Thursday, December 22, 2011

My life as a street vendor - Tricia Wang

Tricia Wang
Doing fieldwork among migrants offers sociologist Tricia Wang unprecedented insights in the life of the uprooted part of China's society. On her weblog she recalls her days when she joined a migrant family to work as a street vendor, staying with the family of a friend.

Tricia Wang's fieldnotes:
Tricia Wang in the summer of 2011
I can hear the husband and wife fighting about this every night. It puts a lot of stress on the family. The mother is getting nervous that they are not even close to turning a profit. Everyday around dinner time, she

says, "we have to start making at least some money so that we can buy food.We need to buy meat." She needs cash to buy food for dinner. The most they have brought in so far was 200RMB on a good day. But most days only make 100RMB. The friend who told them about this place was supposedly making 500-600RMB a day. The younger brother keeps reminding the family of the friend's situation. Then the husband says that his friend makes a lot of money because sells good food. He pointed out that they didn't have return customers. All the other street vendors' carts had regular workers but no one ever came back to their cart. 
Everyday activity has begun to wear on all of our bodies. Trips to the supermarkets, washing clothes, and going to the bathroom seemed to be a big ordeal. 
Unloading and loading takes a total of 3 hours a day (4 rounds in total per day). Each bike ride to the market involves a total of 1 hour of loading and unloading items back into the room. Someone had to unload the cart, put everything inside the room, and then hide the valuable stuff (e.g. batteries) with a blanket. The reason why they have to go to the market in the morning and after lunch is because the freezer doesn't work properly. As a result, they could only buy food that can be cooked immediately. Not unloading is not an option because they need the free space in the cart to bring groceries back and they can't leave their belongings outside and not have it stolen. 
Anything involving water takes ten times longer because there is only 1 faucet for every 4 homes. And there is only 1 pipe for every 5 faucets. So if any of the 20 families use a faucet, none of the other 19 families have access to a working faucet. Someone is always washing vegetables, dishes, hair, or clothes unless it is 3am in the morning. A few times we were not able to get arrive at the construction site in time to sell food because we were waiting to use the faucet. Water costs 10RMB/person/month. As a result, most of the food is not washed well or at all; it is soaked, and the same water is then used to soak other vegetables.
More on Tricia Wang's weblog

Tricia Wang is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. She will be in Europe for an academic conference in Switzerland and is available for speeches in the third week of February. Do you need her at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch, or fill in our speakers' request form.

 More on Tricia Wang's experiences in China's economic underbelly in Storify.
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