Two nannies, the same elusive dream
Updated: 2013-03-23 08:01
By Bai Ping (China Daily)
Nowadays when people talk about the new urbanization drive purported to integrate millions of villagers and farmers into city life, I think of the two rural women who worked as nannies for us.
I found the first one in the hospital where my son was born four years ago from among the yuesao or confinement nannies who milled around to be picked by new parents. Sister Zhang impressed me with her rapid-fire self-introduction and a certificate that testified to her abilities to look after both the mother and the newborn.
Sister Zhang, who was in her late 30s, worked for us for one month. Besides performing diligently the duties of a yuesao, which required her to attend to my wife and son day and night, she also cooked for us, did light housekeeping and, if she still had energy left, entertained us with interesting anecdotes of her past employers.
A divorced mother with elementary school education, she rented a room with a man in a "Village In City", an idyllic name for a suburban slum for rural migrants. Her teenage daughter lived with her boyfriend and his father in another urban village in the capital.
We paid her slightly less than $1,000, the norm for a yuesao at the time. When the confinement period ended, we said we'd like her to stay as a regular nanny for half that pay. But she declined, saying her arms hurt if she held a baby for too long. I guess she preferred to work as a better-paying yuesao as long as she could.
She said she and her daughter would never go back to the countryside in Heilongjiang province. She was saving every penny to buy a place that they could call home. But despite her formidable drive and dream in one of the most expensive cities in the world, I wondered what they could do without an urban residence permit that discriminated against migrants in housing, education, employment and other benefits that urban residents took for granted.
Our second nanny also came from a rural area of northeastern China. Sister Song, a divorced mother of two, had worked at odd jobs to support her children on her own. She was lucky to find work with us, as were we to have a good nanny for two years.
She was awkward and clumsy initially; she fed the baby rice mixed with soy source, and several boiled slices of carrot, for lunch. But by the time she left, she had become a good cook through the help of a cookbook and practice. Her specials included braised spare ribs in brown sauce, steamed bass and Korean-style cold noodles.
She was several years younger than Sister Zhang and worked even harder than her predecessor. She also did the laundry, mopped the floor every day and ran various errands with unabated enthusiasm. With her around, I couldn't wait to get back home to a nice dinner and a happy son after a day's work.
But she missed her children terribly despite the two half-month paid leaves every year. I gave up the idea of helping her bring them to Beijing at a time when everybody was shocked by the death of a two-year-old girl because of teachers' negligence in an unlicensed kindergarten for migrants' children.
She could attend a training course to learn a skill. "But what's the point if I and my children will still end up in an urban village?" she asked me before she left for home for good a year ago.
I've not heard from Sister Zhang again. I hope she is still in the city and her life will be easier with an urbanization that has put on a more human face.
The writer is editor-at-large of China Daily. Email: email@example.com.
(China Daily 03/23/2013 page6)