Life in China's underground city
This is a story about a migrant that lives in an underground room with several other people. Despite that being the hook, where
he lives in is the least important part of the story.
I've read stories about country-to-city migrants in China before, and every time, I'm struck by how hard life is.
Living underground in a tiny unventilated room with several other people is hard, but having to accept certain compromises of individualism seems as rough:
All of the romanticism the Chinese love to see at the movies is completely absent from real life. With few exceptions, marriage is like a contract two individuals enter into to pool their resources and earnings. They call it guorizi (过日子), or "passing the days," to be together simply because life is easier when one has a partner. No more sentimental than that.
I think this aspect of migrants' lives is probably the worst, though, and it's not new at all:
Living in Beijing, at least in the small section that he knows, is not bad, Chen says. The hardest part is that his daughters barely recognize him. "They see me once a year. The first time I went home for the holiday, the little one didn't even know who I was. It's normal, since I left when she was barely two months old, but when I picked her up, she wouldn't stop crying until I gave her back to my wife. You can't imagine how much that hurts." On his cell phone he has a video of Ya Zhuo, his oldest, that he recorded a few days before he left. She had just learned to walk, and was babbling away. Chen plays it and smiles broadly.
I know two people who were raised by their grandparents during early childhood while their parents went away to work. I can speculate on the effects of this on one of the people. The other person remembers it well, and it has had a bitter effect on their life.
It's encouraging that it is being recognized as a problem, at least at some level:
Children of internal migrants have so few alternatives in the city, their parents are forced to leave them behind in their villages. They become liushou ertong (留守儿童), "the children left behind." Sociologists consider the phenomenon a serious national problem. There are 58 million children growing up without their parents, and this comes at a very high price to Chinese society. In some parts of Sichuan, Henan and Anhui, all provinces with high poverty rates and high levels of internal migration, eight out of every ten children only see their parents once a year.