Each time I go for a swim these past few years, I would complete just 20 laps. Usually finished in under 45 minutes, about two to three times a week. Some would say a leisurely life.
Why 20 laps only? No rhyme or reason; I could probably do at least ten more if I felt like it. And on some days if I only swam 12 or 14 laps instead, it’s no biggie either.
While I plunge into the pool each time most excitedly, the truth is that once I’ve begun my laps, I can’t wait for it to be over! That’s when I get to laze at the poolside for a few minutes. To lie flat, catch my breath, soak up some sun (if there’s any), daydream, and savor the moment.
I guess you can call it my simple pleasure, part and parcel of my current “low-desire life”, a term I recently discovered.
What’s a “low-desire life”?
Three days ago, an online news article caught my attention right away. Ironically, I was lying comfortably on the rocking chair in my study room when I first laid eyes on it.
The article described a phenomenon in a small but growing community of young urban professionals in China. These urbanites were dissatisfied with the unrelenting pressures of non-stop work (China’s infamous 9-9-6 system), and the stressful lifestyles found in major Chinese cities.
As a result, many of them deliberately dropped out of the rat race.
According to the report, these folks chose to “lie flat” by migrating into smaller, secondary cities to take things easy. There, they took on less stressful work and opted for a more languid, “low-desire” lifestyle. Mind you, these aren’t retired, senior citizens. Many have between 20 and 50 more good years to slog and serve the country’s dynamo of an economy.
Having just celebrated on July 1st the 100th anniversary of its ruling communist party’s intact control over the country, China has certainly “arrived” on the international stage. Its successful transition to a superpower economy is definitely no mean feat.
However, many critics (including these “low-desire lifers”) have argued that China’s huge and overworked domestic population had played a big part in its achievements. And these achievements have exacted a heavy toll on many ordinary folks like them.
In case we’re inclined to judge these “lie-flat” professionals harshly, as the country’s leaders are now doing, many of them felt they were ‘pushed’ into this lifestyle choice. They felt there was just no point in working like slaves and dogs. Not when the cost of living has been relentlessly rising in China, yet salaries have stayed mostly static for workers like them!
Those who are really earning bigger and bigger bucks, and benefitting from the booming economy, are those who belong to the top tier of society.
Living the high life is just too high a price to pay
When you come from a country that typically judges one’s worth and value based on how hard you work, how many hours you put in daily, or how much you own, it’s not difficult to see why such a low-desire life is not only frowned upon but often publicly shamed.
And just for the record, it’s not only China that encourages such a toxic workhorse culture. Many Asian nations are equally complicit. Any wonder that in a Forbes report last year on the 20 most “stressed-out” cities in the world, a majority of them came from Asia, including the report’s “winner” Tokyo?
So my heart goes out to these lie-flat professionals in China who have chosen to “lose face” and openly defy these hardline, black-and-white narratives and propaganda. Propaganda that essentially says so long as you’re not on life-support or a toddler, you best put your nose to the grind comrade! Keep churning out another double-digit annual economic growth figure for your fellow countrymen alright?
I think China and the rest of the workaholic world need to learn that hustling and bustling will only lead to burnout and counter-production in the long run.
And consider this: as one of the most populous nations in the world, must China and its citizens insist that everyone around them work themselves to distraction and collapse? Can’t at least a small percentage be “allowed” to take…
…The Road Less Travelled
As someone who has left the rat race more than once (due in part to burnout and weariness), I certainly understand the importance of taking a step back. To slow things down and prioritize what really matters.
The punishing pace and pretentious “peacock-ing” that goes on in the working world might be the pursuit of many. However, it isn’t for simple folks and others like me. I can attest to the downside of long hours of work and meaningless social obligations over the years that have come at the expense of family time and self-care.
Just like these brave urban professionals in China.
Yes, it does take bravado to do something that makes you “lose face” among family members, neighbours, friends and colleagues. And for those unfamiliar, the concept of “face” value is everything in China! And to a lesser (but no less obvious) degree, here in my country too.
For the longest time, I subscribed to the work-work-work culture of my world. So no surprise that for some time after my life-changing decision, I used to feel apologetic for choosing this now-slower lifestyle. Especially when others thought I ought to continue going faster.
But it’s a lifestyle that has allowed me to appreciate the simpler things in life.
To be more attentive and creative than I ever remember being.
To “lie-flat” as it were, and take a breather after a swim.
Just because I could. Finally.
Now, I don’t apologise anymore. I won’t apologise anymore.
So here’s hoping my fellow “low-desire” comrades in my father’s land China won’t have to either.
Then when others ask if we’re living a “low-desire” life, our answer will be one and the same: ABSOLUTELY!