They were dancing to the Tennessee Waltz in front of the statue of Marx and Engels.
Sundays I meet friends for coffee in Xintiandi, and afterwards I walk to Fuxing Park, in the heart of the French Concession, to watch the people dance. Today, there aren't enough men, and several of the ladies are dancing with imaginary partners.
“Can you dance?” one of the women calls out to me.
“I don't know how,” I reply.
“I'll show you,” she says, and before I know it, I'm on the dance floor.
“Yi, er, san,” she counts. “Si, wu, liu.” Step out, step back, count to six again. I've got it—as long as she keeps counting for me.
She asks where I'm from.
“Meiguo,” I reply.
I miss a step, and she starts counting for me again.
The next dance is more complicated, though, and I quickly reveal my two left feet. We plod through, but when the music stops, I thank her and bow out. She smiles and nods, and then she hooks up with one of the other single women for the next number.
I walk over to the open space in front of the pond. Men in berets sit at tables playing go and Chinese chess, while other men gather round watching and discussing strategy. Across the pond, a man stands in a pavilion singing Italian opera.
Several joggers pass me by as I follow a path through the trees. But one nearly trips when he sees me. Shaved head and geek-sheek glasses—is he my long-lost Chinese twin?
I enter a cave in a rock formation, but as I go around a corner, I spot a couple making out in the dark. I quietly turn around and go back out.
In the field, families are picnicking and flying kites—rainbow colors dancing in the wind before a backdrop of skyscrapers.
So much of Chinese life is lived outdoors. Today, the clouds hang low and the air is damp. But we bundle in layers and go out anyway, living our lives in the open air.