Signs of Couch Life Along the Silk Road?

On a recent trip to China I made an effort to take a couple of days to “get off the grid.” Having lived a full 1/10th of my life in China, I am fluent in Mandarin Chinese and I have a great love for the people and culture.

Gobi Desert, Gansu Province

Road with no bends–runs straight through the Gobi Desert, off-the-grid, China

I have traveled to most parts of china, including many parts unknown…but I had never been to the Gobi Desert in Gansu Province—along the path of the ancient silk road in the great northwest—where few foreigners go. YaDan National Park, Gansu Province

Rock formation inside of YaDan National Park, Gobi Desert

This jaunt took me to Gansu Province, one of the harshest and most beautiful places I’ve ever stood. There I discovered that even across this vast gap of distance, culture, and climate—our life on a couch is more similar to theirs than you might think.


Kids are kids, Gansu Province

This chair has seen some life — maybe their grandparent’s favorite perch

Shy to be photographed, but definitely intrigued by a group of Americans walking by, these children remind me of my own in the way they play. And check out that chair. It has clearly seen many years of a grandparent perched there, watching the world modernize before their eyes.


Shack, Gansu Province, China

Imagine the life that chess table has seen

Rather than spend much time gawking at the tourist attractions near tourist-ready towns that the Chinese Government has carefully prepared for outsiders to see, my favorite kind of travel involves going to no-name places that most tourists never could go—to see how life is really lived. This photo of a shack, built between two high-rise apartment buildings was taken in an un-manicured mining town that is technically off-limits to foreigners. Unless you can speak Chinese, find out about a town like this one, and then convince a local driver to take you there—you wouldn’t know the town even existed.


Off-grid, SuBei, Gansu Province

One of about a dozen pool tables lining a side-street market of this nowhere town

There may still be dirt roads in some of these developing towns—but their life is no less complete than ours. Entertainment, shopping, and even a friendly wager over a public pay-to-play pool table are clearly universal past times.


Open air market in SuBei, China

2 stalls down from the open air pool-hall

While in America you can walk next door to most pool-halls and grab a fountain drink or lottery ticket—the market connected to this pool-hall just stocks its shelves with their own local favorites.


Front stoop, Gansu Province

Life on the front porch couch

But no matter how far you get off the grid—there is always evidence of couch life everywhere you look. At home, here in the US, you can imagine this same function being served by some version of a wicker outdoor patio “conversation set” (Shameless plug: Checkout Outdoor Sationals by Lovesac).

Humble dwelling, Gansu Province

What do you do with a couch that has run its course?

And what to do with a couch when it has finally just worn out? The solutions are just as clumsy and unsightly there as they are here. (Shameless plug: Lovesac Sactionals are built to last a lifetime—and will never face this problem)


Couch at curb

“Free Sectional” — What to do with a couch that won’t fit in your new place?

Or what about when you move, and your old sectional just doesn’t fit in your new place? You leave it at the curb of course. Isn’t it just supposed to disappear somehow!?

Couch outside shop, Gansu Province

Mao the mechanic’s waiting room couch

Or what to do when the fabric just gets so dirty its just embarrassing? (Shameless plug: Sactionals all have changeable covers that are totally machine washable—and will never face this problem). But this particular couch has seen plenty of life—parked outside of my newfound friend’s shop, Mr. Mao, the local mechanic.


Auto shop mechanic, Gansu Province

Mao the mechanic outside of his humble auto shop

This is Mr. Mao. I met him while wandering through a vacant lot displaying a smattering of older cars, trucks and scooters that I reckoned I might be able to gain access to as a means of going even further off-grid.


Urban dwelling, Gansu Province

Entering through the alley – a peek into life on a couch in backwoods, China

As it turns out, Mao the Mechanic could not rent me one of his vehicles. But he did invite me back to his home for tea, and a rare peek into his humble life on a couch. Tune in next week for an intimate look into Mao the mechanic’s “Couch Life” interview, from the inside of his own home, all the way from one of the harshest and farthest removed environments on the face of the earth.

Rock formation, Gobi Desert, Gansu Province

Don’t get lost out here

I was blown away, not only with the stunning local scenery—but by the fascinating details of Mr. Mao’s life on a couch. Check back next week to see it, as one of my series of “How’s Your Couch Life Interviews,” at


YaDan National Park, Gansu Province

Reminds me of home (southern Utah)…but as far away as it gets

The dunes of MingSha Mountain

Two steps feel more like four, and only take you one forward one in sand like this

Are you like me? Do you like to get off the beaten path? What is the coolest place you’ve ever travelled to? Tell me about it!! Comment here.

— Shawny

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2 thoughts on “Signs of Couch Life Along the Silk Road?

  1. Joe Loomis

    Pretty amazing Shawn. We need to get china rock’in cab part 2. Stop doing all this fun stuff and not sharing. haha, kidding, pretty amazing experience.


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