PERSONAL NOTE: I decided to share my book with friends and students in mainland China because it costs too much to order a copy from USA. Enjoy it and share it with people you care and love. Peace, Steve, USA April 11, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
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Cody and I had to get up very early Sunday morning for my train ride to Hangzhou, my next stop. The train leaves at 7:40 AM. Not knowing the nature of the early morning traffic, we could not afford to be late at the train station, especially during this holiday season. We took a taxi. We did not want to bother our gracious host David. Cody decided to go with me to the train station. He would return home the same day, but at a later time. He wanted to make sure I took the right train to Hangzhou.
Something new I learned about Sundays in China. Everyone, including David, assured me there would not be any heavy traffic usually on Sundays. In China, I had this feeling that most of them worked themselves to death during the week (for many that includes Saturdays, most working without additional financial compensation), that many would stay home to rest on Sundays, if that is possible. To that extent, there would be less cars on the roads on Sundays. Not so in America, where I come from. In America, Americans go crazy on Sundays, like some kind of liberation. Some professors in college would write TGIF on the board on Fridays. It is an acronym for “Thank God it’s Friday” and that means the work week is about over and happy days are here again. I introduced this acronym to my students in China and they anticipated I would write that on the board on Friday classes. They understood the meaning but they were not crazy like most American students about Friday nights. To my Chinese students, Friday nights were like any other nights. This is China, Steve. The campus might hold a special event for all students, sponsored by a local business wanting to promote their products. Not all students attended this kind of event on the campus. They had other things to do.
Most young people in America cannot wait for Saturdays and Sundays to come. It is time to get out and go somewhere and do things on Friday nights and a long two-day weekend. When I was in Salzburg, Austria for a month once, people would literally empty or abandon the city and travel far away from the urban areas and go somewhere for the weekends. They worked hard but they played hard, too. So on weekends, you could expect cars on the busy highways. Everyone is leaving town. Europeans, they told me when I was visiting Europe, “work to live”. Europeans, not Americans, are experimenting with a shorter work week. They want more free time to pursue their personal enjoyment of life. Unlike most Americans, they work to live. It is like saying work is a stepping stone to a happy life. Work hard so you can enjoy life. Work is a prelude to a good life. In China, it is “live to work”. Many young workers look old, haggard, worn out, lifeless and hopeless at their young age. I had seen these sad forlorn faces at train stations and bus terminals during holidays when many
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workers would be on the road. I shared this perception of China with students and friends outside the campus.
It would seem to me the only thing most people would know in China is work, work, work from ancient to modern times. And so not surprisingly major national public holidays are now actively promoted by the Chinese government. They encourage people to take time off from work. They encourage people to spend money to celebrate the holidays, good for the economy. This is China. Within the past two years, the government also does not charge drivers to use the toll gates on major holidays, thus encouraging more drivers to travel to distant places to enjoy the holidays. The government sees holiday celebrations as one way to define who they are as Chinese with their rich culture, heritage and traditions. In China, holidays are becoming economic opportunities for all businesses to make money as more and more Chinese are seizing the time to travel, to see the world, and to spend and spend. Hard to believe, but many would fly to London or New York or Paris or Tokyo during major holidays just to shop, till they drop dead. This is China, the modern China.
To me, holidays are the only time for most Chinese to stop working themselves to death, a time to forget work temporarily. Chinese live to work. Recently, as reported in the mass media, the Japanese government is telling companies, offices, and businesses to turn off the lights and lock their entrances at the end of each official work day. They are literally forcing or encouraging their dedicated-for-life workers to get out of the buildings and go home to enjoy your families and loved ones. Too many surviving young widows are now allowed to sue the companies where their dead husbands used to work…premature deaths due to overwork at a young age. To some extent Americans suffer the same fate and most Americans work to survive. The so-called “hands-to-mouth” existence is everywhere in America: it means for most Americans working to keep themselves alive. And since they cannot save (the mass media talks about this many times a year and imagine the American government is trying to tell and teach people how and when to save), they have to continue to work to survive or to support themselves. Many would use the credit cards as if they have their own cash piled up in the banks somewhere. Some are known to use one credit card to pay the debt of another credit card. They are heavy in debt, paying mortgages for their homes and the new cars they are driving. What is so sad is many Chinese in China think we Americans are so lucky because the American government would take care of us. Unless you are disabled persons, physically or mentally, all normal, healthy, able-bodied Americans are expected to work. Europeans, not Americans, are experimenting with a 4-day work week. They have been advocating and implementing a shorter work week for a while. They can afford to work to live. Not true in China. In China the vast majority live to work. And Sundays save their lives
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and so many highways and byways are sparsely used by drivers.
So there are less cars on the roads in China on Sundays, a time to get away from work temporarily!
It was true because the ride from the hotel to the train station was easy. I could count the cars and a few taxis going the same direction to the train station. There were very few cars along the way. Again to my surprise at the station there were not many people rushing home for the Chunjie holidays. The rush took place, according to TV reports, mainly in the major cities in China, cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, and Shenzhen. When Deng Xiaopeng first opened up China in the early 1980s, many migrant workers, young and old, rushed to the cities to find work, and there was plenty of work to be done, especially in construction and in the factories. And soon China became the factory of the world! Many thanks to these early migrant workers, many were young people coming from villages and small towns and they were grateful to have work to do in major big cities in mainland China then. Without all these hard-working migrant workers, the major cities would not be what they are today. There was no shortage of migrant workers then. They were happy and satisfied with low pay. They were happy to be living in crowded dormitory-like rooms. They had plenty of foods to eat. They did not complain but grateful for the opportunity to earn something for themselves and their poor families back in the remote villages across China. They tolerated everything, grateful to be gainfully employed.
But things are slowly changing in China. With the emphasis and focus on building and improving the infrastructures, with the government pouring enormous amount of money to improve China’s major highways, north to south, east to west, we are seeing more people returning homes and not returning to cities where they had been working for the last 30 to 35 years; the boom years seemed to come to a halt at the moment, with less and less migrant workers willing to work for a meager pay at China’s many factories. Now with improved highways, work is plentiful at home. And so the sad truth is many factories are closing down because migrant workers are not returning to work, or they are not happy with the pay, or they are finding many opportunities to open their own businesses, big or small, in their own backyards, so to speak.
I did not find many migrant workers at Fuzhou train station. By now I was getting used to going to a train station, going through the same ritual, the check points for the luggage and the physical before entering the waiting area for the scheduled departure at 7:40 AM for Hangzhou. When my old boss, Yang Kun, found out I would be visiting China for the Chunjie holidays, she insisted I make a trip to see her in Hangzhou. She had arranged for me to stay in a hotel for two nights. Cody was
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holding my hands to make sure I would depart at the right gate at the right time to Hangzhou. I would get this kind of attention from friends and students, only in China, not true in America. Here in China, they would take care of me. It would be useless to protest. Let them do what they want to do. Nothing is about to stop them. Cody made sure I left at the right gate, before he disappeared into the crowd.
Again, I was lucky to get a front row seat and that meant I could keep my huge luggage close to me without having to lift it and place it on the luggage rack high above the seats. If a train officer insisted on having my luggage up on the luggage rack, I would ask someone who is tall and strong to help me with it. Once in a while a male officer would make sure the luggage is placed properly and orderly as not to endanger the passengers sitting below it. I do not believe in hurting myself trying to lift something I should not. I had learned that all my life living in America. Many American men often hurt themselves by lifting heavy things because they want to appear “macho”, that means they want to show they are “real” men in the eyes of the people, especially their peers. Since many are stupid, they are suffering from chronic back pain, unable to hold a regular job. And in fact many male Americans have found relief by using Chinese acupuncture to deal with their perennial back pains.
In China, I had seen many young men, many lanky and skinny, lifting or carrying heavy things when unloading a truck, and I felt very sorry for them because something is going to happen to their backs. It happened to big, tall strong men in America. Many Chinese men are not strong and muscular like the Americans. Somehow nobody has taught them, I suspect, not to lift heavy things by themselves. Work together with another person, and avoid the heavy loads. They are straining their backs and muscles, and sooner or later, back pains will appear to haunt them for the rest of their lives. When you are young, you think you are immortal, and you can do anything with your bodies. When the pain comes, it might just be too late.
This is China.