Shanghai deputy gives voice to migrants' hopes

Chai Shanshan, 33, a migrant postal worker said he feels both humbled and excited as a new deputy to the National People's Congress.

Chai Shanshan, 33, a migrant who works for China Post in Shanghai, said he feels both humbled and excited as a new deputy to the National People’s Congress, currently meeting in Beijing.

Chai is a deputy representing migrant workers at on-going session of the NPC. He said he is there to voice the need for better housing and educational opportunities for migrants. 

“As a new deputy, I’ll listen, see and learn, while offering my own ideas,” Chai said.

He knows about the travails of being a migrant worker from personal experience. He arrived in Shanghai from his rural hometown in 2004 and was lucky enough to become a postal worker. 

“I’m from the village of Laohekou in Hubei Province, where there were mud lanes for roads,” he said. “I have two sisters at home. After I graduated from a vocational school, I went to work to raise money for my sisters’ education.”

“In the early days, I had to send most of my earnings home and keep only basic living expenses.

“When I caught a cold or fever, I didn’t have enough money to afford the medical fees,” Chai told Shanghai Daily. 

Still, he said Shanghai felt welcoming when he moved to the city.

Veteran workers at China Post helped Chai and other workplace newcomers find their footing. After work, when Chai and his colleagues returned to their residence, an old landlord always greeted them with a thermos of hot water. 

Kindness begets kindness. Chai and fellow migrants vowed that they would help others, just as others had helped them. 

In an age before computerized routes, Chai and his colleagues at a China Post transit station had to memorize all the railway routes used in postal delivery.

“I could recite all the names of places in China and remember the maps of railway routes across the nation,” he said, remembering the contest that his memory once won for him. 

His postal service transit station is responsible for finding the most efficient routes for the delivery of letters and parcels.

“Now intelligent devices assist in the job,” he said, “but like experienced cabbies, it’s good to know the fastest routes from memory.” 

Chai said his busy work schedule sometimes doesn’t leave him enough time to spend with his two children. 

He still remembers the time in 2016 when his 7-year-old daughter caught a cold that turned into pneumonia. Her illness came during the Single Day’s online shopping spree period, which is one of the busiest times of the year for parcel deliveries.

Chai couldn’t take time off work, so the grandparents came to help his wife tend to his daughter.

“Every night after work when I visited her in hospital, she was asleep and didn’t know I was there,” he said. 

After being elected as a deputy to the NPC, Chai visited migrant workers to hear about their needs and concerns. 

Better educational opportunities ranked high on their list of priorities.

“Many of them have to spend a large chunk of their salaries on rent, so they don’t have much money to spend on studies,” Chai said. “And for families with a second child, the cash crunch is even worse.”

He said he hopes the government and enterprises will respond to the need for more educational opportunities and skills training for migrants. 

“Many migrant workers born in the 1970s and 80s are already important people in their companies,” he said. “But the digital age requires new skills, and these people want to acquire those new abilities.” 

Chai also said that migrant workers need more low-cost housing so they can stretch their low wages a bit further. 

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