It’s very predictable, just like millions Mexicans cross the deadly border seeking a better life in the US. The trend started in the late 70s with the young girls flooded the capital from Anhui province as maids. They were unskilled, jumped between jobs frequently, some would steal – one of them stole my grandfather’s pants, when confronted, she said she did it for her b/f. Cool, but fact was she didn’t have a b/f. “I’ll soon” was her justification – … sorry I don’t know how did they feel for the dramatic change from small town to the big city. My families (includes relatives) have always used servants; from far back with an army of staff, butlers, drivers, cleaners, gardeners, chefs, tailors, nannies, wet nurses .. Being a butler was a covet job who over saw the household. And in Beijing, a Shanghai tailor was a must. The last butler we had was a son who replaced his father. Those people were loyal, stayed with us for several generations and they often brought their children or relatives to work once they retire. They knew their place, and were proper. We treated them with decency and fairness. My Jiujiu – mom’s brother – used to visit the surviving servants once a year. There was a maid who was part of my Popo‘s – maternal grandmother – dowry when she was only a teen, she didn’t retire until I was like 4 or 5. The very last of them all was my wet nurse and just by chance I visited Beijing in 2003, and Jiujiu insisted that she’d be on the top of my VIP list to visit. I obliged. We went taking along my children. All they remembered was the fat, juicy and delicious peaches they were offered. .. she passed away that same October. I was very grateful to Jiujiu, I might otherwise have overlooked. Reading ‘Footprints, An Autobiography’ by Brooke Astor, you sense the same bond and attitude in the US in the former times, between the family and their servants.
Following the heels of the young maids were people from all over the country to the big cities, especially Beijing – I took a leisurely walk in Tianjin, a port city 120 km southwest to Beijing that same summer and didn’t see any migrant workers – they shouldered the cheap and dirty jobs, but they also pullulated the city. My children were incensed by the rudeness of people. Aside from overcrowding everywhere, we spotted a toddler popping in a quite area in the Beijing Zoo watched by his grandfather, and encountered a nicely dressed little girl who was urinating in front of a fish tank in a darken Aquarium room, her proud mother was watching on.. The list could go on, and they might not all be migrants. But the Beijing I once knew so intimately had changed. Of course, the courtyard houses are down, in place the modern office buildings … live seafood, rising living standard … Call it wealth redistribution or whatever fancies the media at the moment, the migrant workers are inevitable in a thriving economy. And I think the union is very much needed in such situation. Exploited? Think hard before passing the judgment. The side with money seems to have upper hand, but every situation has two sides. Of course no one should
be abused. The Chinese would say, for a btter life, work hard, it’s paying your due; capitalism at its barest.