Bicycle Repair Man – July 20th

Because my research was anonymous I made pseudonyms for my subjects – bicycle repair man was a favorite of mine.  He was a favorite because he was not like the migrants that I had interviewed previously.  Those migrants were the ones learning English from Destination China in Shahe.  As such, they were the young, hopeful, and relatively successful of the migrants that “go out.”  When interviewed, they were fairly positive in thinking, and believed that with hard work, nothing could stop them.  Most of them were also enrolled in or had already graduated from technical schools.  And as I have said before, to make it at all in any city, despite the hukou system, one must be educated.  Bicycle repair man, or BRM, however, was different.  He is from a group of migrants that I am most interested in, those who have become trapped in what I call the cyclical nature of the hukou system.  I believe that as long as the hukou exists, the large gap between the middle class and the poor will remain the same.  Except for one, those migrants that I interviewed in Shahe did not have children.  The one woman that did was not as hopeful as the others and it was because she knew that because of the hukou, her child would never be able to go to good schools unless she could afford the initial public school fee as well as the “gratuity” fee for outsiders.  For example, because I have a small child, I wanted to know how much it would cost to send her to a good daycare in Beijing.  I found out that it would be $150 a month – fair enough, this is something the middle-class can definitely afford as can those migrants that have “made it” in the city.  But on top of that is a 10,000 kuai charge, roughly $1,500, for outsiders and to further pin it to outsiders, it has an expiration date of 3 years, no more, no less, and no refunds.  In which case many migrants would have moved on by then, not to mention would they ever be able to afford such a fee when many are only making 10,000 kuai annually, or $1,471.  It is this fault in the hukou system that is keeping the size of the middle-class stationary while, from one generation to the next, migrant children are receiving poor education.  Because of such expenses, many migrants must leave their children home in the care of grandparents.  BRM is one such parent.  When I spoke to him, he had the air of a completely dejected man; it seemed as though nothing was going on in his eyes, no thoughts- nothing.  Nothing except day to day affairs.  And when I asked him about hopes and dreams for he and his child, he simply said, “meiyou,” “none.”  His parents had been farmers and, busy in the fields all day, he told me that he was free to do what he wanted because as a child they did not have much time for him.  BRM does not even know how to read or write and so, because of this, my Chinese language partner had to conduct most of the interview for me because he did not  properly speak the official dialect of China – putonghua, or mandarin.  As I spoke to him about his son, it sounded like his son is exactly on the same path.  He said that he and his wife are only able to make the trip back every 5 years, his wife sometimes every 2 or 3.  Being on this study abroad trip, it drives me crazy just to be away from my own child for 2 months, let alone 5 years, and so it leads me to believe that it is must be that bad economically in the rural area they come from for these two people to have to be away from their child for so long.  He told me that when he goes back, his son barely speaks to him because they do not know each other.  And because he and his wife are not around, and his parents no longer have the energy, his son is also doing terribly in school and so his father does not see a brighter future for him either.  BRM, now in his 40’s, also told me that he had “gone out” in his 20’s, in which he failed in the city a couple of times, only to go back home and then come back out, finally settling on the Tsinghua Campus to repair bikes.  To have come back to the city several times with renewed hope, I can imagine that he was once full of vitality and hope.  But speaking to him now, he smiles and seems like a sympathetic and friendly man, but his eyes and words are sad and robotic.