Some years back we lived in China for a couple of years. We loved being there and loved the people and going exploring was irresistible. One Saturday my husband and I went out on a bike ride for our weekly time out.
We lived on the very edge of a city of 2 million in China. So we rode out of the edge and went off-road into a random track which headed directly towards the countryside.
The tracks were bumpy and dusty and our bikes were old and basic. It was hot but we rode and rode, feeling so free having a little break away from our four kids. We passed through scrub, simple houses, and piles of junk here and there. We passed many kids playing who would call out ‘Ni hao!’ to us.
Eventually we reached real countryside and the trees got taller and the view got prettier. We kept riding along narrow dirt lanes. Then we took a random left into a track through dense trees.
The best discoveries and the best memories from all my travels are when I have taken random turns and gotten purposefully lost. In city or country, anywhere. That’s where the most amazing experiences await. That is where the most hospitable people seem to await too.
That left turn brought us to a beautiful surprise. An apple orchard. And a tiny little house.
It was pretty and peaceful. A very special moment. To understand how special, you have to know that China is harsh and it’s dusty and loud and the smog is a grey filter making all colours dull. Although I love China, I have to say your eyes can start to literally ache to see something pretty, something soothing. So to find ourselves in an apple orchard was like we stumbling into a treasure trove.
We walked into the yard in front of the house and started calling out to see if anyone was around. We knocked on the door. No one answered but we kept calling. Eventually two ladies came out of the trees, a mother and daughter. They were pretty taken aback to see two random foreigners standing in their yard, far off-road, in the countryside. They started chatting with us and we asked if we could buy some apples. They happily got us some.
Then they invited us in for tea. Like everywhere the people in the countryside are very hospitable. In China you often get invited in for tea and home-baked bread. The tea is always hot green tea. The bread is always hard white bread, possibly days old but you eat it anyway. You are so grateful to have been invited right in to someones home.
We chatted with them for a bit in our basic Chinese. I will never forget their home. It was one of the simplest homes I have ever seen, even in China, and yet every centimeter was so neat, clean and cared for. It was a whole home in one room, everything was pretty old, yet it felt happy and cared for. And the ladies seemed very happy and content in their home and orchard. I am thrilled I found the actual photos from that day, see below.
In the one room was everything; a kang bed (platform bed for sleeping and socializing on), a few kitchen cupboards in a corner with woks set in the top and a place to build a wood fire underneath. There was no fridge or any modernity at all and there was a plastic tablecloth on a little table in the middle of it all. The bedding was folded so neatly- as is the custom in China in daytime so you can sit on the kang. A floor of bricks swept immaculately. Most likely there were more to the family than just these two women. In the countryside in China many members of a family may sleep on a kang bed. A fire is kept constantly alight under it in winter and its absolutely wonderful to sit on and chat. (The fire is accessed and fed from a hole in the wall outside the house. We have had many visits with hospitable Chinese on a warm kang with a blanket over our legs, with tea and bread on a low kang table in the middle.)
Although it was a very humble abode by the standards of most, as I am a homemaker at heart and I really noticed the signs of care and contentment in their little home. And I saw their relaxed happiness.
I sat there and pondered over how so little can actually be so loved. These ladies were so happy and smiling and so relaxed. Why do we strive for so much more?
A friend from India told me that back home in India her family had no money and very little possessions but spent all their time together cooking and hanging out as an extended family. She said they were materially poor but relationally very rich. She said Aussies are materially rich but have relational poverty.
The experience of meeting the ladies at the orchard in China, and the comment by my friend from India are two things that have influenced my thinking greatly. They have made me consider seriously the freedoms and joys of owning less, of living a simpler life.