I met a kid the other day who recently came to Nanjing from a small town in Anhui Province. It's the classic case of 'bright lights' big city: he's young, naive and brimming with hope for the future. His parents saved up to give him as much of a nest egg as they could. Their hope is that he will find a job, 'make some connections' and then one day, be able to send money back to his family.
The other day, he told me how exciting he found life in Nanjing to be, compared to his little village, where TV and the local arcade were the main social options.
"Nanjing is so exciting," he told me, "It is the big city. Here, my dreams can be possible."
I felt kind of bad for him, because Nanjing isn't a big city. Sure, there are lots of people here and western bars and big supermarkets and all of that, but it's a second-tier city well down on the list. However, coming from his background, Nanjing is the big city.
* * *
A few years ago, I was island-hopping in southern Thailand. On Ko Pha Ngan island, I came across a secluded beach well away from the crowds. The entire beach was owned by a single family. They spoke English well and were very chilled out. So, I ended up staying there for a week, doing little else except for puffing fatheads and piddling around the beach.
The owner's name was Salu, I think... sometimes, I would get a beer and sit out on the beach with Salu to watch the sunset. Looking out at the surf, we could see Ko Samui (a much bigger island) off in the distance.
Salu would often look longingly over at that island and sigh. "Once a month we go over there by boat. It's amazing. They have supermarkets, department stores, even an airport. It's the big city, I love it there."
I felt bad for Salu as well. Ko Samui is not the big city. Neither is Nanjing. However, some people aren't as lucky as others.
My friend from Anhui needed a lot of help to end up in Nanjing. His dreams will probably be dermined here – I don't imagine he is likely to get further.
As for Salu, he is like a prisoner, trapped on a tiny little beach, staring longingly at an island off in the distance, which represents hopes and dreams for him.
* * *
Conclusion: foreigners here are luckier than many. With our passports, finances and cultural understanding, the world is ours. We can go anywhere we want.
For Salu, his entire world is within a few square kilometers. He may never get further than than.
I am not free, but I have more freedom than he does. That is all...