Eat out or stay home.. or both?

Every day we walk by the shops selling flowers, cigarettes, snack foods, and all manner of household items. They are small sidewalk stores sitting at the base of larger apartment buildings, usually no larger than 100 square feet, just enough room for one shopkeeper and a few counters and shelves holding merchandise.

After passing hundreds of these little shops over the past few months, we started noticing that the shopkeepers were always the same people, all day long. We started to notice that in addition to the small storefront, there was usually a back room where the workers also lived, just enough room for a small bed and some personal items. Talk about no separation between work and home! This appears to be a very common living arrangement in China- even if it’s a larger business like a restaurant, the employees tend to board at the business after hours as well.

One of the small store owners around the corner from us has a wife and small 1 year old son. The parents basically take turns playing with the baby out on the sidewalk in front of their cigarette stall, trying to dodge pedestrian traffic all day long. Their living room is a folding chair set out near the curb, and their kitchen is a few pieces of cardboard surrounding their portable wok skillet, serving as a backsplash as they stir-fry vegetables. An outdoor faucet on the side of the building is where they get water and do laundry in a bucket. We marvel at their forgoence of any conveniences we take for granted, like having a bathroom. The space of our living room alone could house two families of this size. All of a sudden our 7th story apartment feels luxurious.

As we walk by these families, they are always cheerful and greet us. There has to be a different equation to happiness besides the size of one’s home.


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June 2008
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