Zhao is the mother of twins, and a wife. she sews for various factories and workshops in Shenzhen. During our interview she told me of her decision to marry for love rather than money, of her children and of her life long dream to open an accessories store so she can help women feel more confident and beautiful.
My life is good. I like to have a casual life. I want to be happy.
M: What makes you happy?
For example, being able to do the things I like makes me happy. And my husband treats me well. He always knows what I want. [For example] he buys things for me even though I don’t ask for them. He tells me everything and discusses things with me. He respects me.
M: How long you have been married?
I have been married for eight years.
M: How did you meet each other？
My husband and I grew up in the same village. We studied together in the same school from primary school through to junior school. After graduating from junior school, we quit school to work. We both worked in cities. At first, we both worked in Wu Han but we didn’t keep in touch with each other. Then he had a difficult time in Wu Han, so he came here [to Shenzhen]. He worked here for two years. We met again at a class reunion and fell in love.
M: What a beautiful story!
Yeah. My family introduced him to me. When we met we felt good about each other. I felt like I knew him, but not too well. There was chemistry between us when we talked.
M: Was it important for you to get approval of the relationship from your family?
My family is better than my husband’s family because my mom has a small business in the village but my husband’s family doesn’t have a source of income. They only have some land. My parents hoped that I would marry someone better, so my life could be easier. [Theoretically] if my husband can earn lots of money I don’t have to work as hard.
M: Just to clarify, does your husband come from a farming family?
M: Your husband, what does he do [now]?
He is in the home renovation business.
M: How long have you been living in Shenzhen?
I have been in Shenzhen for eight years.
M: What was it like when you first arrived in Shenzhen?
I thought living here was really stressful. At first, I couldn’t handle it. However, my husband took good care of me so I tried to get used to the life here. Then I gradually settled in.
M: Was it hard to make friends here?
I can meet people from different parts of China. It is easy to make friends here.
M: Can you tell me a little bit about your daily routine?
My life is what someone might call a “mundane life,” going to work and coming back home after work. It is just like other migrant workers here.
M: What do you do to enjoy yourself?
I stay at home and make a nice meal, then go out shopping to the mall to buy some clothes and some food.
M: Would you go with your husband?
Mostly with my friends. I have lots of friends. My husband is busy. He doesn’t have time for me.
M: What do you usually shop for when you go out?
I buy some things for my kids, like clothes, and mail them back [to them]. Or I just walk around and buy something I like [for myself]. I like things that are of good quality and have a reasonable price.
M: So you mentioned you have children. Where are your children?
My children are in my hometown because it is too expensive [for them] to go to school here, and we couldn’t find a school here that would take my kids. Because of that they can only live in the village.
M: Who are your children staying with?
With their grandparents.
M: I would like to ask why you came to Shenzhen?
Because my husband talked me into coming to Shenzhen when we were dating, so I came here with him.
M: Were you happy when you made the decision to come here?
At first I just gave it a try but then I started to like it here.
M: What it is like to move to a city?
Living here is quite stressful. Back in [the] village there isn’t much pressure. You earn enough for your life but you can’t save up, so I don’t want to be in the village.
M: Why do you save up?
My kids need to go to school. And it has something to do with my childhood. When I was little, my family was really poor. Then my parents earned some money through doing small business. Our lives got better. So for me, money is important for life. Without money, we can’t have a nice life. Life is too difficult without money.
M: How old are your kids?
My kids are seven years old.
M: How often do you see your kids?
They will come here on summer holiday and we will go back [to visit them in our hometown] during Spring Festival.
M: Do you think it’s common to leave children in hometowns?
Yes, it is really common in China.
M: Is it very hard for you to leave your children behind?
It is hard for me, but life is hard here. We can only bring our kids here when we have enough money. With money, we can find [them] a good school. Only when we have a house, a car and stable incomes, can we bring our kids here. Without [those things], we can’t do it.
M: What was your dream when you were a kid?
When I was little, I dreamed about opening an accessories store and having a relaxed life.
M: Why an accessories store?
I think accessories are to people like what decorations are for houses. You will look good in any clothing with the help of nice accessories. I could help make other women more beautiful. I would enjoy that feeling.
M: You can make others happy by selling them accessories, right?
Yes, I would be happy and my customers would be happy too.
M: When you were younger, for what other reason than to make people happy did you want to sell accessories?
Once, when I was little my dad went out on a trip and he brought me a necklace as gift when he came back. Everyone said I looked pretty with that necklace on. I thought that little thing can make me happy and it can also make others happy. So I have this dream of opening an accessories store one day.
M: So do you still have that dream today?
Yes, I still keep that dream. I might be able to make my dream come true next year, or in several years when I save enough money.
M: Would you like to open the store in Shenzhen or in another place?
I would like to open the store here, in Shenzhen.
M：Why do you like Shenzhen?
Shenzhen is a young city. I like it here because things here look good but not expensive and everyone is young and beautiful.
M: Why do you think Shenzhen is very young?
All the old people stay in their hometown and the young people come here to work.
M: Do you think that you will move back to your hometown in the future?
Maybe I will when I am very old. While I am young, I would like to work here.
M: If someone asked you what your identity is in the city, what would you say?
I am just one of the migrant workers and ordinary people. I think we will buy a house in Shenzhen, not in the city, maybe in the remote area of the city near the neighboring city because house prices there are lower.
how does ZHAO think about her clothes?
M: Can you tell me how you chose these clothes [you have on today]?
Because I sweat and move around a lot in my work I want [to wear] something comfortable.
M: How did you pick purple?
I think a dark color is more dirt-proof. It’s better for me because [I know] there will be a lot of dirt around the factory.
M: Do you always wear dark colors or do you dress differently outside of work?
I wear dark colors when I am at work but [when] I have days off, I [normally] wear something different, like white clothes. When I go out shopping, I wear clothes with light colors.
M: Why do you like light colors, say white? What does white mean in Chinese culture?
White-colored clothes can make your skin look white. A saying in China goes that "A white complexion is powerful enough to hide seven faults." Having white skin makes me look better. I like wearing white when I go out shopping.
M: Is there anything else that you would like to tell me? Is there anything you would like to say that didn’t get covered in my questions?
I think life should be easy and casual. You need to have a goal but it is not a good thing to push yourself too hard. Just work hard when you work and relax when you are off work. I have twins. They will be in the second grade this year. One of them is doing great in school but the other is not because he has eye problems. When he was born, there was a problem with his optic nerve so he can't see clearly. Because of that, he doesn’t work hard in school, but he loves playing piano. He takes one-hour piano class every weekend in school.
translation by zhu lei