Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Egg and I

OK, I can't say I "remember" this movie, The Egg and I, since it came out in 1947, before I was born! But I love old movies, and remember seeing this one once upon a time. It's about city dwellers who moved to a chicken farm, complete with Ma and Pa Kettle as neighbors, and of course, hilarity ensues.

But why am I telling you this? Well, this is the movie that came to mind when I read this BBC article about a mini-trend (micro-trend?) in China of city-dwellers moving to the country:

It was in December 1978 that former leader Deng Xiaoping declared the country would not just tolerate private enterprise but encourage it. Since then, of course, much of the country has been transformed. Millions of people have moved from the countryside to the cities in search of a better life.

And after three decades of extraordinary economic growth, there are growing numbers of middle class Chinese with good jobs who are well-off relative to the rest of the population. Now some of those who moved to cities like Shanghai for good wages in white collar jobs are starting to tire of the rat race, and in a reversal of past patterns of movement are abandoning the urban sprawl for a quieter life in the country.

Gao Hong and Yang Xiaoling, two advertising executives in their mid-thirties, decided a year ago to give up their lucrative careers to move to a quiet house in the country, eight hours drive from Shanghai in Jiangsi province. They took a 40-year lease on an old house which Yang Xiaoling came across during a business trip.

* * *
The couple admit that it has not all been as easy and straightforward as they would have liked. Their neighbours had to help them establish their vegetable garden because they did not really know what they were doing. They have grown enough to eat, but nowhere near enough to sell to others.

Despite a lack of village facilities, the couple have no regrets. There are rats to deal with and the roof leaks. But they say that compared with the difficulties they faced trying to get used to urban life, these problems are not that significant.

* * *
"We have lived here for more than a year, and never for a moment have we thought, this is too bad, we have got to get back to Shanghai," Gao Hong laughed.

Leaving the front door wide open, the couple go for a stroll around the village. Facilities are very basic. Some of their neighbours are washing their clothes in the stream by hand. It is like going back 50 or 60 years. But the couple are happy. "The dogs don't bark at us now," they said. "They always bark at strangers, so we know we belong."
Of course, as the article notes, these new rural-dwellers have made enough money in Shanghai's rat race to leave it. That's not something many Chinese city-dwellers can manage. Still, an interesting twist on modern life in China. And I think it was the needing-neighbors-to-help-plant-the-vegetable-garden part that made me think of the Egg and I.

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