We meet a 60-year-old former farmer at the Wutaishan Gymasium. He comes here every afternoon. Unlike many other visitors who gather in small groups to play cards, Chinese chess or Ping-pong, he prefers to be alone. He spends 1-2 hours on average per day doing exercises with the free-to-use equipment at the gym. When he gets tired, he rests on a bench in the shade of the surrounding old trees and starts massaging his legs and feet for a while.
After the death of his wife, ten years ago, he left his farm and moved to Nanjing to work as a parking attendant. His children are living in Yanzhou, a city near Nanjing; the oldest is a doctor, the second a tollgate cashier and the youngest a teacher. They belong to the middle class of the society and earn decent incomes that would be sufficient to support their father. However, he refuses to live with any of them: “I chose to live alone, not because they are not willing to support me, but because I do not want to disturb their lives”. The gap between him and the younger generation, as he explains, could cause family problems when living together. He then gives us many examples of differences between him and his children, such as different views on the daily diet, raising children, or even sleeping habits. He sees no reason to bother himself with all these trivial problems at his age.
Although he has lived in the city for ten years, he still adores people’s lifestyle in the countryside. He claims that a countryman will never suffer from high pressure, diabetes, or other so-called “rich-man diseases”. According to him, the countrymen work and sweat every day at the land much more than people here at the gym. They breath air that is fresher than the urban air and drink water that is clearer than the urban water. Also, unlike people living in the city who take too much sugar and animal fat, they eat fruits, leafy vegetables and coarse grains. He points to an Alzheimer patient sitting on a bench a few meters away: “Such a terrible disease would never find a countryman.”
Despite the fact that he loved the country life so much, he moved to the city because he had no company anymore after his wife’s death. In the city, he has a job to kill time, several friends to chat with and a pleasant corner in the gym to work out every day; while in the country he had nothing but a small piece of farmland.
He slows his voice suddenly with a rueful smile in his face. “The only pity in my life is that she left too early. Since her death in 2002, I am not afraid of dying anymore.”
We talk about the happy days in his life. “Youth was my happiest time”, he answers without hesitation, “when I was young, I could do whatever I wanted to do, without asking anyone’s permission. However, now I can no longer take any adventures and almost have forgotten the feeling of being young and free.”