Despite its close proximity to Beijing's major IT center Zhongguancun, life in migrant village Xibeiwang is a far cry from urban. Lin Ming attends the local migrant elementary school while his parents Chunqi and Ho Jiayin struggle to pay tuition by farming cucumbers and cabbage.
Beer bottles and tiny children’s sneakers lay strewn across the dirt floor of the family's two room residence in Xibeiwang. Chunqi sits on his son's bed relating his move from Henan to Xibeiwang. "We've been living here six years. My brother-in-law came here before us," he explained. "But almost this entire town is from Henan."
The town does seem to have a community feel; even as Chunqi talked, neighborhood children crowded at the doorway peering through the dirty window half covered in old Chinese newspaper. One little girl with a pixie cut and light blue Crocs squats near the entrance, eating rice out of a small bowl and peering at the atypical scene in the Lin’s home.
"I don't work in Beijing though," he continues. "This town is all agricultural. We grow cabbage and cucumber." The father explains that despite Xibeiwang's proximity to the urban center, he barely even enters the city. This may explain the outdated pre-Olympics subway map hanging on the wall. "Farming here is busy work. My family cannot even go home for Spring Festival. When we must return, me and my wife take turns going home and maintaining the farm." The man’s tone imparts a hint of skepticism, maybe even boredom, as he glances at the fuzzy CCTV on mute in between sentences.
A child's presence is evident from the yellow graph paper-lined walls covered with piggish-looking creatures wearing triangular hats. Soon enough an eager looking ten-year-old swaggers in and helps himself to some rice from a plastic rice cooker. "We pay 2000 yuan per month at the local migrant school," offers Chunqi as he gazes at his son Ming. "I didn't even finish primary school, but I want my son to get as good of an education as possible." The fluorescent light hanging from the room's low ceiling flickers ominously just as Chunqi's wife Ho Jiayin walks through the door carrying a dirtied but all the same fashionable, most likely fake, white leather Louis Vuitton bag. She gave her husband a stern yet curious look.
The family has two children, as son and daughter, they had previously put their daughter through the public schools in Henan. She finished her second year of junior high school before dropping out to help support the family and now works at an electronic music factory in Beijing. Her story is common in rural China, the son’s education typically takes priority over the daughter’s. But Chunqi still has high hopes for Ming, "It's harder to get into a public junior high school from the migrant elementary school," bemoaned the father. He doesn't know if his son will be able to attend the local public junior high. "Even so," Chunqi concluded, "living with the hukuo system here is still better than living in our hometown."