HD-19: Long Overdue Catch-up from Hua Dao

Dec 6, 2018

Dear E.,

It’s been almost three weeks since I updated you on my move to Hua Dao ecovillage on Nov 18. How have you been? I guess you have enjoyed the unplugged time from me 🙂 
I have been thinking of you often. The process of moving and settling down became a convenient excuse to delay my writing work, including letters to you. There is always a flow of new things happening everyday. Finally I realized that it wasn’t things in my new apartment or out on the farm that held me back. Rather, I wasn’t sure what in my life here would be worthwhile to write about and interesting to you.

Remember The Martian book you gave me? From time to time I think of it and laugh at getting myself into a weird settlement, especially when I occasionally become the only human being staying in the 42-unit apartment building, or, when we keep the octangle building’s hallway lights off at night to save electricity 🙂 . So it’s fitting to number my days here in a similar way. “HD-19”, my 19th day in Hua Dao ecovillage.

Since you can read my letter, you know I am still well connected to civilization 🙂 . Yes, it’s way, way better than Mars. I could actually be envied by many for comfortably “squandering” my life here. But evaluation at this point would be too premature. It’s merely HD-19 after all . Better to let daily events speak for themselves. Here are some highlights in my first 19 HD days. Bear with me if it goes too long. We haven’t talked to each other for a while 🙂 .

On HD-3 (Nov 20). Ms. Tu, or Sister Tu, as many of us call her, is the chief cook of our community kitchen. She also tends the vegetable gardens. I “tagged along” when she worked in the garden. Now it becomes my favorite activity here. I learned a lot from her modest but wise talk about farming and sustainability.

The farming element in my half-farming-half-X life was kicked off fairly informally. So far I haven’t worked in the garden as often as I wished.  A rhythm of work is yet to be developed. I have a sense that”schedule” is not the best word to describe when you should work on the fields. It depends on when some vegetables become vipe, when heavy frost tends to come, or when we need more food for the community kitchen.

On HD-4 (Nov 21), I had unexpected guests. LING Yan (middle, a coach on innovation thinking) and SUN Xiao (right, a visual & brand designer), came all the way from the south province Guangdong to visit a few places in this region that are doing sustainable development. We had lunch together at community kitchen and walked around in the village afterwards.

Through Yan and Xiao, I was happy to learned about other like-minded people and groups in the area. And Yan was quick to put me in connection with two of her contacts that evening. One of them happened to have a few years overlap with me in San Francisco Bay Area. Then he did “a pilgrimage around the globe by bicycle, in service of the ecological and spiritual awakening of our time.” (Journey to the East). Amazing connections!

I have to admit that a part of me wished that some enthusiastic young visitors would be so inspired by Hua Dao and the cause of sustainability that they would decide to join in a heartbeat. (Sort of the way I did 🙂 )The other part of me knew that’s not realistic! There has to be not only cultural and spiturial fit, but economic and social one. I actually had gone through much consideration myself. 

However, the encountering reminds me what is said in Confucian Analects:  virtue will not stand alone; he who practices it will have neighbors. (“德不孤,必有邻”) Not that I already possess enough virtue. Rather, it reminds me HOW NOT TO worry about being lonely on the less walked path. My interpretation of the master’s words puts emphasis on personal improvement. I found the 19th Century Scottish sinologist, James Legge‘ translation is more from the community’s perspective: “The Master said, ‘It is virtuous manners which constitute the excellence of a neighborhood. If a man in selecting a residence, do not fix on one where such prevail, how can he be wise?‘” This also makes a lot of sense in the context of building an ecovillage. 

On HD-5 (Nov 22), my stuff were finally delivered by the logistics company. I was proud to see my compostable packing (brown paper + straw rope) survived the 2000 km road trip.

My EDE teacher, Albert Bates, has been planting a private forest to sequester CO2 and related greenhouse gases from his personal activities. This cool (-the-Earth) story planted a seed in me. When packing for the move, I thought about minimizing plastic and foam package materials. I ordered thick brown paper sheets, straw ropes and brown paper tapes to wrap my IKEA furniture. The workers from the logistics company praised my effort, because it made moving my stuff to their truck downstairs much easier. In retrospect, other than that these materials are more compostable and recyclable than plastic and foam, I am not really sure about the GHG emission reduction. An alternative material might be cotton cloth, which seems better for it being lightweight, washable and versatile.

HD-5 (Nov 22). First time backing “for” the community.

According to tradition in many parts of China, a newly moved-in family should pick an auspicious day to treat neighbors and relatives a feast at home. It is housewarming as well as celebrating joining the community. Nov 22 happened to both Xiaoxue (the 20th solar term by Chinese lunar calendar) and Thanksgiving of North America. Very auspicious indeed! I didn’t have a stove yet. But luckily I have an oven. I baked chocolate muffins after dinner as desserts. We celebrated at one of the neighbors’ place. Actually she also moved her house in Chengdu city to Hua Dao on the same day. So we exchanged housewarming gifts. 

HD-6 to 8 (Nov 23-25), a two-day workshop by PachaMama Alliance was held at Hua Dao. It’s an internal training for PachaMama Chengdu volunteers. I didn’t participate but met their teachers and students. One of the students is a classmate of mine from the September EDE class. Small world!

It’s not the first time that Hua Dao successfully hosts workshops of this size. But it’s the first time I witnessed from within how the operation meets the demand of a larger number of residents. There are more than enough apartments for guests. But some need to be adequately provisioned for a comfortable short-term stay. The only staff team member responsible for property management had been quite busy for that week. The community kitchen had to hire a temporary cook to help. Our organic garden could not offer enough variety in vegetables. So many ingredients had to be bought from market in the nearby town, non-organic 😦 , as you can guess. Honestly, all these reflect that the production system here is not yet ready for scale. We have to be patient. 

On HD-15 (Dec 2). Woohoo! I celebrated my birthday here for the first time, together with another member who also has her birthday in December. We happened to have visitors that weekend. It’s really nice to share your joy with many friendly people.
HD-15 (Dec 2). Putting the energy from birthday cakes to work 🙂 We had a study session on “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming” . My humble home office first time saw many guests. A half-assembled night table was solid enough to support the projector.

Two Hua Dao members, who are also active volunteers of PachaMama Alliance, led the presentation and study. What Hua Dao attracted me at first place and what continuously motivate me after I joined, are the wonderful people like them, especially the core team members. I have received a lot of care and support from them already. That’s not to say that my “honeymoon” here is perfect. As the case with all human organizations, it doesn’t take me long to hear different opinions and observe conflicts. Thanks to the edification from Design for Sustainability course, I am more aware of my own contribution to the group dynamics, and more able to see conflicts and difference as opportunities for creativity and growth. My free-resident status, i.e., non-employee, helps to keep me out of internal conflicts, at least for now 🙂 .

HD-16 (Dec 3). Finally, I found a local recyclelor who can come pick up my cardboard boxes and foam materials.

For our small community, the municipal trash-collecting truck doesn’t come often, nor regularly. Since I just moved in with lots of stuff, handling an amount of packaging materials, RESPONSIBLY, becomes an immediate challenge. The brown paper sheets should definitely be reused. Those intact ones can be used as posters, wrappers, or notes paper for future events. Large and thick cardboard boxes were flattened to be used as land cover by the farm. They will help keep moisture in soil and control weeds, hopefully. I also gave a few small cardboard boxes to a local who runs a drop-off station for courier services. He can use them for packing customers’ stuff. The rest went to the recycler.  

Finally, my home office is a little more presentable. The window is north-facing, a downside as it gets less natural heat from sun. But I enjoy a close up and complete view of our farm and garden (too bright to make out from this photo). I think you would also like the abundant natural light and the wooden floor 🙂
In this season, the weather is cloudy and slightly misty, especially in the morning. Due to higher humidity, it feels much colder than in Hangzhou or Shanghai, one of the reasons local cuisine features hot spicy flavors. The difference between daily high and low temperature is greater. I haven’t run once in the morning, since moving here.

Hope I don’t give you a false impression that my life here is all rosy. I am trying to capture different aspects of it from a personal perspective. But you know I tend to be optimistic. There are always something going on everyday. On one hand, I think it seems wise to just make the most of present, be it working in the fields, or, helping community members with something. On the other hand, I am worrying about not spending enough time on things I like: writing, reading and practicing guitar. Clearly, I feel a need to ramp up intellectual life here, not just for my own sake, but also for the community. In the past few days, I tried to go to bed early and get up 4ish or 5ish to start reading and writing (including this letter). I find getting back to regular reading  motivate me to write, probably thanks to the communication with the great minds. 

Wow, it’s really a long letter. Thanks for listening, dear E. As always, I enjoyed talking to you. I also look forward to hearing from you soon.

Love with a hug,


(About Letters)

2 thoughts on “HD-19: Long Overdue Catch-up from Hua Dao

  1. Its wonderful to read about how people are striving towards a sustainable and environmental friendly society. Specially appreciate the following lines, “Hope I don’t give you a false impression that my life here is all rosy. I am trying to capture different aspects of it from a personal perspective. But you know I tend to be optimistic.” All the best and keep us updated.


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