Zhang Dajie is a lift operator at a Beijing apartment building and usually spends her shift reading newspapers or magazines. But lately her head has been buried in a multiple-choice textbook. She talks about her children, marriage and revising for the lift-operator's exam. What are you reading? Material to prepare for an exam. I need to renew my lift operator's licence. It only lasts for three years. I have to pay 500 yuan each time. Is it difficult? It is for me. I left school at the end of middle school. I don't know anything. Years ago I spent weeks trying to remember the answers. Now, I have forgotten them all. And they have changed the topics. They said we need to understand how a computer controls a lift. I don't know anything about computers. Do you like the job? How bad can it be? It pays 500 yuan a month and it is an easy job. I first worked in a dining hall in a machine factory for 12 years. It was back-breaking serving thousands of people every day. In 1992, the factory managers said they needed to improve efficiency. They closed the hall and we were laid off. I sold clothes and fruit, and I babysat. I did anything that was available. But it's difficult for people like me, without education and old and weak, to get a job. When I didn't have work I stayed home and watched television. One day I saw an ad in the neighbour-hood for lift operators. A friend of mine knew the manager so they hired me. How many children do you have? I have two, a 17-year old boy and a 10-year old girl. My son is tall, and handsome and smart. But he doesn't want to go to school. He used to be one of the top three students in class, but he started to hang out with some bad kids. In the end, he failed the high school admission exam. What is he doing now? Nothing! No one dares to hire him. He found a part-time job in a tiny restaurant. I have no idea what he wants to do. I have not seen him for weeks because he lives with his friends. He may call home once in a while but that's it. I am really worried because when he is in his 20s he will find out how hard it is to live in this world without proper education. He'll end up living a low life like mine. How's your daughter? She's fine. She goes to school and studies hard. I had my daughter with my current husband. How's your husband? He's a fine man. He's really nice. I had no job and no money. I needed to find someone who could support the family. He's not rich, not rich at all. He works in a train maintenance factory. He earns 1,500 a month. It's a stable job. And your ex-husband? I left him because his mother didn't want to take care of me after I had my boy. I never returned. He never came to get me, either. So we divorced. We had some guanxi [connections], signed a paper and it was over. I haven't seen him since. Where do you live? Nearby in those old hutong houses that are about to be demolished. They gave us notice that demolition would begin last year. But everything has stayed where it is. I heard the delay is due to compensation rates. We know a neighbouring district has paid more than 20,000 yuan per square metre to residents. We will accept nothing less than that. How big is your house? About 50 square metres. My husband's company subsidises our housing, so we also bought a 100 square metre apartment in another district with a 100,000 yuan loan. We rent it out for more than 2,000 yuan a month. I don't like high-rise buildings. I don't like to take the elevator. It's most comfortable to live in our old house.