Live Report a Day of a Migrant Worker in Beijing

| August 27th, 2009

[Netease] His name is Nie, From Shanxi province, a 40 year old ordinary migrant worker in Beijing. How I met him was pure accidental. An honest, kind and straightforward personality, this Shanxi man caught my interest and curiosity. I decided to follow him to capture his life for a day, tell everyone his story. At the same time I hope to show the real living conditions of migrant workers in today’s society. If you must ask if I have other purposes, then it is, on the internet filled with pretty girls, violence, Kuso and vulgar materials, I hope his story will somewhat move our numbing nerves. Let everyone reflect on and think about their own lives.

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6:30 in the morning Nie carried some vegetables home to make breakfast. Nie came to Beijing alone to work for 8 years already. During the 8 years, he worked as loading unloading worker, construction worker, street vendor, cleaner and milk delivery man etc. Currently he is the delivery man for a private courier company. He wakes up at 6 every morning, goes to a nearby market to buy food. He said that the stuff at the morning market here are fresh and cheap.

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Nie lived in the basement of a residential district, very close to work, just 10 minutes away by walking. His rent is 400 yuan a month. He already moved 5 times in Beijing.

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Nie said he has lived here for a year, and felt pretty good, very clean, convenient for work, rent is affordable and neighbors are good. “I really like living here, previously I lived in a bungalow, sharing with 4 people and often there are rats and cockroaches.”

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Going into the basement I found this is originally a storage room for the residential building. Someone had contracted them out, now are leased to low-income migrant workers. Hallway is dimly lit, very wet.

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6:40 Nie is home preparing breakfast. He showed me what he just bought form the morning market, 1 cabbage, 2 cucumbers, 2 carrots, a quarter of a watermelon, spent total of 8.5 yuan. “I don’t have a set time to get off work, often when I come back the market is already closed, so I accustomed to go to the market in the morning.”

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This basement is probably only about 6 square meters, without windows. All Nie’s belongings are in the corner of the room. There are only 2 appliances, an induction cooker and a small fan. They are all bought from a market selling used things. “In the summer the basement is hot and humid, don’t under estimate this little fan which only cost 15 yuan, it is a treasure!” No TV, no computer, no internet, no refrigerator, no air conditioning and even no windows, I find it difficult to imagine living in this room for more than six months.

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Nie is making pumpkin porridge. While waiting for porridge to cook, he took out a book on Chinese medicine and sat on the bed and started reading. I found a pile of bedside books. It seems Nie usually likes to read.

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7:00 am sharp, Nie start to eat breakfast. He gave me also a bowl of porridge, pumpkin porridge was very tasty.

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A bowl of pumpkin porridge, a piece of baked bun, a cucumber, nutritious and inexpensive breakfast, Nie ate his breakfast with great enjoyment. He found out I often don’t eat breakfast, and advised me to eat some breakfast, also to eat well. “One day’s nutrition is all in breakfast! Eat well so you have energy for work!”

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7:30 Am, Nie went to the company and got the packages. He said there is not too much work this morning, only about 30 pieces. His company is small, a total of more than 20 delivery workers. They do not have uniforms. Nie is mainly responsible for delivery and pick-up in the northern Sihuan district. His main transportation is his bicycle. He has already been working for this company for a year.

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Cell phone is necessary to carry to keep frequent contact with the customers. The company every month reimburses him 80 yuan for cell phone costs. But Nie do not use his cell phone unless he cannot find the customer. “Saving minutes, so I can talk to my family longer!” Nie calls long distance to home several times a month.

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There are hundreds of private express delivery companies in Beijing with tens-thousands of workers. The companies’ sizes are different, some company uses tricycles, some with electric vehicles and even cars. Of course there are many like Nie riding bicycles.

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9:30 am, Nie carried a package into a building. He already delivered over 10 pieces today. He said at most he delivered over 100 pieces a day, the more he delivers the more commission he gets.

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Nie walks fast, to save more time to deliver more packages. He told me for every package he delivers the commission is 0.30 yuan, every pick-up is 0.50 yuan. His base monthly salary is 800 yuan, usually he makes about 1600 yuan a month. “I am very satisfied, before working for construction, I get only 500 – 600 a month.”

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He often comes here for delivery, people already know him, some say hello to him.
“Nie, a lot of packages today?” “It’s alright! Hee hee.”

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Nie serviced his customers with a smile, he also told me that he has 3 principles. First, deliver packages on time. Second, take care of the received payments from customers and return it to company. Third, Make sure customer satisfaction.

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11:30 am, temperature began to rise. The weather of Beijing in August is exceptionally hot. Temperature is almost at 40 degrees Celsius. People are carrying umbrellas, wearing visors. But Nie does not have sun protections, riding his bicycle under the hot sun. There is no set time for a working day, he works about 8 -1 0 hours a day, with one day off in a week.

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Nie rode his bike very fast. “This way, there is wind and feels cooler.” I saw his skinny back is already started to hunch.

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Finally arrived, this customer was pretty far away. Sweat drenched his shirt. No time to wipe the sweat, he hurried going inside to deliver the package.

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I took a picture his sweaty back. He said his shirt will get wet many times a day.

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12:30 pm, Nie is waiting for a red light under the sun. Sweat drips from his face. There is no car in the intersection, but Nie waits patiently, he never violates traffic laws.

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There is a sprinkler on a lawn by the street, he stopped the bike and walked over.

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“Wash my face, cool myself off then find a cool place to have lunch!”

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Nie often passes by the “Bird’s Nest”. He said has never gone inside yet.

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1:15 pm Nie sat under a bridge near the “Bird’s Nest” and started to eat lunch.

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A bottle of water, a bun with fried egg, cost a total of 3 yuan which is Nie’s lunch. His company does not have a cafeteria, so delivery workers take care of lunch themselves.

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I asked him “are you going to be full eating so little?” “do you always eat so little?” Nie smiled and said “I have a small appetite, this is enough. Here is cool, also can see the Bird’s Nest, pretty good!” Nie only has visited the Tiananmen Square and the Summer Palace since he came to Beijing.

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“Follow me, I take you to see a bigger Bird’s Nest.” After lunch, he pushed his bike into a narrow passageway, I followed him, didn’t know where he was going.

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When reached to the top, I saw a bigger view of “Bird’s Nest”. We were both looking at the it, “Every time when I see it, feel really spectacular! I will take a look what the inside is like when I get the chance.” Bird’s Nest is a place where dreams come true, I believe Nie will make his dream come true some day.

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2:30 pm, Nie finished delivery packages from the morning. He went back to the company and picked up more stuff. Because these goods are more valuable, company placed them into a locked steel case, it looked heavy.

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Nie was riding his bicycle with a big metal box in Beijing’s busy streets, between the high-rise buildings. His bike and a China Postal car next to him became a stark contrast. I was deeply touched by Nie’s hard work. He also represented everyone who is working in the private courier industry.

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6:00 pm, Nie is done with work, and went to a small Shanxi style restaurant. He ordered a noodle bowl, a plate of fried peanuts, a bottle of Erguotou (liquor) total of 13 yuan. He ate loudly. “Boss, give me some garlic!”

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I asked him if he always eat out at night. “No, I cannot afford to eat out everyday! Today I delivered more, rarely come out to eat, normally I eat at home.” I asked him how much he spends each month. He told me, mainly is rent and food, almost no other spending. He kept a tab on everyday spending, about 800 yuan a month. He mails the rest of money home. “My daughter was accepted into a university, she is the first college student of our family!” Then he smiled, a sweet smile.

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I talked to him for long time, got to know his wife is still at Shanxi, working at home and taking care of 2 elders. His daughter is going to college this year, and still needs money for school. He did not go home for 2 years already. When speaking of these, Nie showed some grief. I also felt that the man who is “over the hill” still has heavy burdens on his shoulders.

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He also told me, his company was not doing so well recently and was preparing a lay off. Because of his old age, it is very possible he might lose his job. Even if he does not lose his job, he will probably have to take a pay cut. Speaking of these Nie wiped his eyes. I saw something sparkling. Is the financial crisis causing this simple Shanxi man to cry?

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“Don’ think about it anymore! I have my arms and legs, even if I lose my job I can find another job! I won’t let my family starve!” As Nie spoke, he downed his last cup of liquor. I asked him, do you feel tired? He said “Tired? I was a farmer half of my life! Comparing with construction work, this is nothing.” I did not speak, only admire this man. I found migrant workers are very “strong” in every way, even though they are struggling at the button of the society, living a hard life, they should be respected.

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8:30 pm, Nie finished his work of the day, went back to his 6 square meters basement. Lying in bed reading newspaper, he said he has 2 hobbies. Read books and newspaper and playing chess. He has 2 dreams, one is to make enough money to send his daughter to college, second is to take is family to Beijing and tour the city. I have to end my report here. This simple migrant worker moved me deeply, I believe there are many tens of thousands of Nie in Beijing, they use their own shoulders to support a family. This group of people in our society not only brought us developed cities, high-rise buildings, I believe they also delivered something to our heart. I wish you to be happy! Nie!

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10 Comments | Leave a comment | Comment feed

  1. Stephen says:

    Much respect to Nie. However this story imho doesnt deserve the post its been given; it seems it is catering to the Chinese elite. I dont know who the writer is or where they come from but welcome to reality. People in the real world ‘work hard for their money’. Whether they are from a developed or developing country makes no difference.

  2. xmq_jpm says:

    I was ok with the quite factual tone of the report, only this bit
    “Bird’s Nest is a place where dreams come true, I believe Nie will make his dream come true some day.”
    totally sticks out like a sore thumb…
    is it poetry?

    • xmq_jpm says:

      not to sound harsh though, nice report and I liked the angle of “met randomly this person and decided to follow, turns out he’s good”. Maybe if more stories like this came out, the morale of the people could be strengthened behind common ideals.

  3. Mango says:

    Yes, it’s life. I am sure many of us have a better life than Nie. However most of us still have to work, to meet ends means, to put food on the table to support our children. Life is not fair, those rich 2nd generations, those kids of corrupted officials; they probably don’t have to work a day of their lives. Is it their fault society is like this? no… but we should all be aware, take a look around, maybe we will cherish what we have more and try to do good rather than evil. After reading this I know I shall work harder for my kids, even they are not born yet. I want them to be the rich 2nd generation, to not have to work a day of their lives.

  4. jay says:

    Poor guy, much respect to him

    A generation that doesnt work a day in their life is a lost generation.

    Can you imagine how bored you would be if you didnt have something to do? People who don’t work, or study or dont have anything to wake up and do have no meaning in their lives. It causes major discomfort.

    Remember back to the time when you didn’t have a job? All you could look forward to during the day was maybe making a fruit smoothie?

    Or maybe you’re so rich you don’t have to work, so everyday you look forward to playing cards with your other rich friends, or go drinking at night. Is that all your life is about? Drinking and playing cards? watching movies? sure its relaxing, stress free, but dam, wat a boring life.

    • Mango says:

      Well, not having to work doesn’t mean waste your time and do nothing. Having financial freedom frees up you to do the things you want to do to achieve the things you want to achieve. Perhaps one can contribute more to the society with this freedom. Of course there are always lazy asses and greedy evil criminals, and I don’t think having money is the root cause of those.

  5. Susan says:

    This was a touching story. I think sometimes people look down upon people at the bottom of the economic ladder (Nie is not even at the very bottom.) We can find these people may be uneducated, may have qualities and habits we don’t enjoy, and we may not appreciate their contribution. But this story reminds me that everyone who works hard deserves my full respect. It also reminds me how lucky I am to have opportunities and resources that are beyond the reach of a man like Nie.

  6. js says:

    for all of you criticizing this simple heart warming article for whatever slights – find a heart – has life made you that cold and bitter you can’t for a moment feel for another human being –

  7. Mike Fish says:

    Good story, good guy… he has a smile, good habits, a strong work ethic, and other qualities that we should all emulate.

  8. LL.lies says:

    I hope he succeeds most of the things he has been trying to do. He is always happy and never thinks of bad stuff much,he should be proud of himself and his family should be supporting him a lot!!! *smiles**

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