What migrant work is really like – Tricia Wang

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Tricia Wang

Together with a migrant family, sociologist Tricia Wang went out to sell dumplings. In That’s Shanghai she reports about the tough life of migrant workers, trying to make ends meet.

Tricia Wang:

It’s 4am. Children’s footsteps patter outside, water pours from a faucet, pots are pulled out. I overhear Li Jie. “We barely have enough to buy meat for tonight’s dinner. I hope we have return customers today.”

I’ve been living with Li Jie and her family for a few days. She is one of the 200-300 million rural people who have made their way to cities in the hope… I don’t know how to finish that sentence. Usually newspapers finish it with “in the hope of a better life” or “in the hope of securing a job.” Maybe I can finish it by the time I tell you about a day in Li Jie’s life.

By 4.30am, we are eating breakfast crackers and drinking soda. It’s so hot during the day that it’s refreshing to wake up to breathable air. Li Jie’s husband, Mr. Long, and her younger brother, Ray, are putting the batteries into the bike carts to go to the market. The men leave before 5am.

I stay with Li Jie and her son. We take the dumplings out of the freezer and for the second day in a row they’re sticky. Everything that needs to be kept cold is put inside the freezer, but it’s unpredictable. Sometimes it works too well and the beers explode. Most of the time it doesn’t work that well. The dumplings get sticky and uncookable while the beers are perfectly chilled.

The family decided to start selling dumplings when Ray’s friend told him about a construction site where vendors have been selling food without encountering any chengguan. Officially known as City Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureau, chengguan have been known to give migrant workers a hard time.

From the frontline

Read about the rest of Tricia’s week report in That’s Shanghai.

Tricia Wang is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need her at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

More about Tricia Wang’s investigations on Storify.

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