Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Tunnel 

We now no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven. --Walden

Strange how quickly one's lifestyle can become complicated. I have noticed it just since I have been in Beijing, and I don't think my life there is very complicated--certainly much simpler than my life in America. But what does it mean to simplify?

I call this a tunnel, but the local folks refer to it as "The Tower." And the village behind the tower, where Michael lives, is called "The Village Behind the Tower." I have sorta taken over Michael's place while he is in the States. Not exactly, because I only stay here a couple nights a week; Michael lived here all the time. The family I am staying with is very friendly, and they live quite conveniently just outside the park as you begin to go up the mountain. It's about a twenty to thirty minute walk down to the village at the foot of the mountain on the other side of the park. By the time you get up here, you've already got a start on getting up the hill.

The grandmother is almost always here. Her youngest daughter, a taxi driver, also lives here with her young son. They boy seems kinda lonely; he watches TV a lot. But he is generally pretty good natured. His mother, the taxi driver, is gone every other day. She shares a taxi with another driver, so they drive on alternate days. On the days that she is working, her older sister comes to stay. She lives in town, but she has an electric bicycle, so it's about a 40 minute ride for her.

One of the first things I noticed when I came here, was the unusual grammer of rural Beijing village talk. Kinda hard to explain if you don't speak Mandarin--they have a tendancy to put the subject at the end of the sentence when they are addressing you. None of them speak English, of course, and when they do talk, they are speaking rapidly, so I have to listen pretty carefully. They must feel a bit frustrated trying to communicate with me, but they don't show it.

I give the grandmother 30 kuai every night I stay here. She always provides me with a thermos of hot water (an assumed service at any place of lodging in China). They put in a shower after Michael came, so it's a good thing for me that he stayed here before I did. My informal agreement with them does not include meals, but the grandmother often tries to feed me. She's actually a pretty good cook, so I sometimes accept if they are eating anyway, but I avoid letting her make something especially for me.

I over the past couple months I have been doing a lot of thinking about this idea of simplicity. In some ways, life in the village is more simple. But I am finding that simplicity is as much a matter of attitude as anything else. In some ways, it is easier to live a simple life in the village. But it really depends a lot on how you look at life. People in the village have different problems from people in the city. But they also have many of the same problems. Family members have different schedules, and must try to juggle them. The kids watch too much TV. The daily grind of life goes on through the changing seasons, and the demands of that grind can slowly rob even the most contemplative soul of perspective.

To be sure, this village is unusual because of it's proximity to the city. And this family is not rich, but they do have advantages that folks in a village in Western China would not have. To be able to live in a small village home on the salary of a Beijing taxi driver is a neat trick. Not too many village dwellers in China would be able to pull that one off. Not that Beijing taxi drivers are rich, or anything. But my point is that for this family, the village is really a bedroom community. Of course, the grandmother would not see it that way. She has been here for many, many years, and is much more the typical village woman. But her daughters have become city folks. They are really nice people, and perhaps you could say that their rat race is a little less frenetic for living in rural Beijing. But it's amazing how even the most purposeful life can slowly erode into mindless existance. Quiet desparation, as Thoreau puts it. Sounds a little strange to say it, but simplicity must be maintained. If you don't, it gets away from you. Seems like no matter where you live, you have to discipline yourself to reboot your existence once in awhile. But some things must remain constant. Some relationships must carry through the changes. Some habits must not change, even when everything else about your life is being tossed aside. Principles should not be discarded, but rather strengthened by the mid-course correrction. And "correction" doesn't make sense unless there is a goal for which you are striving. Be ever vigilant to throw overboard anything in your life that gets in the way of it. Live your life to the fullest, but always from the perspective of eternity. I like how Solomon puts it:

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. (Ecclesiastes 11:9)

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?