China's Professional Queuers Paid To Stand Around In China, lines are everywhere: from eight different queues at the hospital to a week-long camp-out for admission to a kindergarten. Li Qicai has made a career out of waiting in line for clients who pay about $3 an hour. "You don't need any skills, except the ability to suffer," he says.
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China's Professional Queuers Paid To Stand Around

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China's Professional Queuers Paid To Stand Around

China's Professional Queuers Paid To Stand Around

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

In China, waiting in line is akin to a competitive sport but with much higher stakes. Earlier this month, people waited four days and three nights to register for low-income housing, while admission to a certain Beijing kindergarten requires a weeklong, round-the-clock queue. In this postcard from China, NPR's Louisa Lim spends time with a pro.

LOUISA LIM: FOREIGN LANGUAGE SPOKEN

LIM: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: He employs four full-time queuers and a host of freelancers. Getting a proxy to stand in line for you costs about $3 an hour. He says he's been doing this for two years.

NORRIS: (Through Translator) I'm just selling my time for money. You don't need any skills, except the ability to suffer. For some jobs, you need to look good. If you want to buy things for rich people, you can't look like a farmer or they'll think you're a scalper.

LIM: The longest waits of the year are for train tickets home for the annual spring festival. Bank lines are also epic. Half a day's wait is not unusual. Thinking of the bread lines in the former Soviet Union, I ask Li if he thinks authoritarian governments like to make their subjects line up.

NORRIS: (Through Translator) Not at all. It's about population density. There's no connection with politics. If there are only two people in a village, you can't make a line. But resources are limited here.

LIM: It's been a 40-minute motorbike ride across town, and we're now at the Longhua Hospital. And the first thing that we have to do is to register. And Mr. Li says we're in luck today, the line is particularly short. There's one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 people waiting in front of us.

NORRIS: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: So he says, yesterday, the registration line was stretching all the way out of the door.

SIEGEL: When my son cut his chin recently, we stood, dripping blood, in a total of eight different lines to get it stitched up. But Li says new appointment systems have made hospital lines shorter. As the world's most impatient queuer, I asked him to divulge the secrets to happy waiting.

NORRIS: (Through Translator) The secret is go early. Take an umbrella in case it rains, and a book. Load books and games on your mobile phone. Make friends with your neighbors, so you can get away to buy food.

LIM: Louisa Lim, NPR News.

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