The Joy of Being an Average Joe
Several days ago, I returned to my hometown and noticed something a bit odd: my neighbor’s live-in son-inlaw who had come back during the Tomb Sweeping Festival had gone out again for a job. It wasn’t just him; most of the villagers there had left after the festival for a jobsite somewhere else.
The silkworm industry in my hometown was much better than it had been for the past while, and more than a few of the peasants were making real money; they were purchasing refrigerators, motorcycles and the like in droves with their government subsidies. All of which showed that, to some extent, an economic thaw had taken place.
I had been waiting in line after line for several days trying to process my application for a mortgage, and standing there in the queue at the Housing Administration I noticed among all the hustle and bustle that, of the many kinds of people standing there in that giant hall lining up to get a license, most were elderly men and women, and middleagers. The number of young thirty-somethings like me was so miniscule it almost wasn’t worth mentioning.
If many of the people standing in line for a house in the sales office could just be hired hands there putting on a show, it wouldn’t be the case for the Housing Administration, for the clerks are virtually issuing property ownership certificates on the site.
To me it meant that, with such high housing prices, there were still tremendous demands for real estate, and the source of most sales revenues were still from the life savings of middle- agers or senior citizens, as young people just didn’t have the requisite financial wherewithal.
I have a niece who learned the art of cakery at a vocational school and is in Shanghai doing internship. Finding a job is not a problem, and when she goes fulltime her salary won’t be low. In contrast, her elder sister who is studying economic management at a university is going to graduate in a year but her job prospects are looking pretty bleak. Her younger brother is studying at an automotive school, and many a 4S car dealership is clamoring to hire the graduates from his school.
When I’m recruiting seasonal workers for my farm, I have to take into account how I will pay their salary. If I pay by the hour, based on an eight hour workday, the minimum payment wouldn’t be lower than 50 yuan per day. If I calculate it by their yield, then these temporary hires might clear 60 to 80 yuan per day. If it
were anything less than this number, they would rather sit at home playing Mahjong and would be extremely reluctant to come out and break their back for starvation wages.
In the past few months I happened to go sightseeing with my family and friends and found that tourism industry in Guilin is booming. There are people everywhere, the trains are jam- packed and the airports are bustling. When we got off the train and tried to hail a cab, our request for a short- distance drive within city limits was actually met with a look of cold indifference.
When we were buying pipes at the hardware store the boss there kept receiving orders through the phone behind the counter. Many of the things I needed were sold out and I was told it would take several days to get them— the factories themselves were running extra shifts to keep up with demand. The shop owner told me that, just a few days prior, all the irrigation equipment in his shop had just been sold to the boss of a watermelon farm who had taken enough for 3 hectares.
Presumably, the content of a great many forums speaks of all things capitalism, and maybe just as many write about the drop in the middle class. Actually, the little life of a little guy most often bears little resemblance to that of the game of capitalism. The real economy and the grassroots economy are simply a matter of casual transactions—there is money to be made and lost. Things become messy often when people have too much leisure time, and when you have something to do and some money to make, there won’t be a fuss.
So who gets hurt the most in a financial crisis or a recession? I believe it’s the new graduates. They are unemployed as soon as they graduate. They are underqualified, yet refuse to lower themselves to take a position which they feel is beneath them. It’s really tough out there in the job market. Most people are spiritually and emotionally unprepared, and they also lack a practical specialization.
Our Chinese higher education doesn’t keep pace with the speed of the country’s development, and doesn’t provide the requisite skilled talent that is so hotly in demand in the country. Then at the same time, everybody wants to become a manager so they can join the whitecollar workforce and the middle class. But China’s place in the overall food chain determines the foundational characteristics of its industry and commerce, and there just aren’t enough managerial positions to go around for everybody.
Citing a simple example, for some of the current problems in agriculture in rural China, even a PhD student educated at an agricultural university may not necessarily find the right solutions.
So, anytime anyone seeking my advice about what subjects their children should study, I always recommend that he or she learn a professional skill, and that attending a junior college or a polytechnic would be the way to go. The tuition is not expensive and after you graduate, finding a job that puts bread on the table is not a problem. You will have the necessary skills to do the job and your income would be decent. Of course, this wouldn’t be for the hyperintelligent; those who have their hearts set on going to Tsinghua or Peking University should go.
Sometimes I think that people from the countryside
attending university need to get their heads straight. Although it’s true that the Chinese idiom, “the dragon bears a dragon, the phoenix bears a phoenix, and a mouse’s son digs a nest” should be looked at with a critical eye, we should nevertheless examine its practical and sensible aspects. It doesn’t make any difference whether someone has been born into a family that has been wealthy for more than three generations. And no matter if it’s crony capitalism, American style capitalism, European style, or Japanese style capitalism, it’s all the same. If your forefathers weren’t loaded, then you need to start from the bottom rung of the ladder, and whether you get rich or not all depends on hard work and luck. If you can’t join the ranks of the wealthy, you’d best just resign yourself to being an average Joe. Study your specialization, raise a family, and do your best to protect your menial interests
We live in an era of plurality, there’s the powerful central force of the crony’s and their capitalist system and there are those struggling for survival at the grassroots level. There are also the headaches of being wealthy, and the joys of being poor. The grandeur of being elite knows no bounds; while the brilliance of being a cipher yet resounds. I’m reminded of the story of my grandfather who never wanted to live in any big city; he just planned to spend his whole life in the countryside where he could live without a care in the world and enjoy all the simple pleasures of life, which to me sounds like a little slice of heaven. ( From
FromtheOfficestotheCornfields , Jiangsu Art and Literature Press. Translation: Chase Coulson)