Ethnographer Tricia Wang lived with a migrant worker family for a week and wrote about it- if you only read one China-related thing this year, this should probably be it:
It’s 4am. Children’s footsteps patter outside, water pours from a faucet, pots are pulled out. I overhear Li Jie. “We barely have enough to buy meat for tonight’s dinner. I hope we have return customers today.”
I’ve been living with Li Jie and her family for a few days. She is one of the 200-300 million rural people who have made their way to cities in the hope… I don’t know how to finish that sentence. Usually newspapers finish it with “in the hope of a better life” or “in the hope of securing a job.” Maybe I can finish it by the time I tell you about a day in Li Jie’s life.
By 4.30am, we are eating breakfast crackers and drinking soda. It’s so hot during the day that it’s refreshing to wake up to breathable air. Li Jie’s husband, Mr. Long, and her younger brother, Ray, are putting the batteries into the bike carts to go to the market. The men leave before 5am.
I stay with Li Jie and her son. We take the dumplings out of the freezer and for the second day in a row they’re sticky. Everything that needs to be kept cold is put inside the freezer, but it’s unpredictable. Sometimes it works too well and the beers explode. Most of the time it doesn’t work that well. The dumplings get sticky and uncookable while the beers are perfectly chilled.
Read the rest, if only to understand where all that delicious street food comes from, and what the people who make it have to live through.