“Post-80” is a popular label in China for the generation that was born in and grew up during the 1980s. This generation was the first in decades influenced by Western culture after China finally decided to open its gates to the world in 1979. They began learning English, listening to Michael Jackson, and watching foreign blockbusters like Star Wars. They also felt the growing gap between themselves and their parents, who had grown up during the Cultural Revolution. Today the Post-80 generation has become a driving force in Chinese society, a fast-growing part of the country’s new middle class.
But problems like food safety and pollution weigh heavy on their minds—most of all on those of new parents. In the eyes of many parents with young children, these issues are cause enough for concern that they begin looking at a move abroad. For one full-time mother in Shanghai who couldn’t stop worrying about her child’s safety, it finally became too much. She told us the story of her struggle through post-college life just days before she and her three-year-old daughter boarded a plane on a one-way flight to America.
In the last semester of my senior year I didn’t have any classes, so at the time I just started working at a mall, doing administrative management. I was miserable when I started, the salary was only 500 yuan a month. I stopped later when I graduated and went to work at an investment company engaged in hydropower. I got sent out with another girl who came onboard at the same time to a remote spot in Guizhou… to tell the truth even I don’t know what the heck they’d sent me there to do.
They said it was to make us do “grassroots learning”, but to tell the truth us two women weren’t of any use, and after two days of being scared I found a reason to quit and go home. After I’d returned home I found a pretty famous real estate company and went to work as secretary for the chairman. At the time, monthly salary for my classmates who had graduated with me was just 800 yuan, but my boss was great. He said wages for my probationary period would be 800 yuan, but my first month he gave me 1,200.
After working for a stretch I felt like life in Guizhou was just boring, that Guizhou didn’t really suit a young person, you know? It wasn’t the kind of life I wanted–one where companies would look at my resume like it was plated with gold, one where I could head out to get a look at the outside world–so I started saving up to leave home. I figured Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou ought to be ok for a young person to struggle by in, and I disliked the weather in Beijing. And in Guangzhou, you’ve got to be worried that up there the language gap [between Mandarin and Cantonese] will close doors for you. Shanghai, well, first off most people there speak Mandarin; and there are way more South Korean firms up in Beijing and Shanghai. So I just came to Shanghai.
The most worrying thing was being short of money. Back then with two people’s salaries, one month didn’t even amount to 5,000, only a little more than 4,000. Take away 2,500 in rent money and basically you’ve got nothing left to spend. When I’d just graduated I was embarrassed to ask my family for money to rent an apartment. But Shanghai housing is expensive! I remember back then when we’d just gone to Shanghai to rent a room—it was small, one room, only about thirty or forty square meters, and 2,500 a month. I didn’t have a job when we’d just arrived, and my boyfriend, who worked for a Korean firm, his benefits weren’t that great because he’d only just graduated. His monthly salary was only a bit more than a couple thousand.
We weren’t used to living in Shanghai, and we didn’t know anyone who could give us a referral or anything. I still remember at the time no network had been installed, so every day I was forced to go to internet bars to submit my resume. Every day I’d keep submitting and keep submitting, basically looking for any job I could do and applying for it. In the end I was kept waiting until a Korean’s Mandarin School sent a reply about a job teaching Chinese to Koreans, but the salary depended on how much time you taught. You could probably get around a little over 2,000 yuan in a month.
After the birth my friends thought it’d be best if I could wait till my kid grew up a little and then resume work, but with things as they are now, there’s really no way to go back. Could be I’m a bit helpless now, you know? And actually daily life is just really simple, doing housework and such, since we send our child to kindergarten, yeah? So when I’m free I can do things for myself, like I’ll study English, watch soaps, other stuff.
Originally we’d talked about my mom and mother-in-law coming to live in Shanghai in turns once I’d finished sitting for my month of recovery. Maybe they thought Shanghai was too far, and maybe they weren’t too comfortable with life in Shanghai, but after a while nobody was willing to come any more. If we hired a nanny I wouldn’t have been at ease with how she’d be with the baby, and being raised by a nanny might not’ve been as good as by her mom; when a child is small the mother can raise her to develop better habits. By then my economic situation had gotten a little bit better, so if I didn’t go to work, we could keep on living basically the same way. I didn’t mind, so I thought it over and just quit, I stayed home and raised her well.
Of course, there are differences between how we raise our kids and how our parents raised us! His mom and dad, grandmother and grandfather, when they come to Shanghai they just treat our kid however they want. Let me give you an example: Sometimes my girl won’t listen to me—she’ll just pitch a fit. So I say to her “Fine, you just go over by the wall and cry at it, just get all your feelings out and when you’ve had a good cry, come on back and we can talk it out.” No way my mom’s doing that. Mom’ll get one look at her crying and just rush over to coddle her and ask her what she wants.
But right now what I worry most about is whether we can make sure she grows up safe and healthy even when she leaves us. She’ll go to kindergarten for class, and I just worry about what bad things the teacher could do to her at the kindergarten. You know, adults, they can get emotional! Like after arguing with someone they’ll get upset, and then at the kindergarten the little ones will be arguing and shouting, too. That can influence the teacher’s mood, make them do things that can harm the kids.
And of course, I worry about poisoned milk powder, too. Now, I breast fed her for ten months exclusively to start. I think if you’re considering a child’s health, the best choice is definitely breast milk if the mother’s body allows, because it’s really key to a child’s healthy growth. But today, all our milk powder we made American friends bring over from the US. And then there’s the big environmental problems, like air quality and all that. And finding a school! Right now you’ve got Shanghai doing school zones, don’t you? Everyone’s thinking about how to get their kid into one of the better schools. That’s an issue every parent is considering right now.
So, yes, we’re getting ready to move abroad now. We’ve really considered the kind of environment our child will grow up in, you know! This move is completely for the sake of giving her a better environment to grow up in. ♦
Authors: Milo Zhang, Hudson Lockett
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