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[Offbeat]: Daning -Lingshi Park

Two hours is really all you need to understand the city, and you should spend them doing a slow lap of Daning-Lingshi Park -- a strange, magnificent, and oddly unacknowledged space up in Zhabei.
By Apr 27, 2009 Activities

"Offbeat" is a SmartShanghai column about stuff to look at or do in Shanghai that's interesting or weird (relatively, of course), that doesn't fit anywhere else. It appears weekly, monthly, or maybe even annually, when we're not busy working on other superfluous column ideas.

Some folk insist you can get under the skin of Shanghai in just 24 hours. But the conventional schedule doesn't half include a lot of dead time spent standing in line for xiaolongbao. The New York Times adopts an even more leisurely approach; their 36 hour window opens with a stroll along the Bund Tourist Tunnel. And, when there's a slot set aside for pondering "what Mao Zedong would have thought of today's Shanghai", you know you've been had.

Two hours is really all you need to understand the city, and you should spend them doing a slow lap of Daning-Lingshi Park -- a strange, magnificent, and oddly unacknowledged space up in Zhabei. Curious what will be left when the bourgeoisie finally rise up? Keen to better understand power politics in the context of a contemporary Chinese courtship? Always wanted to know how high a man in a white tuxedo can jump when his shoes are full of sand? Then this is the place for you.

At 168 acres, DLP is officially the "largest centralized greens in Puxi" -- which means room for all kinds of compass-driven weird. The north of the park is modelled on Northern China -- hills, woodland, a big lake called Beihai. The southern stretch is an assortment of ponds, streams, swamps, and kitsch viewpoints with names like "Life in South China". The east gets a raw deal -- an amusement park, dodgems that fire big plastic balls, a restaurant left over from its smaller predecessor, Guanzhong Park, and some token bamboo paths. And, naturally, they had big problems with the west. People kept getting lost in the mini-Taklamakan, so they stripped it back to a kiddie sandpit. But last year saw an emerging separatist movement -- some of the older groundskeepers were insistent they had more in common with Zhongshan Park -- so the council went back to the drawing board, drafted in some capital letters, and modelled it on "The West" -- if you get lost, the European-style Long Corridor now leads directly to the Roman Plaza.

And yet, marble colonnades aside, the park really is lovely, its quirkiness surprisingly well-camouflaged. (Less so the grungey photographers chasing wedding shots from half-way up the plum trees, still wearing the knee high black boots they bought five years ago for a career they were sure would involve more nudity, more needles, and the occasional small-scale war.) And there are genuine triumphs -- grass you can sit on, an overgrown meadow with a Narnian lamppost, a counterfeit white-sand beach. The far greater oddity is that the park isn't better known. Not downtown at any rate.

Of course, on a clear spring day, it's as busy as anywhere else; a lunatic teen warden keeps the hordes of pedaloes in check by ramming them with a speedboat. They host tea festivals, New Year's celebrations, and as many as 60,000 people turned up for the "2006 International Music Fireworks Competition". So someone's obviously spreading the word. Some choice words at the entrance suggest that perhaps we're just not reading the right press:

The ethereal, peaceful, picturesque nature landscape of Daning-Lingshi Park has become the favourite for urbanites, therefore it ranked Top 10 Greatest Sights in Shanghai during a 2005 activity held by Youth Daily, namely, "The Greatest Sights in Readers' Eyes", also recognized as one of "Shanghai Civilized Parks" by Shanghai Landscape Administration Bureau.

You have to respect a group with the acronym SLAB. They probably carve all their words in granite before they say them out loud. Slap each other with splayed branches for talking out of turn. And the 1.8billion RMB they spent making Daning-Lingshi Park look pretty shows; it more than holds its own against the competition. It may be just as artificial, but it feels far more like authentic parkland than its bigger cousin out in Pudong (anyone else know that the peach trees in Century Park are genetically modified to sweep up their own blossom?). It's also much closer than Gongqing Forest Park, and is 198 kuai cheaper than Dino Beach, that other sandy playground for the no-tan-do crowd. Any of you urbanites who haven't yet been, really ought to make the time. Pay no heed to the whispers of those pesky groundskeepers -- it's a world apart from Zhongshan Park.

Daning-Lingshi Park -- 288 Guangzhong Xi Lu (next to Shanghai Circus World on metro line 1)


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