Lu Baoxing, 37, a visually impaired massage therapist based in Guangzhou, has just passed yet another Lunar New Year without returning for a family reunion in Hanzhong, Shaanxi. It was the third New Year he had decided against going home. He has a two-year-old son whom he has never met before. A gifted but untrained vocalist, Lu likes to imitate Inner Mongolian singer Teng Geer and often offers his singing along with skilful acupuncture massage to clients at the Taixing massage clinic on Qianjin Road in Liwan district.
What has kept you from returning home in the past couple of years?
Who doesn't want to be reunited with family? I long for the kind of joy and atmosphere when family members gather for the Lunar New Year. But train tickets are hard to get during the transport crunch. I don't have any connections, so buying tickets every year is a nightmare. I lost my sight about 10 years ago. All my old friends and family back home, except my mother, look down on me. The family I remembered is no longer loving but is filled with rejection. They think I'm useless and see no value in socialising with me any more. I may be blind, but I'm a capable man. I don't want to be looked down upon, so I would rather be alone than return home before I have something to show for. I plan on excelling in my profession and starting a business one day. Only then will I have the face to go home and earn the respect I deserve.
Why did you leave home in the first place?
I come from a poor peasant family. We used to have about five mu of land (about one-third of a hectare) growing rice and wheat, but the heavy agricultural tax in the 1990s left us with an annual income of only 200 yuan. So, I took up my first job in Beijing as a construction worker, but it came to nought. Six months of work but I was never paid. The conditions were also harsh; I worked 12 hours a day under the scorching sun, and ate only steamed buns with pickled vegetables. That life was not sustainable, so I left the job.
What other jobs have you done?
I have been in Beijing, Tianjin, Taiyuan in Shanxi, and down south in Guangdong's Foshan, Jiangmen and Guangzhou. I have been a rickshaw puller, watermelon vendor, factory worker, coal miner and waiter.
How did you lose your sight?
I was working in a very dusty Foshan factory making floor tiles. We put in very long hours. Four months after I started work, my vision became blurry. A factory supervisor told me to leave and seek medical care back home. I was diagnosed with detached retinas. I wasn't totally blind then, but an operation at the Xian No 4 People's Hospital failed. One month later, I lost my vision completely, at age 27.
How did you overcome the trauma?
Living in utter darkness terrified me. My only thought then was to end my life so I wouldn't burden my family. I pondered ways to kill myself: jumping into the river, but I'm a good swimmer; hanging myself, but it would be such a cruel way to die; consuming poison or sleeping pills, but I didn't know where to get them. Eventually I felt even dying could be so hard and would cost my family to bury me, so I might as well live on.
Did you seek compensation?
My mother, who was 64 at the time, and I sold all our crops and a pig and scrapped together 600 yuan to pay for train tickets to Foshan to file a petition. For a year and nine months, we slept outside various courts and the Bureau of Labour, but the authorities refused to rule my condition as a work-related injury. After a long enough struggle and reports in the press, I received 30,000 yuan. I used that money to learn massage in Shaanxi, so here I am today, hoping to make a name for myself and live a worthwhile life.