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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: January 31, 2011 NO. 6 FEBRUARY 10, 2011
Slowing Down
A slower pace of life has become fashionable to more urbanites


Life was almost all work and no play for Shi Ming, a 40-something worker at a research institute in Beijing, before a heart attack two years ago.

As a researcher, he did not just read and write reports in the office, conduct on-site studies, attend academic meetings and tutor graduate students, but also traveled around negotiating projects and signing contracts.

The days used to be slow in the government-funded research institute where Shi works. Back then, researchers' incomes were low and not pegged to their performance. They did what was assigned to them, and enjoyed life. Some of Shi's colleagues often gathered to play poker during the lunch break and in late afternoon.

The reform of science and technology management system, started in the 1980s, changed the method of funding research institutes. Researchers doing applied research were encouraged to serve market needs, whereas those doing basic research were to compete for grants from a state foundation. Individual researchers earning more grants and contracts would make more money.

Since then, noisy poker games have disappeared from office buildings. Many researchers work extra hours on evenings and weekends.

Shi didn't want to lag behind others either in terms of achievements or income, and put his heart and mind to work. He left his daughter completely in the care of his parents.

Full of drive, Shi made his way up from average engineer to associate professor and professor in several years, and became the head of a research department. He bought a car and house and sent his daughter to one of Beijing's best schools.

But, a massive heart attack almost killed him in 2009. Doctors told Shi he must slow down to recover and maintain his health.

Now, Shi takes walks in the morning, and often drives to the suburbs to spend the weekend with his family.

Hurried life

Shi's case is not exceptional.

Many people are spinning like tops in China's metropolitan cities. Because of a fast work pace, urban white-collar workers are subject to mental stress. They get up early and go to bed late, spend hours commuting, eat irregular meals and live sedentary lives. All these take a toll on their health, medical experts say.

All work and no play do make people dull. According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health in 10 large Chinese cities, 49 percent of urban white collar workers felt exhausted, 46 percent dull and 38 percent anxious. Soaring housing prices, parents' health, marriage and children's education are four major sources of their stress.

The survey also shows 48 percent of Chinese urban employees suffer from sub-health problems. Sub-health is a state between health and illness, which features physiological function deterioration. This is most obvious in economically developed Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong Province, where about three quarters of the residents are in poor health.

Fast living can cause even more serious physical and mental problems. For instance, several doctors with the No.1 Affiliated Hospital of Guangxi Traditional Chinese Medicine University recently published a study revealing the fast life is positively associated with Type II diabetes.

Living differently

Now, some urban white-collar workers are gradually changing the lifestyle and beginning to endorse the idea of slow living.

"When you spin around like a machine wheel in pursuit of a quality life, quality life has already eluded you," said an advocate of slow living at Douban.com, one of China's largest online communities.

Three years ago in Tianjin, several young people started a slow life club as an escape from the hectic metropolitan life.

"In recent years, I often hear people around me saying they are busy, tired and stressed out and I see people toiling all day long to pay back housing, car and credit card debt," said Yang Yue, one of the club's founders, in an interview with Tianjin Daily.

The club is located in a creative industry park along Haihe River that runs through Tianjin from west to east. The club gets in touch with young white-collar workers through groups on social networking websites such as Douban.com or QQ.com. These young people get together for movies, reading, travel, photography, cooking or just chatting.

Ma Yongmei, another founder, said every weekend, more and more people gathered at the club. "Most people coming to the club hanker for a simple lifestyle," she said.

Slow living would make your life more wonderful, said Hong Zhaoguang, a senior consultant for the Ministry of Health and Vice President of China Elder Health Care Association, at a recent interview with the Beijing Television Station.

"Here, 'slow' is not equivalent to lazy or slacking," Hong said. "In essence, slow living means a return to a natural and harmonious lifestyle."

Hong suggests people not bring work home, not work extra hours and not check e-mail or make work-related calls on weekends.

Instead, he said, one should plan some time for physical exercise, cooking, reading, gardening or simply relaxing, because all these contribute to longevity.

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