Escaping online shopping gala to rural idyll

Nothing wrong with shopping. But there's a limit to what you can buy in kind. The beauty from nature has an unlimited supply of "goods" for a well-and-naturally-lived life.

ON November 11, the day when a shopping gala gripped the nation on Alibaba’s B2C platform Tmall, offering steep product discounts, I bought nothing. My fellow countrymen, on the other hand, went into a frenzied overdrive of consumer spending. Health food and facial skin care products topped Tmall’s official list of hot buys within the first hour of the shopping bonanza. Remarkably, men have also become key patrons of skin care products usually favored by women.

To escape the shopping pandemonium, I turned off my computer and mobile phone apps and went jogging in a riverside village near my home in the western suburb of Shanghai.

Clean air caressed my face as I jogged back and forth on a brick path flanked by rice fields, trees and bamboo. It was Zhongbu Village, one of China’s best-known ecological villages, famous for its livable environment.

Together with hundreds of other beautiful villages, Zhongbu Village presents a different Shanghai from the chiseled skyline in the downtown areas.

Zhongbu Village has become a refreshing haven for me after a day, or a week, of fast-paced work at the office. While health food and skin care products may provide refreshment to others in the big-city, I recharge my batteries in the raw, natural beauty of rural Shanghai.

Zhongbu Village was not so beautiful before. Pollution-spilling factories, dilapidated houses and stinky rivers used to define its landscape. Since 2014, when Shanghai launched a campaign to spruce up the countryside, Zhongbu Village has transformed itself beyond recognition. Strolling along the tree-lined banks of clean rivers, one hardly imagines how foul the water once was.

My wife and I moved to our new home in Qingpu District in western Shanghai in 2012. For two years, we often had to shut our doors and windows against the foul smell spilling out its guts from nearby factories, fields and rivers. Finding the culprits of pollution was difficult for the local government. Once I had to drive around my neighborhood to help environmental watchdogs locate the exact source of pollution before due punishment was meted out to the polluters.

For a long time, even before we moved into our new home in 2012, small plastics manufacturers had mushroomed in the western suburb of Shanghai. Illegal emissions at night were routine practice by several of these factories, as they played hide-and-seek with watchdogs, believing that pollution was hard to discover in the dark.

Gone are those days of foul air. As someone who has traveled to several beautiful places across the globe, I now find myself increasingly hooked on the beautiful environment of rural Shanghai.

Live well and naturally

Imagine escaping into 500 mu (33.3 hectares) of rice fields, 800 mu of precious trees like Japanese maples and 400 mu of loquat fruits you have yet to discover in Shanghai? These refreshing scenes, at Zhongbu Village, though simple and pristine, guarantee a healthy life no less attractive than when you buy some bargain health food or skin care products in an online shopping spree.

French thinker Michel de Montaigne said, “There is no knowledge so hard to acquire as the knowledge of how to live this life well and naturally.”

Nothing wrong with shopping, and Shanghai is a paradise for shopping. But there’s a limit to what you can buy in kind. The beauty from nature has an unlimited supply of “goods” for a well-and-naturally-lived life.

Most people know that Shanghai is a vanguard in trade and innovation, but most of them are less likely to know that Shanghai is also a pioneer in rural beautification.

As Chen Xiwen, a leading expert on China’s rural development, notes in his book, “China’s Agriculture, Rural Areas and Farmers,” the 2010 World Expo Shanghai set up a rural-themed pavilion in which Tengtou Village in Fenghua City, Zhejiang Province raised the slogan “Better Village: What the City Yearns For.” Chen says not many expo visitors took it seriously at that time.

But actually, Shanghai already began to spruce up its countryside in 2007 and, in 2014, the city further launched a campaign to create its own beautiful villages. Of the nearly 2,000 villages in Shanghai, 100 beautiful villages are expected to emerge by 2020.

When that day comes, may I invite you to join me in jogging a long way in a nutritious Shanghai toward a simple and beautiful life.

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