Because Shu is both strong and reliable, most of his customers have relied on him for over 10 years. When he gets a call for a delivery, whether in the early morning or late at night, he can have the barrels of water at that location within 20 minutes, even helping to position them on top of water dispensers. Since there are many old buildings within his delivery radius that have no elevators, he must often carry at least one barrel over his shoulder and use the staircase.
"I am always busy, because there are many people who need safe, drinkable water," said Shu. "But I am my own boss. When I work harder, I earn more money for myself."
Shu has two vehicles for transporting the bottles across the community: an electric motorcycle, which is used to deliver the smaller family orders that usually consist of three barrels or less, and an electric tricycle for moving the bigger loads. Shu sells and delivers an average of 20,000 barrels of water every year, which involves the transfer of about 50 barrels every day. His gross profit for each barrel is about 8 yuan ($1.3). According to him, this works out to a monthly income of about 10,000 yuan ($1,600). His delivery station is housed in a single-story apartment along a bustling Xicheng street, for which he pays about 3,000 yuan ($485) in rent per month. That cost aside, Shu is satisfied with his income—he still makes far more than most other migrant workers.
According to a report released by China's National Bureau of Statistics earlier this year, the total population of migrant workers across the country reached 269 million in 2013, 166 million of whom were working in large cities. The average monthly income of migrant workers employed in theses cities is about 2,600 yuan (about $420).
A dream fulfilled
Unlike many other migrant workers, Shu's wife and younger daughter are with him in Beijing, living a life similar to native-born city dwellers.
When he and his wife first came to Beijing, his first daughter had no choice but to stay in Shu's hometown and receive his education there, a common problem for migrant workers due to China's hukou (household registration) system. The girl's grandmother had been taking care of her for over a decade.
"My first daughter is very intelligent and thoughtful. We planned to go back to Chengdu when she was preparing for the college entrance examination. But she convinced us there was no need to do that because she would try her best to get a good score," Shu said, smiling with pride. "And she did it. Now, she is a graduate at a university in Chongqing learning to be a certified public accountant."
Shu's wife works as a part-time employee with a housekeeping service, helping clean houses and cook for families. Making the average salary in this line of work, she can bring home at least 4,000 yuan ($645) every month. "Beijing is an open and inclusive city. Most people are kind and friendly to transplants, and I scarcely feel excluded," Shu said.
Adding to his contentment is that his second child has been able to receive his education here in the city. In 2008, Shu's younger son entered the renowned China-Cuba Friendship Primary School at no cost. This was an extraordinary stroke of good luck for the family.
"My kid is a lucky girl," said Shu. "In 2008, she got into the primary school easily, because the Beijing Municipal Government issued a special beneficiary policy to migrant families whose hometowns were affected by the devastating Wenchuan earthquake, which included Chengdu."
These days, Shu's second daughter is studying at No. 35 Middle School, made famous for its outstanding quality of education. It's close to Shu's water delivery business.
As such, Shu and his family live a happy life here. His elder daughter plans to find a job in Beijing after graduation so that the family can finally be together. Owing to the city's sky-high real estate prices, though, Shu still hasn't bought an apartment here. He said that if he works for another decade and can finally afford an apartment in Beijing, he and his family will stay for good. If not, they will return to Shu's hometown near Chengdu, where he has already purchased two apartments.
For now, the family's only worry is that the younger daughter will have to return to Chengdu to take her college entrance examination due to rules surrounding China's hukou system. Shu is holding out hope that his daughter will continue to be a "lucky girl," as the country is on track to make further progress in reforming its education and hukou policies.
"If so, I will have nothing more to ever ask for," Shu said.
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