We have been living in our Dali village for almost one and half years now. I’m really starting to get into the swing of things around here. I still get a kick out of drinking from the tap in China. I am thankful for how rich the soil is as I check out the vegetables and flowers in our garden and I swear I can see the growth everyday. We step back and look at the home we’ve built and feel a great sense of pride and comfort. It’s getting exciting as we begin to develop lots of creative projects and ideas. The sun is shinin’, the birds are chirpin’ – I know we made the right move.
Oh.My. God. Kill. Me. Now. There are PARTS of a mouse laid out in front of my bedroom door, courtesy of Bobbyloo – resident cat and ruler of us. Just like that, the record screeches to a halt and my perfect paradise bubble bursts. Like everything in life, there’s the good and the bad. Here are my pros and cons of living in a small village in China.
Pro: Long leisurely breakfasts We all know we need a good breakfast. Back in the city getting half an hour more sleep trumped nutrition. I’d grab something on the way to work and have it at my desk. Now, breakfast is a full-on proper sit down meal for us. We start around 8:00am and it can last for a while. (It’s not like I have anywhere to go after!) Between the fruit, cornflakes, toast, yoghurt and eggs, paired with in-depth social media monitoring and browsing of favourite websites, breakfast can take up to 90 minutes at times. After I’m satisfied with the food I have consumed and the information I have absorbed, I am fully ready to get on with the day!
Con: I miss seafood I know, things could be much worse. But for this seafood loving Singaporean, it’s significant enough to make it to the list. I’m the sort of person that chooses a seafood dish 95% of the time off a menu. I would allocate 70%of my appetite to just the cold seafood entrees at a buffet brunch. There is frozen stuff in the supermarkets here but we know better than to go near that rubbery stuff. Ah, what I would give to have a prawn and scallop cocktail with avocado. But alas, we don’t get avocados here either. Tragic. Anyway, out of sight, out of mind, right?
Pro: Strong sense of community Everyone is really neighbour-ly around here. We smile and say hello to everyone we walk pass. Our neighbours invite us over for dinner often, gift us with vegetables they grow, they water our garden and feed our cat when we are away. We make cakes and bake bread for them occasionally. If your door is ajar people will come in, take a gander and have a chat. My immediate neighbour doesn’t even have a gate, imagine how packed his living room gets in the evenings! Apart from neighbours, you start to get along well with the pork-seller, the fruit lady, the hardware store boss. It’s very close-knit, which also means everyone knows what’s happening with everyone, all the time. I guess it’s not good if you were a philandering spouse. Or, it can be annoying in my case, getting constantly bombarded with the “are you pregnant yet??” questions.
Con: Constant spectators The local people are understandably curious about how we live – what we wear, what we eat, how we speak, etc. You have eyes on you most of the time walking around. When we first moved here we had people coming through our home so often you’d think we were selling tickets to a tourist attraction. The novelty has since worn off a little as one has gotten more used to the other. They also do not share the same social sensitivities as city folk. Once our landlord and his wife came for a visit as we were just about the sit down for dinner. Instead of excusing themselves, they pulled up a chair and made themselves comfortable, while we ate our dinner. Awkward. These days we make sure the gate is closed at dinner time.
Pro: A dollar goes a long way The cost of living here in Dali is a lot lower than any other country we could live in right now. In fact I don’t know where we could go after Dali in terms of costs. When I was in Shanghai earlier this year, I cringed every time I paid for my lunch as it cost the same as my full week’s groceries for both Arthur and myself in Dali. When we moved here last year, we were the only foreigners in the village. Today, there are about 5 other households, with a steady stream of visitors coming to find a place in the village. Just in this year alone rents have risen significantly because of the demand and I’m sure everything else will slowly but surely follow suit. Dali, like the rest of China, is not immune to inflation. But I believe it is still more manageable around here than elsewhere.
Con: Pests galore April marks the start of fly season. The animals that some of my neighbours rear do not help the situation. I have tried every home remedy in the (online) book but none of them work. I have resorted to the slightly cruel but very efficient sticky paper traps. Someone said something about destroying my karma. I say we make an exception when 300 flies are destroying your dinner. Rats are also a common problem. We don’t get rats because we have a cat at home. But not many homes here have cats and instead use rat poison rampantly. We’ve already lost one cat to rat poison. We were heartbroken. But the alternative was to lock them indoors, which we couldn’t do either. Now, instead of berating Bobbyloo for being picky when we change pet food brands, we hope that his pickiness will be the thing to save him from an untimely death.
Pro: Diet and exercise by default They only sell live chickens at the market. I can’t bring myself to pick one out. They start to flutter for dear life as the chicken boss lady reaches down to grab your choice of chook. These days we just don’t eat chicken. Pork is sold more conventionally, presented in the different cuts of meat. I just have to ignore the pig head on the side of the table as I purchase some ribs. They don’t sell beef or lamb either, but lots of fresh seasonal vegetables and fruit. By default, we maintain a pretty healthy diet here. Same goes for exercise, life turns out to be a workout often around here. Want to build a zen garden on your rooftop? We have to lug the rocks up ourselves of course. Want to plant some flowers in pots? Trudge to the mountains for some soil naturally. We’ve also started to explore the realm of meditation recently just because the environment is so conducive for it. It’s not your typical cardio workout obviously, but I am starting to realise that it is just as essential for a balanced mind and spirit.
Con: No more spontaneous drunken nights This one is pretty self explanatory. Although it’s the epitome of city social life that we were trying to escape, I occasionally miss the spontaneous drunken nights with my girlfriends which usually begins with copious amounts of wine at dinner, leading to someone shouting “KARAOKE NIGHT!”, to stuffing out face with supper after hours too many of hardcore karaoke. I don’t miss the hangover, but it’s almost worth it for the fun we manage to have. My only consolation now is that when I do meet up with friends in the city, it’s a rare occasion and we’re even more committed to the cause, stopping at nothing to ensure a priceless night.
To conclude, every move definitely comes with a new list of pros and cons. As long as the cons do not outweigh the pros all is good I’d say. And as long as you can get internet connection where you are, it’s business as usual. There’s a rumour that change is good, it keeps things fresh and lively, keeps your mind open and your being flexi. If the move is in line with your bigger picture, keep calm and embrace the changes. Our bigger picture means leading a healthy life, doing what we WANT to do and not what we HAVE to do, all in a manner that is not detrimental to the environment nor to other human beings. So if that means no more prawn and scallop cocktails, so be it.