What is the normal day in the life for a Chinese worker, middle class? It can vary a bit from place to place in China – so I will focus today on where I know best – in Shenzhen. As a rapidly growing city, migrants from around China have settled here and turned a city for earning money for hometown into their long term home.
I have a lot of Chinese friends, and let’s focus today on the mid 20 year old, college educated office worker.
Wake Up 7:30am, Shared Bathroom, Shared Apartment
Most people have roommates. Maybe partly to share the costs of living, but also for a bit more social effect. I have friends that work at Baidu, for example, and they are sharing an apartment with their work colleagues. It can be mixed, meaning men and women, in the same compound.
So wake up time is about 7:30am – and you may have a shower schedule to deal with the 3 or 4 people sharing one bathroom in the morning issue. A lot of times the rooms are shared, with 2 people per bedroom. That depends on the preference of the person. Girls often don’t mind sharing the same bed here.
Leave For Work About 8:15am
Once the morning routine is finished, time to head off to work. A lot of buildings have elevators, but depending on the person’s budget there are still a decent amount of walk up apartments with cement stairwell up to five flights tall.
You’ll notice breakfast stations on the street corners everywhere. From bao zi (steamed dumplings) to duo jiang (bean curd milk) there can be a wide range of breakfast choices. Pretty cheap too, and ready for the customer to take a small clear plastic bag with their food and carry to the subway or to their office.
Get on the Shenzhen Metro
The Shenzhen subway system has dramatically improved since I first arrived in 2007. There was just 1 line then, and most people had to take a bus to work. Now there are seven lines or so covering almost every major community in the city. Quite big trains running pretty often, but just like everything in China, it gets a bit crowded around rush hour.
While it is a bit hectic, it is still nothing compared to the rush hours in Shanghai or Beijing! Those places are just seriously overcrowded for the metro systems that are in place. So the good thing about Shenzhen is that these are new subway systems, seeming to be modeled a bit after the amazing Hong Kong MTR system and streamlining a lot of the morning commuter traffic.
The subway system isn’t a flat rate, it starts at 2rmb (about 30 US cents) and can go up to maybe 15 (2.50 USD) or so. You can get all the way to the Shenzhen International Airport now, whereas when I was first here that was a bus or taxi trek only.
Grab an eBike if The Subway is Far From Your Office
Even though there are tons of subway stations in the city, this city has also expanded just as rapidly getting wider and more spread out. So what to do if you have a 10 or 15 minute walk to or from the subway station? You’ll find a ton of e-bike entrepreneurs flagging you to hop on the back and let them zip you to your doorstep.
Cost is pretty reasonable – from 5 rmb (about a dollar) to 15 (about $2.50 USD). But it is still best to get a quotation before hopping on the back. These are independent entrepreneurs, and they know when there are peak times and people are in a hurry. They may jack up rates – especially during the rain!
Still, I have learned to just pay the extra fee and save the headache and save the time wasted.
Get To The Office, Finish Breakfast
A lot of my Chinese staff come into the office with their bags of dumplings and bread-y breakfasts and drinks. They will finish things up before getting started for work. Maybe power up their computer and check the local news.
I have good experience with Chinese staff showing up on time or a bit early for work. They take their job very serious and abide by the hours the company sets. Of course if the boss gets lax or doesn’t pay too close attention, just like anywhere the staff will get lax too.
Fire Up The Computers, QQ, Wechat, Skype
Now, of course it depends what their job is, I will stick to a common on in Shenzhen: factory sales rep. This person may be in charge of a product line in an electronics factory and be the go between of clients and the factory’s production manager.
So envision a standard office room, cubicles, and computers. Mary, let’s call her, fires up her computer (or probably left it on power saving mode overnight). Now let’s think about the computer, it is probably a no-brand black box PC with a cracked version of Windows on it. And an old version at that. The desktop is sprawled with attachments and various applications that default to have a shortcut on the desktop. It is quite a mess. Maybe it was the same setup as the last staff that was at this workstation previously.
Once the computer is up and running, here are the first applications she will open:
Lunchtime – Time For Local Restaurants or Cafeteria Food!
Lunch is the standard 12 noon time frame. Elevators at office buildings will become jam packed and many on the 10th floor and lower will opt to just take the stairs down. Not sure the solution for having everyone in an office building trying to leave at the exact same 10 minute window, but some offices do have earlier or later lunch breaks.
While the Chinese office culture is still a bit rigid, the more creative and younger ones are a bit more flexible what time people can take their lunch break. Breaks are a bit long, one hour for lunch and then a nap time (see below)
So what is for lunch? Sure there are tons of restaurants to choose from in the city or even in the outskirts of the factory. If it is a bigger factory or office, they may have their own cafeteria similar to a lunchroom in my grade school.
The company too small to have their own cafeteria? Don’t worry, there are lots of franchise chains of Chinese cafeteria style food surrounding office parks. Grab a tray, walk down the track and pick your meat, vegetable, soup, and fruit. Pay by cash (or if you’re a regular invest in a prepaid VIP card) and find a seat with you and your work colleagues. Price is normally in the 10 – 15 rmb range ($1.50 to 2.50 USD) unless you pick a couple meat dishes.
After you finish, just leave your tray there and the clean up staff will clear the table. Chinese common culture is that there are workers who will clean up after you, even in fast food style environments. Even if you want to clean up after yourself, many restaurants don’t have a public trash bin and place to stack your tray. So just go with the flow and leave you tray and left over food and dishes at your seat and head back to the office with your work colleagues.
Afternoon Nap Time
This is where some offices get creative! Nap time, if you go to a Chinese office, you’ll often see folding cots behind the desk or chairs, various pillows, blankets, and maybe even a change of clothes.
Nap time is an important part of the Chinese schedule. I do believe naps are healthy, and it makes me think of Siesta time in Spanish or Italian culture. Lights are out at the office, and the majority of staff are laying back in their chairs, or laying full out in their cot!
Not into naps? Please try to respect them and put your headphones on and play some online games. Maybe QQ farm can keep you busy.
How long is lunch and nap time? Normally the office bell will sound at around 1:30pm to 2pm time frame, and people pop their heads up and get back at the daily grind.
Commute Home or to Networking Events
The afternoon is normally just a repeat of what we discussed in the morning session. There are other times a client will visit the office, maybe they will show them around the office and to the factory.
If it’s a big client, maybe they all took lunch together between a full day business visit.
Otherwise, it’s back to the chatting on the computer and phone calls to suppliers and maybe some local customers.
The commute, is jam packed like the morning ride to the office. Offices normally are open a bit later than 5pm, but some close at the typical 5pm Western time. I’d say more close down at 6pm or 7pm, and its re-tracing the steps from the morning.
Walk to the subway system (or eBike if further), crowded subways, maybe one or two transfers depending on how far away from the office, and then walk back home.
Hang Out in Restaurants or Coffee Shops
There isn’t the typical happy hour pub crawl that Westerners are accustomed too. It’s more about socializing over a meal or a cup of coffee or tea. People may have plans with friends, a group of 4 to 6 people, and find a new restaurant to try out. This can go from 7pm to 9pm timeframe, eating and socializing.
Some eat at home and instead just meet for a drink (non alcoholic) 8pm or so. The apartments are a bit small and not so fancy, so many young professionals like to find a nice and cozy cafe to spend their social time.
And many love online gaming, playing some multiplayer shooter game, or other competitive games to pass the evening.
While on the subway, you’ll see everyone on their phone – maybe reading the news, but more likely chatting on Wechat or playing a mobile game. Mobile gaming is a massive market in China and Asia, and taking the subway a few times you will see why.
But to re-iterate, bars are not the common social place in China, unless you’re with foreigners like us.
Wrap Up The Evening around 10pm
Chinese like to get their rest. Yes, I am generalizing here, or maybe I’m thinking about the 25 year old business English degree professional Mary I mentioned earlier in the article. She wants to get her rest and have a good day at work the next day.
The bill at the cafe or restaurant comes around 9pm or earlier, and then the time togged home and ready for bed. In bed around 10pm to 11pm latest. The shared rooms and shared apartments syncs everyone up. Maybe there is the computer geek playing video games in his room till deep in the night, but the girls are asleep and ready for a busy day to follow.
Get You In the Shenzhen Lifestyle Frame of Mind?
Hope this helped you get some clues on a daily life for a college educated professional in Shenzhen. They are diligent workers, trying to earn a good living, and provider for their family in their hometown and their future children.
Because they moved here from their hometowns, there isn’t much family time in the daily schedule. I should have added some QQ or Wechat calls to their family in hometown. This might happen a few times a week as well.
If I were to write about daily work life in other more established cities, I would include more family. But in Shenzhen people are moving here on their own to get a better life and chance at a career.
What do you think? You living in Shenzhen and feel the same? Or think I’m totally off my rocker? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below!
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