A Hard Graft for Mr Ding & Mr Huang

Fruit & Veg in Beijing: January 2013
Some text has been translated.

Although there are plenty of supermarkets in the big cities in China, most people still buy their groceries from open air markets, stalls and fly pitchers at the side of the road. For these guys life has a simple pattern; work work work followed by work with maybe a few days off for the Spring Festival every year and then it’s back to work!

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Huang Chang (right) & Ding Guang You (left) are always smiling.

Take my friends Ding Guang You and Huang Chang who have a fruit and veg’ stall opposite the car park near our apartment complex. Like most stalls, theirs is a rag-tag construction of heavy weight tarpaulins designed to keep things cooler during the super-hot roasting summers and repel the cold during the bone chilling winters. They also serve to protect from the dust and rubbish which gets blown about all over the place by the ‘Beijing Da Feng’ (big wind). No wonder people wear masks here.

This winter is a cold one and with temperatures plummeting to minus ten Ding and Huang are there as usual, wrapped up in their thick winter coats with their hoods up. Ding is from Henan/Xinyang and Huang from Shenyang. Their stall is set up so that near the cash desk a make-do bed has been fashioned between crates and boxes, insulated with old sacks and padded blankets. I have a feeling these guys are there for so long that most of their life is spent here at the side of the street.

As usual Ding and Huang are in fine spirits. “We get to work at six every morning every day” smiles Ding, the joker of the two. “In the evenings we start to finish at eight thirty.
“What? I’m still dreaming at that time!”
“It’s a normal time for us. If we have to get new vegetables must get up much earlier and go to Qinghe market before we set up our shop.”
“You mean you put it up every day?”
“Well we can’t leave it here” laughs Ding.
I ask if there are any days when they don’t work because it’s too cold.
“We always work through the winter. This year there has been only one time when we couldn’t open because it was the coldest day.”
“How about holidays; you must get time off?”
“We will have a week off for the Spring Festival. My family don’t work so I come to Beijing because my hometown is poor. Often people leave for different places for work. If they make a small business the money is not enough for the whole family to survive. This is why Beijing is better but I only get this one chance to see them every year”.

To add to it once a month the ‘authorities’ descend on the small stalls and shops who don’t have a licence. I watch from the apartment as thirty ‘officials’ pull up and do a thorough check on all the stalls in the area. For Ding and Huang this day is not so bad as only the fruit and vegetables that are in boxes on the pavement outside are removed. These are loaded up onto the back of a flat-bed lorry and taken away.

I always buy my apples from Ding and Huang’s place now, really appreciative of what they go through in order to scrape a living together.

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