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Patricks dream life in Yunnan
8/7/2020


In 1997, Patrick Nijs was sent to China to be Belgiums new Consul General in Shanghai. He was 47 years old then. Over 10 years later in 2009, he returned to this country as the ambassador to China. And this time, he met Deng Minyan, his Chinese wife who came from Yunnan province. In 2013, Patrick gave up the opportunity of being the ambassador to Turkey, secluding himself to Dongchuan, the hometown of Deng, and starting to pursue his idyllic life in Yunnan. 

Today, Patrick has merged himself into the rural life in Yunnan already. Without noting his face, people would regard him as an ordinary Chinese farmer. Even though I have to leave Dongchuan sometimes, I always think of going back to the countryside, because I love the plants, birds, insects and everything there, he said. Only when you see the starry sky and listening to the voice of nature, you can truly understand the how wonderful the life is.

Later then a downpour in summertime, Patrick and Li Guanghe, his best friend in Yunnan, seemed particularly excited. I feel my lands and crops are much more joyful now, said Patrick.

About three weeks earlier, Patrick planted some 150 aubergines regardless of Lis advice. As a result, nearly all the plants soon died of drought. This has made him trust Li Huanghe his 68-year-old friend more and begin to rethink about the wisdom contained in Chinas 24 solar terms, an ancient and practical guide for agricultural activities.

 

Patrick and his natural law

Patrick Nijs was born in a diplomat family in Belgium. In 1997, he became the Belgiums new Consul General in Shanghai at the age of 47. I couldnt be more excited when I was told that Shanghai would be my next destination, he recalled. I eventually had chance to go to this Asian country I had been dreaming of. 

More than 10 years later in 2009, Patrick returned to China once again as the ambassador of Belgium to China. And it was during this tenure that he met his Chinese wife Deng Minyan who comes from Yunnan. To me, China is like a magnet with unbelievable power. It keeps luring me till today, he said with much excitement. In 2013, he even gave up the opportunity of being Belgiums ambassador to Turkey and seclude himself to Dongchuan, the hometown of Deng, and start pursuing an idyllic countryside lifestyle.

Today, Patrick spends almost all the time working on his land. Seeding, watering and weeding have become his daily routine. Every morning, Patrick would go and check his crops in the field first before entering the kitchen to prepare breakfast.

Different from local farmers in Dongchuan, Patrick applies what is called natural farming in his yard, which means no chemical fertilizers and pesticides are allowed to be used. In his view, they will not only affect the life of insects and microorganisms in the soil, but break the intrinsic ecological equilibrium of the place. If insects and microorganism dont live well, crops wont grow well, either, said Patrick.

Patricks farmer friends showed much suspicion to his idea of natural farming in the first place. In their eyes, fertilizers, pesticides and transparent plastic films are essential to the growth of crops. My friend Li Guanghe also used plastic films to cover his corn plants once, which made both me and my wife angry.

 

Becoming a local Yunnan person

As time goes, however, the misunderstanding between Patrick and local farmers in Dongchuan has gone, and a mutual trust has been gradually established instead. Patrick would go to chat with other farmers when he is free. Li Guanghe, for instance, is his best friend in the village. They spend much time together, working, eating, drinking and even smoking cigars.

Watching Patricks courgettes and beans growing better day by day, Li said with his thumb up: Look at these green vegetables, how beautiful and healthy they are!

To a true farmer, cultivation is not just seeding, watering and harvesting for one time, but a circle that goes on and on, said Patrick. And my wish is to work with other farmers in the village and make our land and agriculture healthier. 

Today, Patrick has merged himself into the rural life in Yunnan already. Without noting his face, people would regard him as an ordinary Chinese farmer. Even though I have to leave Dongchuan sometimes, I always think of going back to the countryside, because I love the plants, birds, insects and everything there, he said. Only when you see the starry sky and listening to the voice of nature, you can truly understand the how wonderful the life is.

What Patrick is particularly happy about is that the natural farming which he has been persisting to practice seems increasingly attractive to todays young people in China. The Chinese culture derives from agriculture. Over the past millennia, the livelihood of Chinese people has been relying on natural elements such as rain and the sun, Patrick said. Chinese farmers have full reverence for the nature, and Im excited to see that natural farming is coming back to us!

In the eyes of Patrick, China is one of a few countries in the world that still stick to its own way of development. In the context of global environmental crisis, Chinas particular way of governance and its old agricultural wisdom which advocates the integration of nature and human are offering new possibilities to the entire world, he concluded.


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