A 14-hour whirlwind of work

Updated: 2014-05-31 07:48

By Chen Hong in Shenzhen (China Daily)

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Shen Xiaohua's high-pressure workday in Shenzhen begins when she rises at 6 am. The 44-year-old domestic helper then has 50 minutes to wash, gulp down breakfast and cycle to her employer's home 3 kilometers away, where she begins preparing breakfast for the family she works for; a couple with two young girls.

After breakfast is over and everything cleared away, Shen usually spends the morning cleaning the three-room apartment on the 13th floor, from where there is a view of the wetlands that separate Shenzhen and Hong Kong. In spring, that sparkling scenery is often accompanied by a warm breeze coming in from the south. However, Shen has little time to enjoy the view or the breeze because she needs to finish in time to take a bus to another workplace by midday.

That is a hotpot restaurant about 7 km away, where she washes vegetables.

Her work at the restaurant finishes at 3 pm and Shen takes a bus to her home, where she gets barely 15 minutes' rest before taking a bus to pick up one of the girls by 4 pm. The pair then head back to the girl's home about 4 km away, on the way Shen will think about what she needs to buy at the supermarket for the family's dinner.

After she has cooked and the family has eaten, Shen will wash and dry the dishes and then clean the kitchen. At 9 pm she heads back home.

She has one day off a week.

"My daughters (aged 24 and 26) have asked me to give up work and let them support me," Shen said. "But I don't want be a burden."

When they were young, she said she worked hard so they could get a good education.

"Now I'm working hard to help them fulfill their dreams. Their dreams are my dreams."

Her older daughter and her boyfriend have settled in a city in Shandong province and they are about to get married and want to buy an apartment. Shen and her husband are considering chipping in to help them with the mortgage and helping their younger daughter to pay for her education.

A 14-hour whirlwind of work

Shen is an only child, and her parents, both in their 70s, are another big concern. Last year, her mother broke her arm and Shen stopped working so she could return to her home village in Jingzhou, Central China's Hubei province, to look after her. Although farmers are covered by medical insurance, Shen said she needs to keep some money aside in case of emergencies.

However, she seems amused rather than angry recounting how just a couple of days earlier, her husband splashed out 7,000 yuan, about how much she is paid in two months, to buy a saxophone.

"Isn't it just crazy? A fat guy who's nearly 50 and plays the saxophone in the park, hopes to be a singer before he hits 60."

When she first came to Shenzhen, she worked as a saleswoman in the delicatessen of a Carrefour supermarket. The job was easy and she was happy, she said, because she could make friends. But she quit after six months because the pay was only 1,800 yuan a month.

Shen said she is happier in her current job than she was in the one she had before, where she had to work harder and the pay was not as good.

Her employer Ruby Zhang said she values Shen's help. "She is very patient and caring with the children, cooks delicious food and is meticulous with the cleaning. The kids love her."


 A 14-hour whirlwind of work

Shen Xiaohua, 44, works as a domestic helper in Shenzhen to earn money to help her daughters. Chen Hong / China Daily

(China Daily 05/31/2014 page5)