National Geographic : 2007 Jun
began to pay off. By August, the factory had five steady buyers. In September, 11 months after the factory had been designed, it turned its first monthly profit. By October, business was good, and the Taos were working long hours every day. The older sister sorted bra rings on the Machine's assembly line, while the 15-year-old, whose name was Yufeng, handled underwire. She placed the curved wires onto a spring that was sent into an industrial heater. The job paid by the piece, and on a good day Yufeng could finish 30,000 wires, for a wage of $7.50. She was quick, reliable, and completely self-possessed. She talked back to Boss Wang like nobody else. One evening, when a co-worker celebrated her 16th birthday, Yufeng used the occasion to bully her foreman into drinking shots. Chug ging Sprite to his Double Deer beer, the girl was relentless. "Drink! Drink! Drink!" she shouted, turning to me and the other men at the table. "Toast him! I want to get him drunk so I won't have to work hard tomorrow!" Yufeng, like her sister, gave all her earnings to the parents. Her dream was to open a shoe fac tory someday; she told me that if she became successful, she'd build a three-story home in her grandparents' village. When I asked about the grandparents, the girl's eyes filled with tears, and then I didn't ask about that anymore. By November, the Machine was turning out 100,000 rings daily, and the bosses had installed a bigger assembly line for underwire. But like everybody in Lishui, they had gambled on rapid growth, hoping to expand to 60 workers by the end of the first year. In fact, they had only 20, and the building was three times bigger than neces sary. "It's still too early," Boss Wang grumbled, when I asked about Lishui's development. "If we have to get a part, or do anything related to ma chinery, we have to go all the way to Wenzhou." That month, the bosses decided to relocate the factory. The decision was instant; there was no consultation with Mechanic Luo or anybody else. Boss Gao found two available buildings in the marshlands north of Wenzhou, and then they consulted the feng shui expert. His advice was unequivocal: November 28 was also the 116 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * JUNE 2007 eighth day of the lunar month, and you can't do better than double eights. Most workers decided to move with the fac tory, but the Taos' situation was complicated. The mother ran a small dry goods stand nearby, and the youngest son was enrolled in a local middle school. If the father and daughters kept their jobs, the family would be divided. At the factory, the decision became a topic of daily discussion. "You should be independent by now," Mechanic Luo said to Yufeng, one day at lunch. "You don't have a bank account, do you?" "No," she said. "You're still giving all your money to your parents!" "They need my help." "It helps more if you learn to be independent." The man scoffed that he had first left home with only six dollars in his pocket. The way he told it, Yufeng was just another overprotected 15-year-old working 50 hours a week on an assembly line. But the father refused to leave the decision to his daughters. He insisted they would leave together-but only if the salary was renegotiated. The night before the move, the bosses finally offered a raise. The father asked for more; the bosses dragged their heels. No one was willing to meet directly, so Mechanic Luo carried mes sages back and forth. At eight o'clock, he vis ited the Taos' mud-walled room. The girls went outside; the men lit West Lake cigarettes. The father said, "I'm not willing to move unless they make it worth my while." "I know," Mechanic Luo said. "And I don't want to train new workers." The mother said, "Maybe we should just send them to work in a shoe factory." "Don't talk about that yet," the father said. "We need to figure this out first." He demanded the same wage for everybody: a guaranteed 127 dollars a month, plus over time, and six dollars in living expenses. Mechanic Luo returned to the bosses, who cut the expenses in half-a difference of three dollars. The father didn't reply, and that offer was still on the table when the night ended.