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.