Breaking Free: Young Couple Choose to Leave Big City

October 17, 2014
By Li ShuangxiEditor: Tracy Zhu
Breaking Free: Young Couple Choose to Leave Big City
Young couple Hua and her husband Dong [Women of China/ Li Shuangxi]

Years ago, Hua and her husband, Dong, worked in Beijing, like many young people of our generation. They had their own apartment and their own car. Life was pretty good for the couple. One day, in 2010, they sold their apartment and left Beijing. I hadn't seen them for more than three years before I reunited with them last September (2013).

"We went to many different places. We finally decided to settle down in Hainan Province. It is a good place, and it is warm all year long. We feel comfortable living here," Hua said. She talked while she fed her horses. "We found this place by accident. It is far from the road, and people seldom come here. It is a good place to stay."

Based on my understanding, a relaxing life away from the city should be easy and comfortable, which is not what Hua and her husband have chosen. "But it is not convenient to live here. You can surely find a small quiet village in which to stay," I replied. Hua disagreed. "It is difficult to find a clean village. There are many villagers there, so it is hard for an outsider to deal with the complicated relations … This is a good place. We are free. There is no pollution. We can sometimes see foxes and boar in the forest to the east of our house."

The horses were eating papaya when Hua asked me to take a photo of her with them. "Take a picture of me with Shuizhen and Jingqi … When we first bought Shuizhen, we didn't know that she was pregnant. She gave birth to Jingqi a few months later … The two horses are very energetic. We have to keep them in the forest to the east of our house, to keep them away from our vegetables," Hua said.

Hua and Dong are busy every day; they feed the horses, chop firewood, wash, cook, open new land and grow vegetables. Dong also does some extra work on-line, so Hua takes care of the daily household chores. "Of course, sitting in front of our small house and staring at the green trees around us, without thinking about anything, is also part of our daily life. Everything here is very slow," Hua said.

The couple's dog, David, seemed to be influenced by their slow-paced life; the dog just lay on the front porch. I could see bees and butterflies on the small purple bean flowers, and there were dozens of chickens wandering around the house. I could hear crickets and other insects.

Dong rode his motorcycle to a nearby town to buy some pork and fish, to welcome me. Hua began preparing the meal early in the morning. "It is difficult to carry gas up the mountain, so we mainly use electricity to cook. It takes longer than usual to cook a meal by electricity than by gas," Hua said.

As Hua cooked, Dong tracked the stock market on-line. They had a living room, a bedroom, a studio (where Hua painted) and a storage room. I could see many of Hua's paintings in her studio.

Dong realized that I was interested in their home, so he told me, "We bought our bed in Fujian Province. The bed is made of bamboo, and it is very heavy. It was so difficult to carry it up here. We bought our two chairs in Zhejiang Province. Hua was so fond of the chairs, and she insisted on carrying the chairs here."

I was amazed. "It must have taken a lot of effort for you to get all of the things up here," I said. I thought they could have made their life more comfortable. "You could have built a wooden house, instead of this movable plank house. A wooden house would have been more comfortable. Why didn't you choose to build a wooden one?" I asked.

Dong had an answer at the ready. "It is not easy to make things work in rural areas, especially on the mountain top, where we choose to stay. Locals don't want to work here. At first, we slept in a tent. It was almost impossible to sleep during rainy or windy nights … We wanted to build a bamboo house, but it was too expensive. We had to give up our plan. The movable plank house was easier to build. After we hired people to carry the materials up here, we were able to build the house ourselves. Before we lived here, there was no electricity. We spent a fortune to persuade the electricity company to supply us with electricity."

I agreed with Dong; it most surely was difficult for him and Hua to build their own place on the mountain, away from the other people. Before they moved to that spot, there had not been a walkway up that side of the mountain. Hua and Dong made the narrow path to their home. They said it took more than a month, working with their hoes, to clear the wild grass and make the narrow walkway. "During those days, we were covered in sweat all day. We had calluses on our hands, and purulent discharged from the wounds on our hands," Dong said.

"Look at the thermoses," Dong said, as he pointed to a few thermoses in a corner of the kitchen. "They are survivors. We bought many of them, and we brought them up here by motorcycle. The thermoses that I brought up here the first time were all broken by the time I finally reached our house, because the path was too bumpy. I had to go back and buy more. We finally managed to preserve these.

"Buying eggs in the villages down the mountain has been difficult. At first, we didn't have the hens, so we had to buy from villagers down the mountain. When I bought a dozen eggs, only two or three eggs would remain intact after the trip up the mountain." I was amazed by Dong's motorcycle-riding ability. It was hard enough walking along the narrow path, so I assumed it would be impossible to ride a motorcycle over the trail. Hua, who heard us talking, added, "He didn't know how to ride a motorcycle before we moved here. But we found that it was hard to go to other places. He managed to learn how to ride a motorcycle in one day. He constantly fell off his motorcycle at first … He got a big scar, from falling off the motorcycle once, on his left leg," Hua said. Dong rolled up his pants to show me the scar.

Hua told me that she is grateful for her husband. "I have always wanted to live a life away from the city. I want to have a small farm and a wooden house. I want to grow fruits and vegetables, and to raise some chickens. I want to ride a horse on our farm … I want our children to grow up and to play in fields. I am quite persistent … Dong was born and raised in a city. Work in the countryside was too hard for him at first, but he has made (the adjustment). But I know that he has suffered a lot along the way."

Hua was passionate as she spoke, and Dong looked at her with a warm smile. Dong said he did not regret leaving the city behind. "Living in the forest, we are our own masters. We don't have to deal with many people. We have green vegetables to eat every day. This is the happiest life in the world. It is worth it," Dong said.  After having spent two years on the mountain, both Dong and Hua are slim, and both have dark skin. Compared with them, I am a bit fat, and I have pale skin. Dong made fun of me; he said my belly was bigger than my breasts. I was speechless. I seemed to be lazy, compared with their healthy lifestyle.

When we live in a city, we may fail to notice the changes in nature, especially the blooming of flowers in the spring. Maybe you are like me; maybe you also dream of living away from the city, but you also have trouble giving up the conveniences of urban life.

Hua and Dong plan to continue living on the mountain for another five or 10 years. They plan to build a real farm, where people can visit and use as a base when they tour Sanya, Hainan Province. Hua and Dong say they will keep their place in the mountain as their final kingdom. Their life, to me, and maybe to many others, is like a magnificent adventure.

(Source: Women of China English Monthly May 2014 Issue)

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