There wasn't much to leave in Pang Zhongjun's hometown. No jobs, no television, not even phones.
So when a distant cousin from Taiwan came to recruit workers for a sneaker plant in faraway Shenzhen, he signed up.
Life at the new job wasn't easy, but to him it sure beat a life of raising pigs.
Scrimping by, he managed to save $12,000 to build a new home for his parents back in a small village in Hunan.
He met a hometown girl in the factory and got married. They had a child, and sent him to live with his grandparents.
The young couple showered their boy with gifts they sent home: fancy clothes, a volleyball. He was the little neighborhood prince.
Mr. Pang pulls out a photo he keeps in his calendar. Sun shines down on him and his new wife, Zuo Huijiao, as they stand in front of the Reebok plant.
It's just a trick of the light, but they seem to glow with the happiness that comes with looking toward a bright future.
"Last year, all our plans shattered," he says. His wife became ill. The couple incurred $12,000 in medical expenses.
They paid part with a gift from the factory's management, part with a bank loan.
But Pang's wife died. And Pang had to come back to the factory and work another two years just to pay off his loan.
Other factors beside that debt keep him here, and working.
This is a good life, he says, compared with life in Round the Mound Village in the remote mountains of Hunan Province.
Back home there are still no jobs, no future, he says, just a life of toiling on the land.
Here Pang feels he can work toward his new plan: He dreams of saving money, opening up a store, and sending his son, now eight years old, to college.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor