Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 4, September 2000

Pang Hui

I am a Cloud

The year I turned eighteen I eloped with a man from another county.[1] Later, I gave birth to three daughters. My husband was a gambler and a drunkard and boozed until he was completely legless every day. When he lost money he'd come home and beat up his wife and children. One of those awful beatings three years ago made me determined to leave him, and that's how I started my life as a migrant worker.

I don't have much education and I couldn't find any decent job. I couldn't, and I didn't want to do those jobs where you had to sell body and soul, so all I could do was go to a construction site and cook for the workers there. Those construction workers were also migrants, living by selling their physical labour. The only thing different was that they were men. Each day I was responsible for preparing three meals for over a hundred people. The hard work can easily be imagined, but I wasn't really afraid of hard work. What I was afraid of was lack of respect from those men. Among them, some used filthy, disgusting language with me, some made passes at me, and some made a big show of urinating in front of me. During the day it wasn't so bad, but every night, lying down in the workshed, with the wind coming in from all sides, I never dared to take off my clothes, really afraid those men would do something to me. Lying on the plank bed, I couldn't sleep, thinking about my family. I didn't want to return, but my three daughters were always on my mind. Would her dad be able to pay the school fees for the oldest girl? Had the second girl recovered from her epilepsy? And was the third one still wetting her bed?... Every night I would think about them for a long time before I went to sleep, and as soon as the sky grew light, I had to get up and prepare the breakfast. My wage was 150 yuan[2] per month, but for someone like me who had come out to work for the first time, it was quite a large sum. Four months went by and apart from buying three packets of sanitary napkins and one bag of washing powder, which cost me eight yuan, I kept the remaining 592 yuan in my pocket next to my skin. I hoped to use the money to pay for my older daughter's school fees and the second daughter's medicine...

After four months of life as a migrant worker, I gradually got used to the environment and came to understand those men. Even though they were crude people they were not bad. Their dirty talk was an outlet for their pent up feelings. It wasn't easy for them to leave home and come out to work either. So I was no longer on my guard. Occasionally I would answer back when they talked dirty. Not only did they not get angry, it would make them happy. Perhaps it was because there were too few women in their lives. I often helped them to mend and wash their clothes. And they used their spare time to help me fetch the water and wash the vegetables. Eventually I won their respect through my own efforts. Once, someone found me a job painting. The pay was better than cooking, but those workers would not let me go, no matter what. They said they only wanted to eat the food I cooked. If the money was not enough, they would be willing to make it up by each taking a bit out of their pay. So I stayed working on the construction site.

In the blink of an eye it was winter and the construction site stopped work. I decided to go home. I thought that after half a year of absence my husband would have changed, but I was wrong. When I got home, carrying my cherished money that I'd earned with blood and sweat, the first thing my husband said was: 'You shameless thing, how dare you come back. No old bags who go out to work ever come home intact. I'd rather be a bachelor than a cuckold. Even if we were dying of poverty, I wouldn't take the dirty money you earned. Get out!' I said to him: 'My money is clean,' but he wouldn't listen and pushed me out the door. I shook all over and it wasn't the wind from the mountains that made me shiver. I secretly gave the money to my oldest daughter who chased after me in tears, and once more took the road away from home. It was different from the last time. Having experienced life as a migrant worker before, I was no longer ignorant about the outside world, my steps were no longer as hesitant, and I believed at heart: no matter what happened, I would go on living, living without complaint, regret or shame.

I am a cloud, destined to float around in this life. I do not know where the wind will blow me next.


[1] Pang Hui's story was originally published in Nongjianü Baishitong [Rural Women Knowing All], 8, (1999): 28-29, translated by Tamara Jacka and Song Xianlin.

[2] One yuan = US$0.1.


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

This page has been optimised for 800x600
and is best viewed in either Netscape 2 or above, or Explorer 2 or above.
From February 2008, this paper has been republished in Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific from the following URL:

HTML last modified: 5 March 2008 1344 by: Carolyn Brewer.

© Copyright