Saturday, April 11, 2009

Creating Better Lives

It dawned on me recently that young people in China today are making huge leaps forward compared to their parents a generation ago.

Many 20- and 30-somethings have either gotten post-secondary education and/or moved to the cities to find work unlike their mothers and fathers.

They text message on their cellphones, surf the Internet and have the ability to make several times more money than their parents can in one month, even if it's only 3,000RMB ($439).

My hairdresser Ah Yong is one of them, in his late 30s. He's Chinese, and born in Vietnam. When the war broke out, he was eight-years-old when his family escaped to Guanxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and made their livelihood on the fields. They grew rice, pineapples, lychees and longan, or dragon eyes.

His family has roots in Guangdong so he grew up speaking Cantonese, Mandarin and Guanxi dialect. He only finished middle or secondary school before learning the hairdressing trade and then coming to Beijing.

Now working seven days a week at a salon, he owns a small apartment and a jeep, and regularly sends back money to his family in Guanxi who are still tending the fields.

He may not have a good education, but his achievements have been astronomical for his family.

Minus the trauma of war, many other young Chinese have made similar success, either being the first in the family to have post-secondary education, or making what their family considers is a lot of money.

While we in the west might think those achievements are small, they are huge leaps and bounds for China, which was and still for the most part poor and rural.

This afternoon I was in a lineup for the changing room at Uniqlo, a Japanese clothing retailer that has beaten the recession blues with its quality and reasonably-priced basics.

And behind me was a 20-something trendy girl in a T-shirt, cigarette pants and flats with buckles with her ruddy-faced dark-skinned mother in a red gawdy sweater with beading all over it. The two of them together was such a striking contrast, but these two lives still exist -- the older generation sacrificing everything for the next one to have a better life -- and cool clothes too.

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