Thursday, January 14, 2021

China: Embrace Wintering...

We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.
That's the gift of winter: it's irresistible. Change will happen in its wake, whether we like it or not. But we can come out of it wearing a new coat.                                             --Elizabeth May

                One of the group of "wild swimmers" that comes to Meijyang Lake every day at 4:00

                                                  Getting the ice broken for the swimmers

            Elias with some of the "regulars" that come every day. Believe me, we know them all now. 😀

Last week was the chilliest week for fifty years in Beijing and Tianjin, China--about 15 below Fahrenheit. Also, in a sense, almost everyone in the world has been "wintering" for the past year in the global pandemic. Over the past few weeks, I have been wondering: How do different people winter? When it is bleak and gray outside, how do we become alive again inside of us? What triggers our souls to feel the warmth when we only see fallow, frozen ground? How can what we do in our hibernations to rejuvenate us? I have learned a few things about wintering from the Chinese here in Tianjin, China: to go outside and hear the silence of winter speaking to you.  

We often come to Meijiang Lake at exactly 4:00 pm when retired men meet together daily near a specified pavilion. One by one, they arrive on bicycles and scooters in every season to be with their adventurous pals. (They are mostly men because the women are doing synchronized dance near another bend of the lake. I, too, enjoy watching the elegant motions of the women, like a flock of birds gliding across the sky in a perfect rhythmic flow). But it is mostly the men's group we come to cheer on in the winter as they break the waves of kitty-benders in the ice daily. Their aim? To brave the frigid waters and plunge into the inky shadows of cold. To see the counterintuitiveness of someone breaking the ice to take a polar bear plunge and then an ice skater glide behind him is one of our forms of entertainment these days. 

They come as fellow comrades and friends, eager to bend winter, to subdue it for a few moments. I bring my husband and son to watch them swim. No, I do not follow them into the icy waters, but their courage spurs me to plunge into other shores that are challenging for me to enter. I watch and listen to them as they give encouraging words or funny jokes. This is their time and place every day to feel a community of people who support their adventurous spirit. You cannot help but feel the infectious cheeriness of their smiles and laughter. I like to come here because they make me laugh and show me how to winter in China. You could say we are friends now. The other day I heard someone who was breaking the ice say, "Well, the Americans are here now so it is time to get in the water." Curtain call. 😀

A Chinese friend who teaches history in Beijing tells me these are the last generation who are "the wild swimmers" in China--at least in the urban areas. They are the generation who grew up swimming in lakes, ponds, and rivers. Pools at the gym or community center were not available in their youth. Therefore, these retirees represent a tradition that will likely soon be gone in the cities. Elizabeth May, in her book Wintering: How to Flourish when the Ground is Frozen, says, "The cold has healing powers. After all, you apply ice to a joint after an awkward fall. Why not do the same to a life?" This philosophy has led her too to plunge daily into frigid water, gradually building up a tolerance.  She suggests, "We let the cold unburden us of our own personal winters, just for a few minutes." These Chinese men are ardent followers of May's approach to wintering. Embrace it--every moment. 

In these "wintering" times, what are you doing to invigorate your soul? And just in case you need some more ideas for winter, here is one of my blogs that has three ideas from Sweden

This is a video that was all over TikTok in China in November--before the ice. Someone was filming us as we talked to the swimmers and divers. I had just had shoulder surgery, and they jokingly encouraged me to jump in the river. The Chinese characters say, "May America and China always have good relations." 

              Many of the men were about 80 years old. Gingerly and slowly, they walked into the icy water, with glistening shards of ice all around them.  Each time, I notice that the swimmer is quiet, reflecting on what this entrance onto the icy shore will bring--eager to completely blast his comfort level. To plunge into icy waters is to switch to another world where instincts and nerves are alerted.  Perhaps, it is a grasp for long-gone youth, for a clap from the enthusiastic Americans, and a nod from their friends. Yet, more than anything, I think it is a cup of joy that is refilled every day at 4:00 on Meijyang Lake. A feeling of conquering the frozen waters keeps them coming back. 

                                 Everyone pitches in to help remove the layers of ice. It takes about an hour every day for them to get the ice ready for them and their friends to swim. 

One man was getting his muscles warmed up with another friend who had already taken the plunge.

One man took off his shirt to wave a banner and then do some yoga.  

An outing at the lake for one grandfather to teach his grandson how to ice skate 

The grandfather brings a chair, and then scoots him around to get him accustomed to the ice, and then pulls him up to begin to ice skate. 

Here, the grandfather is with the chair and letting his grandson try the ice. 

My husband and son standing on the river near our house 

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