Man on the Street is a regular series where we talk to someone doing an everyday job, in order to gain insight into the lives of normal Chinese people.
If you’ve ever ordered something online in China, you’re familiar with the euphoria of finding a package on your doorstep the very next day, pristine and intact, as if miraculously flown in by the most diligent of drones. It’s no secret that China hosts the largest fleets of deliverymen in the world, and for good reason. The nation is practically bursting at the seams with 1.4 billion shopaholics, all of who demand next-day delivery for next to no extra cost. Streamlined by a handful of highly competitive companies, couriering things in China is mind-bogglingly efficient, making Western carriage services look archaic in comparison.
Where there are impressive feats, there are almost always unsung heroes. This month, we decided to kick off our new ‘Man on the Street’ column with Liu Xuan, a 32-year-old S.F. Express deliveryman who covers the expanse of Dongshankou in Yuexiu District.
Rising by 6am every morning, Liu grabs two pork buns outside his apartment before rushing to the Yuexiu S.F. Express headquarters to sign in by 7.30am. A heap of packages awaits him, pre-sorted according to district. Liu is responsible for fastening them, one by one, onto his scooter according to the route he will take.
“Not everyone has a scooter or car,” Liu explains, when asked if the set of wheels helps him rack up extra cash. “If you do, you’re expected to take the heavier packages. But in older cities like Guangzhou, many apartments don’t have elevators. When customers want delivery to their door, it could mean dragging a TV to the 10th floor.”
“We’re known for having a hard time getting girlfriends. Older guys with kids have no time for family.”
Liu delivers between 30 and 50 items a day. He is on-call the entire time and is required to stop by customers’ homes or offices to pick up items for delivery within one hour after a request is made.
“If we arrive late and the customer complains, we’re fined. The money comes out of our next paycheck.” The trick, Liu says, is to be calm and polite on the phone. He also tries to form cordial relationships with regulars in the area.
After a 30-minute lunch break interrupted by a series of agitated calls, Liu works straight until 8 or 9pm, racing against the mounting pile of boxes in his district office. His final wage, which is determined by productivity, usually amounts to RMB12,000 per month – more than double the average income in Guangdong.
“It sounds like a lot, until you give it a try,” Liu laughs. “We’re known for having a hard time getting girlfriends. Older guys with kids have no time for family.”
Physically exhausting and hazardous (Liu encounters a minor traffic accident at least once a week), those in the business consider the job underpaid. A couple of Liu’s coworkers have worked at S.F. Express for decades, but most are young and unassuming, quitting by the second year.
“We live by the phrase, ‘pick up one, deliver two,’” Liu says, clearly anxious to wrap up the interview so he can get back to work. “I think most people respect our line of work, which means we’re doing our job well. There’s meaning in that.”
*Liu Xuan is an alias. S.F. Express employees are not allowed to partake in formal interviews.
THE DIRTY DETAILS
Monthly salary: RMB7,000-15,000
Days per week: 7
Hours per day: 12-15
To read more Man on the Street click here.