In August of last year, after a month in China, I said that among the things I'd miss from my D.C. life -- apart from our friends, our house, our cat (below), etc -- was the towpath along the C&O Canal, one of the world's great places to go for a run.
Yesterday afternoon -- under blue skies, with a gentle breeze, in unseasonably balmy mid-70s temperatures* -- I went for a run again along the towpath. It was the first time I'd run outside in more than a year, after doing so three or four times per week through the previous three or four decades.
The impediments to outdoor recreation in China are not my point. The beauty, abundance, and taken-for-granted Arcadian glory of much of America is what, yet again, amazes and awes the visitor. No matter how fast China keeps developing or how high its stock markets or trade surpluses may soar, it is hard to imagine that anyone now alive in China will ever see such splendor in its own cities.
Of course, this is the way the Europeans may have consoled themselves as they watched America's rise.
Bonus policy point: Along the canal and riverfront I must have seen a thousand other people enjoying themselves. Running, biking, rollerblading, canoeing, sunning, strolling, rowing, fishing, smooching. The Chinese are no slouches at enjoying themselves, but the gap in per-capita daily recreation is amazing. As Rob Gifford of NPR says in his excellent recent book China Road:
For a country that regularly ranks among the top three medal winners in the Olympic Games, there always seem to be precious few spontaneous athletic activities going on in China... I have no doubt they will win gold in every women's field hockey event from now until kingdom come, but I have never met a single Chinese person who even knows what field hockey is. Sports in China, like capitalism, are noticeably government-led.
It's even warmer today, so it's time for another run.
* Yes, I know that global warming is a big problem. A warm October weekend on the U.S. East Coast, on the other hand....
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