Monday, July 4, 2022

Hemmed in by Covid curbs, Beijingers seek respite in urban outdoors

While gatherings are discouraged and many parks in the city are shut, Beijingers have taken up outdoor pursuits such as camping and picnicking after more than two years of strict and often claustrophobic pandemic curbs.

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On a hot, sunny day, children and adults splashed in the cool run-off of the Yongding River in a park on the western outskirts of Beijing, a city under near-lockdown in China’s head-on battle with Covid-19.

While gatherings are discouraged and many parks in the sprawling city of 22 million are shut, Beijingers – like others across China with limited travel options – have taken up outdoor pursuits such as camping and picnicking after more than two years of strict and often claustrophobic pandemic curbs.

Li Xiaoming, manager of Sanfo Outdoor, the largest outdoor equipment store in west Beijing, told Reuters sales of camping products had quadrupled from a year earlier since the Tomb Sweeping holiday in early April.

Customers, typically middle class urbanites, snap up camp chairs, canopies and tents, which range in price from 800 to 2,000 yuan (US$120-US$300), Li said.

One customer surnamed Wang tried on camping hats during a recent shopping expedition.

“I’m longing to be closer to nature to get relaxed. Camping may gradually become a way of life for me,” she said.

Research firm iiMedia Research predicts that China’s camping industry will grow 19% this year to 35.46 billion yuan (US$5.3 billion). The number of camping-related businesses grew by 22,000 in 2021, an increase of 55%, according to Travel China, a government website.

Near the banks of the Yongding, high school student Huang Xiaowen played guitar and sang as she and two friends sat on a plaid picnic cloth before getting up to play volleyball.

Huang, whose classes have moved online, said she often visits the park on weekends to relax with her classmates to escape hemmed-in city quarters and enjoy the quiet.

“We cannot have sports classes so there is no balance between schoolwork and rest,” she said.

Nearby, families and groups of friends ate lunch under the shade of trees, some with camping gear including tents, tables and chairs. Children caught tiny fish in pails as trains rumbled past on a nearby elevated track.

Beijing resident Teng Fei was picnicking with his family.

“Because of the pandemic, both young and old people in the city are in a depressed mood,” he said.

“Camping makes everyone relax a little bit.”

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