Showing posts with label Living Conditions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Living Conditions. Show all posts

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Inside a Small Factory on an Island in Yangjiang

As I explored Yangjiang, in places much smaller than the factories sometimes featured on the news I was reminded of Guangdong's role as a manufacturer for many of China's and the world's goods. For example, on the southern side of an island in the Moyang River I came across a nondescript building where I could here machines clacking. I can't provide specific directions to the location, because all online maps I've seen lack any details for the area.

I saw a man curiously looking at me, and I said hello. After doing my best to explain how a foreigner had found his way there, I inquired about the machines. He said he was the owner and welcomed me to take a closer look.

man standing in front of an open entrance to a one-floored building

I first entered a living room area.

living area with chairs, couches, TV, stereo system, etc.

And I passed through another set of doors with a white sign marking the area for workers only.

entrance with a "do not enter" sign in Chinese

I then entered a much larger room including everything from bunk beds to machinery.

large room with bunk beds, machinery, and other items

The machines were noisily at work, apparently not requiring constant supervision.

knife-handle pin making machinery

knife-handle pin making machinery

The owner showed me their output: pins.

hands holding two pins together

Yangjiang is known for knifes, and the pins are for knife handles.

a Yangjiang knife with pins in its handle

After my tour, I met the man's wife and two sons.

And young man standing with a boy and a woman watching in the background.

My visit complete, as he escorted me to a bridge off the island I explained I hoped to share online the photos I took. The idea excited him, and he spoke about his desire for more people to know about Yangjiang and visit. After our conversation, he bade me farewell and hopped on a motorbike taxi.

As I reflected on what I had seen, I walked along the riverside and drank the parting "gift" he insisted I take--a tall can of Qingdao Pure Draft Beer.

Tall can of Tsingtao Draft beer with the Moyang River in the background

My visit to a place much more than just a small pin factory was an opportunity to meet a friendly family, see another side of Yangjiang, and learn more about broader issues of interest to me, such as working / living conditions and technology usage. It's just a single example, but there's much to consider in the above photos and some aspects remind me of what I've seen elsewhere in China. I'll have more to say related to these topics in later posts.

But first I'll soon share an example of someone in Yangjiang who sells something very different from pins and knives.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Stools in China

In an earlier post I shared some details about beds in China to provide relevant context for considering the thin mattresses often found on college dormitory beds in China. Another feature of the dorm rooms I shared here that received comments from readers can be seen in the following photo from the post about a dorm room at Dalian Maritime University.

Most of the comments mentioned that the small stools looked uncomfortable.

Although some have chairs, I've seen similar stools in many of the dormitories I have visited across China. I am not going to get into the issues of why they may be so typical or what students think of them. Instead, like with the thin mattresses, I will provide some context from the non-college world.

The simplest way to sum it up is that small stools are common in a number of settings in China. To provide a taste, I will share some photos from central areas of Changsha, Hunan province. It was easy to find relevant examples just by looking through my previously taken photos.

To start, here is the inside of a restaurant with a more traditional decor.

log stools at a restaurant in Changsha, China.

In my experience, the log stools are not common, but on the left side of the photo is a glimpse of more standard square traditional-style stools. Round traditional-style stools can also be found in some restaurants and I recall seeing them more often in the city where I was previously--Guangzhou.

But more of the Changsha food-establishments I have seen use the following types of stools.

plastic stools outside at snack shop in Changsha, China
Outside a snack shop

Outside a dessert restaurant

Outside a restaurant serving steamed dishes

Inside a restaurant

Outside a restaurant serving Japanese-style food

Just to be clear, not all restaurants in Changsha use stools. Chairs can be found in many of them. But I'd argue you would miss out on some great food and experiences if you had a strong aversion to stools.

Restaurants are not the only domain of stools in Changsha. The following are just a few examples of where else they can be found.

At a market

At a park

At one of the many marriage photography studios on a pedestrian shopping street
(note: the workers sat on stools as well)

I do not claim that this sample is fully representative for Changsha, but I am confident that these are not extreme or unusual examples. Variation in stool use can be found across China. For example, stools appear to be less common at restaurants in Shanghai than they are somewhere like Changsha. Regardless, stools are a part of regular life for many in China, and this context can impact perceptions of the stools found in college dormitories.

This post has made me realize there is much more to say about stools in China, but I'll have to leave at this. In a later post, I will discuss another set of issues about college dorm life in China relating not to sleeping or sitting but to drinking and washing.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hard Beds in China

After what seemed like a successful fix this morning, I am still having challenges connecting through my VPN in China. Nevertheless, I will try to get back into the swing of things with several posts responding to some readers' earlier comments or emails. So on from the Great Firewall to the topic of beds in China.

On a post showing the inside of a dorm room at Zhaotong Teachers College a reader left this comment:
Going through all the dorm room pictures, I noticed one thing in common: The mattresses on the beds are VERY thin. Is that common everywhere you go, or is it just for dorms? And if it is just for dorms, have you found any exceptions to the thin mattresses?
A number of other people also asked about the beds, apparently because they appeared to offer a less-than-soft surface for sleeping.

I have seen a rather broad variety of beds in homes and hotels in China. There is a relevant trait many share to varying degrees. According to Western standards they would be considered hard no matter how thick a mattress they may have, if any. For travelers to China who desire softer beds, foreign hotel chains in particular can be a haven. There are also some mid-range Chinese hotel chains that offer softer-then-normal beds which makes me wonder if they are becoming more common or preferred. Regardless, in many cities even the priciest Chinese hotels can have beds that don't feel much softer than the floor.

I will avoid delving into the topics of why hard beds are so typical in China, why many Chinese people may prefer them, and what the future may hold for beds in China. My main point at the moment is simply that hard sleeping surfaces are common in China--a point that may change perceptions of the dorm beds seen in the photos I shared. In an upcoming post, I will share a similar example where broader knowledge about life in China can make a difference in evaluating its dormitories.

Finally, there is one exception I have seen to the style of dormitory beds seen in the earlier posts. A couple of the college dorms I visited appeared to have beds with much thicker and softer mattresses. In all the cases I saw, they were dorms specifically for foreign students. But those dorms are another story.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

College Dormitories in China: Zhaotong Teacher's College

Before moving on to some broader dormitory-related issues, I want to share a look inside one more dorm room to provide a comparison with the previous examples from Dalian, Longzhou, and Changsha.

This male dorm room holds eight beds.

male dormitory room at the Zhaotong Teacher's College in Zhaotong, Yunnan, China

male dormitory room at the Zhaotong Teacher's College in Zhaotong, Yunnan, China

I visited it at the Zhaotong Teacher's College in Zhaotong, Yunnan province. Zhaotong is about 20 hours by car from either Changsha or Longzhou, but it is 227 miles (366 km) closer to Longzhou (map of the route from Longzhou to Zhaotong to Changsha).

Like the dorm examples from Dalian and Changsha, it did not have its own bathroom. A closer look at the photos will reveal signs of issues related to storage space, mosquitos, and so on. One feature of this room that I have seen in some others is its lack of desks. This can be one of the reasons why it is not uncommon to find students studying in college classrooms when they are not otherwise in use.

That's all for this dorm room. Again, I will touch on some broader issues soon. In the meantime, you may want to take a look at an example of a dorm room in Zhaotong at a less common type of school. It can be found amongst the photos in the post "Islam in China: Some Scenes from Zhaotong, Yunnan".

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hanging Clothing at Dormitories in China

In the post about the dorm room at the Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha, I mentioned that it was common to see clothing hanging outside of college dormitories in China. For example...

Clothes hanging outside at a Guangxi University male dormitory in Nanning, Guangxi

Clothes hanging outside at a Qingdao University female dormitory in Qingdao, Shandong

More soon about water-related topics, such a showers and drinking water, at university dorms in China.

Friday, October 26, 2012

College Dormitories in China: Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha

In my series of posts about the conditions in university dormitory rooms in China, I have shared examples from the Dalian Maritime University here and the Longzhou campus of the Guangxi Normal University for Minorities here. To round them out I will share an example from a dormitory at the Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha, Hunan province.

dormitory at Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha, China.

If you drove from Dalian to Longzhou you would likely pass Changsha at about 26 hours into your 40+ hour drive (map displaying all three locations). In addition to being in a very different region of China, the room contrasts with the other two in another important aspect: it is in a female dormitory. Typically in China, college dormitory buildings are single sex and the opposite sex is not allowed to enter. But in this case security allowed me to be escorted inside. I will save why they were so kind for another day.

The dorm room I visited had four beds, each with a desk and storage space below.

inside a female dormitory room at Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha, China.

inside a female dormitory room at Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha, China.

This room was unusually spacious for this dorm building given its particular location and layout of the building. On some of the floor space in the room an assortment of items could be found.

stuffed bearr, shoes, and other items inside a female dormitory room at Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha, China.

various items inside a female dormitory room at Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha, China.

One feature of the room that I have seen elsewhere was the central fan.

fan and hanging clothes inside a female dormitory room at Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha, China.

If you are now fretting over me sharing a photo of the young women's underwear, don't get your panties in a bunch. It is extremely common for universities students, and other people in China, to hang their clothes out to dry outside where they can be seen by all. If you want to study underwear preferences of college students in China, you could learn a lot just walking by many dorms.

Finally, unlike the dorm room in Longzhou, this room did not have its own bathroom. Here is a peek at a section of the nearby shared bathroom.

shared bathroom in a female dormitory at Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha, China.

For the moment, I will avoid digging deeply into this specific example. But now that I have shared three different examples of dorm rooms, I will later write about some issues common to many universities in China. I will also provide a small taste of how visiting these rooms can aid in the design of new technologies.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

College Dormitories in China: Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities in Longzhou

In southwestern China more than a 40 hour car drive (map) from the Dalian Maritime University dorm room I previously featured, you could find the following dorm building at the Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities in Longzhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

dormitory at the Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities in Longzhou, China

But start driving now, because this oldest campus of the school will soon be closed. The faculty and students who currently remain will be transfered to a newer campus a few hours away in the outskirts of Chongzuo city.

Nevertheless, an 8 bed room I visited in the dorm is similar to many others I have seen in China.

dorm beds at the Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities in Longzhou, China

Despite Longzhou being in a southern climate with hot, humid summers, the rooms do not have air conditioning--typical for the dorms I have visited in China. I could point out several other things, such as the various shelving units, but instead I want to focus on the reddish paper next to the bed. Is it decoration? Well, it can be, but it also serves a more pragmatic purpose. Here is a similar example next to another bed in the same room.

wall covering next to a dorm bed at the Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities in Longzhou, China

The paper has been placed there to prevent a white dust from coming off the wall if a student rubs against it while sleeping. I have seen dorms elsewhere in China where students faced the same problem and employed the same strategy. This seems consistent with many other signs I have seen of apparently poor construction quality in university buildings, even newer ones, in China. A story for another day...

Another familiar aspect of the dorm was the hanging power strip.

hanging power strip in a dorm room at the Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities in Longzhou, China

Finally, the dorm room did have one piece of luxury not found in many other Chinese dorm rooms, including the one at Dalian Maritime University.

This dorm has its own bathroom.

bathroom with squat toilet in dorm room at the Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities in Longzhou, China

The squat toiles that can be seen is typical for the dorms I have visited in China. They are also very common in many of the homes I have visited, but that can vary depending on region. I could easily write several posts on toilets in China. At this point, I will just say that I have seen renovated expensive restaurants with shiny new squat toilets and that there are several arguments for their superiority.

Finally, the bathroom also included a shower:

shower in dorm room at the Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities in Longzhou, China

As would be typical for private bathrooms in dorm rooms, the shower was in the same space as the toilet. This arrangement can also be found in many homes in China. And like squat toilets, it has its own advantages and disadvantages.

That's all for this dorm room. More on showers later. You might be surprised where they can be found if they're not in the room. And if you are looking at the above photo and wondering about hot water, well, that's another story for later too.

Soon, I will share a story about some of the students at this school. Not only are they familiar with school dormitories, but factory dormitories as well.

UPDATE: See here for that story.

College Dormitories in China: Dalian Maritime University

Earlier I provided an introduction, an overview of some of my relevant research experience, and a brief methods section for a series of posts on college dormitories in China. And now finally an actual dormitory room, this one from the Dalian Maritime University in China's northeastern city of Dalian, Liaoning province.

bunk bed in a dorm at Dalian Maritime University in China

bunk bed and table in a dorm at Dalian Maritime University in China

There are many comments I could make about this four-person dorm room that I would rank as one of the more "upscale" I have seen in China. But since more is to come, and I have already written plenty in the previous recent posts, I will keep this simple and focus on one issue that can be important in college dorms: storage space. This dorm was remarkable in the amount that could be found.

One shelving unit mostly held toiletries.

shelving unit in a dorm room at Dalian Maritime University in China

There were also two units for locked storage.

storage unit in a dorm room at Dalian Maritime University in China

storage unit in a dorm room at Dalian Maritime University in China

The student who had earlier offered to guide me around the campus opened up one his locked storage compartments to reveal a number of items such as a pair of headphones, a laptop, books, and of course... toilet paper.

inside a storage unit in a dorm room at Dalian Maritime University in China

Even the area above the door was used for storing items.

items stored on a shelve above a doorway in a dorm room at Dalian Maritime University in China

And an area below the desk was also used as storage space.

books stacked underneath a desk in a dorm room at Dalian Maritime University in China

You may have noticed some curious aspects of the storage space in the above photos. For example,  one of the units doesn't match the rest of the room. Also, some of the units look like they could be suitable for more than four people. Well, that is not an accident. Someday, if not already, the greenish storage unit may depart and more beds will be moved into the room.

Again, there is much more I could say about what can be seen in these photos, and there are many questions to ask, even just about the storage issue alone. I would be interested to hear your thoughts. In upcoming posts, I will share views of other dorm rooms, some of which will serve as striking comparisons. I will also later comment on some typical features of college dormitories in China that most Chinese students don't seem to give a second notice but would give most American students pause.

More is on the way.

UDPATE: See here for the next post: a view inside a dorm room at Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities.

College Dormitories in China: A Brief Methods Section

Before sharing the examples of college dormitories in China (introduction here; my relevant research experience here), an informal post on some of the "methods" I used may prove useful in interpreting what will soon follow. Although the methods varied, there are some commonalities worth mentioning:

1. None of these visits were arranged in any way by the universities. I visited all of the dorms at the invitation of students.

2. The students and the dorms were not selected by the universities in any way.

3. The choice of the specific dorms was not planned in advance. When the students woke up that morning, they had no idea I would be visiting their dorm room. The photos are all of "natural" conditions, and the students had no opportunity to prepare for my visit.

4. I made no effort to view any specific type of dorm.

Finally, I want to thank the many students who guided me around their schools, allowed me into their dorms, and opened up to me about a variety of topics. It reminds of the many other people in China who were friendly to me.

Now that those formalities are out of the way, on to the main posts...

College freshman in Dalian, Liaoning province, participating in their mandatory military training

UPDATE: See here for the first post of views inside a dorm room, this one at Dalian Maritime University.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

College Dormitories in China: The Research

In the previous post I mentioned that I will share examples of living conditions in a variety of student dormitories in China. And as I wrote before, I would like to provide some background on why and how I became familiar with this topic.

While working as a user experience (UX) researcher at Microsoft China, I helped to inspire and guide the design of useful, usable, and desirable technologies for global and China-specific markets. What I learned on a daily basis through a variety of projects ranging from the usability testing of new applications for mobile phones to participatory design sessions with amazingly creative Shanghai high school students never ceased to amaze me -- both in terms of what seemed so familiar, and what seemed so different. And often, what I discovered not only surprised me, but my teammates as well.

One set of projects I led focused on the life of youth, 18 to 25 years old, in China. Based on what I was permitted to earlier share for an international conference in Germany, I can say that one of the projects covered five provincial capital cities in China: Changsha, Hunan province; Guiyang, Guizhou province; Xi'an, Shaanxi province; Ji'nan, Shangdong province; Changchun, Jilin province. They are cities in very different regions of China -- important since we well recognized China's diversity. Our specific recruitment requirements ensured that the Chinese participants whose lives we delved into came from a range of income levels, backgrounds, and environments. Since half of the participants were students and interviews began in participants' place of residence, I visited a number of college dormitories. I am not able to share the specific goals of this research study, even the participants didn't know the details (and sometimes they expressed confusion about what they could be). I am also not able to share the findings nor their impact other than to say I presented them to a wide range of teams at Microsoft both in China and the U.S.

But I mention this project because combined with others I conducted in China for Microsoft and similar technology companies, it serves as a background which implicitly guides some of my recent independent research. And as part of that recent research, I have visited many more universities in China.

Since beginning this blog, I have shared a variety of individual examples or stories that capture key themes in China: a migrant worker's first payday in Shanghai, a Guizhou woman's thoughts about Google's challenges in China, a Sichuanese waitress's surprise about the lack of censorship in Taiwan, or the "Sansumg" computer I found in a Nanning college classroom. Like the examples in those posts, I do not necessarily claim that on their own the upcoming examples serve as definitive proof for any particular "big" claim. But based on previous experiences, I am confident they are representative and significant examples. Most importantly, I hope they can provide a new perspective and stimulate further thought about the many topics they touch on--many do not only relate to China, but elsewhere as well.

College student in Changsha, Hunan province, displaying her map of the world

UPDATE: See here for the following post.

College Dormitories in China: An Introduction

Yesterday an American reader wrote to me:
I recently found your blog and just wanted to say how much I enjoy the pictures you post. They really show a different side of China than the image I have had in my mind.
I asked if he could say more and he replied:
My mental image was of a much more dismal place. I never thought much beyond the image of huge factories full of underpaid workers, but your pictures show that there is more than that in China (which I knew on some level, but never really thought about).

I'd really like to visit China if I am ever financially able to at some point.
First, I appreciate the comments, and I hope the reader someday has the opportunity to visit China.

Second, the reader's comments about his image of China are a great setup for some posts I have been planning to provide more context about working and living conditions in China. In another coincidental but perfect setup for what I will soon post, James Fallows is now sharing photos from his recent tour of a Foxconn site in Shenzhen, China. As Fallows writes, Foxconn:
is the hyper-secretive, highly controversial company that makes so many of the smartphones, computers, tablets, and other devices that you use.
At the moment, Fallows has four "Inside Foxconn" posts, all including photos. You can find them here: One; Two; Three; Four.

The third post includes photos inside a dorm room. In commenting on the dorms Fallows writes:
...I've seen enough other Chinese factories, rural schools, villages and so on to recognize that these are on the higher end of the spectrum.
Based on the many dorms I have seen in different regions of China, the photos shared by Fallows left me with a similar impression.

On that note, I will post series of photos from a range of dorms not at factories, but at universities I have visited across China. They will provide points of comparison for the dorms photographed by Fallows and also some perspective on the living conditions common for students in China. But before that, I want to provide a brief overview of why and how I became familiar with university dorm conditions in China as part of my research. That's coming soon.

In the meantime, I recommend checking out the Foxconn posts by Fallows if you haven't already. Newer posts may already be available on his blog at The Atlantic here.

UPDATE: Here is a current (as of Oct 27) list of links to posts on this topic in the order they were published:
More is on the way.

UPDATE 2: Here is a list of links to later relevant posts:

  • Hard Beds in China -- context for considering the thin mattress on the beds in the dorm rooms

College students outside their dorm rooms in Longzhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China