Parks and Bodies

by Jay Nordlinger

In Impromptus today — the last installment of a Taiwan journal — I write,

Back in the U.S. of A.., and elsewhere, I’m sure, there is a longstanding debate: How many roads and trails should there be in a park? How accessible should a park be to one and all? On one extreme, there are people who would have a park closed off to all but the fittest backpackers. They consider roads and trails a desecration. Grandma will just have to look at a picturebook at home. On the other extreme, there are those who — who would go pavement-crazy, I guess.

Don’t you think there ought to be a balance? I do.

In Yangmingshan National Park, there are actually trails for the handicapped: for wheelchairs. I’m glad there are. There is enough nature to withstand a little pavement, and the average person — even the halt and the lame — can enjoy this glory.

A reader writes,

. . . I immediately thought of Shenandoah National Park. There are bazillions of trails, including the Appalachian Trail, and then, of course, there is Skyline Drive, which runs the ridge from stem to stern. There are trails designed for wheelchairs, for dogs, for kids, etc. If you’re a bad*** naturalist, you are a half-hour walk from true back country, official wilderness. A balance indeed.

One more item, offbeat? In this column, or journal installment, I write,

With a local man, I discuss Taiwanese athletes abroad: There have been some major-league baseball players. The man says, “You have to remember that, on the whole, Asians are smaller and not as strong as Westerners.” I think, “If a Westerner — if an American — said that, he would be tarred and feathered.”

A reader writes,

Starting at 19, I spent two years (1985-86) in Hong Kong. I am an average-sized American (6’0”), but whenever I got on the subway car (which was always filled to capacity with standing riders) I could see to the end of the car unobstructed. I was always head and shoulders taller than everyone else. The Hong Kong Chinese always said that Westerners were larger and taller because they had more meat and dairy in their diet than average Chinese.

When I went back ten years later, after the generation that had fed on McDonald’s had grown up, I could no longer see to the end of the subway car. The native Chinese obstructing my view were all teenagers or in their 20s. I hadn’t gotten any shorter in the meantime. Maybe there was something to what the Chinese were telling me.

Once, an Indian-American friend of mine made this observation to me: “Our parents [immigrants to America] come up to our waistlines. Almost every son I know is significantly taller and broader than his father.”

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