A peasant girl aims to improve her life.
I’m in Mr Wang’s plum tree, hiding from my Mother. The stains on my hands and clothes from the plump, purple fruit will surely give my hiding spot away when it’s safe to come down. But I need to wait, until Ma cools off. She chased me with a stick until she ran out of breath.
I can hear her calling my name, “Lu Qing Min!” She’s really mad when she calls me by my full name. I’m usually just, Min.
Mother was angry with me because I’d complained about doing the dishes. All I’d said was, “Why me?”
I’m tired of being the only one that has to help in the house just because I’m a girl. I have six brothers, some older, some younger, yet I’m expected to do all the housework when I’d rather be outside on the farm, milking the cow or ploughing the field behind our bullock.
One of my brothers left to go to the city. That’s what I’m going to do when I’m sixteen. Only two more years and I’m out of here before the village begins to search for a husband for me.
I’m here! In the city. The journey by bus and train was long, tiring, frightening yet exciting. It’s as if the train has simply spat me out here where I’m standing on the railway station. I feel as if I am a rock in a stream. People rush past, like water heading toward the river and onward to the sea. But I am a rock, unable to move, even if I could I don’t know in which direction to head.
The air is different here, it’s hot, thick, choking. The smells are strange, unfamiliar, maybe it is the stale odour of so many bodies, or it could be different food. I’m hungry, but know the ten yuan, Ma gave me won’t last long. I need to find a factory which will employ me, and quickly. I pick up my red and blue nylon bag and follow the stream of humanity. I stop and ask people about the best places to find a job and receive questioning looks. Maybe they don’t speak my language. There is a cacophony sound, of different dialects. I am lost. I stand out in my plain clothes, dragging all my worldly possessions around in this plastic bag. Grey buildings tower over me, cold, threatening, as if they may swoop down any minute and swallow me up.
“Excuse me. Are you lost?”
I look up from where I’m resting on a low wall into the face of a girl about my age. I’m relieved I understand her dialect, “I have arrived today from my village. I need to find work,” I answer.
“My factory is looking for workers. Do you want me to take you there?”
I simply nod and stand to follow.
“Wait there.” The girl points me to a group standing in front of an iron gate. I see they are like me, their bags at their feet as they wait patiently. I stand in line too.
“What factory is this,” I ask.
“iPhone factory.” Someone replies.
“Is it good place?”
“Better than some,” he says.
“What is iPhone?” I ask, but before I get an answer a man opens the gate.
The atmosphere changes, an energy ripples through the crowd. They pick up their bags and prepare to move forward.
When I reach the interview table I am asked my age and whether I have experience in factories.
“Sixteen, Sir. No experience.”
I’m worried they won’t accept me, but the man asks me to hold out my hands. I do as I’m asked. He inspects both the front and back and then asks, “Do you know the English Alphabet?
Luckily, my brother had taught me and I recite all the 26 letters.
The man simply nods and points to the group who have been accepted.
I have been working on the assembly line for six months. Each day I put 1800 screws into the back of 1800 iPhones. Twelve hours a day I work but only get paid for ten and a half. For the first month the factory paid me nothing; they said if I leave in the first four weeks I forfeit all my money.
It’s been very hard to make friends. We may not talk while we work. Three times I have been sent to the manager because I was singing. Every time I am in trouble, money is taken from my wages. The managers are not nice and they yell, “Work faster!” “Stop talking”
I share a dormitory with eleven other girls. When I first arrived I was happy and thought I would make many friends. We would talk and sing. But no one asked me my name. All anyone was interested in was which Province I came from, and if I knew of better factories with better pay.
I have made a friend though, her name is Chu Hua. She is older than me.
“Be careful who you talk to,” she told me, “gossip will get back to your village. Your parents will know if you have been talking to boys.”
I am so sad today. A boy I liked threw himself off his seventh-floor dormitory balcony. The managers have ordered nets now to be placed to catch suicidal workers. The word is they try to kill themselves because of the bad working conditions.
Most of the girls go out and spend their wages on lipsticks and new shoes, but I have spent my money on English lessons. I noticed that those who can speak a little English or even Cantonese, the language of all the managers, get the promotions. I am not here to waste my youth.
It has been three years since I travelled back to my village. I have sent a third of my wages each month. I write and tell my mother about my English lessons and my plan to get promoted. But my mother writes and says “Come home, daughter, it is time you were married.”
My friend, Chu Hua, is so tired today, that instead of going for lunch she’s asleep at her workstation, she’d rather sleep than eat. My feelings of resentment towards the managers are growing stronger each day. We may not walk away from our work stations or talk to each other. Our behaviour is controlled as closely as possible. What are we? Animals? I wonder if all the rich people who will buy the phones we make today, know of the conditions we work under? Would they care?
Today, people from Apple came to the factory. We knew that’s who they were, as they dressed in green visitor overalls. When they visit, no one gets yelled at. We can go to the toilet whenever we like without having our wages deducted. We may sing and talk with our fellow workers.
How can I improve our lives? What can I do?
In a leafy suburb in Perth, Western Australia, Sarah is opening her eighteenth birthday present.
“The latest iPhone! Thanks Mum, I love it.” She opens the box and pulls out the phone. “I adore the colour.” She strokes the gleaming, shell pink metal. “I can’t wait for it to charge so I can text my friends,” she says, plugging the charger into the wall socket.
The following night at her party, Sarah was taking selfies of herself and her friends. They posed, raising glasses of champagne to celebrate her eighteenth. “The camera on this phone is so much better than my old one,” she said, as her friends scrolled through the photographs.
“Who’s that? One of them wondered. Sarah leaned over her shoulder to see, and frowned. “I’m not sure. I didn’t take it.”
“She looks Chinese. What’s that she’s holding?”
Sarah zoomed in for a closeup and saw what appeared to be a hand written letter. She read the childlike scrawl:
Sir, if you buy this product, please resend this letter to The World Human Rights Organisation. Thousands of people who work here are under the persecution of the Chinese Communist Party Government. The workers will thank and remember you forever.
People who work here have to work 12 to 15 hours a day without Saturday and Sunday break and any holidays. We suffer bad food and working conditions. The pay is very low and money is deducted for no reason. This factory, Foxconn, is in Shenzhen, China.
My name is Min.
This was written for the ‘What a Character Contest’.