Chen comes off as a serious guy when he is working but off the job he is friendly and somewhat shy. After being in the industry for over 20 years he feels confident in his skills. Although Chen lives away from his family, he is still very much committed to providing a good life for them. He and his wife recently bought a house and are now faced with mortgage payments he worries will be hard to keep up with. 

Q: How long have you worked in clothing factories?




OK, let’s see. It was 1991. I came here in 1991.


Q: How old were you when you started working?



A: 23岁吧。

23 years old


Q: Have you always done the same task?






Q: What task have you always done?



A: 裁剪,裁床,负责裁的。

I do all the cutting.


Q: What kind of clothes have you cut?



A: 各种款式的单子,像制衣啊,裤子啊,上衣,都是做时装的。

We received all kinds of orders here, such as shirts and trousers. All fashionable clothes.


Q: When you buy clothing, how do you feel about the clothes you buy? Do you think about them differently because you make clothes?

你去买衣服的时候,你对自己买的衣服是怎么看的? 会不会因为在制衣厂工作就会有不同的考量?


A: 做这一行的那个买衣服肯定要检查,稍微比一般人要懂得要检查一下衣服具体的质量问题。

People like me making clothes for others know how to check clothes and we know more about the quality of clothes than other people.


Q: What signs of quality do you look for?



A: 做工,一般的是这个衣服的,有时候那个针啊,那个针线啊,假如是对格的的,是不是对准的,这个是很标准的。

Whether or not the clothes are well-made. For example, whether or not the stitches are neat. If it is plaid cloth, whether the print is aligned. There are certain standards for clothes.


Q: How did you start in clothing factories? How did you find the first job?



A: 那时候只是当时学校出来了,没有什么工作,就选择这样的,就做下去了。

I graduated from school and there weren’t many choices so I picked this and stick with it.


Q: What do you like about the industry?



A: 因为如果你选择了这行做了,你就做熟练了,如果再转行,需要时间,短时间之内是没有办法的。

When you choose a job, you start to do it and became more skilled in it. If you change your job, it will take time to get used to a new thing. It is not possible for me to do that in a short time.


Q: How has the industry changed since you joined in…. since you started working?



A: 变化啊,时装的变化就是说以前都比较简单,现在呢,因为啊这个布料本身就发生了变化,所以说呢,这个款式越来越多,主要是以前有很多那种,就是人都可以想象的,像蕾丝这样的,就是后期产生的,就发生了很多变化。

It has changed. Clothes were much more simple before. Now, because of great changes in fabric, I see clothes with many different designs. Fabric used to be nothing special, but now we have fabric like [mass produced] lace that was invented later. There are many changes.  


Q: Has your job gotten harder since you first started it?



A: 还可以,因为是已经适应了,变化也不是太大的变化,只是布料款式有了很多的变化……

Not much. I am getting used to the changes. Changes are mainly in fabric and design. There aren’t many changes in the way to do my work.


Q: How many different factories have you worked in?



A: 有那个做棉袄的,衬衫时装裤子,我们也叫时装厂也叫服装厂也叫制衣厂,制衣厂大部分都是做裤子的,七八个差不多十个了。

I’ve made coats, shirts and trousers in different factories. The names of the clothing factories changed a little bit. We call it fashion clothes factory, garment factory or clothing manufacturing factory. Most clothing manufacturing factories are making trousers. I have been working in almost ten different factories.  


Q: Do you think differently about men’s fashion because of what you do?



A: There aren’t many choices in men’s wear. Suits or jackets. 



Q: So if it has changed in this industry, what do you think is the next step in the garment industry?



A: 将来的走向也是更多地,主要服装是更多的面料布料,更多的花样性。

There will be more designs and various fabric in the future.


Q: Do your friends work in a similar industry as you?



A: 也有一部分在。

Some of them do.


Q: What do you do for fun?



A: 平时放假就是吃饭啊,和单身朋友去玩下,买东西。

I eat out, hang out with my friends and buy things.


Q: When you hang out with your friends, what kind of things do you do?



A: 就是有时候去吃吃饭,去外面转转啊。

Eat out or go around the city.


Q: Do you live near the factory?



A: 近,大概五百米吧。

Yes, it is 500 meters from here.


Q: Have you lived in this area for a very long time?



A: 我是今年刚来,从年初现在。

I started to live here at the beginning of this year.


Q: Do you live here with your spouse or any children?



A: 我孩子在老家,我老婆在沙头角。

My kid is in my hometown and my wife lives in Sha Toujiao [near the factory she works in].


Q: What is it like for you to be apart from your spouse?



A: 没有什么影响,平时见面。周末放假我就过去。有时间就过去。

It doesn’t affect my life much. We will meet on weekends and holidays. I go there to see her when I have time.


Q: What about your children. How often do you see them?



A: 老家安徽的,通常春节回去,一年一次。

My hometown is an An Hui Province (northern China). I will go back once a year during Spring Festival.


Q: I have seen some crazy video footage of people trying to buy train tickets to go home during spring festival. What is your experience?



A: 春节买票是很难,回来的时候更难,因为在这么买票回去难是难,但回家了,回家了要是春节来的时候啊,很可能是没有座位坐,都站到那里,这边买票要容易点,因为我们那个老家是个小站,一般能都没有始发车就没有座位。

It is difficult to buy train ticket during Spring Festival. Buying train tickets back home is easier compared to buying train tickets from my home to Shenzhen, because my hometown is a small place and not many tickets are allotted to the train station in my hometown. I can’t buy the ticket with a seat and I have to stand in the train all the way back to Shenzhen.


Q: How many hours do you have to stand?



A: 一般是在23个小时左右。

About 23 hours.


Q: What kind of things do you do when you go home?



A: 回家啊,家里有小孩啊老人啊。父母亲戚啊,一年才回去一次。

Spend time with parents, kid and relatives. I only go back once a year so I want to be with them.


Q: Do you ever regret having left your hometown?



A: 都是为了生活,这也是没办法的事。

I had to leave. It is [the only way for me to make a] living.


Q: 在外打工的时候,最思念家乡的什么?

What kind of things… do you miss anything from your hometown or from your family?


A: 家里的母亲啊还有自己的小孩,他要学习,因为我们都出来打工,没有时间管他,怕他学坏成绩不好,还有老人的身体啊。

I miss my parents and my kid. I worry about my parents health and that we can’t educate my child when we are away from them. My kid needs to go to school and [my wife and I] are concern that our kid doesn’t do well in school and will become a bad guy.


Q: What is the biggest challenge in your life so far?



A: 因为我自己来说吧,我在家乡买了房,在供,我们今年都46岁了,还有十年的月供,到一定的岁数,打工就很困难。

For me the biggest challenge is taht we bought a house in my hometown and we are paying the mortgage for the next 10 years. We are 46 this year, I am afraid that when we are older it would be difficult to get jobs.


Q: What is the significance of owning a home to you?



A: 因为有一个小孩20多,现在不买的话,随着我们年龄的增加,找工作就更难了,在中国,到了五十岁以后,你进服装厂都没人要。主要是为了孩子。

A: If we don’t buy a house now, it will be difficult to buy one in the future because when you are 50, no one will hire you in a garment factory in China. One of my kids is 20. I want to have a house for my kid.


Q: Where do you think the clothes go after you make them?



A: 我们做的衣服一般都知道,上面有那个出到哪里去的,有标签,有的出到欧美啊,我们也知道。

We know where the clothes will go when we make them. They will show the place on the labels. Some of them go to America and some go to Europe. We know that.


Q: Do you know how much the garments sell for?



A: 有的是有打价码,牌子上会打价码,有的不知道,也不操心,要是到后面拿了衣服看也知道,不过不去拿,那个东西不知道。

We know the prices of some clothes from checking the label, but there is no price on the label for some clothes. We usually don’t care about it. We don’t even bother checking the label to know the price.


Q: What kind of people do you think will wear the clothes that you make



A: 一般出去到国外去的,也是跟我们一样是工薪阶级,因为这样的衣服不像是有钱人穿的,应该也是工薪阶级。

I think maybe foreigners–working class like us–are buying them. These clothes don’t seem to be made for rich people. I think working class people are buying them.


Q: What is your favorite part of your job?



A: 就是说喜欢的是这个款做完了,不要让车间里留什么不好的地方,因为他们要找麻烦嘛,加入你裁的不好,他们会跟你讲,尽量使自己做的对,不要让他们讲。这个方面,做这个工作,从内心讲,因为上了我们这个年纪,你像换工作,一换就是生手,就要重新起步。熟练,这个已经熟练了。再换就是生手。

I like doing things right in my job. For example, when I finish my part in the manufacturing line, I hope that I did it well so people don’t come to me to tell me I did something wrong. I have been doing this job for so long and people my age won’t change jobs easily because if you do something else, you will need to start from scratch.


Q: What did you dream of doing when you were a small child?



A: 那时候在学校出来之后,也是说能做什么就什么,那时就是说,那时梦想就是上学,去个好学校,找个好工作,但那个梦想破裂了,没有了。

When I graduated from school, I didn’t get to choose what I wanted to do. At that time, my dream was to study in a good school and find a good job after graduation, but my dream broke when I left school.


Q: If you had a chance to go on to studying, what subject would you have chosen what would you choose?



A: 我想学医学。

I want to study medicine.


Q: What do you like about that profession



A: 因为医生就是说救死扶伤,也是救助患者,医生也比较轻松,也是需要有点天赋的。

Doctors can save lives and help injured people. This is a decent profession, but you need to be smart to be a doctor.


Q: Would you choose a particular specialty as a doctor?



A: 临床。



Q: Does your child have some similar interests to you?



A: 他没有,他现在正在读书,他自己的目标我也不清楚,他才初中,我也不知道今后他选择怎样的人生。

He is still studying in school. I don’t know his goal. He is in junior high school. I don’t know what he will do with his life.


Q: Do you ever watch medical shows on TV?



A: 看啊



Q: Which ones do you like to watch?



A: 那个叫,一部电视剧叫仁心。

A TV show called Kind Heart.


Q: Do you get a rush when you watch? What kind of feeling you have when you watch the show?



A 特别激动

Very excited.


Q: What do you think will happen in your future?



A: 反正好好工作,尽量的就是说在没有到一定时间,能找到工作做就一定做下去,只要说还可以工作就继续。

I will work hard. I will keep working until the day I can’t.


Q: How old do you think that is?



A: 这没有打算的,后面的路很长,人活着你就要工作,你要为了生活,你必须去赚钱,不去工作没有生活来源怎么办。

I don’t have a plan yet. I still have a long road ahead of me. One needs to work to make money. How can one live without money?


Q: What is the most important value that you have?



A: 最重要的一点就是说家庭要平安。

Safety for my family.


Q: What does safety mean?




A: 平安就是父母亲平安,小孩学业进步,夫妻和睦。

Safety means that my parents are in good health, my kid is doing great at school and my relationship with my wife is harmonious.


how does CHEN think about his clothes?


Q: You could tell me how you got the items you are wearing?



A: 衣服啊,就在市场那里。

I got them from a market.


Q: In which market?



A: 是在沙头角市场。

Sha Toujiao Market (a place near the border line between HK and Shenzhen)


Q: What do you like about the clothes you have on?



A: 就是啊,自己喜欢哦。

I can’t tell. I just like it. It is my personal taste.


Q: What part of…. What kind of taste, can you tell me a little more about that?



A: 喜欢这个设计,也跟工作有一定的关系,因为黑色的衣服耐脏一些,白色的不耐脏。

I like the design. It also has something to do with my work. Black clothes are more dirt-proof. White clothes can easily get dirty.


Q: What kind of clothes do you wear when you are off work?



A: 像我们这样的,没有什么穿什么衣服。

Just the same clothes I wear to work. I don’t pick clothes.


Q: So you own a lot of dark clothing?




Yes, it is convenient to wear dark clothing to work. There is dirt around the factory. Clothes will get dirty and it is hard to clean them.


translation by zhu lei