National Geographic : 2006 Jun
VOICES PETER HESSLER a you have who are out working and how much money they're So sending. This is the kind of thing that people in the village talk about. But on the whole, they're not looking ahead. I think often they feel quite isolated and quite left out. CARREL: So in a sense they're richer-their sons or daughters are sending back money-and yet they're worse off in terms of social fabric? t HESSLER: Yes. And they're removed from where everything is happening in China, and the gaps are really tremendous. When I went with Willy to his village, I went out with his father one day, and we walked down by the river, and there was a guy fishing in the river with an otter-a trained otter with a chain around its neck. This is the kind of thing you would still see in that village. I followed Willy to his home in the boomtown, where everything is quite modern. Like going to a different country. CARREL: And how did Willy reckon with this change? With making a decision not to go back to the rural village? HESSLER: He struggles with the idea of whether he'll return to that area. He won't return to the village-he knows that's impos sible. It depresses him because things just haven't changed. His brothers have stayed there, and their children are going to local schools, and he worries that the quality of their education is much lower than in the city. CARREL: I'm wondering about the triumphs, the agony, or the problems these people face. They pluck themselves out of the countryside, go so far to a new city, then try to estab lish themselves. And figure out a future. What are they really going through? HESSLER: My former student Emily was a young woman I believe 21-when she went to Shenzhen. Everything she went through-first of all, just trying to find a job. You go to talent markets, as they're called, where people are looking for folks to hire. Then she did find a job. She was in a factory that was basi cally set up illegally, in that they had the workers working on the bottom two floors and were storing the materials in the same building. And the dormitories were on the top two floors in a six-floor building, which was not safe because a lot of what they were working with were flammable materials and chemicals and technically it was illegal. She had a huge number of issues to deal with. She was trying to find a way to earn a living, to save some money, and then she had the other things that any young person wants to deal with: Finding a boyfriend, thinking about the future. Sometimes there's not all that much energy to put into things we would consider to be very basic. That's changing as far as the emphasis on safety goes-I think worker consciousness has changed a lot.