I was back in China — at my grandparents’ village.
Shuang Qiao is a farming community in the Guangxi province of China. It's probably a poor, shabby place in the eyes of most city dwellers — but not for me.
As a child, I saw this as a mystical place, a paradise almost. The mountains were simply waiting for me to climb up and explore. They spread far beyond the village. Rivers and swamps hummed with insects which we children would always try to catch using plastic bottles. These areas were slippery, often tripping us as we ran in bare feet. We laughed about it most of the time and I did not have a care in the world during those moments.
The community was warm and tight-knit, as I recall that many of the residents would leave their front gates open for others to wander through. It was common for a single household to host neighborhood dinner nights, which my grandparents actively participated in. The home could easily fit up to a hundred people. Sometimes, the hot stuffy air would convince them to buy popsicles for my cousins and I at the market. I played with my cousins frequently, alongside other kids in the neighborhood. Our favorite activity was playing tag in the vast, open courtyard occupying the middle of the home. The nearby playground was a close second.
A large number of chickens and dogs would roam about the village, which added to the pungent mix of farm smells. The pigs, cows, and chickens were kept just down the street from home. Flies were so abundant that we would constantly need to cover the outdoor living room with sticker paper.
At the front of the neighborhood stood a magnificently old Magnolia tree. Its leaves were painted a variety of red and orange and its trunk was always sticky with sap. This tree always felt so inviting. People would spend much of their free time taking naps and playing cards beneath it. It was popular with us kids as well, of course, being the perfect “base” for our game of tag. During special holidays, we watched as the nighttime brimmed with yellow sparklers from all across the village.
At that time my family lived in Nanning, a big bustling city in the south of China. I was in the village for my summer vacation, so back then, I felt a bit like an outsider.
My father would have to pick me up eventually to resume school, but I never wanted to leave. I wanted to stay within the confines of mountains and rivers. I wanted to live around the presence of farm animals and kids whose faces were always dirtied from the outdoors. I wanted to continue exploring this fantasy of a land for as long as I was alive. The adults would often tease me about this connection I had with the village, with the spirit of nature I felt within it. I was humbled, in a way.
I was not burdened with heavy responsibilities at this time and I was too young to ponder the meaning of life. My head was empty besides feelings of playfulness and hunger. I saw the innocence and purity of nature very clearly, more so than I do today through the lens of adulthood. The appreciation was genuine because I was immediately able to reap the benefits of an endless playground. A sense of joy which I may never feel anywhere else is in that village, in the raw, natural world. I believe that humans were truly meant to live close to the land.
I would like to think that at the age of 20, given the opportunity to live outside of modern standards, I would be just as happy as I was in the past.