Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Zero-hour contracts and the story of the magic rice.

 Image from dreamstime.com.

你有沒有吃過神 仙 ?

"Have you ever eaten magic rice?"

I was asked this several times by my elderly relatives.  Magic rice (神 仙, Sun Sin Fan) was a common way to manipulate the rice rations given to each family.  This was in the time when China was undergoing radical reforms under the name of the People's Republic.  Food was scarce, as were many material items.  With Grandparents, adults and children to feed, the allocation of rice might not have been enough.  So, people made magic rice.

By soaking uncooked rice in water until the grains double up in size - or until they break apart - the ration of rice can be made to look bigger, and thus can be shared in greater quantities.  The rice will have lost its nutrients; it is watery and will have degraded some.  After eating one full bowl a person will soon feel hungry again; but at a time of extreme poverty, it is all that one can wish for: an illusion.  One full bowl of rice.

Focus now on modern day Britain, and the rise of zero-hour contracts.  Here, people are employed as and when.  No job stability and no legal rights.  Accounts of feeling pressured and worthless are many.   Fears run rife that exploitation will be commonplace.  

 - But it is a time of hard austerity, what can anyone do?

Desperate times call for desperate measures - this phrase I have heard before.  Just that I would have never had associated it with a place like Britain.  

Like my elderly relatives, it seems we need an illusion now.  One full bowl of rice - jobs for everyone and pay: it is all that we can wish for!           




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