Y was left at the backdoor of an orphanage in Shanghai 30 years ago. She was adopted by a family but got lost in Hefei, Anhui. She was very small when all these happened, so she had very little re- collection of her first foster family. When she was seven, she was adopted by a family who lived in Suzhou.
Her father was an educated man with a respectable job and 3 children. Later he lost his job and the family went back to farming. Y’s mother blamed Y for this poor turn of fortune. The family put the eldest son through the top university in Shanghai. But Y never went to university. The lack of an education is Y’s greatest regret.
Y went through many jobs, including cleaning the toilet. She got a break when she went to work for an electronics firm. Despite her lack of education, she was actually quite smart and worked very hard. She soon got promoted to foreman. She was, in her words, not afraid to “eat bitterness”. Unfortunately, she was also not afraid to speak up when she saw injustice. She ran afoul of a supervisor who wanted to raise production rates by taking short-cuts. She lost her job.
She became a street hawker. She made some money. And with some additional money from her father, she bought a car and started taking driving jobs, illegally, like many other drivers in China.
A man made a deal with her to rent her car for a good sum, so she agreed. But he refused to pay her the promised rent, and would not return the car. So Y went to the police. It turned out the man had connections with the police, and the complaint went nowhere. She protested at the police station, and was driven away. She protested on the main street with placards, and was arrested. In desperation, she went to the mayor’s office during the Chinese New Year’s holidays. She waited for days - until she saw a stream of expensive cars coming to the office. She jumped in front of the cars and protested. It turned out the mayor was in the second car, and took pity on her.
Y got her money back. But the kind mayor also advised her: that she should not continue to take driving jobs illegally. So she bought another car, and is now taking legal jobs only. That’s how she ended up being my driver when I went to Suzhou to teach this weekend.
When I got in the car at the Shanghai airport, I was fully intending to take a nap on the 2.5 hour ride to Suzhou. It was past 9 PM and I had had a long day. My plane was changed and delayed, and since we could not get in touch, she had to wait at the airport amidst much confusion. She was apologetic and I was apologetic. Added to that, it was the first time I had a lady driver, so we started talking, and didn’t stop until we got to Suzhou.