Saturday, February 14, 2009

Talking in Chongqing

1. With a taxi driver

(at the stop)

Driver (impatiently): Hurry! Hurry!

Me: Why, isn't this a designated stop…

Driver: Don't be loquacious! Don't get me fined!

Chongqing taxi

(on the road )

Me: Shifu, you seem to be in a bad mood.

Driver (upset): I just got fined! The police fined me for tailgating his car! But there was a private car between me and him. What the fuck! Why did he skip the private car but take on a taxi? Some sort of revenge?

Me: Didn't you reason with him?

Driver: What's the use! They don't care!

(a moment later)

Me: Shifu, did your situation improve a bit after last year's strike?

Driver: What improved? The taxi company did nothing, didn't reduce a penny of our "share-payment."

My sister: So it's only the government pays you each an extra 50 yuan a day…

Driver: 50 yuan per car. 25 yuan each driver. But the company imposes on us more restrictions after the strike. You dare do anything, 200 yuan fine! 300 yuan fine! Who can afford those?

Me: Don't you have a Taxi Association now? Wouldn't it do something for you?

Driver: Do a fart! That association is led by the Party.

Me: But it wasn't supposed to be an official organization…

Driver: Are you Chinese? Any organization has to accept the Party's leadership.

Me: But I heard that Bo Xilai (note: the Party Secretary of Chongqing) handled the strike pretty well last year…

Driver: Bo Xilai is not going to stay. He's leaving soon. Our situation won't change.

Me: Oh yeah? How do you know he's leaving?

My sister: He has been in Chongqing for less than a year.

Driver: Word is spreading around. Then again, even if Bo Xilai has a good idea, he's not the one to implement it. So it's just not going to be implemented. (Suddenly) You work for the government, wouldn't you know more than I do?

Me: Oh no, I'm just a tourist returned home for a visit from somewhere else.

My sister (suddenly): Shifu, you've passed our destination!

Driver (stopping and laughing): Hah hah! Sorry, I had too much fun chatting with you.

2. With a migrant worker

(image from

(Mrs. Leng, 45, is a housekeeper working in the neighborhood where my parents live)

Me: When did you come to Chongqing?

Mrs. Leng: March 2001. (Counting with fingers) Aiya, 8 years already!

Me: So you left the countryside then?

Mrs. Leng: No, I went to Guangzhou first. I worked in a shoe factory for about half a year.

Me: What made you leave Guangzhou?

Mrs. Leng: I missed my two children too much … The factory gave us two weeks vacation because its suppliers were backlogged. I returned home and didn't want to go there again. Chongqing is close enough to home.

Me: Are your children with you now?

Mrs Leng: No, they are in schools at home in Dazu. But I can go see them on holidays, and they come to stay with us in the summer.

Me: What does your husband do?

Mrs. Leng: He works as a freelance installer and transporter for an electronic appliance distributor. He gets paid on each job, because it's a better deal than being a staff worker on fixed-salary.

Me: What happened to your land in the countryside?

Mrs Leng: We gave it to a relative to farm.

Me: Does he pay you for using it?

Mrs Leng: No, he doesn't pay anything. We just don't want the land to go fallow. He's doing very well with it. He is richer than us now. People who stayed on the land are doing better than us migrant workers now.

Me: Really? Then don't you want to return to your land?

Mrs. Leng: Not at all. Farm labor is a lot harder than urban jobs. I can't imagine going back to the hard labor again. We've become lazier, spoiled by city life. But if I had stayed at home I wouldn't do worse than anyone! Even in the bad times I managed our land and pigs well.

Me: How many people have left your village to the cities?

Mrs. Leng: Most the young people.

Me: Is any land left unfarmed now?

Mrs. Leng: Yes, mostly the unfertile areas. Our land is very fertile. Some families who have money hire others to farm their land.

Me: I heard that the government no longer allows an urban resident registration to change to a rural one.

Mrs. Leng: That's true. Now the land is much more valuable. We wouldn't want to change our registrations to urban. We wouldn't want to give away our land.

Me: I heard that Chongqing is experimenting with unifying urban and rural registrations.

Mrs. Leng: But our registrations don't belong to Chongqing.

Me: Ah. Do you make enough in the city?

Mrs. Leng: We are just getting by…didn't manage to save any money in the past year. My daughter mistakenly left out three questions in the high school entrance exam last summer, so her score was lower than the admission-line for first-rate schools. We had to pay 9000 yuan to get her into such a school. For her meals alone we are paying the school 450 yuan a month…

Me: Public school?

Mrs. Leng: Yes. Then my father-in-law was killed walking near his village by a hit-and-run motorcycle, and we spent over 10,000 yuan for his funeral. The police still haven't found the motorist. Where do you go to find such a person? It was dark in the night…

Just before the Spring Festival my husband got into fight with another man and we had to pay for that man's medical cost…

Me: How did he get into a fight?

Mrs. Leng: He had never gotten into a fight with anyone before! He was attending several jobs that day and couldn't finish one of them. He told the customer he would forego the payment because he didn't have the time to finish it.

Me: A city guy?

Mrs. Leng: Yes. But the guy yelled at him, "Are you the country pumpkin looking for fists?" My husband dared back, "Just try me then!" So the guy hit him on the left eye and he hit back…

Me: Who's bigger?

Mrs. Leng: My husband. I became really scared afterward. He could have beaten that guy really badly! Fortunately that man's wife was also there and she grabbed my husband's arm tightly, so he only got in a few kicks.

Me: Were you there?

Mrs. Leng: No. I went to the police station after my husband called me. The other guy's wife accused my husband, "The migrant worker lacks culture!" I wanted to say, Who are you? Even my very cultured boss doesn't look down at us migrant workers.

Me: What did the police do?

Mrs. Leng: The police officer said, "I see you are evenly uncultured." The police ordered them to pay our medical cost and we pay their medical cost. Each family ended up paying a similar amount.


The work at home internet business said...

nice story with good ending

bien said...

Can't help LOL while reading the police officer said " I see you are evenly uncultured".

Love the use of "Aiya".

Thanks for the vivid interviews.