Zhuhai, China: Life beyond the iron curtain. A life unknown.
On the industrial backstreets.
Zhuhai, China circa 2007: Nowhere Men.
I'm hours away from my home base in industrial Zhuhai.
Standing on a dusk caked roadside, being bathed in diesel exhaust, I am waiting for my next ride in a never ending factory tour of the industrial badlands of mainland China. I can taste the grit in my mouth.
I am looking for a needle in a hay stack, implementing the design of something that does not exist, in a country that bases its production on known quantities. How frustrating.
A sea of faces peer out from vehicles that are crawling along at a snails pace. Oriental features spotting the odd man out. Where's Wally? Sorry, Wally's out. Just the only gui lo in town on his way to a production line near you.
Hours pass and I’m even further gone, now roasting in the heat of a plastics extrusion plant. I need components and they need money. The ultimate relationship of convenience. My agents are with me. Just as well. All talk here is foreign to me. They speak Mandarin while I speak in tongues. I am the master of getting my point across without words.
As I walk across the factory floor, making my way through the stink of plastic fumes, I see a worker looking at me. I meet his gaze. His eyes are glazed, stoned from this environment. He falters under my stare and he breaks away from me... retreating, beaten. I approach his work station and he looks up at me, anxiety creasing his features. His expression tells me all about his world. He expects no quarter from me.
I can feel the tension in him as he anticipates my next move. He looks like a man waiting for a predetermined verdict. A look of someone forever overlooked. I pause for a moment and pick up the injection mould he has been filing, in full view of his boss. I run my fingers carefully across its edges - it is smooth. He does good work. I turn to face him and I give a thumbs up signal to the boss. The boss takes the component from the worker into our meeting room as we discuss our future co-operation. As I walk into the room, I turn to close the door and our eyes meet once more...
His face transforms into a smile. It is genuine. No words pass between us, but his meaning is clear. I return his thank you with a wink.
He has pride in his work. Menial or otherwise, that is not of consequence. We are not so different, he and I. Both passengers of circumstance. I am just more fortunate than he - a winner of the lottery of life.
I never forget that. No matter where I stand.