We got to know each other and during our chat she shared about her life and I couldn’t help reflecting on mine. She works in a factory in Dongguan, Guangdong province as a seamstress. I asked how many days off she gets and she replied – two. Initially i thought, 2 days/week which is normal for working in an office but then she corrected me; it is 2 days/month. Everyday except Monday, she works 10 hours excluding meal times. Monday are 8-hour days. Like most migrant workers, her family is back home in a village in Guangdong province and she gets to see them maybe once/year if she is lucky. Her movement during the shift hours are monitored – so that someone is keeping tracking of the number of times she visits the lavatory and the amount of time she spends each time.
She does not mind the long laborious work or the scrutiny during work hours. In fact she is grateful for having a job and stable income. Being away from family is a small sacrifice to pay for this benefit. What frustrates her is having to live in the factory hostel with other colleagues and as a result, the lack of privacy and tranquility. Despite working such long hours for so many years, her low salary does not allow her to rent a flat in order for some peace and quiet. She feels stuck in a situation without choice, having to put up with the noise and intrusion into her privacy after shift hours. Being perceptive, she was able to explain that she noticed subtle changes in her behavior such as being easily agitated, lapses in concentration and memory, feeling on-edge; typical signs of insomnia and distress. I could only listen as she poured out her feelings and thoughts. At the end of our chat, she thanked me for listening, that was all she wanted – relief from the mental pressure and someone to spend a little time with her. She knew there is no ready solution to this problem and yet she wasn’t looking for one. She accepted that this was yet another sacrifice for earning a living.
Our chat left a deep impact on me as I thought about her life and mine, how our destiny were different because of our familial circumstances – I could have easily been her and she, me. She demonstrated a wisdom and acceptance of life as a matter-of-fact, a stark contrast to the pining of some people who already have much and yet want more. I find myself struggling sometimes with the latter, having so much and yet pining for more. It is an illness, which afflict many – the inability to be contented and a blindness towards gratitude. We lose sight of what is important and place our happiness in material things. She reminded me of what is important, of how life is and can be simple.