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Chinese People in Africa: An Inside View Into Their Daily Lives (Translation)Part 4 – Gabon

Chinese law magazine “Rule of Law Weekly” interviewed six Chinese people who are working in Africa.  Each individual works in a different country and they all have a story to tell.  The following is the fourth installment in the six-part series.
Rule of Law Reporter Yi Li  Translation by Erik Myxter
May is just around the corner and Li Qiang (pseudonym) an employ at a large state owned company is busy packing her suitcase.
Her destination is Africa’s Republic of Gabon. This country is located in the middle of Africa’s east coast.  On August 17, 1960, Gabon declared independence from France.  On April 20th 1974 China and Gabon instated diplomatic relations.
Li Qiang’s reason to go to such a distant land was because of work.
“We can choose to go to Africa, South America or the Middle East.” Li Qiang said.  Because he wanted a larger salary so he could prepare to buy a house on his returns home, he chose the cost-effective option of going to Africa.
In fact, Li Qiang is no longer a stranger to Gabon because last summer he spent a year’s time in the rural areas of Gabon, doing the same type of work he is doing now.
In order to make sure of employees safety, the company employees a teacher who teaches close-combat skills, fortunately on his last trip to Africa he did not have to use these skills.
Gabon has two points that took this young Chinese man by surprise. “First although there are a few rich people, the local countryside is still relatively backwards.  Secondly, people are very friendly towards Chinese people.”
Li Qiang explains, in Gabon he has seen many houses, many of them are made of wood, he rarely sees buildings that have reinforced concrete.
Because Li Qiang works in a company with closed-end management techniques, he is not able to freely go on vacation in this tropical country.  “Our passports are all with the company for safekeeping”. Li Qiang said.  The main reason behind doing is for the consideration of staff safety.
“Gabon’s police enforcement is very strict.” Li Qiang told our Rule of Law reporter.  In his view, the local order was good.
When Li Qiang’s company hired some local young people he saw, “The contract must be signed on a month-to-month basis, this showed me there is a strong local awareness of the protection of worker’s rights.  Also when you terminate a contract, not only does one must go through some troublesome procedures, but the company also has to compensate the local workers.”
On a normal day, except for eating and sleeping, the company’s Chinese and Gabonese staffs are always together and get along very harmoniously.  After the two groups became harmonious, Li Qiang found Gabonese people’s personalities have special characteristics.  “They are very content with their lives, this is very unlike doing business with local Chinese people who are always working actively to make more money.”
However, the content Gabonese people also can very easily smell a business opportunity when they see Chinese people.
Many street peddlers’ can speak a few words of Chinese.  Li Qiang said; “On the one hand they are envious of China’s ability to develop so quickly, but on the other hand they are very willing to work with Chinese people do to business.
In accordance with Gabonese’s law, it is forbidden to trade Ivory.  In 1981 the central African states wrote legislation forbidding the killing of elephants.  However, today there are still many foreigners who take the risk because of the potential earnings they can make.
Li Qiang disclosed that Chinese firms have banned employees from buying ivory products, and his company has never had an individual try to buy ivory.  This is related to how thorough Gabon’s custom’s inspection handles affairs where the consequences can range from “fines to not being able to re-enter the country.”
One could easily sum up Li Qiang’s life in Africa as being very relaxed. Outside of work he has a lot of free time.  The other young workers are the same as him in often watching movies from their removable hard drives during their free time. “I rely on this (watching movies) to pass the time.”
In rural Gabon, people mainly rely on collecting plants, fruits, roots and hunting to get food.  Most of everyday living products are “made in China”, but the availability of them is limited and the prices are high.
For example, the local villagers consider cameras, cell phones and other electronic goods luxury items.
“You can sell a feature phone in China from 200-300 Yuan, but in Gabon the price for a phone converted into RMB would equal more than 1000 Yuan. ” Li Qiang said.
Outside of State Owned Enterprises, there are a good amount of Chinese businessmen who are in Gabon panning for gold.  Some others run small convenience stores and some others come to Gabon to buy wood to export to China.  The Gabonese people see the same thing as the Chinese people.  Chinese people see this African country has much room for development and is “full of hope”.
For his own reasons it has been a more practical option to come to Gabon to work in order to scrape together a down payment to buy a house in China.  Li Qiang hopes that his time in Gabon won’t last too long.
法治周末记者 尹丽