A Well-Hidden Secret - My Family Travels

Walking through the concrete roads, ignoring the shouts of the vendors surrounding me, and ducking around the leaking air conditioning from the apartment four floors up, I stepped out of one world and into another.

This was my first trip to China, and I expected to see a nation boasting of economic wealth: one with a swelling economy, rapid production, and lightning-fast urbanization. I anticipated large skyscrapers towering everywhere I looked, waited for the dense smog I associated with urban life, and expected technological wonders not unlike the ones back home in Silicon Valley. However, intending to nudge me out of this technological bubble I had grown up in, my father took me not to these developing areas of the nation, but to the outskirtsof Chi Qi Kou, a place rich with cultural heritage and ancient history.


Walking into its gated community, I felt as if I had just steppedback into time. Though the scenes of a bustling, modern China were only a few blocks away, this was a town forgotten by the contemporary world. Everywhere I looked, I saw the last remnants of China’s agrarian past. Twisting vines grew naturally over the wooden huts where people lived, dusty medical jars filled with traditional remedies lined the dirt streets, and people walked into each other’s house without fear or trepidation (they saw no need for locks or doors). One man even peered out of his house as I passed and flashed a toothless smile, his Confucius-like beard streaked with white, a folded scroll and a quill resting in his wrinkled hands. Televisions, computers, cell phones– all of the innovations of the latest era– were nowhere to be found. It was as if the 21st century never happened.

I was fascinated by this world and explored its winding paths andtrails for hours, admiring everyone and everything I saw. Despite being strangers, the people there welcomed us cheerfully, offering to show us their homes, pet their dogs, and participate in their Chinese chess games. All around us, more and more people kept emerging from shadowy backgrounds, curious about our unfamiliar faces and exotic language. The children shyly peeked at us from behind parents’ legs before giggling and running off, and the parentslaughed amongst themselves casually and without haste. Coupled with the weather that day, with temperatures barely above 80, and with the arching treetops and gentle breeze sweeping through to cool us down, their little village felt like paradise.

One image struck me in particular: an old woman, who looked as if she could barely walk, with a thick, wooden beam on her back, two large baskets filled with giant lemons hanging from either end. She looked as if she had lived a thousand years, and creases were visible on every crevice on her face, yet despite this, contentment and fulfillment exuded from her smile, and I could tell that she was one of the happiest people in the world. I had a sudden urge to meetthis woman and was about to rush after her when something about her smile stopped me. It was familiar, replicated on almost every face I saw that day. It was then that I realized those villagers didn’t need the amenities, the possessions, and the prestige that many around the world seek, in order for them to consider their lives fulfilled; they lived in modest, simple conditions, yet they lived beautifully. To them, all they needed was this village, this community, to shelter and support them. They already had what most people spend their lives searching for: happiness.

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