Some old original residents still live in the old wood house on the old street. There used to be a small shop, and a public telephone station. Nowadays, nobody goes shopping there. Everyone comes to the nearby high street. As a result, the only goods kept in this small shop are candles and incense for a nearby temple. Since last year, there was no public telephone service anymore. A shop keeper told me that everyone had a mobile phone, and no one would need the public telephone anymore. In the past, one minute used to cost 3 mao (3 pennies), the telephone company and the shop keeper used to share the profit fifty-to-fifty. Now, one minute still costs 3 mao, however the telephone company doesn’t share a single penny with the shop keeper. “They simply gave up the public telephone business!” he said. The orange sign of the public telephone is still hanging there, just as the old red couplet scrolls from last Chinese New Year on the wooden doors.
Old street, small shop and the public telephone (82*34.5cm)
One day in July 2013, noon after lunch. A group of construction site workers was sitting together. Others were smoking cigarettes, only he was smoking a pipe – a local pipe from his original rural place in Chongqin (inland China). When I talked with people, the middle-aged man observed me. He told me proudly, his daughter was probably of a similar age and got an office job. “Eating some bitterness of life for me is nothing” He said.
The man with a pipe (34*34cm)
She told me the money she can earn in a factory was too little given that she really wanted to afford a flat owned by herself one day. Thus she became a sex worker in order to achieve the dream as soon as possible. She is 20 years old. (the story behind: She had a miserable life, she was first dumped by her parents and was forced to marry a disabled old man for money. Migration for her is to escape from her miserable life in her hometown.)
The sex worker (27* 24cm)
She was lying on her bed, asking me to take a photo for her upside down. Then she uploaded the photo to her QQ social media profile. She explained to me that the photo is more unique in an upside-down way and thus she looks cooler. She is only 19 years old and helped at a local accessory shop. She was shy when we met face to face, however became very talkative online. We talked about romance a lot online and she told me all the sweet words men said online were fake.
The upside-down girl (24* 27cm)
The Portrait painting of four kids from a rural migrant family (50 * 50 cm)
There was a monkey performance at the night market. People flocked to see the show. Everybody was so excited. My friend dragged me all the way to the night market to see the free show. When we were there, she took out her mobile phone, sending messages to her online QQ friends to ask them to join the show. “Every day is so boring, finally we have something interesting!” “Well, which means we all will have some similar QQ updates today!” a friend of hers remarked.
The Monkey performance (34.5*82cm)
Everyday hundreds of factory workers come to the factory canteen to have lunch and dinner. If some of them work extra hours, there will be people coming and buying food till 8pm. But usually after 6pm, the canteen becomes very empty. The cook comes from Jiangxi province. When he is free he will go outside the kitchen and have a cup of water, sitting on the bench in the canteen. He usually has a big teddy bear in his arms when he was sitting there. The teddy bear is the elder sister of a small teddy bear. Both of them are friends of the little daughter of the canteen’s small shop keeper. The girl is 6 years old. Every day she stays in the canteen after kindergarten. Her father is too busy, the bears and the cook are her only friends. The cook will always hold the big teddy for her. She used an English phonetic symbol poster to cover the little teddy to “protect her from the sunshine”. The man told me that he really wants a daughter, since he only has a son. His wife no longer wanted to have kids after the son. His son is almost 20 years old, working in a mobile phone shop in his original place. “A daughter is much better, much closer to you. My son has not called me for several weeks!”
I want a daughter (57.5 * 65.5cm)
Everyday During the hot summer, after lunch, Mr. Zhang had a one hour break. He took off his short sleeve and safety helmet, sitting on the pile of safety nets, checking his old Nokia mobile phone to see whether he got any news from home. His father in law was in hospital because of a stroke. He was very concerned about how the operation was going on and how much it costs. All the money he earned from the construction site was contributed to kids’ tuition fees and elder peoples medical fee. Taking off his own living expense, after one year he barely had any savings. It's good to do the labor job when he still is healthy and has strength. “Nowadays, young kids can't take any heavy job, they prefer to take some easy job with less money”. As a result, people who work at the construction site are all in their 40s or 50s. His wife needs to take care of their parents so he has to work in a factory near his original place in Chongqing province. He meets his wife once a year during Chinese New Year. “That's nothing”, he told me, “she is a 'Lao tai po' ( old woman), and I don't really miss her. If anything happens at home, she will call me and I will always make the big decision for the family”. “When you live outside, you really need to rely on people who come from the same place. We will keep contact by phone call and SMS message, and inform each other when there is a new job or any opportunity to earn money. So you have to make sure that your mobile phone does not run out of money”.
A man at a construction site (45* 68.5cm)
Factory workers who live here produce probably the strongest doors in the world – anti-theft security doors. However, in the places where they live there were no locks and the doors were always open. The wooden door is very thin, and can‟t be locked. The monthly rent for this kind of old fashioned wood “si he yuan” (quadrangle courtyard) is 50 rmb per room – which equals a return tube ticket in London. Only the poorest rural migrants are willing to live here without toilet and shower facilities. They basically have nothing here except broken wood and a blanket. Thus, even though the door is open the whole day, there is no single one willing to walk in and have a look, including thiefs. One day, I walked into an old wooden building like this. The courtyard was so quiet to the degree that one could hear the sound of the sunshine. After a gust of wind, I was even worried that a tile or a broken wooden board would fall off. I thought there was nobody here. However I found there was a pair of eyes staring at me from under the curtain in the corner. I came up to him to say hello. “Hi brother, how are you.” He tried to hide again but it was too late. He smiled at me. I asked him many questions. To some of my questions he answered in a very simple way; to some of them, it looked as if he had not heard my question at all. He came from Guizhou (inland province), and was single. Too poor to get married. “Women are very realistic nowadays” he said. The reason he stayed at home during the daytime was there was nothing to do in the factory. The business was not going very well, so his factory asked workers to go back home. One day goes without working means one day without income. That is the worst thing for workers. All of them fear that there is not enough work for them, or they can‟t work extra hours to earn more money. He told me, half of this month has passed, however he only managed to work for five full days, which is too bad. If the situation remains the same, he will quit his job and try other places. I asked him whether he has relatives or friends at his hometown. He said maybe yes, but everybody is earning a living outside of his hometown. I asked him whether he uses the internet. He said, “I am poor, I don‟t use internet, or play mobile phone.” A few weeks later, I revisited the same place, the man had already left. It seems that he had decided to leave to find a new job somewhere else.
The old wood house (46.5 * 70.5cm)
It was half past five. Dinner was on time. The smartphone of the 'xiao shu zi' (young brother of father) was the portable TV set. Shame that the charger cable was not long enough, so people had to crowd at the very edge of the table. It was a flat with two bedrooms, holding two families. They were relatives, so everyday they cooked together and ate together. One of the relatives needed to take extra hour work at the factory, and people started to eat without waiting for him. They ate quietly. The only loud sound was the TV program on the smartphone.