Cycling to Zhuhai – and other migrant worker adventures

The mainstream media in China often portrays young migrant workers as troubled and oppressed and only focuses only on their problems. But last weekend, I had the chance to spend some time with a group of young workers from Shenzhen who displayed a side not often seen in mainstream media – youthful curiosity, imagination, and generosity of spirit.


One of those workers, Ms. Wang, is originally from Sichuan and works in a factory in Shenzhen earning no more than 2,000 yuan per month, which when combined with her boyfriend’s income is just enough to get by. Ms. Wang is a second generation migrant worker. Her parents worked in Shenzhen before her but Wang still did not have a Shenzhen residency (hukou). Then again, she did not think having Shenzhen residency was that important.


She had come to Hong Kong with her boyfriend and a group of other workers. And one evening, they all rode the tram to Causeway Bay, a popular shopping district in Hong Kong awash with colorful neon billboards. Many of them wanted to know where they could buy a particular brand of “magical" medicine that could can arthritis.


Ms. Wang said she wanted to buy it for her uncle, who was a construction worker. Several of the young men who worked in factories or as supermarket cashiers and security guards wanted it for themselves.


While we were riding the tram, one young woman told us how she had bought a bicycle for just 90 yuan and ridden it for two whole days all the way from Shenzhen to Zhuhai just to hang out with her friends there.


“I was riding at just ten kilometers per hour and was always overtaken by professional bike riders but I didn't care and continued to enjoy myself,” she laughed.


Everyone was very impressed. She then invited anyone interested to join her some day for an “easy” 50 kilometer ride from Shenzhen to Humen.


A factory foreman, who was part of the group countered that: “riding a bike is boring. Isn’t it better to ride a horse? Let's buy a two-meter-tall horse and ride it home!


Everyone laughed. “How much is a horse nowadays?”


“Roughly two thousand yuan?”


“Impossible! Must be around three thousand.”


And so an enthusiastic debate on horse prices ensued.


A horse may have been beyond their budget but the workers did pick up some bargains in Hong Kong. After buying a few clothing items, Ms Wang and her boyfriend noticed that mobile phones were a lot cheaper in Hong Kong than in Shenzhen. “Samsung is only HK$199!” She exclaimed, checking her wallet.

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