Beijing, Car wash



Mr. Chen (pictured below in the middle) comes from the Hubei province and works in the car wash company of his brother in the Xicheng district of Beijing. All cars are washed by hand. It takes between 2 and 3 minutes to wash a car with four people and the price is 25 RMB.





According to Mr. Chen, owners of luxury cars prefer the hand-wash service. The most luxurious car he ever washed was a Rolls-Royce.

This car wash employs 7 employees and they all come from the same village in Hubei province. They can make between 2,000 RMB and 2,500 RMB per month.





Beijing, Newly arrived


A little over 10 people from a small village in Sichuan province just arrived in Beijing to work on a construction site. They are waiting for a bus to take them to their dormitory. Around 3,000 people used to live in their hometown, but these days more than half of them work in big cities.


We talk with one the female workers. She tells that more and more female migrant workers go to cities for construction work. Just like her. “There is no way out if one stays in the village”, she says.



She has a 16 year old child studying arts in the high school of her hometown. She felt the child did not need too much care anymore and decided to work in the big city to earn money for the child’s tuition fee in college. Her parents take care of the child at home.


Several workers reply, when asked if they carry any personal belongings like photos of family members, that they only brought useful things like a quilt, clothes and some daily necessities.




Beijing, Little Umbrella Kindergarten


There are three kindergartens in Huang Gang village, a poor residential area in the north of Beijing.


The Little Umbrella Kindergarten is located in a hutong and takes care of children from migrant workers who live in the village. The 300 square meter large kindergarten is, according to the teachers, positioned in the mid-range. Not as good as in the urban area, but better than average.



We talked with two teachers in this kindergarten: Mr. Gu Yunhe and Mrs. Gao Yanbo.


Little Umbrella, established 2.5 years ago, is a private kindergarten for children of parents who both work during the day. All of the parents are so called migrant workers, originating from other provinces. This means there is a high turnover as parents move between different cities for work.



The kindergarten functions more like a day care center than a school, although there is some basic education. The children learn songs, counting, Chinese language and some simple English words and sentences. The kindergarten does not keep student files.



We visited the kindergarten in February while many parents and children were still in their hometowns enjoying the yearly Spring Festival holiday with their families. At our time of visiting there were only 17 children, all in one class. The oldest kid among them is six, while the youngest is just 2. In March, when all the children have returned, the children will be divided into different classes, according to their age.



Parents don’t have to pay an extra fee to this private kindergarten for not having a Beijing residency permit (hukou). Because of the high turnover, the tuition fee is charged by month. The 200 RMB per month includes lunch, which is prepared by the teachers.



We see a little red bucket in the classroom. It’s for the young children, because they are too young to use the public toilet. Older children are accompanied by a teacher when they have to visit the public toilet (in villages like Huang Gang there are no toilets inside buildings because of a limited sewage network).



The children are wearing coats inside the classroom while an electric heating fan provides some warmth. When it gets colder, the air conditioner and coal fired stoves will be used for heating.




Beijing, A walk in the Seven Trees Village


Over the past two decades, Beijing’s urbanization has developed in a rapid pace. You can drive from the center to any direction for more than an hour and you will see new high rise buildings everywhere. Just 15 years ago the third ring road (built in 1994) was more or less the border of the developed area. Now there is a 6th ring road and development has expanded even beyond this ring (that is already up to 40 km away from the center of Beijing).


In between areas with modern buildings and infrastructure, you can still find villages in rural areas of the city. Many of them disappeared over the years, while others have grown into housing areas for migrant workers. Often the facilities are poor and so is the quality of the houses. We’ve visited many of these places and noticed that some villages are upgraded with modern public toilets (houses do not have toilets in these areas) and the renewal of basic infrastructure facilities like water supply and sewage systems. In other villages the basic facilities are clearly in decline, in some cases because the area will be demolished to make way for new development.



Seven Trees is one of the villages in a rural area between the 4th and the 5th (East) ring roads. We walked around and talked with residents.


Mr. He Mingyong is from Chongqing, He lives in a house at a narrow hutong with his wife and son. His father is currently staying with them. He came over for a 2 month stay and celebrated the Chinese New Year together with his son’s family.

The, less than 30 m2, house has two bedrooms and in the middle a small place for cooking and doing the laundry.


They fire coal for cooking and for the heating during the winter. The rent for this apartment is 450 RMB/month.


Mr. He came to Beijing 2,5 years ago. He makes a living with fine art decorations in houses under renovation. At the moment he is doing work in the house as he has not found a new assignment yet after the Spring Festival vacation. Mr. He tells that the payment for his work is almost the same in Chongqing and Beijing, but Beijing offers more opportunities and that’s why he chooses to stay in Beijing.


The son of Mr. He is nine years old and goes to a primary school in the neighborhood. Because the family does not have a Beijing hukou, they have to pay 3000 RMB more for their son to enter the school.




We enter a big house with a courtyard in the middle. Arranged on both sides of the courtyard are small one-family rooms.



One of the residents, a lady, tells us that more than ten families live inside this house. The landlord lives in another house in the same village. The lady comes from Sichuan and is, like Mr. He, making money with decorating renovated houses.  She tells that residents in the area originate from all parts of China.


Her room consists of two bunk beds and a stove, coal fired, for heating and cooking.



A worker, from Henan province, attracts our attention. He is disassembling and recycling parts of a car radiator and wearing a pair of special clogs we’ve never seen before.

He tells that he is wearing clogs from Henan province. They are called “Grass Boots”, because they used to be made of dry grass. Nowadays, people use cotton and cloth to make this kind of clogs. The surface of the clogs are prepared with Tung oil (extracted from the seed of the nut of the Tung tree). The clogs have thick soles made of wood. Though they may look awkward, the wooden soles are pretty light. The worker loves his clogs because they are warm, solid and durable. Grass Boots, he says, are very suitable for work and can last for more than 5 years. The price of these clogs in Henan is 50RMB.



We pass a group playing mahjong and then talk to two women, both from Henan. Soon they will start preparing the land around their house. They will grow vegetables like tomatoes, beans and pepper. In the summer they don’t need to go to the market to buy vegetables. The land will produce enough for their families.



A little bit further down the road we meet a guard who comes from Qinhuangdao (a city in Hebei province). In a few days he will retire and return to his hometown. He is carrying a pickaxe. He tells that some people were building illegal houses in the area and that he and his colleagues were asked to demolish them.




Beijing, Construction Workers’ Dormitory


Han Yunpeng, Han Zhaojian and Mao Zhongyu are construction workers. They live in a prefab dormitory, with its typical white walls and blue frames, on a construction site at Jiu Xianqiao. Workers at the construction site come from various provinces in China. However, all roommates in their room come from the same village in Jining, Shandong province. Around 1,300 people live in their village and two third of them share the family name “Han”. Han Yunpeng, Han Zhaojian and Mao Zhongyu tell us that they were already good friends before they came to Beijing.


Workers at the site (for a new subway line) have one week of day shifts, followed by a week of night shifts. They get paid when the construction project is finished. This pay depends on their working hours. The more hours they work, the more money they will get. That’s why they seldom ask for a leave. Usually they work seven days a week and they won’t go back to their hometown, except for the Spring Festival and the harvest season. On average they can make 3,000 RMB each month. Not having to pay for rent or meals, they spend very little money each day.


When asked what they intend to do with the money they save, they say it is for their children’s education and they save money for the future weddings of their children.


Each of them has a son in their hometown. Han Yunpeng’s son is in his twenties and studies medicine at a school in Jining. The tuition is 600 RMB per month. Next to that, Han Yunpeng sends 1,000 RMB per month to his son for the cost of living. “He needs a good nutrition”.


Han Zhaojian says that nowadays there are more people working in big cities than growing crops in their hometown. Usually the women take care of the crops.


Living under the same roof at the construction site drives them closer to each other. In their spare time, says Mao Zhongyu, they read newspapers and magazines and go out for a walk on the street. Sometimes they go shopping to buy gifts for their family. The prices are affordable.


When asked about their lives in Beijing, they are all very satisfied. The work conditions are good because they work on a government project. The food is fine and they get drinks (BaiJiu) and fruits at the end of the year. The room is heated by an air conditioner and they can call their families whenever they want.




Beijing, Mr. Wang and Mrs. Li


Mr. Wang Longsheng and Mrs. Li Yanhong are a couple from Shaanxi. They are employed by the government to clean the streets in the Lidu area of Beijing.


Their working hours are from 6 am to 5 pm every day of the week. Their total income is 3,000 RMB per month. The government is providing them with a house and a big courtyard where they can sort and store the waste they collect during the day. As they don’t have to pay for rent, they can save money. For their living expenses they need 300 RMB per person per month.


Mr. Wang and Mrs. Li seem to get along very well. When we ask them “what is the secret of a happy marriage”, Mr. Wang tells us that they have been together for 19 years without a single fight. Whenever they have a difference of opinion, they will imagine themselves in the position of the other and try to understand where he/she is coming from.


Mr. Wang invites us to their house. The family is living in a quiet hutong. The house is spacious and has a proper heating in the winter. In front of the house is a park along a river.


Like in many houses in hutongs, there is no bathroom. They have to use the public toilet and for a shower they visit a public bathhouse. They prefer to pay 20 RMB for the shower instead of the regular 10 RMB. For 20 RMB you get a private room for two (two men or two women; there are no bathhouses with mixed gender sections).


Their 18 year old son is living together with them. He graduated in his hometown in Shaanxi province and then came to Beijing for work. He occasionally has part-time jobs, but currently he is unemployed. He spends most of his time chatting and playing games online. Sometimes, he also does sit-ups to work out.

He dyed his hair orange. According to him, it is quite popular among young people to do so.

At high school he shared the classroom with 60 to 70 other students. Almost all of his classmates went to big cities or are planning to do so. Except for the ones with the highest marks; they went to university.



When we are visiting Mr. Wang, we meet his mother and mother in law. They are visiting Beijing for a couple of weeks. Their husbands had to stay home to take care of the corn fields in their hometown.


According to Mr. Wang, they all enjoy their lives in Beijing. Thinking of what they miss most, the answer is (like we heard from many people originating from Shaanxi) the Yangrou Paomo, the famous dish with pita bread soaked in lamb soup.




Beijing, Mrs. Huo


Today we walk around in a poor residential area, just 500 meters south of the modern Beijing business district (CBD). The area has apartment buildings and, in front of them, simple one room houses that are hidden behind a white wall, shaped in traditional Chinese style and built by the government. We meet Mrs. Huo Zhiqing who invites us into her small room.


The room is less than 10 m2 and is the home of Mrs. Huo, her husband and their youngest son. Her oldest son, Xiao He, is 14 years old and studies in her hometown in the Henan province. Once a year the whole family is together, during the Chinese New Year celebration in their hometown.


The room has no heating and no water. The rent is 400 RMB per month.


Mrs. Huo works as a cleaner in an office building nearby. Her husband makes money with collecting recyclable bottles. Together they make between 2000 and 3000 RMB per month. Except for the rental costs, they pay 600 RMB per month for the kindergarten of their youngest son and they send another 600 RMB to their oldest son every month. They find it hard to save money, especially because of the increasing prices in Beijing. Mrs. Huo says that it is sad that both her parents and parents in law do not live anymore while noting at the same time that they do not need to send them money anymore.


We ask if the poster of the horse, outside her room has any special meaning. However, the only reason that Mrs. Huo put the poster up is to keep the wind out of the room. In the winter it is very cold in the room (the average temperature in the winter is around minus 10 at night). There is no central heating system and it is not allowed to burn coal for heating in the room.


Still, Mrs. Huo says, the living in Beijing is much better than in her hometown. The landscape may be beautiful, but there is not much arable land. Most villagers go to big cities, like Beijing, to make a living.




Beijing, Mr. Xu and his friends


(February 22nd, 2011) Mr. Xu and his friends are from a small village in Hebei province. They arrived yesterday in Beijing to start working for a boss; such they agreed with him on the phone. They would have been paid 120 RMB per day. However, yesterday they found out that the remuneration is not what they expected (most important: no meals included) and that the boss changed their assignment into work they did not agree on. So, today they are on their way back home. It seemed to me that they were not very well prepared when they came to Beijing, but they worked in Beijing before, so maybe I’m wrong.


The 200 RMB for the train ticket is a substantial loss for all of them. I forgot to ask but later I realized that they probably spent the (winter) night without a bed. The man in the middle is shaving himself with an electric razor that was shared by all.


Mr. Xu’s wife and child are in Guangzhou where Mrs. Xu works for 1300 RMB per month. They see each other once a year in their hometown during the Spring Festival holidays.
Mr. Xu will first start working in his hometown again and then give it another try to work in Beijing. Working in Guangzhou is no option as the pay there is much lower than in Beijing.



Beijing, Migrant Worker’s Lunch

Beijing, Migrant workers having lunch


Mr. Zhou Quan and Mrs. Wu Guangying are a couple from Nanjing at Jiangsu province. They came to Beijing six years ago because all of their children got married and they had nothing else to do in their hometown. In Beijing they could find something to do and earn money. They cook meals for around 100 migrant workers that work on a construction site nearby.

mr zhou and mrs wu cooking for migrant workersMr. Zhou and Mrs. Wu live in the small kitchen that has a mattress on the floor in one of the corners. The room with thin walls has no heating, while temperatures in the Beijing winter are at night on average -10 degrees Celcius. They also have no TV or furniture.

Every day they get up between 3 and 4 am to prepare the breakfast. They cook porridge and steamed buns. After breakfast a cleaning lady comes to help clean the dishes and they start preparing the lunch.

They only have 3 large electric rice cookers, but that is not enough for cooking meals for 100 people, so they first cook 3 pots of rice and then another 3. They only provide one dish every time. It is mainly rice with some vegetables and just a little bit of meat.

In the afternoon the same procedures start for dinner.

migrant workers lunch 1

migrant workers lunch 2