A Long Way From Home

By 王竹青

When I met Yan Xiang, he was pushing a janitorial cart on the second floor of the M mall. When I asked to interview him, he smiled and started to work faster. I told him quickly that I could wait until he finished his work. After finishing his work, he led us through a narrow corridor and  up a few steps to the staff lounge. It looked like a canteen, which was really shabby contrasted with the ornate decor of the shopping mall outside. Yan Xiang beckoned my friend and I to sit down in a quiet place, as he prepared for the interview.

Yan Xiang, like Li Changchun, has been in Shanghai for a long time. His hometown is in Huai’an, Jiangsu province, but he has been in Shanghai for 17 years. When he mentioned his hometown, he said that Zhou Enlai was also from there. Yan has one child, a sophomore in high school, who is 17 years old and lives in their hometown. Yan and his wife work hard in Shanghai; they rent a house with three rooms and one living room with three other tenants. Then Yan’s face turned to a somewhat helpless expression. He said he needs to work 13.5 hours a dayand has no days off. His wife and he earn 5000 yuan a month, which is spent not only on the high cost of living in Shanghai, but also on their child who is studying in their hometown. Yan added that they spend about 3000 yuan a month on their child.

So I asked him why he worked so hard to stay in Shanghai. He immediately answered:“Because they pay on time here, and there is more security.” Then I asked: “So do you like the job here?” Yan laughed: “I don’t know whether I like it or not, I’m 52 years old now. My child is still in school, there is no choice. I’ve been in Shanghai since I left home and I like this place. It’s easy to move around. And it’s a different world now. There’s no way for me to leave.

My wife’s job is better than mine; her company has good benefits and provides meals.

I have a house in my hometown. When I become too old to work, I will go back home. My child studies well and I can count on him.” I asked Yan Xiang how often he goes back home,  being so busy with his work. He  goes home about once or twice a year. Each time, he feels very happy.

Yan Xiang works long hours every day and still has to do the laundry and cook after work. He has little time to rest and sleep. However, during our conversation, I could still feel his expectation and preparation for life. I noticed that he was neatly dressed and had cooked his own meal for lunch. Even though he does not have much spare time, he still finds time to take care of his own life. His motivation to work was unyielding.