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A Post Postscript - NYTimes

A Post Postscript - NYTimes

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Published by Nathanael Rubin

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Published by: Nathanael Rubin on Dec 10, 2012
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12/10/12WikiLeaks, a Post Postscript - NYTimes.com1/3file:///C:/Users/Nathanael/Desktop/school stuff/Rubin.html
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 Advertise on NYTimes.com A girl making a 'jian bing' in the street inBeijing
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By Nate RubinPublished: October 25, 2012Comment
 When I was teaching English at Binhai School of Foreign Affairs inTianjin, China, I used to practice my Chinese with thepeoplemaking my food in the school cafeteria. But If I wanted tocommunicate something outside of my basic knowledge of Mandarin, I would have to take a student with me totranslate. Inoticed that the same staff were there every day serv ing breakfast, lunch and dinner. They never seemed to have any  time off. So one day I asked one of my students to translate, andI asked the girl who makes my Jian Bing (egg and crispy friednoodle wrap) how many hours she works each day. She said she works at least sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. I askedher if she ever has any days off, and she said only during summer break for one month. That’s eleven months straight of virtually non-stop work. I couldn’tbring myself to ask her how much (or rather ho w little), she was getting paid. I think I was afraid to know.I always thought it was harsh and unfair that she had to work so many hours, especially for a nineteen year oldgirl. It bothered me every time I went to the cafeteria. Itried not to think about it, but I couldn’t help it. How didit come down to this for her and her workmates? Why couldn’t she just go to school and get a good job like wedo in the good ol’ U.S. of A.?First and foremost, she can’t afford to leave her current job. Her salary is so low that she will probably be livingpaycheck to paycheck for the rest of her life. Secondly,she is from the countryside. In China, people from the bigger cities, especially Beijing, have certain societaladvantages over those from the countryside. It’s calledregional discrimination. This is caused by what is now the greatest human migration in recorded history.People from China’s small towns and villages are leavingtheir homes for urban areas in pursuit of work, many despite the lack of official permission from their localgovernment, which is a legal requirement to relocate inChina. An estimated 220 million people (equivalent totwo thirds the population of the US) are part of this
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colossal migration. The Chinese refer to them as the“floating population.” Lastly, she is not particularly attractive, at least not by traditional Chinese standards—tall, thin, and soft-spoken. In America, that usualldoesn’t make any difference—that is, it’s not supposedto, but in China, where potential employers almostalways require you to include a photo with your resume,it does.If she had been from what the Chinese consider to be a “small” city (There are onehundred and sixty cities in China with a population of over one million. The U.S. hasnine.), she would have had an entirely new set of challenges.First, she would have to get through high school (most children from the countrysideleave for work after junior high school), which in China is designed to get you ready for the college entrance examination or “Gao Kao.” This is an enormous amount of pressure for a teenager to deal with, considering that the Gao Kao determines astudent’s entire future (unlike our SAT and ACT, which can make a big difference, but are not necessary to succeed academically).Next, she would have to score high enough on the Gao Kao to get into an acceptableuniversity. This is not easy. She would most likely test into a less distinguished,second-tier college where the quality of education is much lower than at what wemight consider a standard university.Third, if she did get a good score on the Gao Kao, she would still not likely be able tochoose her own major. In order to do that, she would have to have been at the top oher class. Most university students in China don’t get to choose their major. Insteadthey are assigned majors at the discretion of the university.Forth, she would have to get through her assigned program, even though it’dprobably not be what she’d want to study. As a teacher at a second-tier university inChina myself, I can say that the majority of my students were generally unmotivated. But where is their incentive? Another foreign teacher who had beenteaching at my school for years before I got there told me that if a student fails aclass, their parents can pay the school to take a “retesting fee” and take an examadministered by the school rather than the professor, in which they pass, even if they know nothing. Those students are then placed in the next level of her class thefollowing semester, only to fail and “retest” again all the way to a degree, withouthardly ever even coming to class.Finally, after graduation, she would have to find a job in the ever-diluted workforce of the most populated nation in the world where competition is fierce. If she could keepher job, then she would probably be working overtime every week for the rest of herlife anyway, although for much more money in a much more comfortable workplace.The truth is, for someone with her plight, she is actually not doing that bad. She could be doing construction like so many people from the countryside (sometimes girlseven younger than she is). Someone might ask, “What can I do to help people like hertowards a better life?” The answer is, just keep buying the things you need, most of  which are made in China anyway. You will consequently be supporting China’s cheaplabor workforce, and those who depend directly on it. The more people that areemployed indirectly through your financial support, the less demand there willultimately be for work, in turn increasing the quality of jobs available for laborers.Therefore, considering China’s rapid economic growth, the problem will eventually fixitself, although it may take a while for people like the girl who makes my egg and
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