Lin Yang writes:
There was a curious sight on the expressway leading to the southwestern city of Chongqing on the morning of December 2nd. According to the Chongqing Evening News, four beat-up electric tricycles carrying 11 people were trying to pass a tollgate. The drivers were farmers without licenses. They and the riders were covered with dust from head to toe and the drivers’ feet were poking out of their shoes.
The unlikely group were completing a 3000 km trip from the coastal province of Guangdon where they had been doing menial labor and working factory jobs. After the financial crisis hit, the farmers, all of them Sichuan natives, lost their jobs, becoming so destitute they couldn’t even afford a train ticket home. Most of the men were working as trishaw drivers delivering goods and their wives worked at local plastic processing factories. As business died down their work dried up. “We didn’t want to part with our trishaws and we didn’t want to leave any of our belongings behind”, explained one driver.
Among the 14 bikes that set off together, only the four made it through, covering the 3000km in 14 days. They slept on the road every night and ate dry instant noodles. “This is harder than farm work at home,” one woman said. But the trip left them with precious memories as well. Frustrated by the steep mountain roads in Guizhou, the team took a chance to go on the national expressway reserved for automobiles, only to be stopped by the local traffic police. But upon learning their story, the police let them through and guided the way. At a toll gate, kind guards shared their dorm with the workers. It was the only night during the trip they had a warm bed to sleep in.
But this is not another grim story about laid-off migrant workers in despair. While the press is still sounding alarms about the influx of migrant workers returning to their hometowns, some have already decided on their next destination. Zhu Daoyong, one of the Sichuan farmers who had spent 10 years in Guangdong will board a train to Lanzhou soon, “My friend there called and said there were still jobs available. I miss home but it’s more important to make a living. I want to work hard and come home with money for the Chinese New Year”, said Zhu. “I have confidence. I think I will make enough to build a house in my hometown in three years.”
Many others share Zhu’s optimism. The farmers seem to think that there will be more jobs in the northwest, hoping that the local, domestically oriented economy has yet to feel the effects of the meltdown. Statistics seem to bear that out. Tickets from Chongqing to major northwestern cities are snatched up as soon as they become available. Stats from the local railway department show that since the end of October every train to major cities such as Xi’an, Lanzhou, and even Urumqi in the far west has been packed with job-seeking migrant workers. Let’s hope the farmers’ instincts are leading them in the right direction.