Monday, March 16, 2009

When's the novelty of running going to wear off?

Perfectly normal

Saturday came with some much-needed, wonderful sun here in Suzhou and I went for an even more-needed jog around the blocks. As usual, I got a lot of unwanted attention: cars that didn’t wanna cross the street but instead kept insisting on driving next to me, while the men yelled ‘hellooooo!’ from the window, the ‘what the f*** are you doing, sweating is NOT okay for a girl’ –eye from the well-dressed, petite girls in heels and the usual pointing and staring from some pedestrians. However, it wasn’t until I came running down a smaller hill and saw three men in suits waiting for a taxi, when things got interesting. I could tell straight away that something was up. When they spotted me they got almost childishly excited, started pushing each other, nodding and pointing.

And very well. When I ran past, one of the men started running next to me. Although he wasn’t running normally, no. He was doing this sort of heavy bear-running style, huffing and puffing and swinging his briefcase in the air (as a result of him waving frantically with his arms –I am actually not quite sure what he was trying, I've never seen anyone run like that ever before)?! I understood that it was supposed to be a joke, and his cool suit-friends (middle-aged, Chinese men) looked as if they were about to pee in their pants of laughter. I am just wondering who they were laughing at? Me, running there, all normal, not even caring about them or him, a man in his late 30-ies, in a suit, fancy shoes and who is running next to me?

I still don’t quite get the novelty of running here in China. Fair enough if I came on roller skies, or even a skateboard (not so usual I assume)? But come on –running?! The most universal form of exercise there is? Everyone knows it is good for you? Chinese people must know that too? It’s not like they are totally lost when it comes to sport (even though ‘exercise’ is a quite new concept over here, I know I know, no need to point that out to me) –just look at their performance during the Beijing Olympics last year?! And the few races I have participated in here in China have been jam-packed with Chinese people? Still, WHY is it so special to see a laowai breaking some sweat?! I think I will continue wonder until I die.

I wonder if it is the same for guys running here in China. Or if it is a little bit special if you are a jogging girl? Or maybe I am just unlucky, constantly bumping into the wrong people every time I decide to go for a run?

I cannot wait for some important doctor to go on national TV and tell everyone that ‘running is good for you’ (just like ‘opening the window is good for you as we need the fresh air’, or that ‘shopping burns calories’, or that ‘tampons are very unhealthy for girls’). What is he waiting for –come on!! Go on, tell people it is normal. 

(One funny thing is that at the gym where I go, the treadmills are always in use. People use them for jogging and walking. And there's nothing strange with that. But running outside? Not OK? Maybe it's considered bad to be seen sweating in public? Is it some kind of 'losing face'-thing that I have totally missed? If so, things would make a little bit of sense) 

30 comments:

bARE-eYED sUN said...

hey, maybe its the bumping(?) into people. :-)

fun post,
keep on bloggin' -n- joggin'

..
.ero

Admin said...

Wow, i didn't expect that. I thought if anything, that chinese people would be more supportive of exercising and health benefits that come from running. That fancy suit guy seems like a jerk!

Emil said...

They will think that about everything that is different from what they are used to is funny, and especially when it includes a foreigner. It seems that most chinese people know and understand that exercise is good for your body, but actually exercising seems to be unlikely for the mases, and if they do then it is with such a low intensity that it basicly is not training at all. But it is a changing progress, in all the major cities in China you can see more and more people doing sports, and very few people making a big fuzz out if you are running or cycling on the road.

Sport in China is still something that most people think is for sport students and proffesionals.

The Acolyte Tao said...

Hm, I have no idea. I'm a cross country runner myself so if I ever see a person running its just a normal everyday thing for me? But down here in Dallas there are a lot of running clubs, different types of meets and marathons and whatnot...?
If you were Chinese and busted out doing some morning qigung exercises would that be accepted as normal? (Honestly asking)
Because if that is considered normal and running is not I'm lost for words? I thought American society was a joke. =P

The Casual Observer said...

Good lord. You paint quite the mental image of the guy in the briefcase and suit.

Running/jogging is a perfectly acceptable activity in the US. I used to go jogging with a female neighbor - it was a good way to get exercise and socialize at the same time.

I don't run enough any more (having a toddler takes a LOT of formerly "free" time), but when I do run, I much prefer outdoor running to treadmills.

kanmuri said...

I don't know if the sidewalks are as uneven in china as they are in Taiwan, but if they are, skate board would be suicide lol

I think that whatever you'll do, they'll look at you, just because you're a laowai. That makes you super funny and interesting, wheter you're running or doing the groceries...

mantse said...

I think they just wonder why people run on the street?

i have never been in Suzhou before. but when i stayed in Beijing, i found that there is not a prepared for citizen to run on the street. Not only about pollution but the pedestrian brink always broken that make me hard to run.

Don't take it personal. they just feel something interesting which strange to see on the street only.

Incognito said...

Hahaha, Jonna, you are really famous in China! The people staring at you or chasing after you are ACTUALLY overwhelmed with the tremendous joy, that even their expression couldn't show it.

Seriously, I believe it is the societal norm that you should not do the jogging in the city, especially the metropolitan areas, let alone the sweating. This is the same thing in New York City, we are not supposed to do the jogging or any exercising on the pedestrian roads. But, it is permissive to jog at the park or near the suburbs.

cheers!

flyingfish said...

Didn't Peter Hessler find people thought he was nuts for jogging as well? So it can't just be a "look at that crazy girl sweating in public" thing.

As always, I so admire your good humor. I'd have slapped the guy. OK, probably not, but only because I'm too chicken.

By the way, I only just read yesterday's post with the Chinese blog beta-release -- hope my comment isn't too late to be helpful.

erik said...

I agree the shouting "helllooo" and making fun of you is terrible. About the running on a treadmill vs. outside, maybe they are afraid of breathing car exhaust and pollution?

AixelA said...

Yay for running! I just started a while back, and I can do 3.5 miles in a day so far. I'm thinking of training for a 5k or something soon.

I think (and this is a huge guess, since I've never been there) in China, women are more seen as the housewives, cookers, cleaners, and carers for children, and they must look perfect at all times. So I'm guessing sweating in public, for a girl, is not right there.

But that's a long shot. I'm just a lil ignorant American. You're blog has taught me many things, and I thank you for that :)

John said...

Next time take a pepper spray with you, before they can finish pronouncing "hello" spray it on them.

bkbj said...

Jonna, Chinese people do run (well, at least some do). Just that when younger they usually run on school playground/tracks. And when older, usually in a gym or in a park. Or move onto Tai-chi/Sword/Fan-dancing. Running on the sidewalk isn't all that common (especially given all the crazy traffic).

Still, that guy running beside you in suit was just ridiculous. His friends were probably laughing because he was huffing and puffing while you weren't. You have to admit it is a funny picture.

bkbj said...

Maybe you can wear a helmet next time you run so nobody can tell you're a laowai :D

Jake said...

If I were you, I will slap that stupid guy. Mocking someone's running is not funny at all.
At least you should say something, like:

"鸟人,一边去,少烦我!"

konichiwa, bitches. said...

it totally sounds like its more weird that you're white and doing something so conspicuous and non-touristy as taking a jog.

I personally hate to be stared at, so I am in awe of your inner strength and patience with these people. I get stared at in Berlin for being so non-white, so obivously american and so funny-looking, and that is bad enough, but pointing and laughing and running alongside? Wow.

Chong Hum said...

I have been following your blog since Dec '08. Great readings. What race was that picture from ? Are you planning to run the Nov. Shanghai Marathon ?

Sean said...

Hi, i just passed by, but i get something to say.
The reason why you are being stared at by chinese people or those guys gesticulate at you is not about what you are doing, but who you are, where are you from...
Your impressive appearance (I mean for chinese people) is not popular around them, in other words, you are kinda special to chinese people, just like those 3 suit men, you are attractive to them.
In chinese culture, it's not really popular for young guys jogging or walking outdoors, especially for girls. Girls in China would rather taking exercise indoors than taking outdoor sports, cuz girls in China don't prefer being exposed in the sunshine. Whitening plays a really important role in their daily lives. They dont wannna look so tanned. I hope you could enjoy your life in China. God bless you.

Nanciful said...

I am so sorry that you had to endure all that! Especially the guy in the suit... what an asshole! Let's see him run a couple of miles, he will not last even half a mile.

Jonna Wibelius said...

bare eyed sun -I hope you're right!

Admin -yeah, you would think so... but nooooope! Just like Emil pointed out: most chinese people know and understand that exercise is good for your body, but actually exercising seems to be unlikely for the masses...

Emil -yeah u r right. I just wish the mentality towards sports would change sooner rather than later!

Acolyte Tao -yeah I wonder how people would react if I came to join them for their Qi gong morning session... although in a way I don't think they would react. It is not old people in China that yell hello, point or stare... it is mainly middle-aged Chinese.

kanmuri -u r probably right. I don't mind the whole 'monkey' thing at most times, but some days it just gets to me.. I guess last Sat was one of those days.

mantse -no no no... u cannot take things personal here. If I took everything Chinese people tell me personal I would prob have an eating disorder now.. (seeing I am so 'FAT!') or, gone to the plastic sergeant to fix my HUGE nose... hehe

incognito -ehhhh, naaaah, I wouldn't regard myself as famous here, especially not because some suit man tried to imitate me running. what I'd love to know, however, is what goes through his mind when he sees me?

Flyingfish -seeing my Sat mood wasn't as sunny as the weather I almost felt like slapping him!! Thanks for your comments on the prev. post... Right now I don't have time to read any Chi novel but it is def on my to-do list, together with watching more TV, and listening to radio...

erik -yup, I cannot stand the whole 'hello' thing. It was entertaining for 3 months... but now I am very over it!

AixelA -yeaaaah girl, keep running!! U r def ready for a 5km race, maybe even a 10km race?! U know, the difference is very small when u run it...

John -oh lord no... then I would get the police running after me!

bkbj -yeah, f course I laugh about it afterwards...

Jake -well from my experiences, it is almost better to shut up than to say something.

konichiwa, bitches -yup, unwanted attention is a b***

Chong Hum -great to hear from you, dear follower :) The pic is from Shanghai marathon 2006, when I ran the half marathon. The Shanghai race is quite boring I have to say, so I don't think I will participate again. Maybe Yangzhou in april instead! :)

Sean -Can only hope u r right...

Nanciful -that is just what I told myself!! He would have died after 100 m, I am sure.... ;)

ktown2hk said...

Hey, be real. I live in HK in the semi expat area and you've got to know it's all about the yellow hair and fair skin. You're young too...hearken back to junior high - how did boys get your attention then? Even here I get it and I'm not that unusual, but when I run this happens.
Maybe Sweden is different than N America, but many women can tell you crazy stories from walking down the street in N America. Anyway, just enjoy the "fresh air" and have fun doing what you're doing - I can't even run outside because of the pollution
:-)

Jonna Wibelius said...

ktown2hk -yeah, running in Sweden is DEF very different to running in China... nobody pay any extra attention to joggers, unless s/he is wearing something extraordinary. I guess over here, my blonde hair works as my extraordinary gown...

Chong Hum said...

Jonna ... I'm coming to Shanghai for 1 1/2 months this summer and then back again in the Fall. I was thinking about running the Full. What about it didn't you like ? Does it run past nice scenic routes ? I ran Boston last year so 22,000 other runners in Shanghai don't bother me. Was there enough water stations & did they provide gels ? Thanks for your input !!!

Jonna Wibelius said...

Chong Hum -I've only done the half marathon in Sh and that was OK... Course is flat, water stations every 5km, no gels from what I am concerened... In fact, I haven't seen any gels at all here in China... I have tried to find them from sport shops (as I've had problems with my sport bra chafing when I run longer distances) but I haven't had any luck so far... so bring some with you!

From what I've been told the full marathon goes through a pretty dead construction area for the last 20 km, so a lot of people that I know struggeled with their motivation at the end... simply because they were so bored!

But they tend to change the race course every year so who knows, it might be better this year? I won't run it again though... There's a marathon in hangzhou (not far from Shanghai) in the beginning of Nov... Not as crowded as the Shanghai event and with a more interesting course from what I have heard.

U coming here for summer? don't expect to do any running then -the humidity over here is quite full-on during July, August and September -that's when I move my running to the treadmill at the gym.

Chong Hum said...

Jonna ... Thanks for the race course info. I think I'll just run the 1/2. Have you tried Vaseline or a anti-chafing roll-on ( similiar to underarm deodorant )? If you need any running supplies ( i.e. gels ), just let me know and I'll bring it for you. You, Diana ( my local GF ) & I can go for some Xialongbao Dumplings, hehehe.

Emil said...

You can find energy gels in cycling shops in Shanghai.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Emil -thanks for the tip, I never even thought about that... I brought with me 3 jars of vaseline from Sweden last summer, however, so I think I'm set for a while :)

Brad F. said...

You have more patience than me, Jonna. If someone started capering around next to me like that, breaking my rhythm during a run, I'd at the last have stopped and verbally assaulted him, if not outright slapped him in the back of the head. How rude! How ignorant and insulting!

Andrew said...

I experience the same thing (well, not exactly the same - as yet I haven't had any men in suits start running alongside me) when I go running in Shanghai. I've found that while there are a number of locals that go running around my apartment complex, when I venture out onto the streets of Pudong I'm on my own.

I tend to get some very strange looks from people passing by...it's like they're wondering 'why on earth is this guy running along this street?' (although sometimes when I'm struggling I'm wondering the same thing).

At least it's fun dodging pedestrians...and remembering to look for cars even when lights are red, as not dying is pretty high on my list of priorities :)

Brad F. said...

Andrew: Somehow, I've always found running down a city street, or down a path in the woods, more interesting, and more exhilarating than running on say... a track, or a quiet neighborhood street. I guess it's the fact that it keeps you focused. You have plenty to look at and/or dodge. It feels more action packed! Ha ha ha!