One of the first things that I learned about China (from the pile of new books on my nightstand) was that the Chinese can be illegal migrants within their own country. Today I came across this article on CNN, China's Migrant Restrictions Stirs Outcry, that provides some background information on this topic. What happens is that the Chinese hukou system, a household registration system, basically limits where people can live. If you move away from where you are registered, you either need to have been granted a new hukou (which is rare), or you accept that you will live illegally at your new home, without rights to education and health care. (Imagine having your hukou based in Helden-Panningen in the South of the Netherlands, and not being able to live in such fancy places as Wageningen, Rotterdam, Oxford, Cincinnati, or Washington D.C. :-) )
In a book by Peter Hessler (a great read by the way: Oracle Bones) I actually read that in their new place of residency -- usually a city because of the jobs -- those illegal migrants will then just set up their own schools without government support. Showing, I guess, that it still pays off to leave the country-side and make a new life for yourself in a place where you might actually find work.
Just googling for Peter Hessler brought some interesting results. He is an American writer who has been living in China for many years. This blogpost about him, How Peter Hessler Ruined My China Life, a Thomas Talhelm writes a good piece about how Peter Hessler kind of spoiled if for him by writing so well and introducing so many people to daily life in China. In fact, I have to admit that reading Hessler's book does kind of make me both excited and depressed about our move to China. His descriptions are amazing, but at the same time make me realize I'll likely not have that kind of ear-close-to-the-ground kind of experience. Living in an expat villa compound in the suburbs probably is not going to bring that kind of insight into Chinese culture. However, I assume it will bring me GREAT insight into expat life in China!
Coming back to the migrants though, Paul and I did catch a small glimpse of migrant life on our first visit to Beijing. On our last Sunday, hours before flying to Chicago, we decided to check out a trainstation close to our hotel. Only when we arrived at station, however, did we realize that we had actually decided to visit a train station on the last weekend before the Chinese New Year would start, a time that everyone, alles en iedereen), would be trying to catch a plane or bus to go home. From what I understand, their New Year is like our Christmas or the American Thanksgiving: THE time to go home and be with your family. The picture on the right shows just a "few" people in front of the station that morning....