One thing I notice in the U.S. is that Americans care about their workouts. Some people spend thousands of dollars buying exercise machines—exercise bike, treadmill, dumbbells, yoga mat, yoga ball, you name it—and make one of their family rooms into a gym. Some people like to run or jog outdoors regardless of weather. Rain or shine (or even snow), they persist in their daily exercises in the park, on the sidewalk, and by the lake. A gym has become a necessary building on an American campus. It is also one of the most popular hangout spots for students and faculty.

I remember years ago when I was an undergraduate in China, a new American teacher came to our university. After he settled down on campus, his first question was — where is the gym? I had no idea — even though we had had P.E. class for a year. Few Chinese students used the gym, let alone knew where it was. I directed him to our P.E. teacher. Finally, he found the gym in a tiny, rundown brick house in a hidden corner by a modern running track. The exercise equipment was nowhere as nice as that in an American high school.

Working out is of great importance to many Americans. Various health clubs, such as the YMCA, are everywhere across the country. I guess if a Chinese would put the distance between a new house and public transportation into consideration before moving into the neighborhood, an American is likely to be concerned about how far it is from the new house to a gym, and if it’s too far, he always can alter a room into one.

I had never seen so many joggers until I came to America. I remember my first visit to Central Park in New York City last winter. I was astonished to see swarms of people wrapped in their athletic garments—tuques, gloves, tight vest, slick pants and sneakers—running in the same direction in the park. Different from groups of retirees doing Tai Chi in parks in China, the army of runners in Central Park, as well as in other American cities, is an extraordinary demonstration of the role of aerobic exercise in the American way of life.

Detesting running, I’m not inclined to join the jogging crowd. However, I have learned to drive cautiously for fear of running them over. They appear on the street at different times of the day: some in early mornings, some in the afternoons, and some in the evenings after night falls. So driving at night in Pittsburgh poses potential danger, simply because streets are usually quiet and dimly-lit. Occasionally, evening joggers pop out of nowhere between two parked cars, their heads wrapped around the music of their I-Pods, and their feet dancing to a rhythm only they can hear.

Filed under: Prose, Songyi Zhang's America