Chinese Stories in English
Diary of a Job Search
Dream of "Adventure on Shanghai Beach" Broken
Name: Liu Hailin
Age: 31, unmarried
Birthplace: Hengyang City, Hunan Province
Education: vocational school
Experience: worked in Foshan ,Guangzhou, 8 years, first trip to Shanghai to look for work
Liu Hailin, a man in his thirties, quit a job he'd had for three years and set out for Shanghai to look for work. When he'd made the decision he'd been quite sure about it, but then he ran around over half of Shanghai without finding a suitable position. He left the city five days later, utterly disappointed. He came back to Guangdong and found a job as an apprentice in a mold factory. Not ideal job conditions, and he was hesitant to do it, but he says that he's never once regretted the trip to Shanghai. He has a new plan for the future: "I don't want a 'nowhere job' any more. I want to learn some skills. Otherwise my whole life will be like this."
Job Search: Hitting a Wall Everywhere, Forced to Retreat
March 9, morning. A job fair for car manufacturing and processing factories attracted a large number of job seekers. Even the aisles were filled with people. Liu Hailin put the travel bag he'd brought with him up against the wall and joined the jostling crowd of job seekers.
"Bringing my baggage to the interviews would have made a bad impression on people," he said. There was nothing valuable in the bag, so he wasn't worried about it being stolen. He'd made up his mind to work in Shanghai, so he'd brought appropriate clothes for all four seasons. The bag's zipper had broken when he was on the train, maybe because the bag was overfilled. He'd been wearing formal attire since he got to Shanghai – a Western suit with a dress shirt, in order to make a good impression on interviewers. He'd purchased the suit in Guangzhou for the 2012 Spring Festival, and this was the first time it had come in handy.
He spent an hour going around to all the recruitment booths in the place. At every booth, he stood there and listened to someone else's interview, but never sat down and had a conversation with a recruiter himself. "It wasn't them, I just couldn't do it." Hearing the education and experience requirements of the company, he felt he wasn't qualified.
In fact, if he hadn't heard about this free job fair, he would have gotten on the train back to Guangzhou the previous evening.
On March 1, he'd quit his job as a common laborer in an auto parts plant in Foshan, and three days later he'd boarded the train to Shanghai. He'd gone straight to Pudong Gold Bridge District as soon as he got off the train. The next two days he went to Jiading and Anting Districts. These places all had well-known automobile factories; he'd checked them out on the Internet before he came to Shanghai.
But he didn't have enough time to hold on to his excessive expectations and fantasies for a new city and a new job. He chose to retreat. "I have no experience and no skills. Who'd want me?"
Battles: Wanting to "Make a Life"
Born 1982, Liu Hailin tested into a vocational high school in Nanjing after he graduated from junior high in his hometown in Hunan. He majored in business. He says he was perhaps too young at the time, because he got homesick and missed his mom and could never keep his mind on his studies. In that period, his parents and his sister went to Foshan in Guangdong to look for work so they could support him in his studies and the whole family could have a better life. His father got a job as a materials transporter [pushing a wheelbarrow] at
construction sites, and his sister worked in a lingerie factory.
After graduating from vocational school, Liu Hailin went to Foshan to be with his parents. At first, since the wages were good, his father wanted to take him along to help out at the construction sites. Liu Hailin didn't want to. He says he wasn't afraid of hard work, but he was worried that in construction "you look for a job, and when it's done, you look for someone to pay your wages." Rather than that, he preferred something like "a factory job, where they lay the work out in front of you every day, and you get paid based on the time you work." So he took a job as a common laborer in a factory processing components for businesses.
He changed jobs only once during the eight years he was in Foshan. He says, if the first plant hadn't closed down because of the financial crisis, he might have been able to stay on there. Through years of struggle, he and his parents raised enough money to build a three-story red brick house in his hometown, fulfilling the "standard requirements" of the local people who leave to become migrant workers. A small family can live a pretty good life on his 3,000 Yuan monthly wages [≈$492].
Why would someone like this, who wants peace and stability, quit his job and go to Shanghai to look for work? Liu Hailin says "I got motivated." He felt inferior to fellow villagers his age and to his vocational school classmates: Childhood playmates from his village, who never even graduated from junior high school, studied mold technology and some of them now work in the same factory he does; a classmate from vocational school got a Ph.D. and now teaches at a university.... "People look down on you if you don't have a skill. When people from the old village start matchmaking, they don't even consider me." Now 31, he's come to the point where he regrets that he didn't study harder right from the start in school.
"I want to make a life for myself, too!" In order to make others see him in a new light, Liu Hailin left his home.
Reflection: Took Wrong Track Looking for Job
"The way they recruit new employees in Shanghai is really very different from the way they do it in Guangdong." Liu Hailin says that, in some of the cities in Guangdong, help wanted notices are posted on the outside walls of the factory. You can go right in the factory and see what's going on. If you pass the interview you sign a contract right away, and you can move your stuff into the dormitory the same day. It was with exactly this in mind that he went to Gold Bridge District in Pudong as soon as he got off the train. What made him so disappointed was not only that there were no help wanted announcements on the walls in the factory district, but also, he didn't get inside the factories. He was stopped by security at the entrance. "We don't recruit people here," they said. "Go to the job fairs to get hired."
He also hit a wall when he went knocking on factory doors in Jiading and Anting Districts. And, with no job skills, he had no way to "sell himself" at the job fairs for migrant workers there. He was tempted by the job postings written with chalk on a blackboard at a labor agency, but he also worried that the agency was a scam.
"Those days, it was like I was homeless." For the five days, except for his 400 Yuan [≈$61] round-trip train ticket, he spent only a hundred Yuan, most of which went for transportation costs. To save money, he didn't stay in a hotel. At night he made due in a park or in the waiting room at the train station. He spent as little as possible on food. He finished off the [canned] rice porridge and sweet potato chips he'd brought from home. He didn't eat anything else as long as he could stand it, and when he really couldn't take it anymore, he went and got the cheapest instant noodles and box lunches. "I lost weight, and my eyes got sunken." Rubbing his face, he jokes: "But being thinner made me look more energetic."
His cell phone ran completely out of power on the third day after he left home. The last phone call was from his father asking how the job hunt was going. Just before hanging up, his father told him to "come back early if it isn't working out." Liu Hailin got all choked up.
On March 7, with his return ticket to Guangdong in his hand, Liu Hailin went to the Lujiazui District and saw the Oriental Pearl Tower. "I didn't find a job, so I turned the trip into a tour of Shanghai." As he stood on the circular pedestrian walkway in Lujiazui, a guy beside him was taking people's pictures for 10 Yuan each. He doesn't regret not buying one, because "I'll remember the scene in my heart."
Follow-up: Will Definitely Learn New Skills
On March 10, Liu Hailin left Shanghai and returned to Guangdong. [When he arrived a couple of days later], a household electrical appliance enterprise was grabbing people at the station to go to work in Shunde [near Foshan], but he ultimately didn't get on their bus. "It was an assembly line job, so I didn't go."
A few days ago, he went for an interview with a car company. At first, the workshop director thought he was a master mold maker and treated him very warmly; but when the director found out he didn't have any work experience, he cooled off right away. "We don't hire apprentices." He sent Liu Hailin away with that one sentence, which made him feel very frustrated.
After going through the emotional trauma of looking for work in Shanghai, Liu Hailin has a deeper grasp of the importance of job skills. "Some people might say that I have unrealistic expectations, but I really don't want a "dead-end job" like I had before. I want to learn a skill and make more money."
On March 23, Liu Hailin sent this reporter a text message saying that he has taken a position as an apprentice in an auto parts and plastic mold factory. The pay package is less than ideal.
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