Hemmed in by COVID curbs, Beijingers seek tranquility in urban nature

BEIJING, May 26 (Reuters) – On a hot, sunny day, children and adults splashed in the cool drain of the Yongding River at a park on the western outskirts of Beijing, a city under virtual lockdown amid China’s frontline battle with COVID-19 .

While gatherings are discouraged and many parks are closed in the sprawling city of 22 million, Beijingers — like others across China with limited travel options — have resumed outdoor activities like camping and picnicking after more than two years of tight and often claustrophobic pandemic restrictions.

Li Xiaoming, manager of Sanfo Outdoor, the largest outdoor gear store in western Beijing, told Reuters that sales of camping products have quadrupled year-on-year since the Tomb Sweeping holiday in early April.

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Customers, usually middle-class urbanites, are buying camping chairs, canopies and tents ranging in price from 800 to 2,000 yuan ($120 to 300), Li said.

A customer surnamed Wang tried on camping hats on a recent shopping spree.

“I long to be closer to nature to relax. Camping could start to become a way of life for me,” she said.

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

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

Huang, whose classes have been moved online, said she often visits the park on weekends to relax with her classmates to escape the congested neighborhoods and enjoy the tranquility.

“We can’t have physical education classes, so there’s no balance between school work and rest,” she said.

Nearby, families and groups of friends were having lunch under the shade of trees, some with camping gear like tents, tables, and chairs. Children caught tiny fish in buckets as trains rumbled by on a nearby elevated railway.

Beijing resident Teng Fei had a picnic with his family.

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

“Camping lets everyone relax a bit.”

($1 = 6.6670 Chinese renminbi yuan)

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Reporting by Xiaoyu Yin and Tony Munroe; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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