Eavesdropper This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

July 14, 2011
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I always sat in the second row beside the window of bus No. 67 on my way to school. In those early mornings, the city was still quiet. Most people were sleeping soundly in their apartments, probably after a day of work followed by a late return from night bars. Street sweepers had been busy since daybreak. I heard their big brooms sweeping the fallen leaves and the white trucks splashing clouds of water down the road.

At Ke Xue Guan station, two young women got on. Surprised by all the empty seats, they exchanged looks quickly and decided to sit two rows behind me. I assumed they were Da Gong Mei, a name given by local citizens for newcomers from rural areas seeking jobs in the city. Both of them were dressed in white shirts and black pants. Their stomachs were covered with rugged handbags. They looked nervous, excited.

“I wonder how will this boss be,” said one of them to another.

“Nervous for the interview?”

“What if we are rejected?”

“Don't say so. They will definitely recruit you. Me? Maybe not.”

Overhearing their conversation, I tried to locate each of them in the rearview mirror. I saw their hair was unstyled, probably cut by themselves.

At that time, I was in middle school. My parents told me that I should work hard at school, go to a good college, and find a decent government job.

“Why?” I would ask.

“It is good for you. And working for the government will be the best of the best. It is safe and stable!”

Yet I see my future vaguely.

The next morning, I was surprised to see those two young women on the bus again. They hadn't changed their clothes and sat in the same spots.

“Did you call your brother?”

“Yes. And my mum too. Do you know how to mail money back home? Can I just put it in an envelope?”

“I'm not sure. What if the postman sees it?”

“I will wrap it in newspaper so he can't see.”

I was about to laugh at them, but I fought it back. That may lead to a conversation, and as I knew from Mum, conversing with strangers could be dangerous. Yet I felt superior, partly because I knew the correct way to send money – via banks, not post – and partly because I was a permanent resident and they were not.

From then on, I overheard their dialogue each day. Their talk ranged from income management, bad luck at work, and gossip about the boss to local cheap restaurants, relatives at home, and faraway boyfriends. Usually they chatted loudly for the whole trip, except once when a businesswoman got on the bus. This lady, with her designer bag, black suit, and curled hair, walked on her high-heels toward the two women and sat near them, leaving a strong smell of perfume that ceased their conversation immediately.

Gradually, I overheard fragments of their discussions about fashion styles, clothing sales, the price of local hairdressers, and some open secrets among permanent residents: “Let's go to Luohu Commercial Mall to get fake designer bags after work today.”

Two months later, anyone who saw them thought they were office ladies working in those modern skyscrapers. Probably they were.

“I want to go to school again,” said one of them, looking gloomy, yet serious.

“You don't say! Don't you know how hard it is to restart everything here? I mean, we at least have jobs and incomes now.”

“I wish I had studied more. Anyway, we can never afford the house prices here.”

The sentence was followed by a long silence that led to my own thoughts. Mom's voice repeated in my mind, “When your dad and I first came to Shenzhen from the rural village, we did not have a place to stay. We stood by the Shennan Road, where cars sped by us endlessly. Your dad, a young graduate with no more than 20 yuan in his pocket, looking at those sparkles of orange lights in windows, said to himself, ‘So many buildings and lights here, but which spot will be mine?'”

For the first time, I came to understand my parents' past struggles. They arrived in the city with almost nothing and eventually made everything with their bare hands. They were like the two women, doing modest jobs, wearing plain outfits, and sending most of their salaries back to a rural village, where an entire family waited.

It is no coincidence that Shenzhen developed
into a metropolis from a village in just 30 years. Generations and generations poured in with nothing but hard work and dreams. Some people managed
to make a home here; some quit without saying good-bye.

Today, my parents have things that they once dared not imagine but that I take for granted. We live in an expensive apartment. We travel abroad every year. But all these achievements required effort that I did not see.

No wonder my parents want me to work hard in school and achieve a stable life. They have overcome these struggles, and they can't risk their only daughter having to face them again.

I felt lost a semester later when I no longer saw the two women on the bus. I still look for them at the bus stop, thinking about the conversations I overheard. Now I respect them, partly because of their courage to come to an unknown city where I hope to rise one day too, and partly because they never forgot about their home. I won't either.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 7 comments. Post your own now!

Cheng said...
Feb. 18, 2012 at 9:57 pm
i dont know why these people just cant focus on the article... it is really nice that you pay attention to those tiny characters and i hope to read more from you, Lynda! Maybe some day on TIME or NY Times LOL Just keep going~
Jojogurl said...
Sept. 4, 2011 at 6:21 am
I could swear I've read something like this before. Same migrant workers talking on bus and changing day after day.
chinayyq replied...
Sept. 4, 2011 at 8:58 am
..I 've heard a saying that "there are only 12 stories in the world and every other story is a variation of one of these 12".. Not strange to find some same pattern. But I am quite curious about the 12 stories though.
guess who said...
Jul. 20, 2011 at 12:11 am
i once glanced at one article memtioned bus no.312. The writer, perhaps, set at the third row in the bus on her way back home.  come on! common tactic?
lyndayyq This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jul. 20, 2011 at 3:00 pm
Really? Coincidence. I guess it is because for students like us, we are either at school, or on the way to school..So "bus" becomes our muse.
ALEX CHENG said...
Jul. 19, 2011 at 10:46 pm
Da Gong Mei..LOL. Nice article, Lynda. Can I make a friend with you?
lyndayyq This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jul. 19, 2011 at 10:54 pm
No, you can't. Haha..just kidding. I am so glad that you love it. This is my first time to publish an English essay so I am so excited!!
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