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Cycling among hedgehogs to hidden rhinos amid COVID

By Erik Nilsson | China Daily | Updated: 2022-06-16 09:03

Stone rhinos. Live hedgehogs. A leaping weasel.

Indeed, life has been a "zoo" for our family during Beijing's recent COVID-prevention measures.

That's not to mention other lifestyle changes, such as "decks of pain", "secret-garden" kettle bell sessions and "throwing-star parties".

The Chinese capital seems to be breathing a sigh of relief, as controls are currently relaxing.

But like millions of other residents, we've spent the past weeks concerned we may be unable to leave our compound, or perhaps even our home. As such, we've wanted the breath we've been holding to be as fresh as possible and have spent more time outdoors than we would normally.

The possibility we may be stuck inside our community has pushed us to explore more of the area surrounding our neighborhood by foot and bike in recent weeks than we had in the nearly 16 years since we moved into our apartment.

This led us to discover an abandoned park along a canal near our home, inhabited by two rhino statues guarding either side of a traditional Chinese wind wall in a hidden patch of forest.

Since we couldn't have guests in our homes, we've been meeting friends there for picnics and to fling throwing knives and ninja stars at shaken cans of beer that explode on impact.

I'd built a home gym during the first lockdown in 2020, but have recently been figuring out new ways of resistance training outdoors instead.

I sometimes haul a kettle bell to another overgrown park in our community for strength-and-conditioning sessions. I've also been heading to the local playground at night to do pullups on the monkey bars, dips on the parallel bars and decline pushups on benches.

But after this started to get monotonous, our family started doing the "deck of pain". The concept, said to have originated in US prisons, is to assign an exercise to each suit and then perform these according to the value of the card drawn until the whole pack is done. (Picture cards are worth 10, and aces are 11.)

So, if, say, spades are pushups and hearts are squats, and I draw a jack of spades, then I do 10 pushups. If the following card I draw is the 8 of hearts, I next do eight squats, and so on, until all the cards have been played.

It's far more fun than simply doing 86 of each exercise evenly broken up among consecutive sets, especially because it can be completed outdoors without any equipment.

I've also done "Mike Tyson card squats"-something the former heavyweight boxing world champion is said to have learned in prison-which involves picking up and setting down cards while squatting.

We've done most outdoor workouts at night since it's cooler and there are few, if any, people around. But I'm not alone - I've come to realize just how many hedgehogs waddle around our neighborhood in the wee hours. I see at least one most nights, and about a dozen at most.

One night, I saw five at once and, as I approached on my bike, a hutong (Beijing alleyway) weasel dashed between them and leapt over a barrier with the grace of a flying Chinese dragon. Encountering these mustelids, whose Chinese names directly translate as "yellow mouse wolf", is said to bring good luck according to local lore.

Certainly, I've always enjoyed being outdoors. However, before the risk of being restricted to our compound or apartment, I'd previously been inclined to sometimes think, "Eh, I'll go out later or tomorrow", and maybe not make it out that day, or even the next.

Instead of getting stuck indoors, I've been outside more than any other summer, basking in sunbathed greenery or glittering city nightscapes.

Some evenings, my wife and I even bring our laptops to the "secret garden" to catch up on work, while our 6-year-old son climbs a high mulberry tree and tosses berries to the younger kids below.

As soon as I finish this column, we'll take a long family bike ride. Where to? We don't know. Maybe to somewhere new. Maybe not.

All that really matters is that we're outside.

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