Thursday, December 27, 2012

Aspiring to Be a Chinese Peasant

One day a while back, I was out with my girls on one of our days filled with classes and errands. We'd just stopped by the feed store, and the back of the SUV was full of bags of feed and hay.

The smell of the hay covered everything with a gentle perfume of real, and as I breathed in the scent, I listened to my daughters who were prattling on about their electronic devices, their iPods or Nintendo DSs.

Once upon a time, I was accused of having selective hearing, and honestly (perhaps unfortunately), when it comes to the electronics, I do tend to tune out the comments, which I find tedious.

I appreciate that these devices have some value. I liked, for instance, being in contact via text mail, with some friends and family members while we were traveling, and, obviously, I very much appreciate the Internet and what it offers.

Yet, at the same time, I think we tend to place too much emphasis on these wonderful technologies to the point that we, modern humans, are incapable of doing anything for ourselves. When the technologies fail - and they do - too many people find themselves at a loss.

Recently, the phone and Internet service here at home was out for five days. It was inconvenient, but I didn't spend hours worrying about not having that connection to the outside world. I performed my usual, daily activities, and when I had time, I dealt with trying to get my phone and Internet back up and running. It was inconvenient to not have email and Facebook for a few days, but when all was restored, I realized I hadn't missed a lot.

As we traveled along the road breathing deep the scent of the hay and listening to the techno-babble, the reality of my life struck me funny, and I, quite literally, laughed - out loud.

I read an article or saw a news report some time ago about Chinese peasants (in these reports it's always someone in some very remote and/or very exotic place that most of us will never visit). As is typical of these reports, the people were depicted as living in "squalor", which is to say, not like us. They lived in some remote, mountain village had a small (neat and clean), sparsely furnished home with no indoor plumbing. Electricity, if available, would have been limited and/or sporadic. They had a small garden where they grew most of their own vegetables, and a pig or two, raised in a small pen, was their protein source.

The object of video article was actually not to draw attention to plight of the Chinese peasants, but rather to report on the interesting contrast of their very simple lifestyles with the fact that a higher percentage of Chinese people, from every walk of life, including those who live in remote mountain villages and raise pigs in the front yard, have cellphones than any other nationality worldwide.

And that's what I thought about, driving my ten-year-old SUV, the back of which was full of chicken feed and hay, while listening to my daughters chatter about their electronic gadgets.

Unlike the reporter of the piece on cellphones, however, who seemed to be, almost, criticizing that lifestyle of living simply while enjoy some pretty advanced technology, that's exactly the kind of lifestyle I'm drawn to, and the more I shy away from modern conveniences, the more my life tends to resemble that Chinese peasant.

At some point, I found that I was aspiring to live like a Chinese peasant - in a modest home with limited modern amenities and some pretty high-tech gadgets.

When the reality of that aspiration hit me, I laughed again, out loud, and my daughters stopped their banter and looked at me.

Smiling, I just glanced over, and shook my head.

"Nothing," I said. "Life is just good. That's all."


  1. I love it! I enjoy the modern conveniences we have, with the knowledge that they may not be around forever. I take the opportunity every so often to do without them, and (like you) I find that I am fine without them for the most part. My philosophy right now is to enjoy what we have, with continued practice doing things without those conveniences.

    Our focus is different than "Average Americans" (tm), in that we are not materialistically motivated. We take time to appreciate the simple things, and to enjoy life for what it is. It's fun to have the internet(for example), but I would survive if it disappeared.

  2. Wendy, that seems like a very sensible way to live, to me. If we all lived that simply, we could probably all have the internet, and not strain the world's resources. It's just deciding what's important. Clearly those Chinese peasants decided that keeping in touch with family and friends, and the world, was more important than say, buying a refrigerator or TV or other consumer items. I think it is a rather nice commentary on our humanity that we actually value the technology that keeps us communicating with each other above all else..

  3. @ Jo - I agree. If we all lived more simply, I think there would be plenty for everyone, and it is definitely a matter of deciding one's priorities. Things like clothesdryers and televisions are not important to me, which is why I don't have them, but I do like my blog and being able to have conversations like this one ; ).

  4. Well, there's modest and then there's poverty. I'm not sure that life as a Chinese peasant is all sunshine and smelling hay. I bet many/ most of them work long, back-breaking hours for very little and that sometimes they don't get enough to eat. And no indoor plumbing during winter? That doesn't sound fun. I'd aim for something in the middle of consumerist and poverty.

  5. @ min hus - Poverty is a money-centric condition. Just think of how little money you would need if you didn’t have to pay for every single thing you use. That was actually my point. The Chinese peasant who was featured in the story I cited was able to provide for all of his “needs.” He had a house and a garden, and anything more was just gravy.

    Not having indoor plumbing during the winter, where I live, would be unpleasant, but people survived for hundreds of centuries without any of the luxuries we have, and contrary to our popular beliefs many of them never felt deprived or “impoverished.” It’s that mindset – the knowing that what I need I can provide – that I’m hoping to capture. It may be the middle ground you speak of.

  6. I should add that I'm not romanticizing poverty or aspiring to some wretched state of being half-starved and freezing, but what I am working toward is a lifestyle in which I am not dependent on money to meet my basic needs.