Jan 19, 2010

The ubiquitous, amazing nongmin dai

Almost everyone living in China has either used or at the very least seen the nongmin dai (农民袋), or farmer's bag. You encounter this bag everywhere you travel, and frequently even just walking around each day. The red, white, and blue checkered pattern has become so iconic that trendy clothing stores in Beijing, like Plastered, started producing some high-end fashion items with it.

In case you're not familiar with the nongmin dai I'm referring to, here are some random photos of the bag that I grabbed from a quick image search:

The farmer's bag takes is named for those workers that first pioneered its use, primarily migrant peasants from the country side that traveled across China to work in the coastal cities in hopes of a better life for their families. They would pack all their earthly belongings into these large duffel bags, constructed of thick, plastic tarp material and a flimsy zipper, and schlep across the country.

Below: schleppin' it, Beijing Xi Zhan style

Although at first I was pretty skeptical about using this bag myself, I grew to admire them. These days, I'll throw an empty farmer's bag or two into my suitcase when I'm traveling, in case I want to back extra food or clothes with me. The bags add almost no weight at all, and they're quite strong, provided you use them properly.

Keep in mind that these bags are most effective for carrying a moderate weight. If you're going to use a farmer's bag as checked luggage for airline travel, keep these recommendations in mind:
  • Don't pack the farmer's bag so tightly that it's bursting at the seams
  • Limit the weight to at most 40 pounds, and you should be ok
  • If you're in doubt, double bag it just in case
  • Clothing and soft items are more suitable than boxes and things with pointy edges that can poke through the plastic
One side benefit of checking my farmer's bag on an airplane is that no one is going to mistakenly take my bag off the luggage conveyor belt at the destination. I've seldom seen people check farmer's bags on airplanes in either the US or China. There's definitely a slight stigma to being seen with one of these things, but I'm fine with it. This is part of my identity as an American nongmin.

Keep in mind, however, that at Chinese train stations — everyone and his brother has a farmer's bag. When taking a train, I prefer to take a large backpack instead.

Get on the bandwagon now, grab yourself a farmer's bag. In the coming years, these things are going to be trendier than Feiyue shoes.


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