Jiang “Rainbow” Caihong dropped out in the second half of eighth grade.
It was Spring, March 2008. Rainbow sat in the last row, in front of a blackboard covered with colorful “Welcome to Beijing Olympics” slogans. Her clothes were soon smeared with chalk.
It was no use being careful; there were too many students crammed into all the narrow seats. She was chubby, just 15 years old and already weighing over 76 kilograms; she moved with some clumsiness.
She went to Dragon and Phoenix High, a private school named for the high hopes the parents had for their children. Every student wanted to go abroad, and they hoped that education would get them there.
Their goals were clear, so the school classes were all designed around the exams: no music, art, or creative classes of any sort, no athletic competitions nor field trips.
Gym classes only focused on kicking the shuttlecock, as it was the one sport required at regional athletic competitions.
Rainbow was an okay student; her only difficulty was with math class. The new math teacher, a Mr. Zhuang, was still unmarried.
He had a hot temper and a nose full of acne. Classes in the Spring tended to make one drowsy, and the subject didn’t help, so Rainbow often passed out on her desk.
Mr. Zhuang hated people disrespecting him, and napping in his class would qualify.
He woke up Rainbow and berated her, with one line that really stung, “Take a look in the mirror, your boobs are bigger than a mom’s! Why don’t you pay some attention in class!” The other students all laughed.
As soon as Rainbow came home, she refused to go to school again.
Her dad, Lao Jiang, worked as a die cut-maker at a hardware factory, where her mom was also a janitor.
Her older brother, Guozheng, spent half a semester in 10th grade before dropping out; he was now an apprentice in the same factory.
He worked 12-hour days on the production line, and threatened to quit daily. Lao Jiang tried to persuade his daughter to stay in school.
He talked about all the suffering he went through when he first got to the city, about how other people’s kids did so well after going to college,
about how he was getting older and weaker, and about how the whole family’s honor and hope relied on her.
Lao Jiang tried to convince Rainbow, eventually he begged. He was a man of sentiment and made himself cry in the process. Rainbow cried too, but she didn’t change her mind; she refused to go to school again.
Her mom, Lao Guo, accepted the decision more readily. She said dragons had baby dragons while mice had baby mice, we are who we are; if one wasn’t meant to be a scholar, factory work it shall be.
Lao Jiang didn’t have his daughter work at his job, instead, he spent twenty thousand yuan on buying a small convenience store where Rainbow manned the counter.
If there were customers, she worked, if not, she just watched TV. She spent all her time in the store, never once looking up her old school friends; they didn’t try to find her either.
The store was inside an industrial zone, a commercial area full of factories. Around closing time, dozens of uniform-wearing workers would come to the store, seeking sustenance after a long day: cigarettes, batteries, sodas, instant noodles…
They would swarm around the counter, pound the glass with their fists, and chanted, “Boss lady, I want some hot water!” “Boss lady, I want some hot sauce!”
Rainbow rushed to accommodate everyone; she often spilled soda here, dropped change there, or bumped her head somewhere else. Lao Jiang sometimes came over to help, and he would tease her, “See, this is why you should lose some weight!”
Rainbow was now heavier than when she was in school, it was because she sat all-day and snacks were everywhere at the store.
She began to take on her mom’s reaction that whenever people called her fat, she didn’t get mad, only sticking out her tongue and smiling cheekily, retorting along the lines of “None of your business!”
Lao Jiang was always in a good mood at the store, since the workers always talked so sweetly to him.
The first real boss to patronize the store was a big one. It was Yang Huaide, the GM of Oulianji, the artificial flavor-processing factory. No one knew who he was at first.
A group of about 20 people came over that day, all dressed in the same orange uniform.
The color was so pretty and bright, like something you could taste on a sunny day. Rainbow stared at their clothes; she was enchanted by what they wore to work.
Among them was a 40-something man with a pale face who said he would treat everyone. He got everyone a Red Bull, and asked for the more expensive silver can too.
Lao Jiang marveled, “So generous!” Several workers shouted, “Of course he is, that’s our big boss, GM Yang!”
Yang Huaide laughed, “Call me Lao Yang, I’m also from the countryside. I’ve still got shit on my ass! I’m no boss!”
Rainbow loved this joke and mentioned it all the time afterwards. She would say to her dad, “Lao Yang is so humble and down-to-earth; he’s not like a boss at all!”
While Lao Jiang admonished her, “Bosses are always bosses.”
It was May when Rainbow Jiang first walked inside Oulianji. She was there for a delivery with her dad. They carried two cases of 2.5 liter Jianlibao sodas into a conference room.
The place was busy, people dressed in orange surrounded a cake. They held hands, sang, and danced in a circle. Rainbow hid by the doorway, where her dad left her watching.
Yang Huaide walked up behind her, telling her she can join them. Rainbow hugged the doorway, smiled and shook her head.
Huaide said it was fine, it was a birthday, and she could have some cake.
Rainbow asked, “Whose birthday was it?” He said, “Every May birthday is celebrated today, c’mon in.”
She went inside and watched the workers sing, make wishes, give gifts, slice cake, and smear frosting on each other’s faces. Huaide’s nose wasn’t immune either.
One girl called Xiangxiang handed over a slice of cake and asked for her name. She said, “I’ll call you Sister Rainbow, call me Sister Jianying!”
A few other people who called themselves Sister Guoyu, Brother Zhiguang, Sister Liping, and Brother Ah-Rong, also gave her food. The small table in front of her was soon covered with plates.
Rainbow was amazed; everyone called her sister and gave her delicious food. She felt warm and touched.
She didn’t dare to eat much, only trying a small bite of the cake. Huaide walked over to her and tried to get her to eat more. She said, “I’m already so fat, how could I eat more?”
He replied in a serious tone. “You can’t focus on this. Being fat is not a flaw, it’s a character, who doesn’t want to have character?
I have six toes on my left foot, I was so embarrassed about it when I was a kid and only wore socks, even in the summer.
Then I figured, who cares, so I have six toes, so what?” Rainbow started to laugh.
When it was time to go, Sister Jianying and a few other people insisted on walking her home. They showed her where everything was: the dorm, the cafeteria, the work rooms, and the warehouse.
Jianying had some red bumps on her arm; she scratched them as she pointed out the places.
One tall structure covered with asbestos shingles was the garage, it held a big red SUV.
Jianying said that was Lao Yang’s car, a Lexus RX350, a very high-end vehicle costing at least 800 thousand yuan.
She told Rainbow, “We rode it once. We had the day off, so Lao Yang gave us a ride.” Rainbow said Lao Yang was so nice and Jianying nodded.
“He is. He treats everyone the same, like he’s our older brother. Here, I’ll show you.” She scratched her arm some more and showed Rainbow the big red letters over the office building.
The words could be barely made out under the faint street light. “Our workers are our family.”
Jianying read the banner. “See, even our slogan is different from other places.” Rainbow kept looking up at it. “Yeah, I also have a May birthday.” She didn’t mention it was May in the lunar calendar.
Just like she was determined to drop out of school, Rainbow was determined to work at Oulianji.
Her mom agreed. Maybe her fate was meant to be a factory worker. But her dad was mad. Since she was too old to be lectured, he resorted to reasoning.
“Factory work is hard, you work from morning to night and can’t even go to the bathroom without permission.
You are like a robot, if you made a tiny mistake, your pay would be deducted, and same if you worked too slow or wanted half a day off. You want to make money but your boss wants your life!
Factory workers have a terrible life, you are chubby and not that sharp, you won’t make it. It’s too hard for you.”
Rainbow didn’t want to hear any of it. She wasn’t working at a regular factory; she was going to work at Oulianji.
She wasn’t confident they wanted her, however, as she made many mistakes in the interview, and her junior high diploma was actually fake, but the next day, HR called to say she was accepted. It was like a dream.
Every new employee at Oulianji got treated to tea with the boss. There were seven new hires this time; when it was Rainbow’s turn, it was almost noon.
Door to the GM office was wide open, as if anyone could go in at any time. The office was not very big, it was filled with book shelves, a map, and a globe.
It reminded Rainbow of a teacher’s office. She took the tea Huaide gave her and took a shy sip.
He looked at her with kindness. “Sister Rainbow, do you have a dream?” She replied, “I don’t know what to say. I’m not educated.”
Huaide gave her pointers, a dream is what you really want to do, what you really want, and who you really want to be.
Rainbow considered for a moment and still didn’t know what to say. Huaide chuckled and told her it was fine.
The company didn’t compare people’s educations; pedigrees and looks didn’t matter here.
Everyone was family; everyone was equal. He called her Sister Rainbow, he was like her older brother.
“What really matters is in here.” Huaide pointed at his chest. “You need a heart with a dream. When you have that, temporary obstacles and benefits are nothing.
When you have a dream in your heart, you’re filled with passion and drive.
Believe in your potential, be all you can be, and achieve your dream. You know that you have a lot of potential and talent, right?”
“No, no way, I don’t have that!” “Yes, yes, you absolutely do! Oulianji will help you find it, and Oulianji will help you achieve your dream!”
Huaide stood up and opened his arms. “Sister Rainbow, you’re now a member of the Oulianji family! We welcome you!”
He gave her a hard hug, his arms couldn’t completely wrap around her but he tried to, which embarrassed Rainbow.
She walked out with her head tucked to her chest. Xueyun Sister, the HR manager, was looking for her.
“Sister Rainbow, your uniform will be ready by Monday. We custom-ordered it for you. You’ll look so pretty in it.” On Monday, when it was flag ceremony time, Rainbow got her uniform.
It was such a bright shade of orange, a beautiful color that you could smell in the sun. Rainbow kept looking at her clothes, as if in disbelief that she was the one wearing it.
Huaide was talking about dreams. He said Oulianji’s dream was to make every human being enjoy the highest quality of flavors.
Everyone at the company was helping the world with their work. Rainbow widened her eyes and thought the dream was too grand to think about.
Everyone around her, however, was all chanting so passionately in their orange uniforms, “Oulianji, Oulianji!”
The dream felt less far away at that moment. Then it was time to sing A Grateful Heart, that popular song.
The singing crowd turned the song into an ocean, absorbing her into the sound.
She was singing, but she couldn’t hear herself, she felt safe and secure, as if she had support. When it was time for the climax of the song, Rainbow was ready to cry.
She wanted to use her life to love this place, to love everyone here. She was willing to do whatever she needed to do for this place.
Her first day at work was also Mother’s Day. Every employee received a carnation and a personally-signed card from Huaide.
Rainbow took the card home to her mom and read it aloud. “Dear Mom, Happy Mother’s Day! We’re grateful you’ve raised an excellent daughter, our Rainbow Sister.
She’s a great worker, and the pride of Oulianji! -- From Yang Huaide and the 532-member Oulianji family”
Her mom asked, “Was this really handwritten?” Rainbow confirmed, “He did sign every single one. You can even smudge the ink on it.”
Her mom was impressed, “He’s a good man.” Rainbow said, “Yes, Lao Yang is wonderful, he’s as good an older brother, no, even better. He never scolds us and is always smiley,
he isn’t snobbish and taught us to play badminton and to sing. He even wears an uniform like us, eats in the cafeteria like us, and gargles at the sink afterwards like us.”
Lao Jiang was dismissive. Bosses were always bosses. Her mom was fantasizing, if I had more than 500 kids and every kid gave me 100 yuan during the holidays, I’d be rich.
Rainbow always smelled fragrant when she came home from work; it was the scent left over from the work room. She didn’t want to change out of her orange uniform either.
Her dad had a sensitive nose and kept sneezing. He was worried about the scent and constantly nagged her to quit.
He said the factory was toxic and unmarried girls would get sick from the chemicals. She was better off learning a trade from him at the hardware factory; she could at least be a professional.
Rainbow refused to listen. Her dad continued his lecture one morning. His tone was harder than usual since he was still grouchy from waking up.
Rainbow knew how to talk back now, and she had plenty of arguments to back up her point. As soon as she put on her uniform, she looked ready to fight.
“I’m not going to work at your factory! We’re different from other places. No one laughs at anyone else, no one is out to get anyone else. We all fight to do the hardest and most dangerous jobs there,
we don’t even take time off when we’re sick. We fight to do overtime, but not for the pay.
We don’t care about money. At your factory no one works overtime without pay and always trashes the boss behind his back.
No one at our factory takes off on the dot at closing time and steals stuff. I’m going to work at Oulianji for the rest of my life.
My dream is there. You know what a dream is? Have you even had a dream?” Lao Jiang was so mad he started yelling but Rainbow had already left for work.
The industrial zone had its cables replaced and all the factories were having rolling blackouts. It was Oulianji’s turn one afternoon, so Huaide gave the workers a few hours off. It rained a little on that June morning, just enough to wet the ground.
Rainbow and a few girls played badminton. She wasn’t a strong player but volunteered to pick up the shuttlecock.
She was jogging back and forth across the play yard until she was breathing heavily and drenched in sweat, but she kept saying, “I’m fine, I can lose weight this way.”
Huaide rubbed his shoulders as he walked toward them. “My shoulder is so sore, I really need to stretch it out. C’mon, let’s play. I’ll treat everyone to KFC later.” The girls all cheered. Huaide was a great badminton player, no one could beat him.
He was excited, and made a “V” sign with his hand every time he scored, as if he was a kid. Just as the game was going well, he hit one ball too high and the shuttlecock flew all the way onto the garage roof. Everyone said in unison, “Wow...”
Rainbow rushed to find a chair to stand on, and tried to reach the shuttlecock with a broom handle. The roof was very high though, even while standing on tiptoes, she still couldn’t get to it.
Huaide told her to come down, “Forget it, we’ll find a new shuttlecock.”
It just so happened that they ran out of shuttlecocks, even if they got new ones right away, it would take more than half an hour to replace. Huaide looked disappointed and everyone else seemed so too.
No one wanted to leave; they milled around the place, waving their badminton rackets, gesturing, talking and laughing.
There was a loud noise; something fell from the garage roof. With a heavy thud, it landed on top of the Lexus RX350, then crashed onto the ground with a splatter of tiles and glass shards.
Someone lay on the concrete ground, not moving. It was the chubby girl.
The lawyer from Oulianji was surnamed Song. He wore rimless lenses. Lawyer Song took out a thick envelope from his black leather briefcase and gave it to Lao Jiang.
He said it was 20 thousand yuan from GM Yang. Yang Huaide wanted to come too, but didn’t want to make the family feel worse. Huaide was so upset by the whole thing he had been sick for the last few days.
Lao Jiang’s eyes were red from crying. He didn’t touch the envelope. “A life is just worth 20 thousand yuan?”
Lawyer Song explained with seriousness, “This is condolence money, it’s a way for GM Yang to show his sympathy and concern to your family; it is not compensation. We have no obligation to give compensation.”
Rainbow’s brother, Guozheng, got mad. “My sister died at your factory, how dare you not pay anything!?”
Lawyer Song replied, “I understand how you feel, no one wants this to happen. However, Rainbow was still in the probation period, she didn’t sign a contract nor did she buy insurance.
Also, the incident didn’t occur during work hours, nor at a work location, so it’s not work-related. Oulianji has absolutely no responsibility to provide compensation.”
Lao Jiang started crying. “She was alive that morning, so full of life. She was arguing with me.” Guozheng tried to speak up, “GM Yang is rich, how can he give only 20 thousand?”
Lawyer Song said, “You’re lucky they didn’t ask you for money. GM Yang’s car was damaged by your sister.
The repair cost more than 200 thousand yuan. He actually signed a letter of subrogation and had the insurance company consider it totaled. He may be rich, but he earned every cent himself.
Another boss may not even give you a single cent, and what can you do? It’s not his responsibility.”
Guozheng stayed silent; he blamed Rainbow for her stupidity. “What was she doing up on the garage roof?”
Lawyer Song said no one knows. No one knows why she climbed up there or how she got up there. Rainbow Jiang was a grown-up, she was responsible for her own actions.
Lao Jiang’s voice was hard. “Why didn’t they make the garage roof stronger?” Lawyer Song laughed. “The roof is all tiles, it’s just for covering from rain and wind, and not meant for people to step on.”
Guozheng stayed angry. “Why was she so stupid? Was she trying to get killed getting up there? Didn’t she know how heavy she was?”
“She deserved it! No one made her fat!” Lao Jiang agreed in a mean tone, then he began crying again.