Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin by Chun Yu Wang as told by Walt F. J. Goodridge

I actually wanted to read a story about a Chinese factory worker in China.  I guess it serves me right for not knowing that Saipan is not in China but part of the Northern Mariana Islands near Guam which is occupied by America.  They call it a commonwealth of the US but let’s be real, it’s occupied.  The story of China is one of the most remarkable ones in history, and it’s not being told much in the West, because we’re self-obsessed and disregard other cultures.  It is similar to the rise of America, the century between the Civil War and 60’s.  It is the transformation of an entire nation from agriculture to industry and with it the incredible rise of huge cities.  Entire skyscraper-filled cities are sprouting up all over China with populations greater than most all American cities, but few Americans would be able to identify any from photos much less pronounce them.  I plan on buying a travel guide to China, not because I plan on going there any time soon, but just to better understand the differences between all the cities and provinces.  While China seems to have a somewhat homogenous culture, it really should be viewed like all of Europe, while not as diverse, definitely more similar in size and population than comparing it to Germany.  Many of us know many countries in Europe but couldn’t name a single Chinese province.  Why are we so ignorant about the second largest economy in the world and the world’s major industrial power that manufactures most of our goods? 

 What I was really looking for was a Cinderella type story about a poor village girl who goes to the factory, struggles through hard work, but saves up money and then goes out to the Chinese modern city and experiences the wonders of modern city life, shopping for music, fashion, eating nice food, etc.  What you get with this book is nothing but.  It is rather a shit show.  Wang leaves her husband and young child to make more money as a seamstress in Saipan.  She doesn’t like her husband, so it’s a good excuse to get away from him, although, it’s sad that she practically abandons her son.  I watched a movie about a Filipino who became a housemaid in China and how she became estranged from her two kids who became rebellious and self-destructive.  You have to wonder.  If you leave your kids to make more money to give them a better life, is it really a better life without a mother and they just wind up being self-absorbed, rebellious little shits?  Is it really selfish?  Just wanting to get away from your family?

 This book uncovers the myriad ways poor people get exploited, screwed, tattooed, and robbed.  Let me list the many ways.  First, let’s begin with recruitment.  You have to pay someone to get a job.  1. This could be a scam that just takes your money and leaves town.  2. They could be sex slave traffickers trying to lure you into sex slavery.  If you’re lucky to have a reputable recruiter, once you get the job, they could pay you annually, and if you should leave before the end of the year, they simply don’t pay you.  On top of this, they can get rid of you for any reason at any time.  So Wang had to borrow money to get the job and plane ticket.  She took numerous jobs in Saipan covering the range of harsh conditions and abuse to better conditions.  She started off in a dormitory with five bunk beds for ten workers with no air conditioning which is insane for Saipan.  The pay was minimum wage at $3 an hour which is a lot by Chinese standards.  Since Saipan is under US occupation, it’s odd that they don’t have US minimum wage.  They do however have a federal labor agency that investigates working conditions, although the book insinuates that the agents take bribes from factory owners. 

 3. Once you start working, you learn that the monitor (floor supervisor) takes bribes and will harass you until you pay them between $500 and $1000 after which they give you better assignments.  The monitor also lies to the factory director as to your productivity or value.  Once your contract comes up for renewal, you have to bribe the monitor for a good appraisal.  In China, Wang says that factory workers don’t want overtime, but in Saipan, everyone wants overtime.  Then there are the predators around the factories who want to siphon off as much of your wages as possible.  It reminds me of stories of mining towns where an entire industry is built off taking advantage of naïve, young miners with more money than they have ever had in their lives.  4. In Saipan, the men lose everything gambling.  5. Wang almost loses $10K when she puts her money in some kind of savings company that pays higher interest rates but after several years simply closes and disappears with everyone’s savings.  At this point, we should recalibrate the money.  In our minds, a $500 bribe or $10K in savings is not that big a deal, but when you’re making $3 an hour, you basically have to add a zero for this story to make sense to you.  So imagine if you got a $30 an hour job in a factory, and you had to bribe the foreman $5000 to $10K and you could have lost $100K in savings to a scam. 

 6. The factories often force you to live in their dorms and eat their food which is substandard.  Some workers simply live offsite but pay the dormitory and cafeteria fees.  7. There are people living in Saipan who will befriend the Chinese workers and exploit them as friends or lovers, and this is what happens to Wang.  This is a spoiler.  About two-thirds the way into the book, you learn that Wang has a boyfriend named Robert.  Funny, how she reveals this late into the story and hardly ever mentions hanging out with him.  Robert is a degenerate scam artist who has borrowed $15K from Wang.  Again, time to add that zero, imagine a boyfriend taking $150K from you.  You may laugh at naïve Chinese women, but this happens all the time in America with strippers and prostitutes who give their boyfriends most of their money.  You may think it’s impossible to be so naïve, but it’s the boiling frog syndrome.  It probably just started off with Robert borrowing $100 here and there and then for an urgent family medical problem, it gets bumped up to $1000 here or there, and before you know it, she’s given him $15K.  This made me scream in my head.  You hear all the stories of how much she suffers in the factories, especially the verbal harassment, and then she just gives all that money to some degenerate Saipan or American fuck boy.  It’s interesting that I’m working with a Filipino college intern and she was talking about how sheltered she was growing up and how difficult it was for her to adapt to independent living in America.  She has that typical meek, shy, passive persona.  It’s such a contrast to most American women who are more outgoing, assertive, and independent.  People say that traditionally, women have always been meek and passive and it’s only when they entered the workforce that they became so assertive, but I think this is bollocks.  I think it was only recent human history where we created hierarchies and we made all the people on the bottom of that hierarchy act meek, shy, and passive and unfortunately, women were stuck at the bottom of the hierarchy.

 The worst thing you can do is shelter your kids and on top of that not teach them basic social and life skills.  When I was a kid, I was discouraged from socializing with my friends.  Everything was about studying hard.  My bicycle racing coach once told me that socializing is important in life, and I never understood that until I grew up.  When you hang out with friends, you learn how to interact with others.  You also learn to avoid being exploited or abused by others.  Your friends share information and advice, and they help you navigate the complex world of social interactions.  If you are sheltered, you miss all that, and the first time someone comes along to take advantage of you, you have no defenses.  Of all the people who took advantage of Wang, it was not the factories, the monitors, the coworkers, the recruiters.  It was this douchebag Robert.  The book contains photos of Wang, and it sucks that she didn’t include a photo of Robert for all the world to see.  The worst thing is that most of these workers screw themselves.  7. Wang also loses $3K to a guy who promises to help her get a green card.  8. Wang also loses $1K to a factory owner who promises her a job but then closes.  It’s all about greed.  Scams exploit greed.  It’s not enough to just make a lot of money and save it.  These workers screwed themselves when they tried to make even more money whether gambling or putting their money in a shady company to get more interest.  And in the case of Wang, she hooks up with a douchebag, and she could have walked away from him at any moment.  Near the end, she says that she would still give money to a friend who asked, because she doesn’t want to seem mean.  In the beginning, she was always buying food for her and her friend.  My head hurts.  Can anyone please explain to her that no real friend keeps asking you for money or food without ever repaying you.  OMG grow a spine. 

 Wang peppers the book with Chinese proverbs which are often misinterpreted and tempts me to condescendingly view her as an ignorant, uneducated yokel, but fact is, culture and folklore are helpful, in fact, more helpful than America’s method of medicating the discomfort away.  If Americans would adopt Chinese proverbs instead, many would be better off.  Many of the proverbs are helpful and informative.  One of them is the title of the book which means the petty things in life.  It is not Chinese proverbs and rural life that screwed Wang and did not prepare her for exploitation.  There were many American tales of farm boys going to the big city and getting scammed.  The issue is not the big city eating up naïve farm boys, but rather these farm boys not being raised properly by their parents.  Parents should teach you about scams and crooks and manipulators.  It’s only kids who are sheltered that get taken advantage of most, and they can be born and raised in the city and wind up in a gang, doing drugs, or giving all their paycheck to a fuckboy.  When you read this book, you may get angry at Wang for being such a dupe, but you have to criticize her parents too for not preparing her for the real world.   

 In the end, she really gives away why she decided to stay in Saipan.  Back in China, not only would she have to work all day, but she would then have to come home and clean the house, take care of her kid, put up with her husband, and she wouldn’t have any freedom or personal time.  In the end, she quits factory work and starts working at a restaurant as a waitress.  She says that while she never was able to save any money, because she kept lending or giving it away or getting ripped off, and while the work was tough, she said she did it because she met a nice person.  It’s funny how so many people get jobs they don’t like and work for or with people they don’t like because they want a better life, but then the life they live in order to get that better life sucks, so what’s the point?  I sometimes have to ask myself why I stay in a job that although it’s extremely easy, it’s not fun, exciting, and my former boss was atrocious.  My life exists outside of work.  If I wrote a book of my life, my work would get one sentence.  Then again, if I quit this job, I might have wound up making less AND winding up with a boring job with a horrible boss.  Life, it turns out, is about the people in our lives.  Although, she was told to write about her experience as a factory worker, it would have been nice to include stories about her social life outside the factory.


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