Despite its close proximity to Beijing's major IT center Zhongguancun, life in migrant village Xibeiwang is a far cry from urban. Lin Ming attends the local migrant elementary school while his parents Chunqi and Ho Jiayin struggle to pay tuition by farming cucumbers and cabbage.
Beer bottles and tiny childrens' sneakers scattered the dirt floor of the Lin family's* two room residence in Xibeiwang. Patriarch Chunqi sat on his child's bed relating his move from Henan to Xibeiwang. "We've been living here six years. My brother-in-law came here before us," he explained. "But almost this entire town is from Henan."
The town did seem to have a community feel; even as Chunqi talked, neighborhood children crowded at the doorway peering through the dirty window half covered in old Chinese newspaper. One little girl with a pixie cut and light blue Crocs squatted near the entrance, eating rice out of a small bowl and peering at the man.
"I don't work in Beijing though," he continued. "This town is all agricultural. We grow cabbage and cucumber." The father explained how, despite Xibeiwang's proximity to the urban center, he barely even enters the city. This might have explained the outdated pre-Olympics subway map hanging from the wall. "Farming here is busy work. My family cannot even go home for Spring Festival. When we must return, me and my wife take turns going home and maintaining the farm." The man spoke with a slight skepticism, maybe even boredom, glancing at the fuzzy CCTV on mute in between sentences.
A child's presence was evident from the yellow graph paper-lined walls covered with piggish-looking creatures wearing triangular santa hats. Soon enough an eager looking ten year old swaggered in and helped himself to some rice from a plastic cooker. "We pay 2000 yuan per month at the local migrant school," explained Chunqi about his son Ming. "I didn't even finish primary school, but I want my son to get as good of an education as possible." The fluorescent light hanging from the room's low ceiling flickered ominously just as Chunqi's wife Ho Jiayin walked through the door, carrying a dirtied but all the same fashionable most likely fake white leather Louis Vuitton tote bag. She gave her husband a stern and curious look.
The family previously put their daughter through the public schools in Henan. She graduated from grade 2 junior high, and is now working at an electronic music factor in Beijing. "It's harder to get into a public junior high from the migrant elementary school though," bemoaned the father. He doesn't know if his son will be able to attend the local public junior high. "Even so," Chunqi concluded, "living with the hukuo system here is still better than living in our hometown."
*Names have been changed to protect anonymity