We Filled Our Lives But Lost Our Souls

Wendy wrote an article named We Filled Our Lives, But Lost Our Souls (Chinese) and posted it on her blog. It is very real comment from a normal person in Shanghai. The original version was very well written. Let me try to translate part of them.

These are among our frequent topics: I went to English, and you visited Europe, and he went to America; your house is at Lian Hua Metro Station, and mine is at Pudong, and he has several villa; The Peace Masion on Fen Yang Road is not bad, and Ying Qi on Ju Lu Road has great taste, and the Rose Garden is Pudong is OK; We care about taste, and we care about sentiment; we care about thoughts; We will have afternoon teas, and we will enjoy German black beer…

We filled our lives, but we lost our souls.

We do not insist any more, and we are not paranoia any longer. We start to say “Yes” to everything. The uncertainty of future and pressure of life forced people to put benifit and stability the first place before any decision….

I know Wendy is a good thinker and this piece is very well written. No matter people think it or not, it is a very common situation for people’s life in Shanghai. Shanghai is becoming more and more internationalized, but the life is much more harder. It is not easy to survive in Shanghai, since “we have to fill our lives”.

More interestingly, one of the email Wendy got is another great piece on the meaning of lives:

Dear Wendy,

I saw your latest blog entry “we filled our lives, but lost our souls.” You

sounded a bit down and I just wanted to share a few of my thoughts. We’ve

only met once, but for some reason, I felt a special connection to you. I

also really admire the brutal honesty in your blog. I hope I’m not being

too blunt or personal in my writing:

First off, lemme just say it’s damn hard to keep one’s soul in contemporary

China. Everytime I went back to Shanghai, it felt very different to me. In

recent years, increasingly, I felt an overwhelming sense of materialism.

Adding to that is tremendous peer pressure and the need to ‘keep up with the

Jonese.’ What others have I have to have it, too. What others do I have

to do it better. That’s painful. By going with the flow we essentially

give up our own choices, ideals, and individuality. Or, in other words, our

souls.

But how can you not go with the flow? If the entire society is crazed about

making money and buying houses, how do you dare to be different? What about

parental expectations? They’ve had a hard life raising us. What about our

children? We can’t have them lose out from the start. Life is a race and

you simply cannot afford to stop.

Stop to think, what do I really want from this life? Do I really have to be

in that race? I think a lot of times we don’t give ourselves enough credit.

We don’t give ourselves enough space and freedom to explore, to make

mistakes, and to find out who we really are. All of our lives we’ve been

told who we should be and what we should do by our parents, teachers,

friends, society, or by a self that has internalized the values of all

those. We are defined by our roles as daughters, wives, mothers, employees

and citizens. But we are more than that. Each and everyone of us is

unique. We each have our own talents, passions and beliefs — We may have

yet to discover them, but they are there. Life is a privilege. Don’t rush

through it without knowing what you’re doing.

I try to tell myself, I came to this world for a purpose, and that purpose

is more than to have a job, get married, buy a house, make babies and

retire. I’m going to find out what that purpose is. I know this probably

sounds extremely naive, and I often have doubts about it. Sometimes I feel

like I’m not a good enough daughter. Sometimes I feel like my peers think

I’m crazy and a failure. Sometimes I’m gripped with this fear that I’m

going to end up old and homeless, not having had a job ever long enough to

build a career. :) But I think I’d rather live with the fear and guilt than

the nagging, perennial question: why am I here?

Partly that’s why I hide in San Francisco. In Shanghai reality is presented

in a much harsher, right-in-your-face kind of way than in SF. Here people

could care less about what you do with your life. Sometimes I try to

picture what I would be doing today if I stayed in China. And all I could

think of is a stifling cube in an office building somewhere in Beijing or

Shanghai. I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to do anything

different. I have a lot of respect for the independent spirits in China

today, simply because it’s just so much harder there to stay true to

oneself.

I can’t believe I wrote so much. It feels like I was writing as much for

you as it is for myself. And one final note for all of us

soul-searchers–have a sense of humor. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Having a sense of humor makes one more open to new experiences and makes it

easier to stand up again after you fail. Allow yourself to explore, allow

yourself to fail, allow yourself to be confused, because it is from failures

we learn and confusion forces us to think. Most importantly, soul-searchers

or not, we’ll still eat, crap, and sleep everyday. :) We’ll still laugh and

cry. We’ll still have all the bills to pay and bosses to please. In some

ways I think soul-searching is more of an attitude toward life than concrete

actions. What’s the difference between the soul-searchers and

non-soul-searchers then? Well, not much, except we set ourselves free, from

inside out.

I don’t know if any of this makes you feel better. It’s just a topic I

struggle with a lot myself, so thought I’d share some of my own thoughts.

If any of it is offensive, I apologize! I hope that, other than your

sometimes elluding soul, all is well on the other side of the Pacific. :)

Credit goes to the original author

This piece is so nice.

17 Comments

  1. This is a typical SOS massage (Save Our Souls), but anyway, welcome to the rat race and the corrupt world of capitalism.

    Stephen

  2. After reading the following, I wonder if that guy or gal really lives in San Francisco.

    “Partly that’s why I hide in San Francisco. In Shanghai reality is presented

    in a much harsher, right-in-your-face kind of way than in SF. Here people

    could care less about what you do with your life. Sometimes I try to

    picture what I would be doing today if I stayed in China.”

    Isn’t San Francisco notorious for its least affordability in terms of housing and humongous housing bubble in the USA? The median price approaches $700000 and only about 10 percent of city residents can afford it. Hiding in San Francisco to critique materialism in Shanghai? Either that author is clueless or trying to mislead.

  3. I do believe the guy or gal (for some reasons, I believe that is a gal) lives in San Francisco. The point is he/she may not care about owning a piece of property in SF so the housing bubble is not real issue. It is true in corporate America, the very topics of housing, money, families and education can be very much the same in China. However, it is also easiler to find the crowds that care less about what you do with your life in America and not judge you by how much money you make.

  4. For soul-searchers, I recommend a book – “The Celestine Prophecy” by James Redfield.

    That is a great book to help you find out the answer “What’s the purpose of my life in the world?”

    I was deeply inspired by that book.

  5. Soul is the deep question.

    “what’s the purpose of our life?”,Money?Power or Happy?

    shirley

  6. The author wrote:

    “But how can you not go with the flow? If the entire society is crazed about making money and buying houses, how do you dare to be different? What about parental expectations? They’ve had a hard life raising us. What about our children? We can’t have them lose out from the start. Life is a race and you simply cannot afford to stop.”

    Sorry but this is exactly the type of attitude that leads to unethical and immoral business behavious in China. For example, having fake milk powder that leads to permanent damages to infants, having cancerous malachrite green in fish farms, using previous years’ rotten moon cake leftovers to make new mooncakes, using “hair” (yes human hairs) to make soya sauce………….. etc. etc.

  7. people who live in the world that centered by him/herself may feel grate pressure, sometimes even meaningless of one’s life, but when you take more care about others,

    try to make a help to others, decentralize yourself from your world than you may found a

    diffrent way of your life and meaning of the life.

    ————————————————————————–

    I try to tell myself, I came to this world for a purpose, and that purpose

    is more than to have a job, get married, buy a house, make babies and

    retire. I’m going to find out what that purpose is. I know this probably

    sounds extremely naive, and I often have doubts about it. Sometimes I feel

    like I’m not a good enough daughter. Sometimes I feel like my peers think

    I’m crazy and a failure. Sometimes I’m gripped with this fear that I’m

    going to end up old and homeless, not having had a job ever long enough to

    build a career. :) But I think I’d rather live with the fear and guilt than

    the nagging, perennial question: why am I here?

  8. “what’s the purpose of our life?”

    quality of life!

  9. I have been asking myself the “Why am I here?” question, too, most of the time when I feel the quarter-life crisis ‘loop.’ But I also realized that one way for us to answer this is to reflect on what we really want to do, want to have and what we want to achieve in every aspect of our lives. For example, in looking for a satisfying career, are you motivated by status or an nth-figure salary? Or by making a difference in the world, etc.? Knowing who you really are deep down and not just relying on what other people say or have to say about you is a key for answering this perennial question. Once you do, then you’ll definitely feel happiness and contentment. Nietzsche’s “become who you are” phrase helps.

  10. The main purpose of our lives is to fulfill the “happiness” that we ourselves defined, whatever it may be and regardless of what others think of them; some may want the most money; some a satisfying career and while others “only” a harmonious family and a simple life. It’s important to realize that no one can have it all nor can we choose to do only the things we enjoy. It’s just life!!! We all need to make a living wherever we are but we should all try to feel “happy” every single moment of our lives because (not to be too negative) it will end some day (hopefully a far away day!!!) but could also end at any time… So, let’s enjoy life the way we want!!! Cheers!!!

  11. the reality is that there are many different layers to China and that the lives of the foreigners and affluent Chinese are extremely different from that of many of the other people living in the same city and more so than anywhere else, the reality is striking in China. Today I decided to take the bus from ShiChaHai to Wangfujing (two areas packed with foreigners) instead of paying RMB 15 more for a taxi. On the bus I barely had any room to stand, squeezed in and yet still having the bus driver yell to move back so more people could get on. For many of those who are affluent or who are foreigners, the choice is simple, they can just ignore all this, they can cloister themselves in big fancy apartment buildings, work in brand new high rises and eat at expensive restaurants. But for those who want to understand the real situation, who can speak Chinese or who choose to move between the “two different cities,” at times it can be extremely hard on the spirt and a feeling of having lost something on the rise up can take over. Its normal but its right, its good, because at least you recognize it and maybe try to strive to do better whereas so many simply ignore it…

    Sorry for the babble and maybe it didn’t come out right, I’m just sort of speaking from my own feelings from the past few days and also its very late here and I’m tired…hehe, goodnight! :)

  12. China is quickly becoming one of the most unequal countries in the world. And a lot of that is a consequence of governmental policy. The majority of the population is probably too worried about having a roof over their heads to have time to lament the loss of their souls. Those that do have the privilege, ironically, often don’t. They’re so busy adding to their riches and defending their bourgeois lifestyles to think about what really matters. After all, as the old Chinese saying goes, money is not part of our existence; you can’t take it with you when you die. To make life better for others, on the other hand, even something as little as planting a tree, may well have a lasting impact.

  13. When I was poor, I prefer money than thinking, but when my salary was raised which is enough to remove my worry of life, I began to think over the reason for me to exist on this world. No people can avoid this process.

  14. I agree with xiaoli’s comment.

    I have an article linked below, which I think could answer some of your questions on this particular topic.

    http://madaboutshanghai.blogs.com/mad_about_shanghai/2005/09/make_the_world_.html

  15. An interesting discussion all round here. I believe that the search to find meaning is an integral part of the development of ones spirit/soul. Maybe we need to face these problems in life to steer us towards making a decision that will have a positive impact on our lives and the lives of those around us.

    The thoughts and processes you are facing in China are not unique, these factors have influenced the West for many many years – China is now just starting to catch up economically – and as the wealth of the nation increases, more and more people will turn and say “Is this all there is?” and then the beginning of a new cycle will commence with thoughts of making life richer in terms of meaning, relationships and how we contribute to society – and we become measured by society in terms of how much we contribute, not how much we take or how much we own.

    I think Sabrina sums it up nicely in her article with this following quote:

    “Wealth gives fr eedom and choice to people. Once you are fr ee of the burden of trying to make a living (food, clothing and shelter) you can then make choices to do what you love and what you care about. Only when a nation and its individuals are wealthy can they turn to help the less fortunate, the endangered and mistreated animals and the envirnoment.”

  16. I doubt this saying of “Only when a nation and its individuals are wealthy can they turn to help the less fortunate, the endangered and mistreated animals and the envirnoment.” The assumption behind this saying is that people will share excessive wealth to the less fortunate. But the fact is, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And there will be more highways built and there will be more energy consumed. Everyone talks about sustainable development. Unfortunately, our world is not going to this direction. If this saying is true, in US, there should be a perfect balance of people and nature. Unfortunately, it is not the case.

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