Factory Stories: In the dorm

by Bujie (Factory Stories #4, July 2012)

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At this factory, the lunch break starts at 11:50 a. m. That is ten minutes earlier than at other factories in this small industrial park. So we don’t need to queue up when we arrive at the canteen. Eating doesn’t take up much time. Around 12:10 p. m. one after the other we go back to the dormitory.

Our dormitory room has four bunk beds and eight sleeping berths altogether. According to factory regulations a maximum of seven workers are allowed to live in one dormitory room, so the one remaining bed is used for bags and suitcases. There is a bathroom attached to the dormitory room. On the balcony, clothes can be hung up to dry and there are two water taps. The room has two moving fans on the ceiling.

The bed is quite solid, but the bed frame is no good: the angle irons are too weak, and there aren’t enough welding points. When one climbs up to the upper berth the bed rocks and creaks like a bellowing ox. I sleep on an upper berth. The guy sleeping head-to-head next to me once broke one of the ladder’s crossbars while climbing up. He reacted really fast and his hands got hold of the handrail. So he managed not to fall down. After that it was my turn. Only a few days later, it was me who broke through one of the crossbars. I also got hold of something and didn’t fall down, but what I had grasped wasn’t a proper thing. My hand grabbed a welded angle iron, and even a week later the triangular cut I got from that had still not healed. I heard someone had complained about these beds before, and the company had sent people to carry out repairs, but in spite of all the repairs we still have to deal with that shit.

The factory dormitories are for free, and water and power are also supplied by the company up to a certain limit. So everyone working there has a place to sleep. However, some people rent rooms outside, usually married people, but, of course, this includes some unmarried colleagues as well. So in the evening not all workers are in the dormitories, but during lunch break usually everybody heads back there to have a nap. In our dormitory it’s like that.

Generally, it is in the ten minutes after lunch and before we take a nap is when most of us get together. After finishing lunch we all return to the dormitory. Everyone sits on the beds. Some get boxes with lids and full of cigarette butts out from under their beds and have a smoke. Sometimes no one says a word. All smoke in silence and when finished return to their beds to sleep. At other times someone starts a discussion. It might even get heated at times, but it’s confined to the time of smoking one cigarette. When we talk it’s only about overtime, wages, online games, and, of course, the conventional topic of male workers: women.

The guy from the bed below mine is from Shanxi province and one of the factory’s die fitters. He is rather tall but has a fat belly. The factory’s die fitter team has two workers who work right next to our lathe team. We are only separated by a glass pane so that we can all see each other. Since I entered this work place they have had lots of idle time and no work to do. They have not done much overtime either. So when we are in the dormitory the guy always talks about being really envious that we have work that allows us to do overtime.

Once he started complaining again, the foreman of our lathe team lit a cigarette, took a puff and said: “We are doing overtime every day now, and it is such a pain standing there all day long. It is very tiring. Not like you, you even have seats to sit on.” The colleague from the upper berth next to me was lying on his bed reading a book on his mobile phone. He said: “We can’t work less overtime because otherwise we don’t earn enough money. Doing more overtime is also not possible because it’s too tiring.” Our foreman sighed deeply: “It is really tiring. When I had just started as an apprentice I wasn’t used to it. Standing day in day out, before the end of the month my feet and legs were so swollen that I couldn’t even put on my shoes.”

Working at the lathe is, indeed, rather tiring. After doing this work for a couple of days, I got the taste of it, but I was still not too tired to get into my shoes. We believe our foreman is just too thin, and his body isn’t robust, so when he started doing this work he might “not have been able to get into his shoes” anyway. When there is lots of overtime in this factory, the work is, indeed, rather tiring. Nonetheless I feel quite relaxed since there is no pressure. That has to do with the management in the factory, but I will tell that story another time.


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