I stumbled on a really interesting blog last night while surfing the net for Chinese language instructional websites. Its about an American expat who took a job at a barbershop in Fuzhou, China for one month – as a regular employee, no special treatment – to gain insight into what life might be like for the average citizen. For that month he worked 11 hours a day for 27 days, barely earning 40 cents an hour. Just like each of his Chinese coworkers. I highly suggest you give it a read – starting from the beginning. It’s worth it.
You know, I’ve often thought about how rough these Japanese salarymen have it – making so much less than their American counterparts, working so much longer, and having to put up with so much more bureaucratic nonsense. But do they really have it that bad? It’s just astonishing to imagine how many people in the world work day and night in order to afford a tiny steamed bun for lunch and a dirty cot to sleep on. Even burger flippers in the US make more in an hour than these Chinese laborers make in a day. Yes, 40 cents goes way farther in China than in the West. But still.
As for why I was reading Chinese language websites in the first place, I’ve been finding myself strangely fascinated with China recently. It’s been my intention for some time to take up the language upon “completion” of Japanese – once I’m good enough to pass the Level 1 proficiency test, certifying “native-level competency” (debatable). But lately this interest has been growing by leaps and bounds. Which is surprising, because after visiting China back in 2005 I really didn’t leave with that high an opinion of the place.
Maybe the interest has stemmed from my changing perspective on life in Japan, from my increased comfort with the Japanese language, or simply from my general desire to experience new people, cultures, and languages. When I first started learning Japanese it sounded like a complete jumble of nonsense – unrecognizable even as a language – but now it sounds almost as natural to me as English. Chinese, on the other hand, still sounds mysterious, like a nonsensical stream of rising and falling tones. Can such a stream really contain distinct words, phrases, and ideas? I know it must. And I want to understand how.