Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Friday, March 20, 2009


I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired then got rid of. Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in. --Walden

I remember seeing a poster in a shop when I was in high school, that showed a couple guys sitting at the side of the road with their thumbs out. The caption said, "Freedom means having nothing left to lose." Possessions. Amazing how quickly they accumulate. I had thought of moving to Fragrant Hills when Michael left. But the Software College had discouraged me from moving out of my apartment, because I would have a hard time getting it back in the fall. They're right. But that is not the only thing that dissuaded me. Michael's room in the village is not large. Where would I put all my books? I don't have a big place at the University--it's a modest one bedroom apartment. But pretty handy. I scaled down quite a bit when I came to China. But books tend to stick to me, and I have picked up a few clothes along the way. And cooking utensils--I used to tell my friends, "You cook, and I will buy the food. And if there is anything you need for cooking that I don't have, I will buy it." That kind of stuff is pretty cheap in China, so it hasn't put me out much. But it takes up space. A couple years ago, when we were moved to another place so that they could do some remodeling, the FAO (Foreign Affairs Officer) said, "You like to cook Chinese food." I said, "Actually, my friends do the cooking, and I do the eating."

What is simplicity? Mohandas Gandhi always said that he was indebted to the Americans for Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau reduced his philosophy to three words, "simplify, simplify, simplify." But how simple is simple enough? A bag on a pole over your shoulder? How about if you have a tent? And if the tent becomes a tent trailer, this is still simpler than a big fancy house, isn't it? If the tent trailer became a motor home, would it then be disqualified? Or what about the professor at my previous university in Arizona who drove a BMW with a customized plate that said, "SIMPLIFY." It's the thought that counts, isn't it?

I don't know who has the final word on what constitutes simplicity. In the end, I compromised. I made a deal with Michael's family in the village to give them 30 kuai a night for the nights that I stayed there. It looks like I will probably spend a couple nights a week in the village so that I don't have ride the bus quite so often. Maintaining simplicity is a never ending struggle. It is so easy for life to become complicated. But if your lifestyle is too simple to facilitate what you need to do, that can actually make things complicated. For example, my life would become more complicated if I couldn't take my clothes right next door in the Foreign Teachers dormitory and wash them in the little machine. But staying in the village a couple nights a week will certainly make it easier for me to climb the mountain every day.

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