05.02.07

My new job…in a Barbershop!

Posted in Announcements, Barbershop at 12:45 am by Benjamin Ross

As an American living in China, I have spent the last three years of my life enjoying the benefits of being a citizen of a country which is far wealthier than the one in which I reside. I travel around town by taxi. I drink at expensive bars. I eat sushi. I take trips across the country, and when my apartment is dirty, I call a maid to clean it up. My life is not that different from the other several hundred Westerners who call Fuzhou home. We all come to China for the “China experience,” but we still live our lives with the advantages of being Westerners. But what is it like to be one of the 6 million Chinese residents of Fuzhou, especially those of the working class? For us, China is fun and relaxing. It’s a place we come to expand our horizons, to learn a culture, to spend our copious free time studying Tai Chi and Chinese cooking or picking up girls at the bar. But for Fuzhou’s working class, there is no such fun and relaxation, no time for hobbies and no money for Tsingtaos at the pub. Work is a way of life and a means for survival.

Tomorrow I will begin a one-month stint as a 学徒 (trainee) at a local barber shop/salon. The manager will be treating me just like any other beginning employee his first days on the job. I will be starting at the very bottom of the barbershop food chain, and my duties will include sweeping hair, cleaning bathrooms, assisting barbers, and entertaining customers as they have their hair cut. Throughout the month I will have only three days off, and work the rest from 9 am to 8 pm. I will essentially be a slave to my job which for one month pays what I would make in one day of teaching English.

What I hope to gain from this experience is an understanding of what Chinese workers go through on a daily basis. What is it like to work a job 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, for a salary of less than $100 a month? How will this put into perspective my life in China as a foreigner, or my life in America as an American? How does the other half (or in this case 99.9%) live, and how do they respond to a foreigner trying to do the same? I hope to find the answers to these questions, and hopefully have a little fun doing it. I will be keeping my blog updated daily for the next month, so check back regular for more updates, and wish me luck. I’m going to need it.

next post >>

My place of employment for the next month. To protect the shop’s anonymity, the name has been photoshoped out.

49 Comments »

  1. Isabel United States said,

    May 2, 2007 at 4:59 am

    Wow- that sounds like it’ll be tough after 3 years of working part time. How does Melody feel about you doing this?

  2. Té la mà Maria Spain said,

    May 2, 2007 at 5:42 am

    Hello I am visiting your blog-Web and I like much. Congratulations

  3. Chris China said,

    May 2, 2007 at 8:45 am

    Interesting, I look forward to reading about this.

    Good luck!

  4. Josh China said,

    May 2, 2007 at 10:11 am

    Neat idea.
    Please ask them the questions of banking ethics. I’d love to hear their responses.

  5. dezza Hong Kong said,

    May 2, 2007 at 11:02 am

    this is an interesting experiment. will you also live in a flat and eat the way a chinese barbershop trainee would? that would be the full experience..

  6. Danielle Germany said,

    May 2, 2007 at 8:23 pm

    Westerners in China are treated like kings and queens, while we chinese in western countries should face and fight against discrimination… What a tragic and ironic society!

    Ben you have all the access to do whatever you like in China. So just take advantage of it. When you are back in the States someday, you might be supposed to live the “normal” life again…

  7. Peter Denmark said,

    May 3, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    I look forward to hearing about your experienses. Nice experiment :-)

  8. vivi China said,

    May 4, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    怎么~~换工作了??在哪的?下次去看看你撒~~怎么想到在理发店当学徒了。。。

  9. Poagao Taiwan; Republic of China (ROC) said,

    May 9, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    Interesting experiment.

  10. Eric China said,

    May 9, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    HI, ben
    That sounds a good idea to experience such a job. Look forward to hear the feeling of your work.
    Make use of your time in China.

  11. 长舟丫 China said,

    May 12, 2007 at 11:08 am

    Wow! That’s fantastic for so many reasons.

  12. Chris United States said,

    May 15, 2007 at 12:32 am

    Great idea!

    Someday I may try to hook you up with my MBA students while we travel in China for them to meet you and give a short presentation about this experience and type of research.

    Please do, keep us posted! And keep a journal … this could be a good book someday!

  13. Lonnie Macau said,

    May 19, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    I smell a book here…

    Great stuff..

    OMBW

  14. Barber Shop Antics | Sinosplice: Life in China United States said,

    May 21, 2007 at 12:16 am

    […] My new job…in a Barbershop! […]

  15. yu888 China said,

    May 22, 2007 at 6:31 pm

    Great blog and great experience. Keep up the good work. And oh, I am not alone in liking what you have to say.

    http://www.shanghaiexpat.com/index.php?name=MDForum&file=viewtopic&t=60104

  16. ghatzhat Hong Kong said,

    May 23, 2007 at 1:18 am

    plan to write about it? would be an interesting story. maybe not a book as other commenters have suggested, but maybe a chapter; you could certainly make some freelance writing coin off it… at the very least the coverage will raise your profile, which may lead to offers of work etc. etc. suddenly sounds less authentic, doesn’t it? and more than a straight 800 kuai. ok, i’m being difficult… i hope it works out well for you

  17. Bill Foulk China said,

    May 23, 2007 at 6:44 am

    I hope it goes well for you. Don’t forget, if you make 400rmb or more, tips included, you will be obligated to pay taxes to the Chinese government. And, if you make over the equivalent of $70,000 US, you will also have to pay taxes to the U.S. government. So do keep close track of your income.

  18. Mike France said,

    May 23, 2007 at 10:24 am

    Have you ever worked like that back in the States? Poor paying blue-collar, or even no-collar, work?

  19. Benjamin Ross China said,

    May 23, 2007 at 11:16 am

    @Mike

    Here is my work history.  The numbers in parentheses are the age I was at the time.
    High School

    Price Chopper Grocery – Grocery Sacker, (15)
    Pizza Hut – Customer Service Representative (16-17)
    Seasonal Concepts – retail utility worker (don’t remember the exact title, but I was responsible for delivering Christmas trees, setting up displays, and any other menial tasks which came up in the store) (17-18)

    College (these jobs were both off and on)
    CBIZ (an accounting firm) – started as data entry, and later worked as a phone customer representative (19 -23)
    Party Personnell Event staffing – banquet staff (22-23)

    post-college

    Fujian Normal University English Teacher (24-25)
    Fujian Agricultural University (English Teacher (25-26)
    Pacific Ethnography – researcher (26-present)

    I’m not sure if these jobs would qualify as blue collar. The accounting firm gig definitely would not, the grocery probably should. Other than the teaching jobs in China and summer work these jobs were mostly worked part time 15-20 hours per week while I was in school. So I really have not had the full blue collar experience back in the States, but I have worked.

  20. daxi China said,

    May 23, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Great idea. Now go sweep!
    From a fellow English teacher in China also of three years.

  21. olaf China said,

    May 24, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    sounds interesting,
    but i still dont think you will be treated like a “normal” employee…if you can speak native chinese then maybe…but, normally just have a look on the streets…doesnt need a lot to know how the ppl suffer, been exploited and try to survive….

    but go ahead…looking forward to your entries…

  22. slade China said,

    May 24, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    Interesting idea. I certainly get tired of the kid-glove treatment.

    How do you get a visa to do this kind of work?

  23. chima emeruwa United States said,

    May 24, 2007 at 11:02 pm

    I am making preparation to teach english in china, for what it is worth I am a black american, I would like to know how much money i should bring with me to live, and what cities are the most westernized, which are friendly to westerners and which are the safest cites. I also want to make sincere friends since I understand China is a closed society, I hope not to have to comeback to the states

  24. Lisle and Marcia United States said,

    May 25, 2007 at 9:19 am

    Benjamin,
    We lived in China for several years back in the early 90s and are now taking a shot at hosting a podcast, in which we interview various foreigners about their experiences living in China. You would be absolutely fascinating to talk to, and we’re wondering whether you might be interested. You can get an idea from our Site at http://www.AtHomeinChina.com — but please keep in mind it’s still under construction. If you’re open to this, please connect with us via the contact link on the Site and let us know how we can respond to you. Regardless, keep up the great work… and zhu ni wan shi ru yi !
    Lisle

  25. James Chiang China said,

    May 25, 2007 at 10:49 am

    Hi, Chima Emeruwa. I’m a student of King’s International English school in Xiamen, Fujian province. Xiamen is a beautiful coastal city and many foreigners live here. There’re more than 10 teachers teaching English at my school. They come from USA, Canada Australia and England. Welcome you to Xiamen. And the school aslo has a branch in Fuzhou where Ben live. Here is the website of the school http://www.kingsenglish.com.cn/king_en/ESL.html By the way, most of my foreign teachers think teaching English is a boring job but living in China is interesting.

  26. James United States said,

    June 3, 2007 at 6:45 am

    This strikes me as a fun and interesting experiment, but there is not much chance of becoming “one of them”. Will your residence remain the same throughout this apprenticeship?

    Not to be too critical, but all of us waiguoren, with our ability to leave when it gets tough, our huge salaries and foreign faces… at best we can humor ourselves but not really understand the competition and (sometimes) anxiety Chinese face. Should you decide to continue as a barber, you will certainly field a lot more job offers than the other apprentices, and you can walk away to make more in one month than they could in a year at any time – thats the great divide. I wonder what the other apprentices think about this? Its kind of like the news reporter sleeping rough for a month, eating at a soup kitchen a few times, then going back on tv and talking about it.

    Ben said:
    What I hope to gain from this experience is an understanding of what Chinese workers go through on a daily basis. What is it like to work a job 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, for a salary of less than $100 a month?

    Why did you choose the hair industry? It seems you have a solid command of Chinese, do your fellow apprentices interact with you as they do with each other? When working in Shanghai, I was really surprised how my officemates treated me. Most of the younger ones were scared to talk to me for fear of making a faux-pas, and though I made overtures towards my joining their lunch group, I was never invited. It was a bit lonely for me to be the only foreigner in the office, but then again they may have resented my being given an office, extended deadlines, and lots of leeway simply because i was the foreign talent, while the Chinese had to toe the line. I wish my Chinese had been better then, I might have asked some of the questions Ben seems likely too!

    Ben, may I suggest a month or two at cooking school after this? I briefly thought about entering a cooking school and doing what you are doing… anyway, keep up the blogging, I love your point of view!

  27. 田靖 China said,

    June 3, 2007 at 11:29 pm

    i am a chinese girl lived in shanghai! i know about u from China Daily!
    i like to read english and will be concern about u !

  28. 田靖 China said,

    June 3, 2007 at 11:52 pm

    i dont know how to contanct with u !i want to talk with u in direct !whats your MSN or email ?http://xiaonei.com/lanbaobeibei is mine ! i start it for only several days and in chinese ! i think u cant understand it !

  29. Bill Compton United States said,

    June 5, 2007 at 3:40 am

    Hi Jim. Photos i received. Thanks

  30. Lin United States said,

    June 12, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    As a Chinese-American born in the outer fringes of Fuzhou (a little village, :D), I am particulary interested in your blog; hopefully you will include some commentaries on the daily life of Fuzhou, its culture and its people. Good luck on your endeavors.

  31. Marc United States said,

    June 12, 2007 at 9:08 pm

    Ben,
    Good for you! I would love to hear more about your experience in China. I also am from Kansas and in the pastlived over 12 years in China. I am presently a teacher here in Wichita, KS and will be starting to teach Mandarin Chinese in the high schools this fall.
    Take care,

  32. Louis vdberg Netherlands said,

    June 17, 2007 at 7:04 pm

    I DO UNDERSTAND YOUR WAY OF LIVING IN CHINA.
    I STAYED FOR 6 YEARS IN cANTON AND XI-AN, SO I KNOW WAT IT IS TO STAY THERE!
    I HAVE LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT.

    LOUIS

  33. James United States said,

    July 7, 2007 at 1:26 am

    Interesting.

    Indeed, different experiences….

  34. maik Croatia (LOCAL Name: Hrvatska) said,

    August 20, 2007 at 5:12 am

    Thanks so very much for taking your time to create this very useful and informative site.o

  35. Dimitri Scheneker United States said,

    August 21, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    One’s first step in wisdom is to kuesteon everything – and one’s last is to come to terms with everything.

  36. 张阳 China said,

    October 4, 2007 at 9:54 pm

    hello,my name is zhangyang,very glad to meet you.

  37. marshal Poland said,

    October 10, 2007 at 2:52 am

    You have an outstanding good and well structured site. I enjoyed browsing through it.

  38. 山下有希 China said,

    November 10, 2007 at 8:13 pm

    Hallo, Ben, it’s me, your ex-students in FAFU, long time no see!

  39. s4nday China said,

    January 14, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    oh .mymy~

    so bad job…

  40. Buy Phentermine Bulgaria said,

    April 14, 2008 at 10:33 am

    Great Post, Thanks for sharing it. It is always good to read someone’s else point of view.
    I Have bookmarked it for future use.

  41. Victor Viet Nam said,

    May 4, 2008 at 5:28 am

    Im proud of the way you worked

  42. Plozher Brazil said,

    May 5, 2008 at 5:53 am

    It’s so interesting:,

  43. Bec China said,

    July 7, 2008 at 11:42 am

    I just happened across your blog, and I found your experience really interesting. It was good to see your posts. This seems to be a largely ignored and misunderstood sector of chinese society, both by foreigners and the chinese themselves.I have noticed a lot of predjuces from other chinese against guys that work at salons,they are really looked down upon. I myself have a lot of experience with chinese babershops. I used to hangout at the neighborhood salon for 6 hours everyday just chilling with the guys. It is also where I met my boyfriend of two years. There are a lot of quirks that go along with the job, and these guys definately have something about them that makes them stand out. Your blog really gave some insight into the lives of these guys, and I hope many more people will get the chance to read it. These guys work really hard and deserve more respect. … Also I would be interested in hearing your views on how the guys deal with girlfriends, and customers. This kind of job can be really hard on a realtionships, and the guys can get into some shady relationships with customers pretty easily.

  44. 张倩 China said,

    December 6, 2008 at 4:25 am

    Amazing tour….just keep it! i bielive that u will enjoy it!

  45. Mark China said,

    June 1, 2009 at 2:04 am

    Sounds like hell, have fun…

  46. Michelle China said,

    January 13, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    Hi~ I’m looking for a English trainer in Fuzhou, is anybody interested in it? Or can you recommend your friend to me?
    Thanks!

  47. Ken United States said,

    May 4, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    这是在京泰路吗?

  48. Benjamin Ross United States said,

    May 4, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    不是,就是鼓西路

  49. Brad France said,

    January 6, 2011 at 6:37 am

    This is so cool. In college I did a sociology social experiment where I spent a few days on the street trying to blend into the local homeless culture, hoping to understand it better through proximity and firsthand experience.

    I lived in china for 3 years, and I wish this idea would have occurred to me then. I did have tons of chinese friends and got close to the culture in many ways, but never did i have the real “chinese” experience, as you’ve described here.

    Bravo!

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