Happiness on three wheels: China’s parcel deliverymen

Happiness on three wheels: China's parcel deliverymen

Beijing (AFP) – Deftly weaving through peak-hour Beijing traffic on a three-wheeled bike, Nan Shan has no time to chat as he races to deliver nearly 80 packages across China’s sprawling mega-capital.

Nan, 29, is one of an estimated 1.1 million deliverymen who fan out across China delivering some 109 million packages daily to fulfil the country’s insatiable demand for online shopping.

His job will get even more intense on Sunday, when the country holds its annual Singles Day shopping spree — China’s answer to Black Friday, which saw $25 billion spent in just one day last year.

“It’s not that more people are buying things but the same number of people are buying twice the number of things,” he told AFP. 

A university graduate with a degree in international trade and commerce, Nan fell into the delivery business after a tight market in 2013 meant jobs were limited in Beijing. 

“They said it was a good living being a deliveryman, so I tried it out and haven’t turned back ever since,” he told AFP. 

“The money I earned wasn’t much to begin with, but as time went by and I got more familiar, I now make over 6,000 yuan ($860) a month.” 

But the work is tough and relentless: no matter the season, Nan rises at the crack of dawn to collect his assigned packages for the day at a distribution point. 

The packages are loaded into the cargo hold of his three-wheeled bike — sometimes even strapped down on the roof — as he makes his way across the Jianguomen district, a mix of traditional commercial buildings and apartment blocks.

On a recent Wednesday, faced with a building without an elevator, Nan was forced to lug a sack of parcels up several flights of stairs.

Despite racing to his delivery destinations, it still takes him about five hours to complete his rounds — allowing time for a quick lunch before he hits the road again, this time collecting packages.

“One time, five minutes after I dropped off a package, the recipient called me to say she wanted to return the product, so I had no choice but to turn back and pick it up,” he said. 

“An occasion like Singles Day is a double-edged sword for us, we have to work harder but we also earn more. 

“It’s tiring, the life of a deliveryman is very tough.”

But Nan, who is from Shanxi in central China, rarely takes a day off because “there’s nothing much to do”. 

Asked if he would put his degree to use and take on another job, Nan demurred.  

“I’m used to delivery work now. It’s not that I don’t have dreams but the right opportunity just hasn’t come up,” he said. 

“For now, I’m happy where I am.” 


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