It took a lot of courage for a 25-year-old girl from Wu Xi City in Jiang Shu province, China, who had never flown on a plane, and who had never left home before, to travel 2,000 miles to a foreign country in search of work. It took even more courage to stay once she discovered what life was really like for a factory girl on the island of Saipan in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).
Did she make the greatest mistake of her life? Like many girls, she came with dreams of a better future. Yes, the pay was better than in China, but at what price? Would the high pressure of 15-hour quota-driven days of tedious, mind and finger-numbing work of the "sweatshops" get to her? Or would the greedy floor monitors, and scam-artists preying on lonely, naive women rob her not just of her income, but of her innocence as well? At every turn, there were wolves ahead and tigers behind that threatened her dreams of happiness. Could she learn Saipan's secret factory system and get ahead before she lost it all? Could she save money, save face, and return to China better off? Would she even want to, given the real reason she left China in the first place?
Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin is Chun Yu Wang's nine-year journey on the island of Saipan. It is an inspiring and enlightening tale of determination, disappointment, justice, and triumph, and the only known first-hand account and diary of a Saipan factory girl's life.
Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin is told in her own words--simple, yet full of profound insights,
and from an entirely untainted perspective. It is a directly transcribed account, told without the bias of
reporters, journalists, case workers, human rights activists or western worldviews. Chun Yu's words reveal
a natural storyteller's love of the art, and an attention to detail that makes Chicken Feathers and Garlic
Skin a rare, emotional, memorable experience you'll want to share again and again.
We wear the clothes. We read an occasional story of worker exploitation
in third world countries, but then the reality fades. The nameless, faceless
workers who fill the factories toiling long days to sew, assemble and hem
clothes for western tastes fade from our consciousness. Until now.
Ever wonder what it's really like to work in a garment factory?
Ever wanted to know more about those factory girls in news photos working hard behind sewing machines? Where do they come from? What sorts of lives have they left behind? What sorts of lives do they lead now? How much money do they really make and keep? Are they happy? sad? What do they really think about the work, their factories, themselves?
In her book, Chun Yu reveals things only another factory girl can recognize in this video clip; things that you and I would never realize!
Click to watch Youtube video inside an actual garment factory on Saipan
Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin answers those questions, bringing to life a worldview, a way of life, a work ethic, dreams and aspirations that many of us rarely get a chance to experience.
[From the book, Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin: Diary of a Chinese Garment Factory Girl by Chun Yu Wang as told to Walt Goodridge]
My First Paycheck!
On February 20, 2000, I got my first paycheck! It was for about $210US. That was about ¥1,680. This was the first time I ever received so much money.
A few days after we had started, the garment boss brought the bank worker from the Bank of Saipan to the office to have everyone start an account. So, the check had been directly deposited into our accounts.
The check was for two weeks work. In China, I could buy a 21" color television for about ¥1,000. I could buy a washing machine for ¥600. An air conditioner could cost ¥2,000. My rent in China was about ¥180. That apartment was owned by my in-laws, so we got it at a good price. It was actually worth about ¥400 per month. My son's school fee was ¥200 each month.
My first paycheck. I was very happy. Getting our checks made things a little better for many of us new girls at Mirage. It gave us some hope for the future. The 18 of us who had come at the same time got together and talked about our checks, and to compare the US dollar and Yen.
That night, I called my mother and father to share the good news. When I told them how much money I had earned, they agreed that it was good. They asked me how much I paid in taxes. They said that it was better than in China.
In China, my pay would be about ¥3,300. At that time in China, even bosses were making ¥3,500 per month. They told me that if I could make ¥4,500 per month that would be even better than what managers in China were making.
In China, we work every day. There are no holidays. We work Saturdays and Sundays. Even on national holidays, many companies don't give employees the day off. In China, you go to work, you have to take care of your family, and do housework. In Saipan, we only had to go to work and then back to the barracks. If you compared, it was actually an easier life here.
From the beginning, many girls didn't like to spend their moneyâ€”not even a single dollar if they could manage.
We were getting checks every two weeks. That made us very happy. After about three months, we started buying drinks, and some food to cook. We didn't have to haggle over every penny. We could buy what we wanted. We didn't have to deprive ourselves. Sometimes we would buy noodles and biscuits and vegetables to cook for ourselves since the barracks food was no good. Sometimes we would get hungry after working overtime and need to eat. Da Mei and I would cook together in our room on a little portable butane can stove we bought for $10.
We saved a little extra for the first few months since we had brought a lot of things from China. Da Mei and I didn't have to buy clothes, shampoo or soap. Even tissues and feminine pads.I remember people laughed at us at the airport when they checked our bags and saw the toilet paper and pads.
After about six months, Da Mei and I started to send money back to China to repay what we had borrowed.
I was spending about $10 or $20 every month. I was saving everything else. In my first year, I spent about $700 for food and other items. Da Mei spent only about $200 her first year. Da Mei could really hold on to a dollar. She liked to eat, but didn't like to buy. I started to think she was a bit selfish--always wanting me to spend my money for the two of us. Sometimes we would get angry at each other and stop talking. After three or four months, we stopped hanging out altogether.
When people come to Saipan to work, not everyone is successful at making money to send to their families or to take back to China. Some lose it many ways. I'm thinking about the Long City Traders Scam....
For more, see below: Order Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin: Diary of a Chinese Garment Factory Girl on Saipan by Chun Yu Wang, as told to Walt F.J. Goodridge, now!"
"I have always been curious what factory life was like, and was excited when I saw this book.
I have read on the Web about poor factory conditions and quality of life for companies that make parts for Apple computers.
That is what sparked my interest. Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down!"--Robert H.
"Fascinating! Chicken Feathers takes us inside a world that was almost impossible to understand from the outside. This book is a great public service, but a great read as well."--David B. Cohen, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs (Mar 23, 2010)
"I loved this book. I couldn't put it down. I read it in one sitting. You have such a fluid literary style and a generous spirit.
Helping Chun fashion a story that takes us into corners of a world, we (transplanted Saipanians) were only able to glimpse at from
the sidelines, was a wondrous gesture. It is a touching and illuminating cautionary tale. It reveals man's often shockingly selfish
and callous nature, but, more importantly, celebrates the moments of human connection that make life the glorious journey that it is.
Congrats, you both should be very proud of yourselves. All best to Chun, and to you
on your latest journey."
--Dan Shor, award-winning actor and director, Shodavision (
Looking for America: a Saipan Story)
"...It is a story that deserved to be told and shines a light on a situation that should never have been allowed on American soil.
I recommend this one, especially if you want to know about Saipan at the turn of this century [2000-2009]. I imagine this book will grow
in importance as the years go by. "--Angelo Villagomez, The Saipan Blogger (Jan 12, 2010)
"Opportunity calls no matter where you are in the world. "Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin" is a memoir from
Chun Yu Wang as she tells her tale of a Chinese woman looking for a better life and finding none of it.
Wang offers an insightful look into Chinese culture, and the conditions that one often faces, as well
as her decision to go to Saipan, where her struggles didn't improve. A tragic yet uplifting tale of
spirit against adversity, "Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin" is a much recommended pick for any
international memoir collection."Midwest Book Review (midwestbookreview.com)
"This is a unique autobiography of a sweatshop worker.... ...an interesting read on a subject lots of people have strong opinions on but for which there exist few first hand accounts. (4 stars.) Annmarie (Goodreads.com)
Chinese national, Chun Yu Wang, in her 2009 book, Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin: Diary of a Chinese Garment Factory Girl on Saipan
(as told to Walt F.J. Goodridge), provides the only known first-hand account of factory work conditions and life in the barracks, and
provides revealing insights from a Chinese perspective into the experience typical of many of the garment factory workers on Saipan.
• Read the review in the Saipan Tribune
• Read the review in the Marianas Variety
• Another Marianas Variety mention
"Wow! I really savored this book! What a delightful read, it just pulled me right along. I couldn't put it down. Despite the sadness of the situation; the exposure to the greed and avarice and cruelty of one human to another, I was mesmerized by her desire to seek joy in her life, at every impasse. Very uplifting and sad at the same time. I was also delighted by her acknowledgement of her abilities. We women so often disregard our accomplishments and it was so nice to read that she knew she was good at what she does and takes pride in her abilities even if those around her do not. Her self confidence blended with her humility was enchanting.
Ms. Wang, thank you for getting this into print.
I hope that this will be a best seller especially on Saipan! You should
send a copy to every legislator and congressman who was or is in power.
It should be an eye opener to them!"--Ashley Uys, owner, Fu Dogs & Qi Antique Store
"...presents an interesting, humanizing perspective, adding dimensions -- especially the role of overtime
in these sweatshops -- not normally heard or anticipated by workers around the globe whose jobs have been lost
to low-wage labor markets like Saipan ...."--David Prosten,
After having lived on the island of Saipan for the past 13 years, and having more information than most about what goes on here, I thought I had a
pretty good idea about the conditions in most of the garment factories. This story by Chun gives a candid look into what the reality of conditions in
some of the factories were really like, and what it took to survive in that kind of an atmosphere. This story is about the inner strength of a person much
like you or me, only one who probably didn't have many of the advantages that we had in our lives. This book will make you take a look at your life and
reevaluate some things. Very good read and one that will make you look at some things differently!"
Harry Blalock, KZMI-FM, Saipan
"My Wife and I live on Saipan. She is a former garment worker like the author.
I knew her job was somewhat as the author discribes. My wife feels the book
is spot on!! We know many Thai, Philpinne, Mongolian women caught in pages of
this book. I enjoyed it couldn't put it downand feel it is a must read for
Americans purchasing desinger clothes."--R.E. Jan 2010
"...the book and all the efforts put into it were well overdue, and you and
Chun did an amazing job. Chun is a very special person for standing up and telling her story."
--P. Tulloch, Radio Labour Program, Canada
"This precise, sensitive, well-written book says it all about the young people who
venture forth to foreign lands
to follow their dreams and to help support their families in their home countries. I
t takes ambition and courage, which this young woman has to the nth dregree, to outrun
"the tigers behind her' and to face "the wolves" in front of her.
This diary is Chun's eight-year journey through many different garment factories on Saipan,
and told through her own eyes, and not dressed up by some PR specialist or some activist group.
This is her personal story told in her own words, and a very special story it is. You'll also
meet some of her worthy friends. Hurray for Chun, and may your dreams come true. Thanx for sharing.
I refer readers to John Bowe's "Nobodies", where he discusses (also pages and interviews about labor conditions on Saipan)
the so-called throw-away people in other industries needing cheap labor, whom are treated much the same
disgraceful way as Chun, and some cases, worse."--Joseph Race, author of
Moon over Manila
"Not everyone may have come across the title, Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin.... But it's worth paying attention to.
It is a first-person account by the author, Wang Chun Yu, of her experiences in working in six different garment factories on
Saipan over a period of eight years.
She doesn't get dramatic; she doesn't get maudlin (self-pitying) either; she just tells her story, in very straight-forward fashion: what is involved in getting a job, how the politics work inside the factory, what life in barracks is like, how she survived. It's quite a fascinating, eye-opening read.
It's also rather revealing in regard to the outlook that many of the Chinese garment factory workers apparently had. There's a degree of stoicism (the ability to endure "pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint," according to the New Oxford American Dictionary , 2d edition) not usually found in Western - or at least American - circles. The reader can only admire her and her fellow workers for all the hours of over-time they put in so consistently, the abuses they endured so meekly.
One might think that since garment factories are no longer operating here [on Saipan], the issues don't matter any more - it's all past history. But as stated in the epilogue, "As long as there is a quest for higher profits, a need for cheap labor in order to satisfy an insatiable demand for consumer goods, then the roar of planes carrying hopeful workers, the hum of the sewing machines, the din of voices on factory floors and inside barracks and cafeterias continues [sic]. The triumph, the pain, the fear and hope.....do[es] not end happily ever after...but in reality, and in a real life lived by millions of real girls every single day," they do, "in fact, continue." A very sobering thought." --Ruth Tighe, On My Mind e-Newsletter
"What an eye-opener to the garment industry! The author willingly endured so many things that we snobby Americans workers would NEVER tolerate (but we'll wear the clothes created in that enviroment). A facinating peek into the industry.
The author shows the garment industry from a very different perspective-- from the eyes of a woman seeking to leave her homeland to make her fortune. A view from the very bottom of the world's economic food chain. It is a sad but real story told in a simple but beautiful manner. I read it in one afternoon/evening because I couldn't put it down.
Everyone who wears clothes, or has ever heard of Saipan should read this book.
THIS is the garment industry of the Jack Abramoff scandals."
----Dianne Amazon website
"I'm half way through the book, and just as Harry said, I too feel like I've gotten to know Chun. The title is fitting and the book is "unputdownable!" Thoughts of the story even occupied my meditating thoughts during yesterday's XTERRA race here on Saipan. (You know, the stuff one thinks about in order to keep going in an endurance race?). I'm getting my wife to read it when I'm through.
Chun, you have great courage. Thank you for sharing your story and giving us a peek into your life. May your story continue to become happier and happier as each new chapter reveals itself.
p.s. I took a stroll to saipanfactorygirl.com just to revisit the video of the factory line and, now after
reading, it now all looks familiar. Because of Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin, I have indeed been there!"--
Lewie Tenorio, Program Director, KZMI-FM
"After reading Chun's tale of how she arrived on Saipan from China I have been given an intimate glimpse of the trials and struggles of the garment factory
workers in the world. I feel awed at the bravery and determination of the young women and men who left their homes in order to support their families;
I also feel disgust at the harshness and cruelty in which they were treated. Chun, I hope everyone has a chance to hear your poignant story which I
am sure, is the story of many women in the world today. Truly "Chicken Feathers & Garlic Skin" touched my heart, my mind and my humanity. Thank you."--
"I am reading your book now and deeply humbled by your story. I am an American teacher in Japan teaching
4th grade. I visited Beijing last fall with my family. I have been reading books by Ting Xing-Ye this
summer and am very interested in learning more about Chinese girls lives in China. God Bless all your hard
work and all the girls that worked and still work so hard in factories abroad. I hope that you are doing well."--
"I know Chun (on her new job) and others like her, and what amazes me is their strength and courage to leave home into the unknown for possibly a better life and to send financial support back to their families. Imagine if you will, you are going to work in China with a different culture and language, and on the faith of what your labor recruiter told you, and then when you get there, be subjected to hours and days of confusion, changes of rules, and general hassle. Chun wrote a good account, and it was probably a catharsis in a way, to keep her sane and moving forward in a productive manner. Just like the song "I Will Survive"
and Chun did. Good for her and the other garment workers that have prospered and progressed, some of whom blended successfully into
the American way of life."--
"This is Marlon of Bestseller Bookstore. This is to inquire if you could send us copies of the book " Chicken feathers and Garlic Skin", I would love to have and sell it here at Bestseller... The Consul General of Philippine Consulate is requesting at least 2-copies of the book (he's one of my customers who buys the book and shares it to other Philippine Consulate Posts). Since the Phil. Consulate here will be closing this October and he's leaving on the 15th for another post. He would like to bring copies to give as a token to other posts." Marlon, Bestseller Books, Saipan