Saturday, 1 May 2010

keep off the grass

When I was young, I can remember my local park featuring several small signs bearing the legend “keep off the grass”, but when I went to a big city for the first time I found that open expanses of grass were somewhere to sit and bask in the sun, on the rare occasions when that busy old fool bothered to put in a reluctant appearance. In Beijing, things are rather different.

In the small park that I mentioned in my previous post, we had noticed a number of discreet signs, an approximate translation of which was “this is a beautiful area of grass; do you really want to spoil it by stepping on it?” Fair enough; this is no more than a subtle change of emphasis and not worth further comment. Until, that is, I stepped on the grass to take the following photograph:


I was subjected to a prolonged harangue by a metallic, disembodied voice: however, as this was in Putonghua, I cannot offer a full translation, although it was along the lines of “get off the grass”, and the tone was peremptory and distinctly unfriendly. We quickly discovered that a small speaker was embedded in the warning sign, and I wondered whether I had triggered some kind of hidden motion sensor. Naturally, I tested this hypothesis by stepping on the grass close to other signs, but nothing happened each time. I therefore reached the conclusion that I’d been subject to video surveillance by someone whose job it was to ensure that nobody walked on the grass.

I was not perturbed by any of this, but the incident did bring into sharp focus the difference between the Chinese view of neatly mown grass in a city park and how this same grass is viewed in a park in the West. In the latter case, it is a practical facility, to be enjoyed by being walked or sat on; in China, the grass is a purely visual amenity, to be appreciated only from a safe distance.

4 comments:

  1. I think the fact that it is apparently somebody’s job to “watch” the grass is amusing, I wonder what you get paid for that

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  2. As a native Hongkonger, what you've said is very true... When I step out onto some grass with my friends in Canada or here in the UK, just for a second, inside my heart, it actually does strike me as peculiar that we should be treading upon grass-growing ground.

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  3. Very interesting, Dennis.
    Big brother is watching...

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  4. Grass is no fun if you can't romp, sit or lay on it! Yes, it's pretty to look at, and I suppose that's the point in staying off it, but grass is resilient; it always recovers from a squashing. For me, there are few things more inviting than a spot of lush, freshly cut grass to play on!

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