Not a factory girl

I wanted to read a book about triads and tycoons, something daunting and glamorous from Hong Kong’s history. Perhaps involving opium and casinos, moonlit smuggling and Japanese soldiers. Instead I found myself staring blankly at the Hong Kong section and the China section of the bookshop. Shining, multicolured volumes vie for attention, clevely punning titles and photographs of smiling chidren and dragons. The authors mostly western, or overseas Chinese who’v been gone for a long while. “Read me and understand the riddle of China”, they promise. “Pandas and mystery and chopsticks”. Yes and MAO, Mao and the economic miracle. What a delightful contast! Read us and we’ll translate China for you in 140 pages!

It’s a feeling a bit like I had when I stumbled onto a Chinese expats blog. Full of famous writers like Peter Hessler who have become widely acknoweldged as “China watchers” and now earn their living writing for westerners, about China. They have become experts on a culture which they discovered as adults. And they market it well indeed. For some reason it makes me feel sightly lost and cynical. What am I doing here in this place? I will always be marked an outsider because of the colour of my skin. Always be a Guilo, a laowai. And even if I learn to speak chinese completely fluently, that will be a party trick, I’ll move into the “wannabe Chinese” box.

In the midst of this cynicism I picked up a book called “Factory Girls” about migrant workers in Dongguan (no at all far from HK) and soon I was absorbed. I love how quickly such thoughts can be blown away by just reading about ordinary people and ordinary lives. I am also left at a loss of wondering what to do with my life. It seems my time will be so short, the amount of skills and experience I can learn so little, just a tiny puff of air before my time is extinguished. Already I am 22 – too old already for many migrants jobs in Guangdong! And yet what am I doing… a student, who’s had a pampered upbringing and a fortunate amount of chances to travel, but never really “accomplished” anything. Whatever that means.

As the saying goes, “it takes 10 years to grow a tree, and 100 to educate a person”. Life is the journey itself. And it rocks.


3 Responses to “Not a factory girl”

  1. Dick Says:

    It does indeed rock and is there for the rocking, so rock away (this does not make you a rock chick) As an outsider in the Uk mainland I understand a bit of what you say, but think that boundary people are the channel through which we better understand cultural differences, such people are catalysts for good and bad. Hope it feels ok to be considered an enzyme 🙂

  2. Oscar Says:

    I like what you’ve written here. It’s coherent and intelligible as well as an expression of emotions. God knows I’ve been feeling very similarly, especially about being a laowai. And it’s nice to read your criticism on these authors, it’s cool how you always manage to cut right through to where criticism really belongs.

    But don’t say, or imply even in the slightest sense, that you haven’t accomplished anything. Think of how important you have been in the lives of so many people 🙂

  3. Jia Says:

    Try “Asian Godfathers”

    Made me lose even more faith in business, politics and the world in general.

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