June 4, 2011
It’s 6:55 a.m. in Shanghai and the strains of “Tiny Dancer” are drifting through my open window. The music is loud and stops almost as soon as it begins. A few moments later, another easy listening favorite who’s name I can’t summon wafts in the window and ends quite quickly. As I wait for the next musical wake up call, I’m reminded of one of the many reasons I love coming to China. I never know exactly what will be waiting but I know it will be interesting, unpredictable, and in the course of the journey I’ll learn a lot although much will remain inscrutable.
This is my first time coming on my own and predictably there are a lot of things I forgot because I was taking care of myself and not in the company of other faculty who have the common goal of shepherding a group of smart, resourceful, students on a summer abroad experience. So, I forgot my letter of invitation and wondered if this would be a problem as I went through immigration and customs – it wasn’t. I forgot my flash drive which had my presentation on it. It’s on my computer – no big deal. I forgot my rain jacket, although I do have an umbrella which it appears I will need today.
Today is going to be really exciting, if not really wet, because I’m going with my Chinese hosts to the opening of a small library in a migrant village in Shanghai. This is the topic I’m here to work on: comparing in country migration in Shanghai to undocumented migration in the U.S. More specifically, my partners and I will be comparing the well-being of migrant youth in China to migrant youth in North Carolina. I have data from North Carolina and we will begin to plan a project to gather similar data here.
In China, the migrant population is called the “Floating Population.” The village where we will be going is inside Shanghai and contains 4000 people – 1000 of which are children under sixteen. My colleague, Professor Zhu Meihua, has started an agency that works with the residents of this village. They have a formal office in the PuDong area of Shanghai and have a small office located in the actual village. The library is the fruit of Meihua and her small group of new social workers’ efforts. They painted it themselves and solicited donations allowing them to open the library with 1000 books! There will be an opening ceremony today. It is fitting to me that a library is one of the first resources to be put in place for this population. Reading is power. It is power to see a larger world, to escape the difficulties of day to day life, to obtain knowledge that allows for new possibilities, to understand your world. It is no wonder there is so much conversation about reading scores. It is the basis for every other miracle of education. We talk about it but often ignore it or take it for granted. “I’m too busy to read fiction or anything else.” “Who has time for the newspaper anymore?” “I only read journal articles so I can keep up with the research in my field.” But it is so interesting that in a community that has very little, like this village of floating people, one of the first impetuses is to provide a library filled with reference books, and stories and poetry. Somehow we know how transformative the written word can be and providing that to others is almost as important as providing basic necessities.
Tiny Dancer has played and stopped again…and off I go to start the adventures of the day.