Jack Palance in a Singlet: Hong Kong “Aunties” and “Uncles” Occupy the Playground

Hong Kong has an aging population. An aging population that lives in high-rise apartments. An aging population that likes to spend the morning outside in the park.

Some of them get together in groups to do expected things like tai chi or fan dances.

Some of them use the “fitness corner for the elderly” equipment found in most Hong Kong parks:

Hong Kong Parks photo

One of Hong Kong’s many “fitness corners for the elderly.” (Photo source: HK Leisure and Cultural Services Department)

But there is one sub-group that prefers to occupy the children’s playground equipment. Some simply sit on the benches and watch the children, but there are many characters among them who actively use the playground. I mainly enjoy interacting with this enigmatic group of park “aunties” and “uncles,” a cast of characters I’ve never seen outside of greater China.

Here are a few of my own field observations:

Standard Elderly Playground User. Places shopping bag on play equipment. Proceeds to stretch and rub back on ladders, poles and other climbing features.

Jack Palance in a Singlet. Climbs up onto one of the playground platforms to perform his push-up routine. Children work their way around him to get to the top of the slide. Reason for using the playground platform rather than the cushioned playground flooring: unknown.

Jack Palance push-up

Like this, but at the top of the slide in a tank top.

Arm Pounding Auntie. To keep the sun off, she wears gloves and a visor. She stands at the edge of the playground, using one hand to pound and slap, up and down the other arm. (This activity is a rather common sight: insights solicited.) She offers an abundance of free parenting advice. She has never seen a properly clothed child as they are all either too cold or too hot.

Shadowboxing Uncle. Inches from the slide, he shuffles, jabs, and dodges punches coming from out of thin air.

Like this, but without the gloves and with shoes. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Chocolate Grandma. Does a few cursory stretches. Mainly talks to the children, commenting on which ones are good (“ho gwaai!”) and offering them sweets.

Grandpa Gorilla. He uses the glider (the thing children are supposed to use to glide back and forth between platforms) for his own personal swinging, gliding, and grunting routine. Because he is actually too tall for the equipment, he must bend his knees sharply up to keep his feet from dragging.

Any data points to add?

21 responses to “Jack Palance in a Singlet: Hong Kong “Aunties” and “Uncles” Occupy the Playground

  1. I remember when we first moved to China and we came across this equipment, we thought it was a playground. We let the kids climb and try to play and wondered why there were only elderly people around us and why they were all staring at us. It’s one of my fond memories of being an outsider…lol!

    • Ha! I too remember scratching my head and wonderful what they were for!

      The amazing this is how heavily used the equipment is, right? I think in the US they’d all sit unused and laughed at, but in China (and Hong Kong) they are the place to see and be seen among some of the oldies!

    • Same here. I’ve often thought senior citizen life looks friendlier here in greater China (where are lots of parks and good public transportation) and in Cambridge, UK (where everyone rode bikes) compared to the US where everything is so spread out and you could be rather isolated.

  2. Jack Palance has been dead for six years and I think he could still kick my ass! Of course, if he was wearing a singlet, I’d just cry uncle and cover my eyes. These old Chinese people sound only slightly scarier than him.

    • He’s tough as nails! This is undoubtably the reason no one dares ask him to move his exercises away from the top of the slide (so the children can gain access).

  3. This phenomenon is true in many places in Asia. I remember seeing a group of elderly people playing a game similar to croquet at like 5 a.m. And definitely all the Tai Chi stuff. In Taiwan, I used to go running in the morning. I lived in a *tiny* town with NO foreigners. A lot different than HK. When I wasn’t conscious of being stared at, I was observing the people there. Many of them liked to “power walk” with radios singing Chinese songs from their belts. I found the whole thing hysterical.

  4. It was my fondest memory of visiting China. My Tai Chi teacher took a small group of us and had us up at 5.30 every morning to practise with the locals. I was stunned to see the parks crammed with elderly people using this equipment, playing badminton, ballroom dancing and even just walking around and yelling (good for the lungs apparently). With everyone’s competing music blasting away it was total bedlam. Not exactly the zenned-out Tai Chi experience I was expecting, lol.

    • It’s wonderful, isn’t it? What a great way to spend the morning, “living out loud” and doing whatever the hell you fancy. Exactly what retirement should be about.

    • That link is fascinating. Not sure I could ever attempt it with a straight face, so it would probably never have the chance to work on me. Nice to better understand what they’re up to and to have a name for it: pai-da. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I’ve insight on the arm-punching auntie (which I’m fast becoming) – the Grandpa Gorilla I’ve never heard of. Punching various parts of the body increasing circulation, kind of like a pressure point massage. The ones that hurt the most for me are outside of the arm and the thighs and legs. When I apply pressure to those areas, it’s feels like giving them a stretch (loosen them up) – but actually, it’s to get at some pressure points, which will promote healthy circulation (or so I’m told).

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