Living in an urban village


For two and a half years I’ve been living in my husband’s home village. What do I mean by a village? Don’t I live in Guangzhou with a population of 14 million and huge skyscrapers? Yes, but inside this huge metropolis you can find villages with narrow lanes and alleys that take you back in time.

I live in a village that has a history of more than 700 hundred years and where all the original locals share a surname. During my early years in China I dreamed of living in an old house in an ancient village, but now after two years I’ve noticed that living in a village has both it’s up and downs.

Being the only foreigner in the block

A bit more than 8000 people live in this village and I’m the only foreigner. That means that I’m being seen no matter where I go. The long-term locals that live along the alleys next to my home or on my way to the bus stop are already used to me and won’t lift their head anymore.

But I can always spot who is new to the area by how long they stare at me. Lot of workers from outside live in the village because of the cheap accommodation options or they come in to build new houses for the villagers. Unfortunately they see a foreigner as a rare zoo animal that can be stared at and occasionally I hear a loud “haaalooou” behind my back. That makes me uncomfortable and I usually just ignore them.

When it comes to school kids and children, there is a primary school close to my home, I don’t mind their curiosity and greetings. If they wave at me I’ll wave back with a smile on my face. There is this one neighbor’s kid with who I always a have a short chat when I see him, I like how he seems me just like any other auntie around.

Old-fashioned ideas and habits

Many, perhaps most, people living in this village have been living here for generations. They rarely leave the village or even if they do, their social circles are here. This is their comfort zone and not that many are ready to leave it. They enjoy being the big fish in a small pond, not ready to try anything new in case it fails or it makes them feel small.

The villagers do things as they have always done and expect you to do too. They have been amazed how fast I walk by them right until my last month of pregnancy, telling my mother-in-law how I don’t seem pregnant at all! (Besides that huge belly of mine) They criticize my sister-in-law for living together with her parents with her husband and son, because married daughters shouldn’t be coming back home. They don’t understand why me and my husband chose to live in this old house, when my in-laws has a big four-story new house next door.

They probably chit-chat a lot about me, things that I will never hear. Perhaps it’s better that way.

Continuous construction site

One of the most imprint possessions of a villager here is big house. Everyone who can tears down their old house and builds as big of  house as possible. Little by little the ancient villages turn into an urban village (城中村)where the sun light never reaches the ground between houses that are build right next to each other.

I see some effort being made by the local government to promote tourism to the village, but if all the old buildings are being teared down to build new ones that are identical to their neighbors, I can’t see how anyone would like to visit here in a few years.

Of course there are good days when I love living in the village, sometimes I even feel a sense of belonging. I love our Chinese style house and having a place that we can make our own. The village has adorable little alleys that you can wander on and get lost too. The pollution isn’t as bad as in the city center and next to us we have great places for biking and taking a walk.

That being said I’ve also come to learn the more realistic aspect of living in a village and what it entails. Having a baby on the way makes you question things, one of them being what is the best environment for your kid to grow up. But that is a topic for another blog post.


  • Anna Zech

    I can totally relate to that! Living in a more rural place can be really tough. But there are so many great things, and you have the advantage of being next to one of China’s bigger cities! You can always send your child to a kindergarten and school in the city. I dont have that luxury here…


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I have to admit I could never do it as you Anna, I always have Guangzhou right there to go and get the things I need.


  • Peter K

    I love the urban villages. Really a unique environment.


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    With our villages the advantage is that the city can’t come too close as we are on an island, but still seeing the village transform form ancient village to urban village is kind of shame.