Leng brings her daughter Zhang to work in the garment factory during her school vacation. She hopes Zhang will decide to stay in school after experiencing factory work. Leng encourages Zhang to complete her education and dreams she will get to live out some of her missed dreams. Leng and Zhang talk with one another just like any other mother and teenage daughter–some things just don't change across borders.
M: Mother D: Daughter
How many years have you been working in the garment factory?
I started work as an apprentice when I graduated from junior high school and I have been making clothes ever since. It has been 20 years.
What was that like for you to be so young to come to work in a factory?
I have been apprentice for two year when I started out then I started to work in garment factory. It wasn’t as easy as it is now. I used to work overtime until 1am in the evening. It is better now and we only need to work overtime until 9pm.
Q: How do you feel about your mom’s story?
I think I should study hard so as to provide [my parents with] a better life when I grow up.
What level of school are you in now?
I just graduated from junior high school and passed the test to go to high school next semester.
Q: 对哪一门最感兴趣? 最喜欢的科目是什么
What are you interested in studying? What are your favorite things in studying?
I don’t think I excel in any of the subjects.
She is doing fine in all subject. She got the scores of 80 or 90 for everything subject. Maybe she likes English best.
I don’t think English is my favorite subject.
But your English score is the highest of all your subjects.
I like chemistry.
What kind of job do you see yourself doing in the future?
If it were up to me, I would let her study fashion design, because she was so good at drawing when she was little. But she said she doesn’t like it.
When did I say I don’t like it? I just haven’t figured out what [I want] to do.
You said you don’t like it.
How often do you come and work with your mom?
When I am on vacation.
Summer vacation or other long vacations. I require her to work here with me when she comes [to Shenzhen].
When you were small, what did you dream of doing?
I thought about my dream when I was little. I lived in a village and I was a wild kid back then. I thought to myself that although I was born in a village I wouldn’t stay there when I grew up. I would do whatever I could to get out of the village. I didn’t know what I would do in the future but I knew I would leave. My parents didn’t encourage me to learn more in school. All I thought about back then was playing around, not studying. When I grew up a little bit, my mom asked me to learn how to make clothes. I took that seriously. I was hard working and [when my skills were good enough] I finally came to the city.
What kind of skills do you think you are learning, working in a factory here besides how to sew?
I only learn how to make clothes. I have learned trivia things like doing choirs when I was in hometown. I only learn sewing.
You said earlier that you want to daughter to learn fashion design so I am wondering if this is a desire of your own. Do you wish that you had done that?
Yes, I think so.
Q: 你觉得自己还有机会完成梦想吗? 是什么让你没法完成梦想?
Do you feel that you could achieve your dream now? What is stopping you from achieving that dream now?
If I had the chance, I would learn [fashion design]. I guess the pressures of life stop me from doing that though. I don’t think I have enough time or money to learn a new thing. If I [go back to school] I will have to give up my work at the garment factory.
How will you be happy in life knowing that you can’t achieve your dream?
Even though I can’t make my dream come true, my daughter would achieve that dream for me. If she can’t, maybe her kid can.
Do you feel a lot of pressure?
I am putting a lot of pressure on her.
How does that pressure affect you?
I don’t think the pressure affects me.
Do you see…each of you, I ask you a question and I want both of you to answer. What traits do you see in yourself [that come from the other] or of yourself in the other?
She is more like her father. There is only one trait she gets from me. It is that she is meticulous in everything.
What do you think?
I am more like you but I have my dad’s appearance.
Her personality is not like me. I am extroverted but she is introverted. Only her way of doing things is like me.
What kind of work dose your father do?
My husband used to be a teacher. When I started to make clothes, he also followed me to do the same thing. We are doing the same work now.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I didn’t really love it back then [when I was younger] but it was the only thing I knew how to do. I have nothing else I can do so why not just keeping doing it. At least I can survive with the skill.
Is there a particular challenge in your life that makes you feel that way?
No. How can I rephrase my answer. I learn [sewing] when I was young and have kept doing it for a long time. If I try to learn something else it may not be better than my current career. Making clothes is even harder than other jobs but I think that I have a knack for it.
So I want go back to something earlier. You said your daughter visits you when she is on summer vacation and she has time off school. I want ask her where she lives for the rest of the time.
I go to a boarding school back in our hometown, Feng City in Jiang Xi Province. (a province in southern China and a neighboring province of Guandong Province ).
How do you like that, living in a boarding school?
I have to do everything on my own.
She is in a private boarding school. We can’t take care of her at home and she didn’t do so well in school when staying with her grandparents so I thought it would be better for her to go to a boarding school.
How do you think the school prepares you for life afterwards?
I learn a lot at school. In life, I can take care of myself and I am more independent.
What does the future look like to you?
I didn’t think about it.
If you had to think about it now, what do you .. how do you envision it?
I just want a comfortable life….
Q: 还有什么是对你很重要的? 你觉得是教育，自己兴趣等这些广泛层面的东西或是自己的家人，那一样对你来说是首要的?
Is there anything that is really important to you? Do you feel like you prioritize your education or are you interested in the social part of the life or having a family?
Family is most important to me.
How do you define “comfortable life”?
Ordinary people’s life. Going to work and getting off work at a fixed time. I like regular life.
What about that life appeals to you?
I don’t need to think or worry a lot.
Unlike my son, she is so simple. My son thinks a lot but she doesn’t. I think simple girls are better.
When you come to Shenzhen, what do you like about the city?
I like the hustle and bustle of the city.
Q: 深圳哪些地方吸引你呢? 是和你女儿的想法相似吗?
What appealed to you when you moved to the city? Is it similar to your daughter?
When I first came here, I think that it is easier to make money here and the weather here is nice. It is not cold here at all. Those two reasons are enough for me to stay [in Shenzhen].
How do you think her experience of Shenzhen differs from yours?
It is totally different. As an adult, I need to make plans for the future. [I] thought about many practical issues, like whether it is good for me to stay here and whether it will help my daughter’s future to be in Shenzhen. Then I decided to stay here. [My husband and I] bought a house and we are paying a mortgage for it.
You have a son too. What are your greatest hopes for your children?
My son is in the office [here] now. My son’s personality is the opposite of my daughters. My daughter is a really simple girl but my son is imaginative, so I think I have higher expectations of my son.
How do you feel hearing that from your mom?
I don’t feel anything.
I guess your mom is right, these are all the questions that I have. Is there anything that either of you want to add? Something about your personality that is very important or some events in your life that have a huge impact.
Making plans is an adult thing. For kids, I hope they don’t follow in our footsteps. Our job is tough. I want them to study well at school and at least become white-collar workers when they grow up. Even if [my husband and I] want a better life, it is impossible for us to achieve that at our age. We need to work and take care of our kids and parents. We don’t have time to pursuit our dreams. I hope [my children] can do the things they want and have better lives than we did.
How do you value creative work? How do you put creative work into your expectation of your children?
I will let them do whatever they want. Even creative work. We will be supportive of them.
how do LENG + ZHANG think about clothing?
I bought my clothes in a supermarket near here. I am very fat so I like clothes that can disguise my body and make me look thin. My daughter often wears sportswear and causal wear because she is fit.
Do you wear a lot of sportswear?
Yes, I like sportswear but I also wear other kinds of clothes.
In fact, what to wear has something to do with your age. Students like sportswear but when you work after graduating from school, you will wear more fashionable clothes.
Q: 那衣服的颜色呢? 为什么你喜欢这颜色?
What about the colors for your dress? What attracted you to that color?
Picking colors depends on personal taste and skin tone, right? If you have dark skin tone, you won’t pick dark colors that will make you look even darker. Your personality will also play a part when you pick up colors of clothes.
What do you think the color says your personality?
I am more extroverted so I like bright colors. I think people will notice me when I am dressed in bright colors. I picked this color [teal] for my clothes because I have an outgoing personality. My daughter is different. You know why? It’s because she is introverted and she doesn’t wear bright color clothes. But I like wearing bright colors to attract attention. I think colors say something about your personality.
So what colors do you like to buy when you go shopping?
My mother bought these clothes for me.
She bought this outfit herself.
Do you go shopping together?
What is that dynamic like for you?
If I think an outfit looks good, I will ask my daughter if she likes it. If she likes it too she will try it on. If she doesn’t then we will pass on it.
How do you think that your experience in the garment factory affects how you buy clothes?
I think it does have influence on my clothing choices. I make clothes so I know the fabrics and how much they are worth. I will choose clothes worthy of their prices.
translation by zhu lei