Bus Stop Picnics and Life in the Countryside

We were less than 50 meters away from the bus stop when the bus zoomed  right passed us. Drats! It was useless to try to flag it down. This is not Manila where bus drivers make more money with each additional passenger and would therefore wait for anyone who remotely looks like they need a ride. The next bus doesn’t come till 30 minutes later. It was almost two in the afternoon and we haven’t had lunch yet. Thankfully, it was a gorgeously sunny autumn day, warm if you are right under the sun (which the bus stop propitiously was).  I announced to the kids that we were going to have a bus stop picnic lunch and, after a little happy dance and a Yey! Yey! Yey!, Ruby immediately made herself comfortable on the raised pavement. I pulled out the bento (lunch box) we just bought from the supermarket and poked through the grocery bag. Double drats! The supermarket checkout person forgot to give us disposable chopsticks. Or did I said no to them because I was expecting to eat our bento at home? Argh! Well, I guess we’ll have to feed ourselves Filipino-style and eat with our bare hands. And so, there we were, the three of us, camped right on the pavement of the bus stop under the autumn sun, enjoying our bento with our bare hands, as  cars, motorcycles and trucks whizzed by.

Such is life in the countryside.

Moving out here from the city, as idyllic as it sounds, was a huge adjustment for me. I have lived in cities all my life. Here in the countryside, everything feels so far away and everyone (except me it seems) drives a car. The bus at our nearest stop comes by once an hour and I always have to check the time while shopping lest we miss the bus home (the walk from the supermarket to the bus stop being exactly 7 minutes at my pace — heaven forbid Ruby should say “I need to pee”). It felt like there was nothing to see, nothing to do, and nowhere to go to out here in the middle of (insert your favorite expletive) nowhere. It was so stressful I was periodically sick. I remember going on and on about my woes to my dear friend Sarah and she said to me, “I’m here for you. Feel free to complain to me all you want. You have until September.” (We moved in July). I was puzzled by her “deadline” and glad to know my friend has put limits to how much she could take from me but sure enough, by the time the weather cooled and September rolled in, the countryside felt as home as home can be.

I still miss the city and I think Ruby does too. Going to the city is now an occasional treat that merits a happy dance. I miss going to different shops, all within walking distance from the house. I miss how easy it was to go to events (i.e. lectures, parties, shows, performances) and back home. But I have found that the countryside has changed me, a lot.

I previously wrote about a pervasive divide in our society, one that contributes to gender inequalities, preferential development of urban at the expense of rural areas, and the bias for left rather than right brain activities. For a mindful living workshop, I use a table that summarizes this dichotomy.

Masculine Feminine
active receptive
power relational/connectivity
urban rural
hard soft
simple/straightforward complex
logic creativity
forward motion inward motion
goal oriented process oriented
accomplishment journey

It wasn’t until we moved to the countryside that I lived the difference. Weeks turned to months and now my eyes have grown so accustomed to the soft lines of the mountains and the rivers that are much more soothing than the angular urban landscape. Every time I bike to and from the vegetable market, the clinic or the post office, the mountains loom ahead. I am, at once, filled with two emotions – first is the feeling of smallness and the insignificance of my worries; second is the exhilaration of possibilities and adventures as embodied in my question, ‘What lies beyond those mountains?’

Photo-0276-2

Our gorgeous backyard at sunset.

I now embrace the quiet and the slowness of life out here that I used to translate as boredom.  I realized how noisy and overstimulating the city can be and how exhausting this is for our limited cognitive resources — in such an environment, it is only adaptive to disengage and tune out all the noise. Maybe that’s why city people tend to come across as unfriendly. They look past or through you, smile less, seem more harried, less kind. Out here, it is quiet enough to listen to nature, listen to other people, and listen to your own self.

My kids and I join a playgroup that meets regularly in a forest sanctuary. We pick and eat fruits that are in season straight from the trees. We climb the mountains and gather berries growing along the trails. We pull purple and orange potatoes from the earth.  All summer long we played by the river, swimming and canoeing. As summer came to an end, the playgroup teacher had the kids pick a flower and led the group to the river. Everyone threw their flower offering to the river, bowing and thanking the river for letting us play in its waters. I was deeply moved by this gesture. Out here where “nothing” seems to be going on, the kids love to spend time outdoors, watching cranes walk gracefully on the rushing river, the fishes jump up the fish ladder, and the sky change colors when the sun sets and the stars come out. They entertain themselves just fine.

And I have come to work around the bus schedule, take picnics at the bus stop when necessary. I guess I have come a long way when I say, I love the countryside and can’t imagine living anywhere else.

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3 responses to “Bus Stop Picnics and Life in the Countryside

  1. We also live in the suburbs of Yokohama albeit not as rural as yours but nevertheless not an urban community by any standard. It’s a way of life that many cannot identify with. For some it can be an ‘acquired taste’. But I am sure that this is something that you will remember with fondness.

  2. I can totally relate to this one. Like you, I’ve spent most of my life in the city. Then I got married and suddenly found myself living in a small village near the ocean. Sounds idyllic yes, but I still miss city living a lot. But at the moment, this is the perfect place to raise a little-girl who absolutely loves where she is.

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