白天开塔吊、晚上读书!28岁工地小伙勇敢追梦 - 2022年02月11日

Nothing is impossible: Migrant worker achieving higher education with determination

When you look at a tall tower crane with a little white cabin high up in the air, you probably wouldn't guess that inside the cabin sits someone who is reading the selected works of Cai Yuanpei (1868-1940), a famous educator in modern Chinese history and former president of Peking University.

Gao Xin, 28, who was born in a remote mountain village at the border of Yunnan, Sichuan and Guizhou provinces in southwest China, is different from his fellow construction workers.

He was spotted by a journalist in Nanxiang, suburban Shanghai's Jiading District, in September in a large rural house where he and his co-workers were temporarily relocated from their work shed during typhoon Chanthu.

While the 200-300 others were playing cards or staring at their mobile phones, Gao was sitting alone in a corner taking notes from his study materials. He signed up for a vocational and bachelor degree training program on the Internet in August and was cramming for four exams for self-taught higher education courses in October.

In China, the examinations were initiated in 1981 and are open to all citizens, regardless of their age and educational background. Gao didn't finish high school.

Earlier this month, Gao got the results of his first exams. He passed three and failed one. "Not the best," he thought.

Migrant workers like Gao in Shanghai have various opportunities to advance themselves both within and outside of their jobs.

Last year, the local government offered 957,000 subsidies to migrant workers for various vocational training programs to enhance their skills or prepare them for skilled jobs, according to the human resources and social security bureau.

In an interview with Shanghai Daily, Gao opened up about his life's journey and choices.

"A man who matured rather late" is how he described himself.

Addicted to computer games while in high school, Gao constantly asked his parents for pocket money, but then this support was cut off. That was when he decided to make money on his own to keep gaming, and his parents were not against it.

That's why he landed in Shanghai in 2014 as the city, he was told, offered some of the best-paid jobs for migrant workers. He first worked in a factory and then in a restaurant.

Playing games, Gao said, was the meaning of his life back then. Every day he would spend a few hours in an Internet café. It didn't cost much; just 2 yuan (30 US cents) or 4 yuan per hour. He stopped going after he earned enough money to buy a laptop for himself.

After briefly moving back to Guizhou to work as a salesman and a mason in 2018, Gao returned to Shanghai, the city that has been fascinating him from the beginning, after two years.

"I started to read more around that time, and as if all of a sudden I found a strong desire to study ideas I found in articles and books," he said.

After returning to Shanghai, he opened a small restaurant serving Guizhou cuisine with his relatives, working as the head chef himself. Now besotted with a hunger for learning, he soon found that the business was not for him.

"Every day I started to work at 4am and couldn't rest from the day's work until late at night, with only a respite of a few hours in the early afternoon," he said.

That was when he decided to find a job that was well-paid and at the same time allowed him enough time to delve into the world of books. For now, that job for him is as a tower crane operator.

A tower crane operator, who runs machines to lift construction materials, has long working hours from morning to dawn. Gao has to stay inside the little operator's cabin, which allows the presence of only one person, most of the time, but when there's nothing to lift, he can take some time to read his books or study on his tablet.

"There are busier projects which leave little time for the operator to have a rest when he sits inside the cabin," Gao said. "I worked at several different construction sites before I came to Nanxiang."

Reading and studying high up in the air, he said, is not as romantic as it might seem. In the summer, his little cabin has air-conditioning, but since he's not used to the air-conditioned space, he often has to open the window for air when it's not too scorching. However, since the construction site is located right next to an expressway and an elevated Metro line, the hustle and bustle outside can be rather distracting, he said.

In summer, he goes to read books in parks, which are not hard to find in this picturesque ancient town, and also in the town library which is around the corner from the construction site. Since his evening online classes start at 7:30pm, he continues to study in the work shed afterward.

Obviously, work sheds on construction sites are not designed to be studying locations. Gao studies in the dim fluorescent light on a small table with feeble legs amidst the incessant sounds of mobile phone games from his roommates.

He aims to get a vocational degree in exhibition planning and management and a bachelor's in Chinese language and literature in the next three to four years. This means dozens of courses and exams to take and requires a well-sustained pace of study.

Gao said he has stepped out of a "deceiving comfort zone."

"I was only ever living for today and tomorrow, but now I'm used to thinking longer term," he said.

For him, a purposeful life is also more resourceful. He now spends one-third of his salary on paying back loans in Guizhou and invests a part of the rest in the financial market. He said he lives a very frugal life, a spendthrift totally turned around.

Like many Chinese young men of his age, Gao's under pressure from his parents to get married.

"The older generation believes that a man's destiny is to have his own family and have a career, and it's believed that starting a family should be given priority because it helps one 'settle down,'" Gao said. "But for me, there's no logic in that, because what it means to have a family and what a career really is matter more."

Growing up in a family with a paternalistic father, Gao said he had both low self-esteem and a latent self-assertion. Because of this, he used to be argumentative and for a long time had tense relationships with his parents, but now he has learned from books to be inclusive with different viewpoints.

"You can't change other people or what has happened, but you can always change yourself," he said.

More than a bookworm, Gao is a sociable person and enjoys life in Shanghai. He joins people in the street in line dancing, as he said, to gain more confidence in front of people. During summer, he wakes up every day at 4am to jog for half an hour. While jogging, he said, he has explored almost every corner of Nanxiang.

Talking about his plans, Gao said he wants to find an office job and become a freelance writer. He also shows some interest in photography.

"Work has taken me to many different cities, and Shanghai impresses me the most with its inspiring and friendly people who have a peaceful mind and always aspire to something better," he said. "It's an ideal place for people to chase their dreams."




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