaunts. There are several security guards along the way, and the ones who are awake gift me with a smile and a ni hao m? There are other walkers, some with their dogs, and we greet each other with familiarity. The few joggers always seem too intent for a greeting, but I say, "morning" anyway. Some send a quick response on the wind as they breeze by. One of the city bus drivers gives a honk and a wave as we pass each other.

I live near a hotel, so the guests provide variety. For a while a man in full tai chi gear used to make his beautiful moves every morning. Last week, there was a couple doing tai chi in the parking lot. They were grace personified as I slowed down to watch them. They seemed to be in perfect synch. How many couples can claim that? For a few mornings there was a man with a boom box who was brandishing a sword in time-honored moves as he kept pace with traditional music. The cast of characters changes, but there are always at least a few people out who are waving their arms, walking backwards or just strolling along with a friend.

The walk I take includes moving alongside a canal. There is a man on an old boat out there but I don't see a fishing pole so I haven't figured out what he does. The canal has weeping willows bending down toward the water, so he may exist just to give me that perfect picture of China every morning. It makes my day.

I watch the movement of the seasons as spring moves into summer and summer into autumn. The trees bud, then burst into leaf and slowly, slowly, as I pass them by, we both age a little and know that after autumn comes winter's chill. The flowers create their miracle of color and joy. I miss having a flower garden of my own, the few plants on my balcony don't really count, so I walk and enjoy other people's gardens. The hotel gardeners make sure that every season is well represented with blooms. When I arrive home it is with a sense of another day in China, well begun.

(China Daily September 1, 2009)

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