The Female University Porter

In the city of Chongqing, there is an occupation known as 棒棒.  These are the free-lance porters that are available to carry stuff around.  They can be identified by the pole and two rolls of rope that they carry.  They are usually male with a rural background.  Lacking education or technical skills for regular employment, they take on free-lance physical labor.

As indicated before, the porters are usually male.  So it is a bit surprising to see the young female 棒棒 in the photograph below.

(Chongqing Commercial News via Yahoo! News)  What is the story of the female porter Zhao Zhangmei?  Her parents have both passed away and she has a brother working in Beijing.  In the past, her brother has sent her enough money to graduate from high school while living with her uncle's family.  In 2003, she qualified for Chongqing Electronic Professional Technical School.  For the first two years, she made it through with the money from her brother.  Last year, her aunt had a stroke and the brother's money went to her medical care instead.

Zhao Zhangmei is working to earn money to pay for her 5,560 RMB tuition.  From 5pm to 2am, she works as a waitress at a restaurant.  From 9am to 4pm, she is now working as a porter.  She stands outside a supermarket and hopes someone will hire her.  At 2pm on September 2, the reporter watched her outside the supermarket.  After 30 minutes, a woman came out of the supermarket and asked Zhao to carry her stuff to the bus station.  When they got there, the woman found out that Zhao was a student trying to earn enough to pay tuition.  So the woman pressed ten RMB into Zhao's hands.  Zhao said, "The stuff weighs about 10 kilograms or so.  I'm used to carrying more than 40 kilograms at home."

On September 3, Zhao Zhangmei found out that her restaurant will be closed for re-modeling.  Therefore, it does not look as if she will finish university.  The reporter was able to contact her brother.  When he learned that his sister was working as a porter, he was heartbroken.  He said that he would work his hardest to make sure that his sister can finish her final year in university.

For the porters in general, there is this budget analysis of one such person (via Xici Hutong):

May 2005

Total revenue: 770 RMB

Fixed expenses (322 RMB in total)
Rent: 50 RMB (a room shared with three others)
Maintenance: 20 RMB
Meals: 140 RMB (1 RMB for breakfast and 4 RMB for lunch each day)
Homemade dinner food: 27 RMB (cooking by rotation with his roommates)
Dinner rice: 15 RMB
Daily expenses: 30 RMB (including cooking oil, salt, soap, paper, etc)
Cigarettes: 20 RMB (the 2 RMB/pack kind, one pack every three days)
Telephone: 17 RMB (10 RMB for the calling service subscription)
Transportation: 3 RMB (generally relying on his two feet)

Family expenses (420 RMB in total)
Living allowance for his son: 200 RMB (his son is attending high school back home)
New dress for his wife: 20 RMB (the first new dress for her in six months; bought from a streetside vendor)
Saving for his son's education: 150 RMB
Medical expenses for his mother: 50 RMB

Unanticipated expenses (60 RMB in total)
10 RMB fine for crossing the road at the wrong point
50 RMB 'compensation' for bumping into a young man who demanded payment to launder his clothes