Life / Shanghai

Future Prospects

I recently helped my friend research careers, and found that nurses can make an average of $80,000 a year and that pharmacists can make an average of $134,000 a year. Journalists average a meager $50,000 a year. The discrepancy in pay seems unfair as both jobs seem to require just as much effort, although one can be a journalist without the degree.

I realize that if I keep on this path I may never achieve the financial status that my peers will. But is that the kind of life I want? By comparing the cost of living in NYC and Shanghai to the average salary, New Yorkers still seem to have it better.

In China, the average college graduate’s salary is about 3,000-5,000 RMB a month, or $475-$790 a month, still less than $10,000 a year. With rent averaging 1,000 RMB a month and  a 10 percent tax rate, there’s not much left to spend, especially after savings. If anyone struggles, they’re struggling.

NYU students and NYC residents complain about the tough situation in America. But the Chinese seem to have it worse. At least our families often have good backgrounds, which means resources and connections.

Their families didn’t. They were farmers, they came from the countryside to Beijing and Shanghai hoping to make it big. And in China that means leaping between social classes. As 27-year-old Beijing resident Zhao Xing mentions in her blog, China’s young graduates wonder whether it’s worth slaving away in a city for 3000 RMB a month instead of heading home to a more comfortable life.

But as Xiao Meng of the drama “Beijing Love Story” states, to return home would be to admit that you have failed. In the drama, he makes the painful but perhaps practical choice of giving up his girlfriend for a high-level corporate position.  “We should show them who we are, we should show the world who we really are, we should show them what we can accomplish!” he says.

After taking the job, Meng falls into a spiral of revenge, women, and petty power. At the root of all these is money – to survive and succeed. When poor, he often lamented how failing to score just a few points higher on the college entrance exam ruined his prospects. Without a high-paying job, Meng cannot not afford the payments on his new apartment or buy a car, both of which are necessary for marriage in modern China, he believes. Meng chooses work over love because he wants the dignity money brings: he gains a mansion, a brand-name car, expensive wines and fine cigars, none of which he ever dreamed of touching as a village boy. But in the end, he has no friends and no family.

Money is necessary for living in a modern society. Most of us hope to make enough to live comfortable lives, and care for our family and friends. I hope one day I can bring my grandparents to visit all the places I have been. With money, we can fulfill many desires and insure ourselves against poverty. Money’s worth in our lives determines the career choices we make.

As the oldest in the family I sometimes feel that I should be responsible for the welfare of my sisters and parents. I wonder if I should pick a higher-paying career so I can give them a good life. But what is the good life? Xiao Meng had everything, except for a family. And, as my friend reminded me, paying for all my family’s needs is not my responsibility. Each of us has our own life to battle through.

In the end, I’d rather have succeeded in my own battle rather than watching others flounder through.

At times this past semester in Shanghai I didn’t want to sit through lectures or make the effort to go on field trips. And despite the many risks I had to take being on my own in a foreign country, I am happy to have had all these experiences, especially the ECNU drama club.

Because like Zhao Xing said in one blog article, “After I came home [from the track race], I was very happy, because I had won myself.”

I have overcome many personal struggles here as well. Although family and friends have teased me for being slow, the drama club l joined showed me that I could stretch, I could dance and I could act. Combined with photography and the er hu class, plus the unexpected surprise of having my makeup done for the first time, I realized that I could do all these things, and even if I wasn’t excellent at them. And I realized that attitude is more important than talent.

“You’re interested in it, that’s why I teach you,” my er hu teacher said. After all the other four students dropped out of the class, I am grateful that he was still willing to come every week to teach me and print materials for me to use.

“You may not think that you are very good,” my drama teacher said. “And we agree. But what we appreciate about you is your spirit of honesty, diligence and earnestness. We’re very happy to see you come each week because it is also an encouragement to us.”

Zhao Xing concluded that blog article with a subway advertisement in which a young man wanted to become a photographer, but didn’t want to be poor. “Then be an excellent photographer who makes a lot of money,” his teacher said.

The same is true for journalism. Despite all the worries about newspapers closing and the poor job market, my professor told me that jobs will always be available for those who are good in their field. Not to say that all the liberal arts college graduates who have had to take on babysitting jobs or tutoring jobs are incompetent. Rather, we are all on the road of life. Work hard to achieve your dream beginning now.

As young people, especially young journalists, we think that what we do can immediately change the world. We are young, we have ideas, we have passion: we think everything we do is a breakthrough in history. And then we are frustrated and discouraged when we cannot achieve the change we wanted and see how many others have tried the same tactic before us. Like the author of Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Nothing.

When I was your age I also wanted to change things, said my sociology professor Anna Greenspan in one class. But, she added. the better question to ask is “How?” and really try to understand the situation before asking “What can we do about it?”

Because the reality is, in such a complex society, one person can seldom immediately impact the whole world, unless you are Mark Zuckerberg.

As one begins to tackle the “why” to every issue, it seems that so many have sought the same answers, and have had far better proposals for resolving those issues. Our efforts seem in vain. Journalists write so much yet so few seem to read it; no one we know personally subscribes to a newspaper or reads the The New York Times. With so many modern outlets for news from the Huffington Post to Facebook, the newspaper seems obsolete. But there is value in excellency. When society is searching for the official report on an issue, they still turn to established organizations like The New York Times.

While every story seems not much different from the last, never underestimate the impact an article can have on one person. Some Chinese criticized “Beijing Love Story” for recycling old plots of love triangles and revenge, but one reviewer responded that even an old storyline can be new for someone who has never seen life before in that light. Everything has value; it just depends on who meets it and when.

So many authors, composers, artists and other figures did not become famous until years after their deaths. In an Internet age we are eager to obtain the instant fame thousands of Twitter followers can bring. But perhaps we should also be searching for something more lasting: a character that will be remembered for centuries.

I’ve received so much inspiration and encouragement since I’ve been in China. I am amazed by the Chinese young people like Zhao Xing who have weighed the risks, financial and emotional, and have still chosen to pursue their dreams. If I end up across the world from the family and friends I grew up with, I will still feel I have made the right decision. For despite these and financial concerns, I have decided who I want to be.

While abroad I called home about once a week, I almost didn’t want to, yet I was eager to. On one hand I was eager to share my experiences, on the other hand I’d rather save them and think about how I wanted to break things to them when I returned home. I didn’t want to face the problems I know lie not just at home but in the whole environment I grew up in. I didn’t want to make difficult choices about the future.

But now I am not afraid.

Read Zhao Xing’s blog article on college graduate dreams here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s