Yesterday I translated half of Southern Weekly’s excellent article on McRefugees – those who make their homes in 24-hour fast food restaurants at night – and their lives in Shanghai. Here’s Part II:
“This kind of thing I don’t listen to at all.”
23-year-old Zhang Dongjie from Xuzhou has basically tried all the jobs Xujiahui has to offer. He’s been to 5-star hotels that “even Shanghainese have rarely been to” to work as an extra waiter at banquets. Even though the jobs are always short notice, Zhang Dongjie is able to clean up nicely for the hotels. After the banquet’s finished, he can even eat hotel food and take a shower.
Compared to Sun Long, this city, for a college boy like Zhang Dongjie, is much easier to navigate and has many more opportunities.
Zhang Dongjie was originally at a Harbin aviation university as a student. During his second year, he realized that work experience was more worthwhile and decided to leave school, come to Shanghai. In this grand stage, he opened a spectacular route for getting money: be a broker. He has solicited potential donors for blood banks, potential actors for extras work.
One company asked him to find models, Zhang Dongjie found six college girls, each one brought him 150RMB. In the nightly “conference,” he’ll tell his “refugee friends,” “We’ve been to Pudong’s SWFC observation deck, how many people have managed to go there?” He’s a bit of a show off.
For a guy with a monthly salary of 4~5000RMB like Zhang Dongjie, rent is actually not a problem. To be honest, he rents a room with a roommate in Minhang for 400RMB a month. But for convenience, every day he packs up his canvas bag, grabs the clothes he thinks he needs and takes shelter at KFC. The clothes equal what he needs for the second day and changes according to the work, e.g. for a high class hotel he’ll have formal clothes, for soliciting business he’ll have casual clothes.
A counterpart to Zhang Dongjie, Shanxi Province’s Du Longlong’s only place of residence is KFC. Sometimes, he and Zhang Dongjie will get a KFC meal, and will fuss about the future. He is already tired of this guerrilla lifestyle and workstyle. He graduated from a kung fu school and had dreams to become an actor. But really, all the work he could get was carrying natural gas around the city, 300RMB a month and sometimes his boss is late paying him.
During Spring Festival, Du Longlong tried to get a job doing banquets of various hotels in the Xujiahui area, but banquet season had ended. A proud person like him, couldn’t bare to work as a waiter in a small restaurant. But now, he’s thought it through clearer and is content as long as there’s work. He asked Shi Jigao to help find him some work at KFC, but he lacked a health certificate; earlier he had heard there was jobs available at the Pudong International Airport, so he rode Line 2 out to Pudong, got off at the last stop only to realize PVG was farther still. He had to turn back.
A man like him who’s drifted in Shanghai for six years will suddenly feel very abnormal, very depressed. “Sometimes I feel I might as well just die,” his eyes watering as he says the words.
On March 28, in order to welcome in the Expo, a completely renovated Bund was revealed to the public. Du Longlong and Zhang Dongjie went together to see the excitement of the opening ceremony. Outside the wall of people, though he could only see one or two glances of the grand events, it made his heart beat faster. Upon returning, he proudly stated, “In Shanghai, Liu Xiang (the Olympic hurdler) and Han Zheng (Shanghai mayor) I’ve both seen.” But after a pause, he sadly lamented, “Nevermind, I’ve seen the fast-paced world, might as well return home. ” Shanghai, to these struggling members of the migrant working urban poor, its glossy appearance only hides how difficult it is to survive.
“But after I’ve seen all of this, I don’t want to return. All I can do back home is plant fields, look for a wife to live a lifetime with, it’s hard to accept,” Du Longlong said. Security guard Shi Jiegao’s ideas are different, he’s already set his mind on making enough money in Shanghai over the next five years to return home and marry, even if he doesn’t have any prospects yet.
Zhang Dongjie and Sun Long don’t have any plans to leave the city yet.
The two will sometimes browse Metro City’s book store on the 4th floor. Zhang Dongjie likes to read modern poets, and his hobbies include writing poetry and essays. Previously, he wrote an essay called “Autumn Thoughts,” which he pasted on his blog.
Ah Long (Sun Long) will also go to browse through High School books. “I understand all the words, but I can’t grasp the sentences’ meanings.” When talking about the event that set him on his life’s path, he can’t not feel some regret. “When thinking about school, I’ll think about reading schoolbooks as a kid.” At 150cm, he still has a baby face, but is filled with steam. All he thinks of his home village is “an endless field of grass” and “playful friends,” sometimes he’ll sigh and say: “One day I’ll return, this life isn’t sustainable.”
Police and Reporters
March 29, Li Feng’s killer was arrested in Shanxi, he was in a hotel’s sauna room sitting when they found him. Shanghai media only released the most basic information about the perpetrator. Shanghai police blocked outside sources and in a police report said “The murderer’s mental health is abnormal.”
McDonalds transported Li Feng’s family from Jingshan, gave them a hotel to live at, and consulted with them over pensions. A McDonalds spokesperson said “We hope the media and McDonalds will work together with the Municipal Propaganda Department to ensure a successful Expo.” The spokesperson added, as long as there are all-night businesses, this type of social problem will appear, but the McDonalds murder was an extremely rare event.
Du Longlong said he recognized the murderer, Yang Zhi. He said, “Yang Zhi sometimes would come to KFC, but his brain hadproblems.” But Du Longlong wasn’t willing to elaborate. When he say the news of Li Feng, his first reaction was “He was asking to die.”
Zhang Dongjie at that time, also agreed that perhaps Li Feng’s attitude was not correct. One of his rules of survival in Shanghai is do not meddle, otherwise else you’ll get caught in the consequences. Such as this group of survivors in KFC, “Black and white, poor and rich, are all here. Just mind your own business, make your own money – that life is the best.” In Xujiahui, he once watched a robbery. He finally decided he’d “manage his own mouth.”
After the murder, Xujiahui police strengthened their night patrols. Every night at around 1am, police will come to fast food restaurants and demand their residence papers. Du Longlong proudly shows off his three different residence papers, two of which he picked up. To give those to the police fills him with glee. “Today I’m Du Longlong, tomorrow I’m Yang Yingying,” he says.
But Zhang Dongjie will also ask the police to produce their police badges. This is “The most basic common sense, everyone is normal, no one is a fool.” Now journalists have become their opponents too. Recently, Du Longlong warned two journalists “if you take more pictures, I’ll hit your camera!”
Right now, for Sun Long, Zhang Dongjie and the others, they definitely won’t leave Xujiahui. The murder at McDonalds has just become yet another talking point – in fact, it’s become something of a joke: “Cops are coming, reporters are coming,” they’d yell before dissolving into peals of laughter.
The eve of the Expo at 6am, those that are awake use the bathroom to freshen up. That day, Zhang Dongjie’s plan is to take a bath elsewhere, buy some new clothes; Du Longlong has decided to get his health certificate, and to apply for a position at McDonalds.
They walk out of KFC together, both hands empty as they greet Tianyaoqiao Lu’s streetcorner. At that time, the dazzling glass facades of the buildings have been covered up by fog and the only light is that of one giant LED screen, declaring to them: The Expo has come.