Simplifying Life: The Office Worker Who Chose to Retire in the Ancient City of Fenghuang

Sometimes, the most enlightening encounters are the ones that happen entirely by chance. This was precisely my experience during a spontaneous trip to the ancient city of Fenghuang, a place renowned for its timeless beauty and tranquil atmosphere. It was here, amidst the scenic narrow alleys lined with historic architecture, that I stumbled upon a quaint store that caught my eye—not just for its array of unique artifacts but also for its owner, C, whose story is as captivating as the items she sells.

Our conversation began over a particularly unique lock that caught my eye. As we spoke, she shared her transformative journey from a consumer electronics expert to becoming a serene shop owner.

C is a former product technician in the fast-paced world of consumer electronics where she handled all the product servicing and repairs. Her stint had her work in multiple consumer electronics giants across her career like Huawei and Samsung. She claimed that she has the skills to repair any mobile phones. After a decade in her high-stress job took a toll, causing her to develop depression. Eventually she decided to give it all up to search for a different way to live a fulfilling life. She left her job in her 30s and is already 50 this year. While C calls it a partial “tang ping”, I would like to think of it as blended take on geoarbitrage, lean FIRE and early retirement.

Today, I wish to share her story of how she traded a lucrative career for a much simpler way of life.

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Early Career and the Turning Point

For more than a decade, C was deeply embedded in the world of consumer electronics. Her role as an in-house product technician for various major consumer electronics companies demanded not only her skills but also her time and mental energy. Days filled with debugging firmware and testing hardware were the norm, a routine punctuated by tight deadlines and the constant pressure to innovate.

C thrived in the stimulating environment at first, proud to be part of a team that was pushing the boundaries of mobile technology. However, the excitement of new product launches and breakthroughs gradually gave way to a relentless grind. The incessant demands of her career began to erode her enthusiasm and well-being. The pursuit of tech excellence slowly transformed into a source of profound stress, affecting her health. She found herself facing depression, a shadow that crept in silently but grew overwhelmingly dark, making each day harder than the last.

It was during a particularly challenging project that C reached her breaking point. The realisation hit her after a sleepless night that her job was no longer a source of pride and passion but a wellspring of anxiety and exhaustion. She knew something had to give. Despite the fears associated with leaving a stable and lucrative career, her health and happiness were on the line, and those stakes were too high to ignore.

Remember, this was at a time when the concept of mental well-being was unheard of.

In the weeks that followed, C mustered the courage to resign. It was a decision that was both terrifying and liberating. With her resignation letter handed in, she felt a weight lift off her shoulders, though uncertainty about her future loomed large. Her next steps were not immediately clear, but she was certain of one thing: the path ahead would prioritise her well-being and seek a deeper sense of purpose and fulfilment.

The decision to travel was impulsive but necessary because she needed space to clear her mind and rediscover her passions away from the pressure of her previous life. Her travels across China were eye-opening, revealing not only the vast beauty of her country but also different ways of living that contrasted sharply with her own. It was during this period of exploration and self-discovery that she found Fenghuang. Drawn to its ancient charm and the slower pace of life it promised, C decided it was here she would attempt to start anew, hoping to find the balance that had eluded her for so long.

Her New Beginnings in Fenghuang

Nestled in the mountainous terrains of Western Hunan, Fenghuang, or Phoenix Ancient Town, offered C a picturesque escape from the frantic pace of urban life. Known for its stunning riverside views and well-preserved stilt houses that hark back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Fenghuang exudes a timeless charm that captures the essence of ancient China. Its narrow cobbled streets, framed by traditional architecture and the tranquil Tuo River, present a stark contrast to the steel and glass of the cities C once knew.

Upon her arrival, the town’s serene ambiance and the warm hospitality of its residents—primarily from the Miao and Tujia ethnic groups—made Fenghuang feel like a predestined home rather than a mere stop on her journey. The town, while popular among tourists seeking its historic allure, managed to retain an air of tranquility that deeply resonated with C. Here, she saw an opportunity to not just visit but to belong and rebuild her life in alignment with the values she yearned to cultivate: simplicity, peace, and community.

Initially, the transition was not without its challenges. C had to navigate the complexities of integrating into a community that was starkly different in culture from the high-tech world she had left behind. However, her willingness to engage with the locals and her openness to learn from them paved the way for mutual respect and acceptance.

C set up a small store along one of Fenghuang’s bustling riverbanks. It was here that she combined her love for travel and art by selling art pieces that she created and unique collectibles she had gathered from her travels across China. Each item in her store had a story, and C found joy in sharing these narratives with curious visitors, connecting over shared moments of wonder and appreciation for the beauty found in everyday objects. She also filled her shop with some of the typical travel souvenirs so that the store does not look too empty.

C’s entrepreneurial venture wasn’t a rags to riches story. It’s was simply her way of embracing the slow-paced lifestyle that Fenghuang celebrated. The store became a place of interaction and learning, where she could connect with others who were equally enchanted by the town’s historical richness and communal spirit. It was during one of these interactions that our paths crossed—an encounter that transformed a simple visit into a deep, insightful conversation about life’s unexpected turns and the quiet satisfaction found in Fenghuang’s embrace.

As C settled into her new life, she found that Fenghuang provided not only a scenic backdrop but also a spiritual sanctuary. The town, with its historic significance and vibrant cultural tapestry, offered her daily inspirations and continual reminders of why she chose to leave her past behind. In Fenghuang, C rediscovered her passion for life, finding contentment in simplicity and learning that happiness often resides in the quiet corners of the world.

Financial Adaptation and Survival Strategy

Transitioning from a lucrative job to a small business owner in a historic town posed significant financial challenges for C. In Fenghuang, she not only had to adjust to a new way of life but also devise a financial strategy that would sustain her in the long term. This required a careful balancing act between managing her savings, generating income, and keeping expenses low.

C’s primary financial resource was the savings accumulated from her years in the consumer electronics industry. These savings formed a crucial safety net as she ventured into uncharted territory. They allowed her the freedom to explore different business ideas without the immediate pressure of earning a living. However, C was well aware that her savings were finite, and establishing a steady income stream was essential.

Her choice of business, a store selling art and travel collectibles was strategically chosen to align with Fenghuang’s thriving tourism sector. The town’s appeal as a cultural and historical site attracts a steady flow of domestic and international tourists, providing a fertile ground for a retail venture catering to those looking to take home a piece of their travel experiences. Each piece in her store not only held aesthetic value but was imbued with stories and personal connections, making them unique to her customers.

To keep her living expenses manageable, C embraced a minimalist lifestyle that reflected her new values—simplicity and sustainability. She rented a modest space that served dual purposes: the front acted as the retail store, and the back became her living quarters. This arrangement significantly cut down her overhead costs and simplified her daily routines. She paid a hefty 300,000 RMB to the landlord to rent the space for 10 years. This meant that C was paying 30,000 RMB a year in rent for an accommodation that was also able to generate retail income. She has since renewed her contract once and is nearing her 20th year of tenure.

To give my readers more context, in tier 3 and tier 4 cities similar to Fenghuang, it would cost around 18,000 RMB to 30,000 RMB each year to rent a place to stay. By integrating her living and working spaces, C was able to have a place to stay and create a way to generate income. Furthermore, C adopted a frugal approach to her personal expenses. Fenghuang’s local markets offered fresh produce at lower prices, allowing her to maintain a healthy diet without the hefty price tag often found in urban cities.

Through this adaptive financial strategy, C ensured her transition to a slower-paced, more fulfilling life was not only successful but also sustainable. This approach highlights the importance of aligning one’s lifestyle and business model with personal values and the local environment, ensuring that financial needs are met without compromising on quality of life.

Lessons Learned and Advice

C’s transformation from a high-stress work environment to a serene life in Fenghuang provides not only a compelling narrative but also valuable lessons and advice for those contemplating a similar change. Here are some of the key insights that I have learnt from her, which might serve as guiding principles for others.

Listen to Your Inner Voice

One of the most significant lessons C learned was the importance of listening to her inner voice. The decision to leave a well-paying job and venture into the unknown was driven by her recognition of the toll her career was taking on her mental health. It’s important to pay attention to our well-being and not ignore the signs of burnout. Making a change might seem daunting, but preserving one’s health and happiness is paramount. It was also one of the reasons why I chose to take a career break.

Embrace the Power of Minimalism

C’s shift to minimalism was transformative, allowing her to focus on what truly adds value to her life. She learned that owning fewer things can lead to greater happiness and satisfaction. Now, she chooses to only fill her store and living quarters with things that she truly likes. That way, she would love her store and living quarters so much that she doesn’t see the need to go out. This approach helped her reduce stress, save money, and create a living space that truly feels like a home. For those looking to simplify their lives, start small—declutter one area at a time and be mindful of new purchases.

Financial Planning is Crucial

Transitioning to a less conventional lifestyle requires thoughtful financial planning. During our conversation, C emphasised the importance of having a financial cushion before making a significant life change. This involves saving diligently, understanding local costs of living, and having a clear plan for generating income in the new setting. She advises anyone considering a similar leap to plan their finances meticulously and conservatively.

Find Fulfilment in What You Do

Finding work or activities that are both fulfilling and aligns with personal values can dramatically improve one’s quality of life. For C, turning her passion for painting and travel into a viable business was key to her happiness. She does not earn a lot from her business, but she is happy with what she is doing. We should seek to find work that we love, even if it means earning less money. The satisfaction and joy derived from doing work that resonates on a personal level are often worth the trade-offs.

Cultivate Meaningful Connections

Choosing to live alone overseas can be daunting and often, lonely. While C chose to engage more selectively with people, those interactions became more meaningful. She found that profound connections could come from simple, honest conversations with travellers, sharing stories and experiences. This has enriched her life immensely, providing depth and diversity to her social interactions. Let’s take the time to cultivate relationships that add meaning to our lives, regardless of where they are.

Be Open to Change

Finally, C’s journey underscores the importance of being open to change. Adjusting to life in Fenghuang required her to adopt new behaviours and drop old ones that no longer served her. We should not fear change, but to embrace it as an opportunity for growth and learning. Whether it’s moving to a new place, changing careers, or altering one’s lifestyle, change can lead to unexpected joys and fulfilment.


C’s journey from her career in consumer electronics to the selling meaningful souvenirs at the cobblestone lanes of Fenghuang is more than just a story of changing careers. It’s a profound exploration of redefining what makes life worthwhile. By listening to her inner voice and courageously stepping into the unknown, C discovered a lifestyle that brought her peace, fulfilment, and a deeper connection to the world around her.

Her experiences in Fenghuang underscore the transformative power of minimalism and the importance of aligning one’s lifestyle with personal values. Through her story, we see that true richness comes not from a plethora of possessions or a prestigious career, but from simple, authentic living that nurtures the soul.

For my readers, C’s narrative offers valuable insights into the potential for life-changing shifts that can lead to greater personal happiness and satisfaction. It challenges us to evaluate our own lives, question our definitions of success, and consider how changes, big or small, might lead to more meaningful experiences.

We are reminded that sometimes, the most significant journey we can take is the one that leads us back to ourselves, to the values we hold dear and the simple pleasures that bring us joy. C’s story is an invitation to all of us to ponder on the paths we choose and to have the courage to make changes that resonate with who we truly are and aspire to be.

As you reflect on this tale of transformation and renewal, consider what changes you could make in your own life. Whether it’s decluttering your home, changing a job, or even moving to a new city, remember that each step you take towards a life that feels genuinely yours is a step towards a deeper, more fulfilling existence.


  1. Thank you for sharing this post it resonated with me deeply even as I am pondering the next steps in my work and life. I particularly love this line:

    “We are reminded that sometimes, the most significant journey we can take is the one that leads us back to ourselves, to the values we hold dear and the simple pleasures that bring us joy.”

    Also, you write really well and have a flair with words!
    Cheers and have a nice day 🙂
    – Sam

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