Life as a Digital Nomad in Dali City: Pursuing Freedom and Poetic Living Amidst Loneliness and Uncertainty

No need to set a wake-up alarm clock, no need to get up early to squeeze the subway, worry about being late for work, sleep until you wake up naturally every day, and after a simple wash, Qin Quanyu rides his beloved “little electric donkey” and walks slowly to the North Gate Vegetable Market in Dali Ancient City. Soy flour with deep-fried dough sticks, and then find a quiet coffee shop to work.
This is his daily life in Dali after he chose “digital nomad” after the 90s – “I have been in a big city for a long time, and I commute mechanically every day, and I especially yearn for a free life.”
Five months ago, Qin Quanyu resigned from a company in Beijing, quit the rental house, and started living as a homeless person across the country. Just last month, he came to the city of Dali with his luggage on his back.
However, behind these day-to-day freedom and “little happiness”, there is also a sense of loneliness from life and anxiety about future life planning. These emotions occasionally enter Qin Quanyu’s heart, just like the one in “The Moon and Sixpence” “The person who jumped repeatedly. After all, since ancient times, it has been difficult to have both the carelessness of life in front of us and poetry and the distance.
In Dali, Qin Quanyu is not alone. In April of this year, Sandy, who resigned early, also came to Dali from Guangzhou. She rented a single room with a private bathroom, a balcony, and a rent of 800 yuan. I want to,” Sandy said excitedly.
These young people who have worked hard in big cities bid farewell to the “nine to five” workplace and chose to come to a city with a slower pace and lower cost of living. They are either telecommuting, freelancing, or starting their own businesses.

With the torrent of Internet development, they have been labeled as “Digital Nomad” by the outside world. In addition to domestic cities such as Dali in Yunnan, Anji in Zhejiang, and Lingshui in Hainan, Bali in Indonesia and Chiang Mai in Thailand have become gathering places for “digital nomads”.
The concept of “digital nomads” was first proposed by former Hitachi CEO Makino Nio as early as 1997. He mentioned that the advanced network communication technology in the future will break down the boundaries between occupations and geographical regions, and people will embrace a new lifestyle of traveling around the world while relying on the Internet to generate income.
Today, this lifestyle is becoming a reality across the globe. According to a report released by the consulting company Instant Offices, the number of “digital nomads” in the world will reach 35 million by 2022. By 2035, this group will number more than 1 billion people.
In China, the reason why Dali has become the first choice for many young “digital nomads” is mostly because “digital nomads” have taken a fancy to the advantages of beautiful natural scenery, convenient transportation, and low living costs. Here, “digital nomads” live a life of “earning money in first-tier cities and spending it in third- and fourth-tier cities”.
According to Qin Quanyu’s observation, most of the “digital nomads” who came to Dali initially pursued a “poetic dwelling” life, “lost in the fast-paced life of a big city, and came here to find a spiritual home.” It is precisely because of this that many young “digital nomads” have created a new name for Dali – “Dalifornia”.

But while these “digital nomads” enjoy a free and poetic life, cruelty shines into reality.
First of all, not every “digital nomad” can endure the state of long-term mobile life. Most respondents told “Business Show” that they look forward to stable social relationships. But the longer the time of nomadism, the stronger the sense of loneliness in their hearts, and they are more inclined to choose to live in a community for a long time and stably. Secondly, most “digital nomads” have weak anti-risk ability. Once they encounter some huge risk changes, they will end their nomadic status and return to the “nine to five” urban life.
A report released by MBO Partners, an American career consulting agency, mentioned that most people’s “digital nomads” will not live for more than 3 years. Many “digital nomads” interviewed by “Business Show” said that because they are still unmarried and have children, they have not wanted to “settle down” yet. But as they grow older, they will eventually find a place to settle down, or they may settle in a certain place in the future due to career development and finding a significant other, ending the life of “digital nomads”.
In cities like Dali, Anji, and Hangzhou, “digital nomads” are only looking for a short-lived state of life, but they cannot achieve the so-called long-term “poetic dwelling”.

“Look for an online part-time job first!” After naked resignation, freedom and anxiety coexist
Without the trouble of clocking in and commuting regularly every day, Qin Quanyu and Dafei both said with emotion, “Finally, the freedom of office space and time has been realized.” This is also the biggest “benefit” of being a “digital nomad”.
In February this year, Dafei resigned naked from a travel company in Guangzhou. After her naked resignation, her first stop was Wenchang, Hainan. She moved into a digital nomad community there and started a life “facing the sea”.
Da Fei described his life status shortly after he resigned as “idle and comfortable” – “I have enough time to do what I want to do every day, watching the sunrise slowly rising from the sea level, staring in a daze at the orange-red sunset Go down to the sea, go snorkeling when the weather is calm…”

But after enjoying a period of “leisure and comfort” at the seaside, the novelty of “facing the sea” quickly dissipated, and the economic situation of “no income, living on the laurels” was superimposed, and Da Fei began to fall into short-term anxiety and confusion. “Seeing that other people have fixed working hours every day and are busy with their own projects, but I have nothing to do after cleaning every day, as if I have become an idler who is out of place.” When she said this, she looked worried .
Sandy also has the same feeling as Da Fei. As early as October 2022, Sandy resigned from a headhunting company in Guangzhou and became an individual headhunter. Although she got rid of the shackles of the company’s morning and evening clock-in, but because her business has not “issued orders”, Sandy’s original relaxed attitude has gradually become anxious because of this-“The uncertainties encountered in being a headhunter There are too many, and sometimes after following the list for several months, the candidate is passed again at the end, and the mentality is easy to explode.”
In the free life day after day, both Da Fei and Sandy began to discover that freedom comes at a price. If you want to live that kind of long-term free life, you must have at least a guaranteed income A stable online part-time job.
“Find an online part-time job first!” This is also the common mentality of most young “digital nomads”. Although the anxiety of losing a stable income “sneaks up” from time to time, it has been difficult for them to return to their previous workplace status in big cities. “After tasting the taste of freedom, I really don’t want to go back to work.” Da Fei said with a smile.
After finally making up their minds to completely break away from the work state, they are like beasts who have rushed out of the cage to find freedom, and they are more inclined to look for various online part-time job opportunities.
Dafei began to give full play to his original professional advantages. While writing Hainan travel guides on social platforms to attract users’ attention, he was also approaching local travel companies, intending to be a “middleman” for matching projects——“If users pass my introduction If the project is successfully connected, there will be a commission for the project,” Da Fei said.
This year’s “May 1st” holiday, Dafei received a lot of commissions. The strategy she released on social platforms before attracted a large number of users to come to inquire about the play items. “During that time, I received dozens of groups of guests every day, helping them customize itineraries and plan play items.”
Since then, Dafei’s Hainan tourism business has improved. Although the monthly order volume is still unstable, her income is gradually approaching full-time salary, which allows her to maintain her “digital nomad” life.
But Sandy is not as lucky as Dafei. She is still connecting with new candidates and companies every day, and doing her best to facilitate cooperation. In the days when no cooperation was reached, watching his savings continue to be consumed, Sandy began to realize that there is no need to stay in Guangzhou to live a high-cost life, it is better to find a lower-cost city to live in, and at the same time Online business.

Since the beginning of this year, Dali has once again become popular because of the popular broadcast of “To a Windy Place”, and the ancient city has also become Sandy’s dream of first choice. “Going to Dali, I’m somewhat influenced by this TV series!” So she went online to find a more suitable village to live in, “I found a place called ‘Lotus Village’ in Xiaohongshu, and saw Renting a house with two bedrooms and one living room is only 700 yuan, which is not too cheap. And it just so happens that a headhunter friend also resigned to live in Dali naked, so I dropped by.”
In April, Sandy came to Dali, and finally rented a single room near the north gate of the ancient city with a private bathroom, a balcony, water and electricity grid, and the rent was 800 yuan. Dare to think.” Sandy said excitedly.
In the middle of the same month, Da Fei also “traveled” to Dali.

Behind the low-desire life, personal security has become a rigid need
“In Dali, as long as I earn 3,000 yuan a month, I can maintain a good living condition.” Dafei moved into a digital nomad community in Dali. The monthly rent is 1,000 yuan, including water, electricity and Internet fees. Make her very satisfied.
Compared with cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, the cost of living in Dali is indeed very low. Sandy goes to the market every day to buy vegetables and comes back to cook, and occasionally he can go out for a small meal with friends. The monthly rent plus other living expenses, 3,000 yuan is indeed more than enough.
“Even if I don’t cook, I go out to eat every day. There are 10 yuan for small pot rice noodles, 12 yuan for fried shredded bait, and 13 yuan for a community cafeteria.” Here, Sandy feels that his life has become horrible. Control and do a job with ease.
After Sandy and Dafei, Qin Quanyu also came to Dali in July, which has almost become a “sacred place” for young “digital nomads” in China. However, the rent cost at this time has doubled in the off-season, but Qin Quanyu readily accepts the 1,600 yuan a month house that includes water, electricity, and Internet fees.
“In Beijing, 3,000 yuan can only be shared with others to rent a small single room. Counting food, water, electricity, etc., the monthly living cost is 7,000 to 8,000 yuan, which is still relatively economical. But in Dali, the cost of living began to fall into a straight line. Even though I go out to eat every day, and sometimes invite friends to eat out, the monthly cost of living will not exceed 5,000 yuan at most, which also includes the expenses for fruits, coffee, swimming and fitness.” Qin Quanyu gave himself a detailed I calculated an account carefully.

A number of “digital nomads” interviewed by the “Business Show” agreed that the cost of renting a house for most of them is below 1,000 yuan, the cost of living is maintained at around 2,000 yuan, and the basic monthly expenses can be controlled at around 3,000 yuan.
After starting the life of “digital nomads”, their consumption concepts have also undergone great changes, and low desire has become a common feature. An obvious detail is that many young people do not need to buy clothes every season, but only keep the necessities of daily life, let alone buy items that are not convenient to carry. Some girls even reduce the frequency of makeup.
Da Fei condensed his “property” into two suitcases – one 20-inch and one 24-inch. “I want to ensure that I can pack all my things within 2 hours, and then swim at any time.” to the next destination.”
Compared with material pursuits, they pursue the poetry and spiritual comfort of pastoral life more. Many interviewees mentioned that the comfort and happiness of homeless life are more important than the pleasure brought by exquisite and gorgeous costumes in the past.
However, in the long-term state of nomads, the “digital nomads” group also began to worry about their personal security.
When he first came to live in Dali, Qin Quanyu began to feel unaccustomed to the water and soil, and suffered from diarrhea every now and then. He first bought some oral medicines by himself, but instead of getting better, he got worse and had to go to the local hospital. After colonoscopy and CT, plus treatment, after various items, the cost is not a lot.
And because the whole course of treatment is at their own expense, it adds hundreds of expenses. “If you can be cured by taking medicine, you usually don’t go to the local hospital, because the social security is not shared, and the cost of going to the hospital will be relatively high.” Qin Quanyu recalled.
According to the “Business Show”, most of the “digital nomads” are still in the state of paying social insurance by themselves, and some people pay more attention to the protection of commercial insurance. For example, Dafei purchased accident insurance, medical insurance, critical illness insurance and For life insurance, after one year, she said that she spent more than 5,000 yuan on commercial insurance.
Many interviewees mentioned that “digital nomads” generally have weak anti-risk capabilities, and there are no various protection platforms or services for “digital nomads” on the market. Workers are not restricted by geographical environment.
Behind the low-desire life, personal security has become a major need of the “digital nomads” group.

Shark, who came to Dali, soon acquired a new identity—”the manager of Dali New Art Space”.
But this new identity made the shark “painful and happy”.
The painful thing is that he has to do everything about cultural activities, such as meeting teachers, finding venues, making promotional posters, etc., by himself. The daily workload is more than that of full-time work, and sometimes I am still rushing to make the next day’s event poster after one o’clock in the morning.
Happily, she enjoys the cultural environment here that is comparable to that of the first-tier cities, which allows her to find the sense of immersion surrounded by the atmosphere of literature and art. “It makes me happy every time I hear from the participants that they have gained healing and strength through the activities.” As he said this, Shark’s eyes turned into crescents.
In China, there are many cities with low cost of living, but there are not many places with low cost and strong cultural atmosphere. Dali is one of them, attracting countless “digital nomads” to stay for a long time.
Qin Quanyu found that different “digital nomad” communities in Dali hold activities such as meditation, dance, drama, music, Frisbee, hiking, rock climbing, etc. every week. This allows the new “digital nomads” to quickly connect with different people and quickly find circles with common interests. “As long as you are not socially afraid and participate in activities in different communities, you will easily make new friends.”
However, Qin Quanyu also found that it is difficult for “digital nomads” to maintain a relationship for a long time, “because after living here for a period of time, they will soon rush to the next place, and once they leave, they will soon lose contact.”
Some sentimental sharks have not yet adapted to this kind of parting that will stage “welcome and send” every once in a while. “Flow is our normal state, but I can’t adapt to this frequent parting.”
On the contrary, Da Fei, who has been on the road, has long been used to parting. “In some communities, no matter how long you live, it is difficult to have a deeper connection with people, but if you happen to meet someone with the same frequency, you will naturally miss this place more and don’t want to part.” Da Fei explained.
But she knows very well that after meeting by chance, there must be parting, and she, who is sober in the world, pays more attention to enjoying the present. Therefore, when she realized that some people would not live in the community for a long time, she would deliberately keep a distance from them. “The intersection is too deep, and it will affect the mood when we part. I don’t want to be troubled by this emotion.”
The seemingly free “digital nomads” have fallen into a “freedom trap”-they pursue a more free life, and they live in various places, making countless people who work in the city’s grid envious. But behind the free travel, it is often accompanied by a deeper loneliness.
Every time they arrive in a city, they have to re-establish various social relationships, re-communicate and establish links with people. But the actual situation is often that many people have already started their journey again before they have had time to establish a deep connection with others, which has instead become a compulsory lonely homework for them.

It has been more than five months since Qin Quanyu started the life of “digital nomad”. During this period, he traveled and lived in Hainan, Guangxi, Fujian, Gansu, Xinjiang, Yunnan, Guizhou and other places. Although you will also make some new friends, as long as you part, these so-called new friends will soon lose contact. “When you are traveling, you will encounter bad things. If you are not familiar with the place, there is no one to help. At this time, the feeling of loneliness and helplessness will be enveloped in an instant.” Qin Quanyu said.
Dave Cook, a professor at the University of London, published a paper called “The Freedom Trap” (Freedom Trap) in 2020. He pointed out that after most digital nomads start traveling and working alone, their sense of isolation will change over time. become more and more obvious.
Qin Quanyu also found that not all “digital nomads” can get used to the state of long-term nomads. Some people will return to the “nine to five” life after a short period of sojourn, and some will live in the “digital nomad” community for a long time , to rebuild a relatively stable social relationship.
It seems that they are pursuing “dwelling poetically”, but after experiencing wandering and wandering without support, they will still wake up: people must return to “stable dwelling” after all.

Whether it’s “heaven above, Suzhou and Hangzhou below” in the eyes of literati and poets, “you can sleep in your dreams tonight”, or Dali, where “Cangshan, Erhai, wind, flowers, snow and moon”, there is no shortage of pursuers.
Especially in the city of Dali, you can see that in the 1980s, a group of Western backpackers came to settle here. Because of the gathering of this group of people, a “hippie culture” has formed in Dali. Since then, every once in a while, people with different identities will come here, artists, folk singers, educators, Web3.0 practitioners… and now “digital nomads” have been added.
The reason why Dali attracts people of different identities is closely related to its unique geographical environment. This city is located in the west of Yunnan, on the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, at the foot of Cangshan Mountain and on the shore of Erhai Lake. The unique geographical environment has created four major landscapes: wind in Xiaguan, flowers in Shangguan, snow in Cangshan Mountain, and moon in Erhai Lake. The climate is more than 20 degrees all the year round and pleasant.
This is the first time I spent summer in Dali this year, and Sandy exclaimed, “I haven’t turned on the air conditioner this summer, and I don’t even use a fan.” Many “digital nomads” in Dali also expressed to the “Commercial Show” that they are very nostalgic for the summer in Dali. “After this summer, I will consider going to other cities. It is so comfortable that people don’t have the slightest thought of leaving.”
In addition to climatic elements, the free exploration of the spirit also attracts “digital nomads”. People of different identities gathered in Dali, all exploring ways of life outside the mainstream.
Shark is exploring everything related to art in Dali. She wants to heal the suppressed emotions of modern people through different art forms. A headhunter friend who came to Dali with Sandy bought a batch of smiling face balloons online. He went to Erhai Lake every afternoon to sell balloons while waiting for the sunset. When the sun went down, he could also make a net profit of more than 100 yuan.
In Dali, everyone is trying what they “wanted to do but couldn’t do” before, and some even “do not do their jobs properly”, but they think, “this is what should happen in Dali”.
Therefore, “Utopia” has become a consistent label given to Dali by different groups, “Dali is very similar to a ‘Utopia’, but it is not a pure ‘Utopia’, but more like a realistic version of ‘Utopia’. Here, no There will be the workplace standards recognized by the first-tier cities, and there will be no distinction between high and low positions.” Shark said.
People who came to Dali initially had a kind of pursuit – “dwelling poetically”, which is also Heidegger’s words quoted from the poem “Man, Dwell Poeticly” by the poet Holderlin. The so-called “dwelling poetically” is to find the spiritual home of people. On the theoretical level, this is the philosopher’s reflection on the “materialization” and “alienation” of human society since it entered the industrial age, and it is a cry for returning to artistic and poetic life and life.
With the development of the Internet age, for those young people who work hard and live in big cities, the fast-paced state makes it difficult for them to slow down to feel life and quietly think about the meaning of life. Cities like Dali, Hangzhou, and Anji largely give them enough freedom, tolerance, and sufficient time to try, explore, and experience the life they want.

But as Shark says, pure “utopia” doesn’t exist. Behind the so-called “poetic dwelling” is the support of more realistic sufficient funds, that is, “you must have savings and income”.
Some people say that before becoming a “digital nomad”, you must have the confidence to “Fuck You Money”. This sentence first came from the mouth of actor Liu Yuling. It probably means that when you have a good income, when you feel that your work has lost your fun and you are forced to do things you don’t want to do, you can say this chicly. sentence.
According to “Business Show” , most of the young “digital nomads” have deposits between 50,000 and 150,000 yuan, and a small number of people’s deposits can reach 500,000 to 1 million yuan, or even higher. This deposit is the confidence for them to choose to become “digital nomads”, and of course it is also the economic basis that determines how long their nomad status can last.
In China, there are currently few companies that can provide full-time remote work, allowing employees to live in various places. As a result, the income of most “digital nomads” in China mainly comes from part-time jobs. This means that the income of this group is unstable, and if they do not find a stable income channel, they may “eat their money” at any time.
This was the case with Sandy, who was terrified of losing her only source of income. To this end, she has been developing different career skills. She once wrote e-commerce copywriting for a period of time, but she found that the income was completely out of proportion to the payment, so she gave up immediately. She once wanted to set up a stall in Dali, but after shopping around, she found that there were too many stalls, so she gave up.
Now, Sandy is preparing for the examination of the patent attorney qualification certificate. She wants to earn an extra income for herself through this certificate and resist risks.
Financial pressure is only one of the reasons that affect the long-term residence of “digital nomads”. Even without financial pressure, few people can maintain such a life for a long time. The wandering work and life status of “digital nomads” is more like a transitional stage of their lives.
During their brief sojourn, apart from being adrift in the physical world, most “digital nomads” have no strong sense of identity, and they don’t mind describing themselves with various titles, such as “freelancer” and “part-time worker”. Self-employed”. This shows from the side that few people regard “digital nomad” as a long-term state.
In Dali, the community has become a short-term residence for young “digital nomads”, and also a short-term place of belonging for them “my hometown is where my heart is at ease”. But everyone knows that when wandering and traveling, no one knows where the “place of peace of mind” is, whether it is the physical space or the spiritual world.
Perhaps, on the road of continuous wandering, each “digital nomad” will eventually find his own answer.

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