17 August 2007

market economies

I got to see my new classroom this week: desks shoved into corners, half-finished bookshelves, construction workers drilling, hoisting, assembling.

I can't set anything up until Monday because they won't be finished with the school renovations until then.

Which is fine because I don't know how to delicately ask, "Excuse me, but could you please move your bed? I need to put a reading station there. And while you're at it, could you take your cookware off my shelves? Because I want to put their vocabulary workbooks exactly where you have your dishes. Thanks for that."

In China (and Shanghai is, after all, technically if not ideologically part of China - it's one of five special economic zones), construction workers generally live in the buildings in which they work. They get a few steamed buns for lunch, no breakfast, and cook their dinner collectively. They make about 70 cents (American) per hour if they're lucky enough to get paid. And they only get paid at the end of a job, which can last months or years.

The school's renovations will be completed by 8:30 a.m. on Monday. This means that the construction workers will, presumably, be homeless and/or have moved to a new construction site.

We've found that we're faced with moral quandaries every day and that we've had to develop a different ethical code than we used back home. We pay our ayi (cleaning lady) over three times the market rate, but a quarter what we would pay to have someone clean for us back home. We buy organic everything, including bananas (slave labor from South America, I know) and have become, like most expats living here, remarkably unfazed by everything.

It's this pessimistic view: expect the worst (health issues, human rights violations, two economies- the one for foreigners and the one for Chinese people- coexisting and rarely overlapping), even though it just makes for bad cocktail stories. You get used to it.

So it was cool that I didn't have to have that conversation with a contractor who makes in a year about what I make in a week. It's not like teachers are striking it rich here, either, but at least I have a bed with a mattress.

betholindo at 11:29

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