1. The first thing I thought while reading this was, how did she get to interview delivery men? Did she like, ask them for an interview when they dropped off her food? What'd you do and how'd they react?
Yeah, I actually ordered a lot of meals for a two week period from various places: Ele.me, Baidu Waimai, and Meituan. When the guys came to my door I told them I was writing an article on the delivery app industry and asked if I could interview them later. We exchanged WeChats. The first time I was really nervous about asking them. I thought they would probably want to avoid me once I said I was a "journalist," but instead they seemed comfortable and even excited. I think it helps that I don't look very intimidating, but they obviously thought it was really cool to be able to talk to a foreigner. One guy told me he felt very proud to have me in his WeChat contacts.
2. Are you still in contact with these guys? What're they up to?
Yeah, they still message me sometimes. One guy told me when I interviewed him that he was actually about to quit. He later got a job driving a car. He said he liked it but was still learning the roads in Beijing. Another guy told me he has gotten better at the delivery job, and is making a lot more money now. In the beginning he was too nervous to leave the company's meeting area, where they wait around to get the orders on their phones. But now he knows to hang out where the most restaurants are, so that he can be the first one to accept order requests. He told me now he makes between 15 and 20 deliveries per day, which is much better than he was doing before.
3. It's clear they have a hard living in Beijing, like many other migrant workers. Do you think the burgeoning demand for delivery providers is helping them, or keeping them stuck in a socioeconomic trap?
I honestly don't think it's doing that much for them either way. Most of them don't seem to stay at it too long. They have all done other types of labor in Beijing before getting into the delivery industry, and they will probably go on to do other odd jobs after they leave. If it wasn't for the delivery app industry they would be driving cars or doing construction or something else. It seems to be a pretty good job though if you can work directly for a restaurant, instead of being employed by a big company like Ele.me. The one guy I spoke to who was doing that was making about twice as much as the other guys. He was also the most positive person I spoke to about the job and about Beijing.
4. You're a freelancer with options to write about anything. Why did you decide to write about this?
I used to work at restaurant, which is a crazy job, both in terms of the logistics involved and because customers can sometimes be pretty mean. Because of that I was amazed at how efficient the delivery people were. I wondered if it was a really tough job and if customers were often rude to them. I guess I also have a soft spot for underdog stories of people trying to make it. I feel like a lot of the time we see the service people who do these jobs as part of the background noise of our Beijing lives, and don't really give them a second thought. I wanted to show them as people and highlight their stories.
It actually turns out the job isn't as hard as I thought. They told me most of the customers are pretty polite. The main issue is financial-- they just don't get paid enough to save money or really support their families.
5. What other topics are you looking to explore going forward?
Lately I've been really interested in minority communities within Chinese society, and how they interact with society at large. I'm curious about how people who are different for one reason or another get treated, and how they react to that treatment. To start I've been thinking of doing profiles on the deaf community and also people who are suffering from mental illnesses.