In Beijing, we live on a compound. The compound is attached to where I work, and all my fellow compound-livers work there too.
Before we arrived in China, I worried that living where I work, with people I work with, might be a bit suffocating, a bit too close for comfort. And I worried that compound living would feel like living in a bubble, and prevent me from really experiencing living in China.
While these issues do pop up now and again, the cons of compound living are far outweighed by a huge, surprising benefit.
Living on a compound, I often feel like I live in 1953: I know all of my neighbours, by name. We greet each other from our front porches. We stop in the road to chat. The kids play together in the street- the few cars that come by know to watch out for little ones- or at each others’ houses. Pretty much just how I imagine life in 1953, minus the cute dresses!
Seriously though, what I love best about my life in Beijing is this sense of community. I feel a connection to the people I live with, and know I can turn to them for help when I need it (and, as a temporary single-mom, I often do). Charlotte is safe here, everyone knows her and watches out for her. In turn, I care about my neighbours and my community, and do my best to help others and to improve our little neighbourhood.
Honestly, without my community, I’m not sure I would’ve survived these past seven months on my own.
While I look forward to returning to the comforts of Canada next year, I also worry about returning to a life without a sense of community. In our modern, western world, we live such isolated, independent lives. Which is unfortunate, because the further we isolate ourselves, the harder we make life for ourselves. No man is an island, and it’s too bad that we sometimes live as though we are.
I hope that we eventually reach the point when we realize that our neighbours are people too, sometimes pretty cool ones at that. I hope that we get over our fears and insecurities and hang-ups, and let the neighbours in, both literally and figuratively. And I hope that we eventually move back towards living in communities, like people did back in 1953- or, at least, how they did in my imagination