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How locals spend their leisure time in China

By Natasha Cohen16/03/2023 Chinese Culture, Living in China

Like many, people in China take their leisure time very seriously. And just like in Western countries, pastimes like shopping, gaming, hitting the latest cafes and restaurants and getting the latest nail and hair trends all play a huge part in their downtime.

But there are a few pastimes unique to China that you’ll see on your travels there, a few of which are particularly popular with the older generation. Here are some you’ll probably spot.

Morning exercises

People often wonder how Chinese people live such long, healthy lives. One reason is the food they often eat is fresh, unprocessed, and full of vegetables. But another reason is they make sure they exercise regularly, even in older age.

Visit any major park in the morning, and you’ll see uncles and aunties performing their morning exercises – particularly tai chi. The slow, purposeful movements help stretch and wake up the body and mind for the day ahead.

Square dancing

During the evening, you’re likely to see the aunties square dancing together in plazas and squares with joyful music blasting from a sound system. Affectionately known as ‘dancing grannies’ in the West, square dancing (also known as ‘plaza dancing’) is taken up by both middle-aged and retired women – and sometimes men too.

Square dancing might seem like a relatively modern way to exercise, but the practice dates back thousands of years, since the days of Emperor Yao and then the Song Dynasty. Nowadays, apart from the occasional argument about some groups causing noise pollution at night, the practice is still going strong.

Relaxing in a teahouse

There’s nothing like a cup of tea and a good chat – and China practically invented this pastime. While you might associate tea with formal tea ceremonies in China, many tea houses are actually a lot more informal. A great place to visit a public teahouse is at a large park, where you can people-watch over some good quality but reasonably-priced green tea.

In Chengdu in particular, you’ll also see professional ear cleaners working around parks and in the teahouses. You’ll often hear them before you see them – just listen out for the ringing sound of their metal tools.

Playing mahjong

Mahjong in particular is played by all ages, and is often played with a little money to make the stakes more interesting – but it’s always in good fun. If you want to learn how to play, though, be mindful of the rules.

While the essential rules of the tiled game are largely the same across the country, some regions will have a few different rules. The end goal is always the same though: to get matching sets and/or pairs of tiles.

Getting a traditional Chinese massage

Acupressure plays a big part in Chinese medicine, making traditional Chinese massage both a way to relax and a health benefit to many. For example, a foot massage will focus on reflexology to help energise and heal different parts of the body that correspond to different parts of the feet.

Going to a KTV parlour

Younger generations will often let their hair down in the evening at their favourite KTV (karaoke) bar. Not only do KTV parlours offer booths with microphones and a huge library of music, but they also often serve snacks and drinks.

Which of these pastimes sounds the most like ‘you’? Book a homestay learning course with Lingoinn and experience them for yourself.


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