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Ben’s China Blog. Still Cutting Edge.

Posted in Recommended Reading

Way back in 2007, in a post entitled, Promising China Blog: Ben’s Blog Is Certainly “Cutting Edge”, we highlighted what was then called Ben’s Blog: A Midwesterner in the Middle Kingdom with the following post:

Ben’s China blog came online earlier this year and I have been enjoying it ever since. It is certainly distinctive. To say the least. It is also one of the best China blogs out there right now.

Ben has an undergraduate degree in anthropology and, among other things, he is an ethnographer for Pacific Ethnography. Ben describes himself and the purpose of his blog, as follows:

My name is Benjamin Ross and I am an American originally from Kansas City. I finished college in 2003 and came to China the following year. My reasons for coming to China were that I wanted to experience a lifestyle completely different from my cushy life in the “burbs.” I wanted to be shocked and isolated. I also wanted to learn a foreign language and actually have the chance to use it. For this reason, I did not want to go to a major city like Beijing or Shanghai. Rather, I found a job in Fuqing, a small town located in Fujian province in Southeastern China. For a year and a half I worked there as a University English teacher, until I moved to Fuzhou (the provincial capital in Summer of 2005. My current gig is doing ethnographic research for Pacific Ethnography.

I am also an amateur writer and photographer. Unless otherwise noted, all of the photography on this site was done by me. While in China I have also worked as an interpreter, TV extra, regular game-show contestant, and token white guy. Interesting (and often humorous) things happen in China all the time, so this blog is where I try to keep people up to date of what’s going on in my little corner of the Middle Kingdom.

What makes Ben’s blog unique, however, is Ben’s recent foray into hair cutting (hence the incredibly witty title of this post).  Ben is working as a trainee at a local barbershop for less than $100 a month so as to get a better feel for China’s working class.

I will let Ben explain:

As an American living in China, I have spent the last three years of my life enjoying the benefits of being a citizen of a country which is far wealthier than the one in which I reside. I travel around town by taxi. I drink at expensive bars. I eat sushi. I take trips across the country, and when my apartment is dirty, I call a maid to clean it up. My life is not that different from the other several hundred Westerners who call Fuzhou home. We all come to China for the “China experience,” but we still live our lives with the advantages of being Westerners. But what is it like to be one of the 6 million Chinese residents of Fuzhou, especially those of the working class? For us China is fun and relaxing. It’s a place we come to expand our horizons, to learn a culture, to spend our copious free time studying Tai Chi and Chinese cooking or picking up girls at the bar. But for Fuzhou’s working class, there is no such fun and relaxation, no time for hobbies and no money for Tsingtaos at the pub. Work is a way of life and a means for survival.

Tomorrow I will begin a one-month stint as a ?? (trainee) at a local barber shop/salon. The manager will be treating me just like any other beginning employee his first days on the job. I will be starting at the very bottom of the barbershop food chain, and my duties will include sweeping hair, cleaning bathrooms, assisting barbers, and entertaining customers as they have their hair cut. Throughout the month I will have only three days off, and work the rest from 9 am to 8 pm. I will essentially be a slave to my job which for one month pays what I would make in one day of teaching English.

What I hope to gain from this experience is an understanding of what Chinese workers go through on a daily basis. What is it like to work a job 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, for a salary of less than $100 a month? How will this put into perspective my life in China as a foreigner, or my life in America as an American? How does the other half (or in this case 99.9%) live, and how do the respond to a foreigner trying to do the same? I hope to find the answers to these questions, and hopefully have a little fun doing it. I will be keeping my blog updated daily for the next month, so check back regularly for updates, and wish me luck. I’m going to need it.

Now obviously one month in one barbershop is not going to tell us what it is like to be a member of China’s working class, but it will (and has) certainly given us glimpses of that. Fascinating stuff, and I urge everyone to check out Ben’s Blog.

I loved Ben’s blog back then because I loved Ben’s observations regarding the people with whom he worked and their industry.But Ben left China in August 2007 and eventually started pursuing a Ph.d in Anthropology at the University of Chicago.

But hear this everyone: Ben’s Ph.d research involves his “exploring in an ethnographic study of the urban Chinese hairstyling industry, in Fuzhou and Beijing.” In layman’s terms, this means that Ben will again be hanging out in Chinese barbershops and blogging about the same. Who says you can’t go home again?  Not Ben Ross, and so it is with great pleasure that I re-list Ben’s Blog, now called Ben Ross’ Blog as a must read for those seeking to better understand China.

  • Tiltowait

    I don’t know that poverty tourism is really cutting edge. Hell, anyone who lives in China for more than a few years and still has that “but in China things are weeeiiirrd! Everyone come and see!” attitude is usually an idiot.

  • Paul

    Seeing how this is a “law” blog: Does Ben have the necessary visa to work as a barber trainee in China? I’m always amazed as how casually most of us foreigners here treat the labor and immigration laws.