As the juggernaut of China’s Economic Miracle occupies the lion’s share of this countries global media coverage, Tree Changing isn’t a phenomena which captures media headlines. Unlike a booming property market or this countries voracious appetite for Australia’s natural minerals. I’m taking a sabbatical of sorts which sees me living in Dali, a beautiful historical town nestled between a mountain range and a picturesque lake. I’m thousands of kilometres from anything resembling a surf beach or one those over crowded and polluted cities one associates with China. One of the most fascinating things about this town is the number of Chinese ‘square pegs’ who find themselves gravitating towards this Drop Out epicentre. Invariably to escape the conformity and highly competitive environments which are hallmarks of the country’s urban centres. Especially so in the megacities of Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai where the compounding pressures such density creates makes Dali a Mecca for the nation’s disillusioned Aussteigers. [ a German term for those who opt to step out of mainstream society ] The relocation decision being made easier when the disparity of living costs are weighed up. An average two bedroom apartment in Shanghai costs upwards of $200,000. Whereas in Dali a modest courtyard home can be rented for under $100 a month. And Australia thinks it has a two speed economy !
Prior to coming to China I had a very narrow and jaundiced opinion of Chinese people. One coloured by past business dealings where I was on the receiving end of one too many ‘Chinese Shuffles’ for my liking. Those I’d met were by and large business oriented , career focused and investment obsessive types- pretty fucking boring people really.
So it was a bloody revelation to meet Chinese who couldn’t give a rat’s arse about tracking global share market indexes and property prices. My Chinese friends here in Dali would no sooner attend a Wealth Through Property Investment Seminar than have a colonic irrigation hose shoved up their arses.
In this area they differ from their Byron Bay counterparts…
Strict parenting and China’s single child policy places very high expectations on children to succeed and become driven adults. The type who attend investment seminars with the zealousness born again Christians inject into their Sunday congregations [ well in Melbourne they do ].
In the West, Asian households make up the demographic group most likely to produce stereotypically successful kids. So what’s gone wrong here in Dali where Civil Engineers, History Professors and Public Relations Consultants have traded the trappings of their former metropolitan Yuppie lifestyles for an austere Tree Change one-lifestyle.
Thankfully we’re spared ACA or TT style reportage on dole bludgers being aired on CCTV the state run network. Firstly they don’t have dole bludgers in China. There’s no dole or a social security safety net, let alone anything resembling a Centrelink office offering any financial aid for the out of work. These Drop Outs have to show enterprise or come here with a little nest egg as jobs are scarce for educated and qualified émigrés looking for an alternative lifestyle.
They’re by and large ignored and tolerated as a government controlled media network wouldn’t want to feature an exposé on swags of its disillusioned citizens bucking the system. Opting not to participate in China’s Economic Miracle is positively Un Chinese…… The former leader of the Communist Party Deng Xiaoping having done an ideological back flip in 1993 and paradoxically proclaimed to a bamboozled nation that ‘to get rich is glorious’. And the masses have been running with the free enterprise baton ever since……
The Chinese American writer Amy Chau caused waves with her recent book ‘Chinese Tiger Mums’, where she extolled the virtues of strict parenting and discipline for those parents wanting to raise successful kids.
Amy Chau and her devotees would be absolutely mortified to see how Dali’s Chinese have turned their back on certain core traditional values, especially the expectation to pursue wealth and success.
Dali is awash with small businesses run by former corporate and government workers who’ve taken considerable cuts to their earning capacity to facilitate their Tree Change. I’ve met some colourful and wonderful characters here who‘ve bucked the system to set up small scale enterprises and those who simply delight in idleness.
Chinese Tiger Mums would not approve !
Jolie, a charismatic local tour guide -www.jolieadventure.com, regularly battles with her mother, a by product of The Cultural Revolution who can’t understand her daughter’s non conformity and enterprise. “Why don’t you just come back home, get married and find a secure Government job like your cousin ?”
She falls into the enterprising camp, unlike the young bloke I tried to engage in a little small talk. I found myself sitting opposite him in a dumpling shop one afternoon and I asked him what he was doing in Dali. “I do nothing !”
Was his curt and defensive reply to my ‘intrusive’ questioning.
They’ve both refuted the system’s conformity and are finding their own feet in the pursuit of happiness and a less stressful life. For others it’s the opportunity to indulge in their passions and just hang out with other like minded souls not willing to play a part in China’s Economic Miracle. Or maybe they’re just running away from the obsessive clutches of Chinese Tiger Mums !
A quirkily displayed shop front invites a closer inspection but a sign above the entrance reads, ‘This is not a Bar, this is my Home.’
Urban legend has it that the eccentric owner is a former songwriter of hit pop songs who murdered a property developer on the island of Hainan where he previously lived. Government connections facilitated a plea of insanity which now sees him exiled to Dali where he’s regularly spotted holding court strumming a guitar or plucking away at a guzheng- a traditional Chinese instrument . Urban legend or not, he fits neatly into Dali’s eclectic collection of Chinese nationals who refuse to participate and shun the material spoils on offer in modern day China.
And someone who takes extreme affirmative action to combat the encroachment of the Not in My Backyard phenomena !