In Beijing, there are more attractions than flowers in the parks. Wang Tingting finds out more.
Walking through a typical public park in Beijing can be an enriching experience. On any given day, there will be people practicing tai chi, performing fan dances, kicking jianzi (shuttlecock) or singing songs. But what's been attracting a lot of attention is the various unique performances by retirees. The Voice of Heart, a troupe comprising mostly retirees, has performed for free in Beijing's Jingshan Park three times a week. They have been doing this since September 2010. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, troupe leader Li Chunzhi gets up early, wolfs down his breakfast and packs his audio equipment into his tricycle to take it to the park.
After transferring the equipment to a smaller cart, the 74-year-old pushes it to the troupe's regular meeting place. He is always the first to arrive and will get everything ready before his team members' arrival.
Yang Bianling is usually the second to reach the park. Yang dresses in ethnic Uygur attire for the show. The others normally trickle in soon after. Once they are done setting up the audio equipment, Li starts playing the harmonica to attract his audience.
Their highlight of the performance is the magic show by Shan Rongxu, who is the children's darling because of the candies he "creates" from his magic bag.
The troupe ends their act at about 11 am with a grand finale, where they sing Never Forget Tonight, a popular farewell folk song.
A retiree from the Art Troupe of the Beijing Armed Police Force, Li says life becomes mundane after one stops working.
"Some turn to fishing and tai chi after retiring, but the great majority just stroll in the park.
"In the '70s, most people weren't open-minded enough to perform in public. But now, they use parks as their own - staging performances to share their talents and to bring happiness to others," Li says.
He adds that performing in public motivates retirees to keep learning and improving themselves. "To some extent, we treat performing in the park as our second careers. Many of us have talents, and we take this very seriously," says Li, who has also led his team to participate in many events and competitions.
To prepare for every public show, he organizes at least seven rehearsals.
The Voice of Heart, with team members aged 48-86, is not the only active "park troupe". One can find other forms of entertainment by retirees in parks across the capital city, ranging from Peking Opera to magic shows. Like The Voice of Heart, they perform like professionals, and their performances go beyond conventional singing and dancing.
For instance, Xu Mingfu can imitate the sounds of more than 20 kinds of animals and performs in Xuanwu, Taoranting, Jingshan and Tiantan parks in Beijing. "Singing and dancing are old-fashioned and won't attract audience," he says. "Oral stunts are unique and more interesting. I'm still working hard to improve myself so as to bring joy to the public."
Some performers, like 72-year-old Zhang Guizhen, hope to take their show beyond Beijing to audiences nationwide. Zhang's talent is doing stunts with a long colored ribbon, which she carries with her wherever she travels and shows off her stunts whenever she finds the chance.
The unique shows attract local and foreign audiences.
Guan Jing, a tour guide who regularly brings tourists from all over China to Beijing, says: "The tourists love the performances in parks. Some even prefer these performances compared to visiting historical sites, which are often very crowded."
Thomas Ohlsson, from Sweden, says he goes to Jingshan Park especially for the shows. Ohlsson has taught psychology in China for 25 years and is able to speak some Chinese. He can even sing along whenever he hears a familiar Chinese rendition.
Compared to the parks in his country, he says Beijing parks are more exciting. "We like to sing, too. But I like it here because it's more spontaneous."