6:30pm: A long morning, a long afternoon, a long day.
The subject of our shoot is 37-year-old Kai Liu, a purchasing officer for a middle school in Anren town, just outside of Chengdu in the heart of Sichuan province.
Kai grew up in a remote village but has migrated, like millions of others in China, to a peri-urban center in hopes of finding work. It's common for rural transplants to leave their children behind in the care of village elders. Luckily, Kai's wife found work as a convenience store manager in Anren, so Kai, his wife and his daughter are able to stay together in a small apartment behind the store.
As a purchasing officer for the middle school, Kai manages the procurement and preparation of lunch and supper for 2600 students each day. He wakes up at 2AM every morning and carpools with another vegetable businessman to a wholesale market half an hour's drive away. Haggling for bargains means a greater profit margin for Kai, who can keep the remainder of each day's food budget. He makes anywhere from 15 yuan (2 USD) to 120 yuan (20 USD) a day, depending on the season.
Kai gets to Anren middle school around 5AM and then helps to unload, clean and prepare the vegetables until noon. Often he stays a little later to help with serving lunch. He returns home in the mid afternoon, sometimes taking a nap. In the evenings, he helps his wife in the convenience store or plays a game of mahjong with the neighbors.
Kai is indicative of many Chinese farmers in the 21st century who, either by choice or by necessity, leave their home village for the employment opportunities of China's growing peri-urban areas. In Kai's case, he was displaced from his family land when the government reclaimed it for re-forestation. Even if he could stay home, working in the fields would no longer provide enough income to support his family, especially with rising public school fees and inflation. In fact, it's hard to find farmers between the ages of 15 and 45 in the traditionally rural/agricultural regions of China. Only in the most remote areas do men stay at home to farm. Kai's story is a familiar reality for many Chinese farmers in the process of urbanization.
The Global Lives Project is a filmmaker and artist collective creating a library of everyday lives from around the world. Participants are filmed for 24-continuous hours. Visit GlobalLives.org for more information.
I was the director and co-producer of Global Lives China. We are in the process of translating the original footage, which will soon be avaliable online. For now, we have a Flickr album with photographs from our day.
I edited a 3 minute version of Kai's day for a commissioned series.
email me: y [at] yh-studio [dot] com | © ya-hsuan huang 2012