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Today’s Office

Hukeng: someone to stay

Today’s office is not supposed to be. It’s Sunday and I’m not due back in the Tokyo lab until the middle of the week.

But the current reality of this work is that if there is mental space and the tools to write ideas then it’s pretty much an office. Before you think this a complaint, any arguments about work/life balance are moot when experiencing life counts as work. And it’s not as if the mountains are ever too far away.

Although the altitude is nothing to write home about, at least today I’m up in the hills of a remote district of Fujian Province. The lodge that has been my home for the last two nights is set in a 100+ year old building, which in turn is situated in a national park. The journey here was uneventful marked only by the transition from the island city to industrial parks to paddy fields and eventually the winding mountain roads which lead here.

I’m currently sitting in wicker chair in a plant filled courtyard. A breakfast of steamed bread and peanuts has just arrived and will sit largely un-disturbed for the next hour or so. Coffee comes in a sachet marked Nescafe, and whilst it stretches my definition of coffee if the common truth were defined by volume alone pre-mixed sachets of caffeine, milk-powder and sugar by any other name would be a lie. With the exception of this ‘coffee’ the rest of the menu is pretty much orientated to slow food – and includes seasonal mountain vegetables, herbs, locally reared livestock (including duck, a gaggle of which have just wandered in and out) plus whatever wild rabbit they can catch. The national parks around here are a cross between historical theme-park and people’s homes, this lodge being more of the latter. One hundred Yuan (8 Euro) buys me a hard bed, mosquito repellent, a door with a lock and an overnight pot to piss in. There is a row of perfectly reasonable squat toilets but they lie outside the thick walls and separted by a large gate that is bolted overnight.

The courtyard very much supports interaction between members of this community. People pass through to visit one of the seven families that live in this building, and stop long enough for conversations and sometimes tea. Local traders drift in and out – one offers what looks like whole-wheat muffins but which turns out to be yet another form of steamed bun. An elderly gentleman in plastic sandals and a Mao shirt shuffles by with what looks like a blunt. Tobacco is grown nearby so it could well be homegrown, its certainly hand rolled. The daughter of the owner splits her time between running errands, keeping me stocked with fresh fruit, and spends the rest of her time practicing Chinese karaoke tunes. She’s wearing a rolling stones t-shirt and walks with a limp, an iodine stained leg wounds peek through from bottom of her trousers – the result of a motorcycle accident. That she’s been in an accident doesn’t surprise me – whilst the traffic is relatively polite the roads in this region are marked by rock falls and the muddy land slides are a challenge to negotiate during the rain.

And when later the rains come, everything moves to the edges of the courtyard. In a world where an office is a space to think the space serves me well.