Like Donna Summer once said, “He works hard for the money, so hard for it honey.” All right, Donna was actually referring to a woman. But the message of Donna’s 1983 hit could also be applied to an American guy living in Fuzhou named Benjamin Ross. Perhaps you are thinking, “Who cares? There are 57,000+ foreigners working in Shanghai alone.”
Ben’s story is unique because, since the beginning of May, he’s been working at a Chinese hair salon. We’re not talking about Toni & Guy here. We’re talking about a local hair salon where the haircuts usually cost around 10RMB (about US$1.25). It’s all part of one month “experiment” about what it’s like to be part of the working class in China. Here Ben describes his plan:
I will begin a one-month stint as a 学徒 (trainee) at a local barber shop/salon. The manager will be treating me just like any other beginning employee his first days on the job. I will be starting at the very bottom of the barbershop food chain, and my duties will include sweeping hair, cleaning bathrooms, assisting barbers, and entertaining customers as they have their hair cut. Throughout the month I will have only three days off, and work the rest from 9 am to 8 pm. I will essentially be a slave to my job which for one month pays what I would make in one day of teaching English.
Ben is documenting his experiences on his fascinating blog. He’s already experienced working 11 hour days on 2 hours of sleep, a motivational speech from the boss, a BBQ with the employees, the harsh reality of his low salary, as well as local corruption.
Although workers in Shanghai earn the most money in China and the wages in Shanghai have been slowly on the rise, at Ben’s salon things are very different. A regular hair stylist would earn 800RMB (US$104) per month. Since Benjamin must go through a probation period before being paid, he’ll only be making 600RMB (US$78) for the month of May or $0.35 an hour.
Photo from Ben’s blog.