Wang Jing and Jin Qiang
China has a prosperous logistics industry, which has accumulated an incredible large scale and accounting for a major part of the national economy. However, this industry is incredibly fragmented since the thresholds of this particular industry are quite low, which means it’s fairly easy for people to enter and work in this sector. According to statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics, China’s logistics industry is still on the rise overall as the logistics volume of the country had increased to ￥219.2 trillion in 2015 from the ￥96.65 trillion in 2009. Among all, road freight takes up 75% of the on-land logistics flow in China.
That said, the 30 million truck drivers in China deal with 75% of the logistics volume in China. It’s worth noting that many of these freight trucks are operated by married couples. The husbands would drive the truck, while the wives manage the money and arrange the budget. It might seem to many that traveling around China driving a truck is a romantic idea, but the truth is there are many ups and downs behind. But it’s also the wheels of these married couples’ trucks that carry the commercial blood of China, making them circulate around the country.
In this 55th issue of TMTPost’s Photo Gallery, we followed a husband-and-wife freight truck all the way from Shanghai to Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia, a journey of over 3000 kilometers taking five days, to get a glimpse of the life working in the massive logistics market. We witnessed their mid-night escape, their fight with the gasoline thieves and observed their living conditions, families, accidents and getting fined by the police. We recorded their journey in images and a 45-minutes long video documentary, showing the twists and turns of the truck couple’s ordinary life. The wheels of their truck not only carry commodities waiting to be delivered, but also the commercial blood of the country.
At 16:15, May 11th, Shanghai Shunzai Logistics Park. After two days of waiting, a 13-meter-long truck finally competed its loading and was ready to set off. The truck’s owner is Jin Qiang. Seven years ago, the Jin Qiang and his wife got a loan and bought this Jiefang truck. When he first entered this industry, Jin Qiang started as a car driver, making a monthly income of five thousand yuan. He noticed that the logistics scene was developing well at that time and decided to become a truck driver. That’s how the story goes. When we were about to travel with them, they just finished a freight task, carrying mangos between Hainan province, Changsha, and Wuhan.
The couple had been driving for two hours then encountered traffic jam in Jiangsu province. Traffic jam is probably the most terrible nightmare that could happen to traffic drivers. In 2008 during the ice disaster in South China, Jin Qiang was stuck in the Beijing-Pearl-River-Delta highway for two days, with no food on the truck. To save money, Jin Qiang and his colleagues didn’t buy those five-yuan buns on the highway, only eating some oranges from their truck load. In late December 2016, the Jin-Tai highway was plagued by heavy smog, causing a major jam on the road. Jin Qiang was trapped with his truck for three days, barely moving an inch. Some sheep and cows died of thirst on some trucks around him. On the third day, he ran out of food supply on the truck. He had to walk for four kilometers to buy water supply.
At 11:00 pm, Jin and his wife stopped for a quick dinner and some rest at a roadside restaurant at the Linhai road in Dongtai county, Jiangsu province. Jin Qiang, who is only 38 years old, appears to look older than his peers. He was happy that he had finished paying the loan a couple of years ago when the loan options were better. “If we got a loan to purchase a truck now, we would have to pay a monthly loan of over ten thousand yuan. It would be very hard for us,” Jin Qiang said, “The freight income has been dropping in recent years, almost by 30%.” After the 921 Regulation and Rules on Truck Load was introduced in 2016, the freight fee went up for two months, then dropped continuously later. Jin understood that the regulator launched stricter rules to ensure safety and reduce the accident rate. But he also had to face the dropping freight income, which made him feel quite powerless.
When on a freight job, the couple would always sleep in their truck instead of going to a motel. They called the truck Jiefang Motel. They spend almost two-thirds of their time annually in this Jiefang Motel. On one way, they do it to save money. On the other, perhaps more importantly, they stay in the truck to look out for their truck load and gasoline tank. The Jiefang Motel actually has an upper bunk, but filled with supplies, and therefore they usually sleep on the lower bunk.
6:00 am, 12th. The pair woke up and was getting ready for the day. The night before, around seven other trucks were also parked around here, most of which had already started their journey already.
It rained all night. Jin Qiang went to check on the rain-proof canvas, while his wife Wang Jing brushed her teeth and washed her face at a nearby public restroom.
After one day of bumpy journey, the truck load became a bit loose from the straps. Jin Qiang stopped the truck and tightened the securing ropes at the roadside.
When crossing Jiangsu province, Jin Qiang was stopped by the police for two times. During the first encounter, the police pointed out that some of the reflective signs were blocked and that the wheel treads didn’t match. Jin demanded them to give out an explanation on identifying the treads and the exact regulations on such matter. Ultimately the police let them go. During the second encounter, the police once again questioned about the blocked reflective signs and was about to give Jin a ticket. Jin defended himself that the signs were blocked by and rain-proof canvas because it was raining and they needed to protect the load. He even physically tried to stop the police from giving a ticket. Irritated by Jin, the policeman was fairly angry. After begging the policeman for many time, Jin got a ￥50 ticket in the end. “Once they stop your truck, it’s very easy for them to find a problem to fine you. They have a fine goal to meet. But some people would be easy on you if you give them some money,” Jin said.
After years of driving the truck, Jin has shoulder periarteritis, and a stressed waist. When he is in pain, his wife Wang Jing would massage for him for a short time.
Private small cars are Jin’s nightmare on the highway. In general, he would avoid highways that are free for small cars. “Some small car drivers like to cut in lane. It’s very dangerous,” Jin said, telling us that trucks usually run at 80 or 90 km/h on the highway, and that it would be dangerous too even the braking range is one thousand meters. “Some of these drivers would brake suddenly when looking for an exit on the highway. Our truck is loaded with a shipment of over 40 tons. We might flip over or just crash into the car before us if we couldn’t react in time. I knew this driver that met the exact situation. His truck crashed and stopped on top of the car. The three people in the car died at the scene. It was terrible. It only happened last year.”
11:00 pm, 12th. The truck arrived at the service station of Bohai New Zone on the Huanghua highway in Hebei province. He had learned from his years of experience that gasoline thieves lurked around this area, and that staying here for the night was not a wise decision. But Jin had been driving from six in the morning to eleven in the evening, for almost 16 consecutive hours. He didn’t have the strength to drive the truck to the next service station.
In fact, he had never lost a single drop of gasoline to the gasoline thieves. “Every time I would find a security guard at the service station and pay him 20 yuan, so that the thieves would stay away from my truck. Or else, my wife would stay up to keep an eye on the gasoline tank,” Jn said. They drove around the service station for five minutes and Jin pulled off his truck near the security guard’s office. Wang Jing left the truck to look for a guard. She saw the guard sleeping through the window, learning from the staff at the convenience store that there were two guards here and that the other one was patrolling around.
Jin Qiang was exhausted and fell into deep sleep. Wang Jing, on the other hand, was watching the gasoline tank outside the truck. Gasoline thieves usually drive a modified van. They have a big long tube on their van that can connect to the gasoline tank and draw up a 300-liter tank in around three minutes. They use modified pliers to crack open the tank.
Around 1:00 am, 13th. Wang Jing was charging her phone on the truck. The gasoline tank was right behind the truck cab. Every ten seconds she would take a look at gasoline tank through the rearview mirror. “Thieves nowadays are very bold. If we noticed a thief stealing our gasoline, we could only knock the truck door to alarm the thief. We don’t dare to call out to another truck driver when a thief is working on his truck. These thieves would even stab people with a knife,” Wang said. Such worries are not based on hollow rumors and horror stories. On December 15th 2016, a case took place at Pengzhou service station in Sichuan province. A truck driver who left the truck to stop the thieves was run over by the thieves with their car. The driver died at the scene.
2:15 am. Piercing automobile alarm rang in the parking lot for three times. “A truck’s gasoline tank security alarm is ringing. The thieves have come,” a driver told Jin Qiang, who was woken by the alarm and left the truck to see what was going on. Jin then noticed there was a white van parked couple hundred meters away from us. That’s an alarming sign, which he learned from years of experience.
2:45 pm. The truck reached the last toll station. After paying the road fee, he parked his truck near the toll station, and started to have a rest. Around half an hour he asked his wife half in sleep that whether their truck had blocked other trucks’ parking space. He only went back to sleep when he got a no from his wife. Wang Jing later also fell asleep on the steering wheel.
One night of battler with the thieves left them exhausted. They ran away with their gasoline tank secured. At 4:50 am, 13th, Jin Qiang woke up after having less than two hours of sleep, and continued on his way.
Around seven in the morning, one client called in to ask them to deliver the shipment as soon as possible. To save time, Jin Qiang took the Beijing-Harbin highway instead of common roads in Liaoning province.
Truck drivers called the Beijing-Harbin highway in Liaoning province the Big Pit Fast Lane because there are many bumps on the lane. Going through the common national roads can save lots of road fee, and therefore truck drivers in this industry, in general, won’t always go for the highway for the entire trip. This trip from Shanghai to Manzhouli would cost over a road fee of two thousand yuan if they chose the highway for the entire trip.
At a gas station in Bei town in Liaoning province, Jin Qiang filled up the gasoline tank. Jin Qiang actually came from this small town, which happens to have the lowest gasoline price. Besides taking public national roads, truck drivers also save money by using cheap oil. These kinds of oil are either low-quality diesel oil or come from suspicious manufacturers. They are usually around two yuan cheaper than standard diesel oil per liter. “The distance between Shanghai and Manzhouli is 3000 kilometers. When the truck the fully loaded, if we take the highway for the entire trip and burn diesel from CNPC, we wouldn’t make much money. The cost is around six yuan per kilometer. We might even lose money,” Jin said.
Jin Qiang took many of his stashes, including some pans, bowls etc. to his friend’s car repairing factory in Bei town. On hot days, it’s not easy to preserve food, and they wouldn’t be able to cook during the trip. The factory is few kilometers away from Jin Qiang’s home. To keep up with the tight schedule, the couple couldn’t even go home even after working outside for two months.
At a restaurant by the roadside, the couple had their home food, happy. “We have been to all places in China except for Tibet. We love our home food the most, still. We love the Chinese green onion,” they said.
This time they were transporting less-than-truck-load common commodities. The first unloading destination was Tongliao. At 9:00 pm, 13th, they reached an unloading place at a logistics park in Tongliao. Every time the unloading has been a major project for them. They have to first unhook the tens of hooks that secure the ropes around the cargo load.
The truck hold was covered by three layers of canvas. Jin Qiang still had to put away the canvas layers one by one on top of the truck hold after loosening the ropes.
After locating the cargo, Jin Qiang started to unload the commodities with the help of a forklift. Each less-than-truck-load trip would have three or four patches of loads. Unloading the truck load is definitely physically challenging.
After handling the bigger loads with the forklift, Jin Qiang needed to climb up to the top of the truck to calculate the small loads on top.
Jin Qiang was busy on top of the truck, while Wang Jing was checking out the freight order and bill with the operator of the logistics company.
The couple recapped the canvas on the cargo load once again after the transaction. Under the starry night, it took the couple 90 minutes to finish all the tasks.
After the unloading, Jin Qiang and his friend Cao met outside a gas station in Tongliao. Cao was also with his wife. Cao and his wife are just like Jin Qiang and Wang Jing. They drive around the country for a living. But they entered this industry earlier than Jin Qiang, working for almost 20 years on the road. This time they were moving from Manzhouli to Jinzhou, and were passing through Tongliao. The two couples hadn’t seen each other for over two months. That night, they got together for a cold drink. The four talked about their stories on the road in the truck. Cao told us that 90% of the trucks are operated by couples. “The industry is not well recently. Hiring a driver could cost over several tens of thousands per month. Nobody can afford it. Husbands and wives driver together because they can look after each other. The husbands drive the truck the wives manage the money and orders.”
9:00 am, 14th. Two truck drivers were brushing teeth before breakfast at a restaurant nearby the no.111 national road that leads to the north of Tongliao. According to statistics, 75% of logistics volumes in China is handled by the 30 million truck drivers. While on the road, the truck is their mobile home. They eat at the restaurants nearby the road. They become the main source of customers of these restaurants.
Afternoon, 14th. Jin Qiang arrived in Ulanhot, where they had to unload two patches of cargo. It appeared that it’s going to rain soon, and Jin Qiang had to speed up.
If the cargo recipient didn’t have enough staff to unload the cargo, Jin Qiang would always offer his helping hands. He recalled clearly that the most tiring experience happened in Qiqihar. It was a rainy day. Jin Qiang had to help unload the cargo in the rain. Jin and his wife changed their clothes for four times after four unloads in one day. Eventually, they decided to not change their clothes. “At that time, I only drove back home and stay at home,” Jin said. “It was so tiring. I was done.”
When Jin Qiang was unloading outside, Wang was counting the shipments in the warehouse of the client. The client accidently hit some of the cargo to the floor driving the forklift. Wang Jing helped the client pick up the containers filled with paints up as there was no staff in the warehouse.
To get to the next destination fast, they didn’t cover the cargo loads with canvas before setting off. Later one shipment and three boards fell down from the truck when it was moving on the road. A driver behind them caught up with them and told them that. They went back to recover the shipment and boards. Wang Jing struggled with the board since they were quite heavy.
Eventually, they couldn’t make it to the client before the client left for home. They had no choice but stayed until the next morning to unload the shipments. The couple took the time to make next schedule. Every time when they are about to finish one trip they will start to look for the next one. “Besides asking freight stations and friends, Wang Jing would also look up requests on some mobile apps. Most of the shipments from Shanghai on our truck were from the app Yunmanman,” Jin explained, saying that he didn’t really know how to use these apps and therefore Wang Jing would contact the clients instead.
They hadn’t seen their kid for two months. During dinner, their 11-year-old kid sang for his mom through video chat. Wang Jing couldn’t hold back her tears when she saw her kid.
6:00 am, 15th. The pair started to unload the shipments at a construction site. The client, who had been asking them to deliver the shipments faster, let go all of his stress after seeing Wang Jing moving the shipments like a strong man. “You have a really good wife. You are a good team,” he told Jin Qiang, smiling.
When everybody was unloading the shipments according to the procedure, an accident took place. A heavy shipment fell from the cargo container when it was being lifted by the tower crane due to a loose rope knot, and hit a piano on Jin Qiang’s truck.
Jin Qiang reported the accident to the freight station in Shanghai. The logistics company then sent its staff at the local station in Ulanhot to handle the accident. However, the client kept pushing Jin Qiang to continue to unload, who insisted that they had to wait for the staff from the logistics company to evaluate and negotiate on the accident. “We couldn’t keep on unloading. What if they all just left after we finished unloading. What about the piano then.”
The staff from the logistics company came. The two sides negotiated on the accident and all of them left in the end. Only Wang Jing and Jin Qiang were still there. They put up the securing boards back on the truck and rearranged the cargo hold.
This accident cost them six and a half hours in the morning, leaving less time for time to complete the trip. They washed their hands and went back on the road again.
8:00 pm. The truck was passing by Arxan city. He had to be extra careful when driving on this mountain route. Every winter he has to cross through here, and winter is the most dangerous time to be driving in Arxan. “One time, the road was slippery. Our truck tail swung when climbing an uphill. We almost had an accident. We were lucky,” he said. The short moment at that time had been the most stressed time for Jin Qiang in his career. He didn’t even wake Wang Jing, who was asleep during that time. “I feared she would get scared,” he said.
9:00 pm. The truck arrived in Yiershi. The pair had their first meal of the day there.
In the evening, they were resting in the parking lot of the restaurant. Jin Qiang didn’t fear that they would lose gasoline to thieves in Liaoning and Inner Mongolia. “These two regions don’t really have gasoline thieves. The north just doesn’t have many of them,” Jin said, telling TMTPost that he’s planning to keep a dog to watch out for the gasoline tank in the evening, so that Wang Jing can rest.
From Yiershi and Manzhouli there are grasslands along the road. Jin Qiang really loves grasslands. He had seen grasslands in all seasons, but never got the change to leave the truck and walk on it. “I would find opportunities to see the Naadam fair of the Mongolian people with my wife,” he said.
When the truck was near the Manzhouli, Wang Jing fell asleep on the truck.
3:00 pm, 16th. They finally arrived their final destination Manzhouli International Road Logistics Park. The couple put back the canvas before unloading the shipments in the park.
Wang Jing completed the handover procedure at the station in the park. The couple could finally sat down on a couch and took a break.
7:30 pm, 16th. They unloaded the last patch of shipments.
After waiting for the shipments in Shanghai for three days and spending five days transporting them, they only earned less than four thousand. The service fee was ￥18,000， while the road charge and gasoline cost was around ￥14,000.
In the evening, they stayed at the hotel of the logistics tower. It was a suite room charged at ￥60 per night. After five days of exhausting journey, they finally had the chance to have a good rest. This was also the first night in five days that they were able to take a shower and cleaned themselves up.
The hotel of this logistics tower is full of truck drivers coming from all over China, and going to all parts of China.
Logistics bulletin information is being displayed on the display on the first floor of the tower. In the logistics park, drivers and stations share information with each other, keeping the park running.
Every day in the morning, drivers would go to have breakfast at a breakfast place on the first floor. As the freight fee is going down, experienced drivers like Jin Qiang can still find satisfying jobs through their channels, but it’s another story for new drivers who just bought a truck with loan. “Some got a loan and bought a truck, but they couldn’t find any good paying job. So they take low-paying ones. Some couldn’t afford to keep the truck and had to sell it. That’s how they lost so much money,” Jin explained.
“Manzhouli is my second hometown,” Jin Qiang said. Jin Qiang is familiar with the logistics park and the transportation system near Manzhouli. However, he has never been to the downtown area before. “We don’t really visit places other than the logistics parks. We would always stay in the logistics park, have some drinks with our friends and look for next job. Sometimes we play poker, we chat. We just don’t go out,” he said.
18th, in the morning. Wang Jing bought Jin Qiang a T-shirt at a store of the logistics tower. “It’s only 30 yuan, and it fits,” she said.
Jin Qiang had been looking for a new job at the logistics park for two days. In the end, he found a wood freight job in Manzhouli. The client offered a deal of ￥760 per ton, which wasn’t exactly what Jin was expecting but he took it anyway as this wasn’t an emergent job. That said, they could pass by their home and go see their kid for one day.
A few days later, Jin Qiang told us that they had arrived Zunyi, where they picked a truck load that’s designated for Nanning, and transported another load back to Shanghai.
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Translated by Garrett Lee (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.