Hope and Opportunity in China

This is an old post that I originally had at another site, but while catching up on some reading, I was reminded by the power of the interviews we did last summer, the stories we began to tell, and the sense of respect I have for China’s migrant workers

Earlier in the year while a few of my interns were inbetween assignments, I tasked them to get out of the office and do some street interviews. Now, executing street interviews was nothing new for them, but instead of taking out a video camera and asking questions to our typical targets, I wanted to push them outside their boundaries and speak to people whom they were more likely to walk right past on their way to work.

Migrants. Cooks. Sidewalk Seamstresses. DVD vendors. Pot Sticker vendors. Fruit vendors. Crane Operators. Bus Drivers.

It was a project I named Shanghai’s 100 hardest jobs, which was (for the sake of full disclosure) inspired by the Discovery Channel program Dirty Jobs.

Initially, my interns were a bit skeptical, and were giving me the face of “he has gone crazy… again”, but over the course of the next few weeks the first team completed about 30 interviews (2 more teams have since completed nearly 100 interviews), and were looking for more. In short, they were not only hooked, they were seeing a side of Shanghai that they never new existed.

… and they were Shanghaiese.

Reading through the interviews (we use the same questions for each), one is given a really humbling glimpse into the lives of these people and how hard they have it. People who are busting their humps day in and day out, and eating bitterness, for a common cause.

Hope and opportunity.

Cigarette Vendor – female from Henan
Q: Would you want your children to have this job?
A; No. My husband and I have this job/career because we lack of qualified education background. Letting them step on our old roads is the last thing I want to do. To my 14-year-old girl, I don’t have so many strings attached and just want her to live a happy life; as to my boy, I hope he can be a government official someday, a big name who has power (laugh).

Watermelon Vendor
Q: What do you want most right now?
A: We hope our boys can go to school in Shanghai. The education conditions are much better than we have in Linyi and we can take care of them while making a living here.

Hat Vendor
Q: If there was one thing you could change about your job, what would it be?
A: Change? It is such a luxury to me. How can I dream about changing my current status? I want to do my own business, like opening my own restaurant, but who will give me the money? I want to recruit and train my employees, but who will teach me how to manage or run my place? I dare not think of change. I guess my only hope is my son. He is the one can bring real changes.

Everything comes down to hope and opportunity

For the next generation.

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