From The New Yorker, a brilliant article by Lauren Hilgers on life for America’s underground Chinese restaurant workers.
In a strip mall on a rural stretch of Maryland’s Indian Head Highway, a gaudy red façade shaped like a pagoda distinguishes a Chinese restaurant from a line of bland storefronts: a nail salon, a liquor store, and a laundromat. On a mild Friday morning this July, two customers walked into the dimly lit dining room. It was half an hour before the lunch service began, and, aside from a few fish swimming listlessly in a tank, the room was deserted.
In the back, steam was just starting to rise from pots of soup; two cooks were chopping ginger at a frenzied pace. Most of the lunch crowd comes in for the buffet, and it was nowhere near ready. “Customers are here already!” the restaurant’s owner, a wiry Chinese man in his fifties, barked. He dropped a heavy container onto the metal counter with a crash. “How can you possibly be moving this slowly?”
The senior cook, a lanky twenty-nine-year-old who goes by Rain, had been working in Maryland for almost two months. He stood silently frying noodles in a wok, his loose bangs tucked into a trucker hat with the band name Linkin Park written across the brow. “You’re too slow!” the boss yelled at the other cook, who had arrived only a few days earlier. Rain stayed focussed on the buffet dishes. He was weighing the possibility of getting a cigarette break soon. There was no sense in getting into trouble defending a co-worker he hardly knew.
Read the rest
I watched Last Train Home last night. It’s a beautifully made documentary by Lixin Fan. Here’s the overview from the makers of the film:
Every spring, China’s cities are plunged into chaos, as all at once, a tidal wave of humanity attempts to return home by train. It is the Chinese New Year. The wave is made up of millions of migrant factory workers. The homes they seek are the rural villages and families they left behind to seek work in the booming coastal cities. It is an epic spectacle that tells us much about China, a country discarding traditional ways as it hurtles towards modernity and global economic dominance.
Last Train Home, an emotionally engaging and visually beautiful debut film from Chinese-Canadian director Lixin Fan, draws us into the fractured lives of a single migrant family caught up in this desperate annual migration. Sixteen years ago, the Zhangs abandoned their young children to find work in the city, consoled by the hope that their wages would lift their children into a better life. But in a bitter irony, the Zhangs’ hopes for the future are undone by their very absence. Qin, the child they left behind, has grown into adolescence crippled by a sense of abandonment. In an act of teenage rebellion, she drops out of school. She too will become a migrant worker. The decision is a heartbreaking blow for the parents. In classic cinema verité style, Last Train Home follows the Zhangs’ attempts to change their daughter’s course and repair their ruptured family. Intimate and candid, the film paints a human portrait of the dramatic changes sweeping China. We identify with the Zhangs as they navigate through the stark and difficult choices of a society caught between old ways and new realities. Can they get ahead and still undo some of the damage that has been done to their family?
The only way to see sunrise in Beijing this morning was to watch it on a screen.
The article goes on to note:
The screen, which normally displays advertisements, wasn’t explicitly set up to act as a surrogate sunrise. It does, however, recall the fake skyline set up in Hong Kong to replace the haze-shrouded real one.