Gao Aixia, a cleaner working in a Beijing office building. Photo: Ding Yi/Sino-US.com
Like many Chinese migrant workers with a dream of living a better life in Beijing, Gao Aixia, a cleaner working in the office building where I work, came to this booming metropolis with her enterprising husband in 1998 from her hometown Dezhou, a less developed city in eastern China's Shandong province.
But unlike her peers who have been struggling to make ends meet in the fast-paced city, Gao, who is a mother of a 9-year-old boy, is now leading a "happy and less stressful life".
Road to happiness
My stereotype view of under-educated migrant workers, who have to consistently deal with hardship and discrimination in big Chinese cities, instantly changed when I first met Gao, an optimistic woman with a bashful smile on her face.
"I am satisfied with my current life, which is colorful to me. I am not anxious about where to live and what to eat and drink every day, in contrast to my colleagues who nearly spend most of their salaries renting a shared apartment," Gao chuckled, in response to my question about her current living conditions.
From a conversation with her, I learned that her sense of satisfaction came through years of consistent and arduous efforts the couple made on the road to happiness, which was full of ups and downs.
"The beginning of our life in Beijing was tough and we were finding it hard to afford our daily consumption," Gao recalled, adding that she got her first job in a plastic foam factory located in Beijing's Fengtai district and was paid a mere 300 yuan per month, with free accommodation offered by her employer.
One year later, with an ambition to start her own business, she quit the low-paying job and opened a grocery store with her husband in central Beijing. But unexpectedly, their business was shut down by the government's housing demolition plan after over a year.
Somewhat perplexed about what to do next, the couple joined a friend to sell vegetables in a market in early 2000. The business, which forced them to wake up before dawn for procurement, turned out to be a disappointment as they found that the income was not enough to support their life.
Finally they gave it up after a month of unremitting hard work. It was the second time that they had failed to start a business in Beijing. However, they did not relinquish their dream to live a happy life.
At the time when they were down and out, they were given a silver lining as Gao's husband was introduced by his uncle to a job as freight driver, which laid the foundation for what they own today.
"Reluctant to work for others, my husband decided to make a fresh start and borrowed some money from relatives and friends to buy a van in 2005. Having gone through a period of hard time, my husband can now earn over 10,000 yuan a month on average," Gao said proudly.
Gao also told me that her husband already has his own client network ranging from art shops to hospitals.
"My family now has stable income, and I have a monthly salary of more than 2,000 yuan. That's enough for our monthly household expenses," the cleaner smiled.
When asked about her expectations for life, the woman said in a self-assured manner, "I want to be my own boss like my husband, and I am planning to open a small shop selling clothes and shoes once my child can take care of himself most of the time."
Gao Aixia Photo: Ding Yi/Sino-US.com
Natural development of children
Gao also expressed her views on Beijing's educational policy that prevents migrants' children from taking part in the national college entrance exam in the city, calling for a change in the policy.
"I intend to buy an apartment in my hometown in preparation for my child's future education. I will send him to Dezhou to get used to the local educational environment when he enters middle school, because what he learns in Beijing is much easier than in his hometown. It is unfair that the college entrance exam of Shandong province is more difficult than that of Beijing and that my child must score higher than Beijing's children when applying for the same university," Gao whined.
Regardless of her complaints about the education system, the open-minded mother said that she would never dictate her child's path to success. "My child likes English and taekwondo, and I allow him to learn that. It all depends on his interest, and I will not put too much pressure on him," she said.
Optimism, diligence, independence, and enterprising spirit are some of Gao's traits that came out during my hour-long talk with her, and I was deeply touched by one of her statements: "One's happiness is up to one's endeavor and that requires a strenuous process."
Gao Aixia Photo: Sino-US.com