Just recently, we came across a report from December 2006 about the lives of seven individuals, each making 1,000 yuan (US$128) per month, living in seven different Chinese cities. The cities included Beijing, Shenzhen, Xi’an, Changchun, etc., as well as our own city of Shanghai. The following is our translation of the interview with Xiao Nao, who lives in Shanghai. Although it was published in December, some of the references (like taxi fares) lets you know the interview took place some time before that:
Xiao Nao, female, university graduate, single, advertising company copywriter, work experience about one year.
Like many university graduates and young people that wanted to stay in Shanghai, I gave up a chance to go back home, where I could have worked at the local TV station, and decided to stay in Shanghai as a copywriter at a small advertising company. The salary isn’t much, just enough to live—or rather, survive on.
My main expenditure is my rent. Most of the two room apartments around the subway or light rail cost around 1,500 yuan, but after trying all over the place, I finally found a studio that cost 400 yuan.
Although the room was only partially furnished, and the location a bit out of the way, at least it’s near the last subway stop at Xinzhuang. For better or worse, I’ve become one of the “along the subway lines” people.
Those that live along the subway have more control over their commute times, but this comes at a price. Every day the commute to and from work costs me 6 yuan, or 150 yuan per month, which, like my rent, is a fixed expenditure that neither thunder or lightning could move. Every time I work overtime, I stop like a clock when the alarm rings 10:30, pick up my bags, and leave. In many art films, the last subway train is the place where romantic encounters happen, but for me it’s the difference between 3 and 30 yuan.
Food and shelter weren’t as serious a problem as I’d imagined. If your expectations aren’t too high, the 5 yuan lunch provided by the company, with two meat and one vegetable dish as well as soup is a normal day’s meal. I can skip breakfast and have a dinner at just about any place or time. You could say that although I really don’t have much of a “life” I am definitely able to “survive.”
Whenever my former classmates get together to sing, eat, or play sports, I feel very happy, as if returning to our carefree student days. My classmates all laugh and say, “We really envy Xiao Nao, no matter what she eats she’s still stays thin!” Just like how sometime my co-workers will also say, during lunch, “You wouldn’t think that someone as thin and small as Xiao Nao would have that big of an appetite!” I really don’t know what to say.
I’m 25 years old, a beautiful age to be. When I was 15, lying on the middle school dorm bed, I used to tell my roommates that at 25 we’d definitely all be very pretty, and our boyfriends would be strong and handsome young men, and we’d wear pretty high-heels, and go to beauty parlors every day.
Now I really am 25, and still drifting in this city called Shanghai, and not knowing how long I will drift for, not knowing where the destination is. All my happiness and sorrow is maybe because the right person hasn’t come along yet, or maybe is because my dreams have been covered up by the reality of 1,000 yuan Nevertheless, dating would take up too much time and energy, and all the things you do when together would inevitably cost money — even beauty requires money. I only window shop in the Xujiahui or Huaihai Lu brand-name stores, and then I go to Xiangyang Lu or the underground shopping centers and other small stores and find something similar but much cheaper. How many beauty parlors there are and if Physical is a good fitness center or if there are other better ones, I really don’t know. Everyday, I pass by those places, but never go in.
In this city, generally speaking, going to Huan Yi to see a movie costs 80 yuan, going to a tea house costs 50 yuan, and eating a normal meal at a restaurant costs 120 yuan, a taxi costs 10 yuan and after 11, goes up to 13 yuan, and an Ai Ge shirt, if not discounted, costs at least 100. And me, all I have is a 1 and three 0s after it.
One day, sitting in the room that I rent, eating Kang Shi Fu instant noodles, reading Waiting for Godot that I had once read in university, I suddenly felt a little bit of happiness. Even though my current life isn’t what I wanted, I think isn’t tomorrow always going to be like the Godot, something that I wait for forever? Regardless of whether it comes or not, I will always place hope in tomorrow.
The company where I work now is small and the pay paltry, but at least I’ve managed to get a foot in the door of the advertising industry. Even though I don’t have the extra money to get more training, I still can work hard and acquire more knowledge and experience in advertising.
I was talking with an old classmate, and we were sitting on the rails by the side of the road, aimlessly watching a BMW and he suddenly asked me, what’s the thing I most want to do. I thought about it and said, I’d like to move to another place, because the weather is going to get hot and I don’t have air-conditioning. I asked what about you, and he said, I don’t know, but I do want to carjack that BMW. I laughed but felt a little sad.
Have you ever fantasized about what your ideal life would be, he asked me. I said, I would have a job that I liked and make some money at it. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money, but enough so that I don’t have always worry about how much I’m using, which really wears me out. Do I want to stay in advertising? I think so, I like the creative work you can do in this field, and will keep at it until whenever the day comes that I get tired of it.