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.

Interviewing the Beijing Locals: July 14th

Although I have found that individually interviewing people provides the most interesting feedback, in order to save on time and gather more results, I created a survey before leaving for China – one for locals and one for migrants. The first section of this survey asked basic questions such as level of education and income, the second section asked things such as hopes and dreams in life, and the third section, somewhat more to the point of my research, asked about views and perspectives on the migrant life and the effect the hukou has on migrants.  Sadly, as I collected surveys, I learned that open-ended questions were not the best method as, to put it bluntly, most middle-class locals seemed to not care about the current migrant situation, and most migrants, the younger hopefuls anyway, saw success as in arms reach as long as they consistently worked hard.  Only the older migrants with children were familiar with the limitations of the hukou and most locals consistently wrote out a generic answer about it affecting a migrant’s ability to find good housing, health care, and to send their children to a good public school.  The questions that ended up providing me with the most feed-back were the short answer, basic information questions.  From those I found that of my 40 participants, half locals and half migrants, locals made 7 times the income that migrants, living in the same city, did.  Because of my small number of participants, this number is, of course, inflated, with larger studies estimating it to be 3 times more.  This number is still quite significant with China currently holding one of the largest gaps between the wealthy and the poor in the world.  With the economic boom, or China’s own Industrial Revolution as I like to see it, and the hukou to intensify it, this gap is only natural.  We have seen this gap both during the British Industrial Revolution and our own.  But to wake up every morning to the smog-filled sky and witness the rapid development myself, a turning point in China’s history, is definitely an experience.  This, of course, does not excuse the economic inequality currently plaguing China, but I believe that as the middle-class becomes more and more financially secure, they too will see the benefits of volunteer work and reaching out to others.  We must remember that only 30 years ago, before Deng Xiaoping’s opening, everyone was, for the most part anyway, on the same playing field and just as equally poor.  The idea of giving to others has not yet entered the mainstream of Chinese culture but I am sure it will soon follow.

Study Tour – Hongcun Village (Anhui Province) July 6th

This post is from July 6th, 2010:

On July 3rd my WM study abroad group and I left Beijing on a trip, one which our director proudly announced is the only U.S. University in Beijing to do so, to central China and then Shanghai on the eastern coast.  I am writing this from Hongcun, a “village” in Anhui province.  I put village in quotes because even here there are cranes everywhere and new roads being built.  Billboards also dot the landscape, all signals of an obvious embrace of the tourist industry.  While this part of Anhui seems to be profiting from China’s economical boom, however, Anhui is generally  known as one of the poorest provinces in China, and many migrants living and working in China’s larger cities come from here.  As we were driving into Hongcun, my Professor pointed out several newly-built house, nestled among piles of brick and dirt, and stated that these new houses were being built from money sent back home from young migrants working in the city.  Seeing and hearing these things, I figured this would be the perfect place to interview the families witnessing such export of labor.  The following is a list of the questions I asked:

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Tutoring Migrant Adults in Shahe – June 30th

This post is from June 30th:

It has been a few days since Destination China settled into their new home in Shahe.  While keeping in touch with Bernice Chu, DC’s co-trip leader, I learned that they would be teaching migrant adults four times a week in the evenings (730pm-930pm). While planning the DC trip during the previous school year, Alex Wu, DC’s founder, had hoped that with me as a contact, William and Mary’s Study Abroad students could also get a glimpse into the life of a migrant.  Because study abroad in China is so intensive – we are usually not done with classes and homework until evening – I never imagined that tonight I would have six fellow classmates joining me on the trek to Shahe for adult tutoring night.  Although set-up was a bit shaky, it being the first night tutoring adults, my classmates responses were phenomenal.  I could tell by their energy that they loved talking to the migrants and sharing experiences while learning from one another.  They later confirmed their excitement on the trip back home to Shahe stating how much they enjoyed teaching English to the migrants while learning about their lives in return .  I also felt this way as I helped tutor and wished that I had more time to spend in Shahe; it was the way that I had felt last year when tutoring with DC full-time.    And while we are all fully aware that our English lessons are perhaps not the most effective in improving these people’s lives, I believe that it is the experience, both for us and for the migrants, that is the most important.  Because volunteer work has not yet taken root in Chinese society, I hope that from the presence of outside volunteers, it will begin to grow.  And although, as students, we do not yet have much influence, I also hope that those students who remember the value of this trip will want to donate and volunteer again in the future after they have graduated and begun their careers.  Because I am a Chinese major and wish to work for the State Department, I already know that I will be one of these people.

June 25th – First Day Back to Shahe

Hello everyone, I prefer to make entries into my journal so these blogs will show up later than when originally written.

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