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After a life in cities, Mayberry really doesn't sound so bad

By Matthew Prichard | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-10-16 10:24
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I grew up in small towns at a time when the world moved at a slower pace. The internet and cellphones didn't exist, and there were only four channels on our black-and-white television sets.

In the towns I lived in, many people knew each other, and where you stood sometimes had to do with which family you were from. When you started a new school year, your teacher might already know you because your older brother or sister had taken that same class.

Time moved on, and more people moved to cities, which offered greater opportunities. Staying in a small town was sometimes seen as a sign of stagnation. But few of us who moved out realized that there was a trade-off, too.

Once I had gotten a taste of life outside small towns, I not only moved to a city, I moved to a city overseas. When I came back to the United States, I lived in cities in other parts of the country. Nobody there knew, or cared, who my family was. I always went back home to visit, but clearly I was no longer part of those towns.

For more than eight years, I have lived in two of China's megacities-Beijing and Shanghai. My immediate neighborhoods have had more people than the towns I grew up in. I have enjoyed experiencing these two modern cities, with their efficient transportation systems, great restaurants and thriving cultural scenes.

But a strange thing has happened. Looking to the future, something seems attractive about a smaller, simpler place, even though I never want to be too far from a city with a variety of restaurants and things to do and see. Even when I was growing up, we could always drive to a city.

But that sense of closeness, of knowing all your neighbors and having friends who aren't so likely to disappear on the next jet out of town, is starting to feel attractive.

I never really thought of myself as a city resident-or a "city slicker", to put it in a negative light-but it is true that I have lost some of the small-town politeness that I grew up with. I may forget to greet a stranger before asking a question-which is seen as normal in a city but rude in a small town.

Life in a town also is more connected in the internet age, making it feel much less isolated. It also makes small towns more financially feasible as people work and do business online, which is one way that China is helping people to live better without having to migrate to the cities.

When I was growing up, there was a TV program called The Andy Griffith Show, starring a folksy, amiable star who lived in a small, fictional town called Mayberry. It was set in the same region I grew up in.

The show was a comedy, and some of the characters were small-town stereotypes, including a bumbling deputy sheriff, an absentminded barber and a matronly aunt who made terrible pickles. But the show was meant as a humorous yet loving portrayal of a small town and the people who lived in it. It was certainly a one-sided version, and spent little to no time dealing with difficult social issues such as equal rights. In that sense, it was far from a true portrait.

But for some of us of a certain age who grew up in small towns, finding some version of Mayberry that is modern but still has some of that sweetness of simple human harmony and lasting friendship doesn't sound so bad.


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