The men building new Shanghai
Tuesday, 12 January 2010 07:01
Written by Hailey Meng & Emma Chi

The new boys in town
Shanghaiís getting a facelift. Meet her surgeons...

There are a lot of new faces in town, although you probably havenít met any of them. Weíre talking about the small army of migrant workers who have descended on the city and set about turning roads into rubble and back into roads again, drilling, cementing, painting, paving, plumbing and nailing to get Shanghai ready for the Expo. We couldnít agree more with Time magazine, who named The Chinese Worker runner-up as Person Of The Year, so we got down and dusty to meet some of the men who are giving Shanghai her stylish New Year makeover...

Xu Bian, aged 41

Where are you from?
Jiangsu Province. My family, a wife and two kids, are there.

What brought you to Shanghai?
I came for the money! I need money to raise my family. And Iím really happy to stay here, where I can make more money and make friends with my colleagues Ė we live and work together.

Any thoughts on Shanghaiís attitudes towards construction workers?
I donít care what they think about me, I just focus on my work and make money!

Most of the cityís current construction work is aimed at impressing visitors here for the Expo. Have you any plans to see it?
I heard about the Expo, but donít know that much about it. If they invite me to work on a project and offer good pay, Iíd like to go. But I donít think I will go if itís just for fun or entertainment. You know, I keep working hard for a living, I donít have time to go there and it will probably cost lots. I have a family to raise, so need to save the money.

How do you find the work?
The salary is fair enough Ė RMB3,000 for one month. I am a formal worker, other temporary workers get RMB2,000 per month. Compared with the local people working in small supermarkets who make RMB1,500 per month, I think we are much better off. Plus, I donít need to pay the rent and our meals are free too. When Iím at home I farm, which doesnít bring much profit.

What do you do in your spare time?
When Iím free, I like to spend time reading. I love to read the articles in Zhiyin magazine, they have true stories which are very touching.

Will you stay on in the city next year?
I wonít stay here forever, as itís hard to take up residence here. I often go back home, about three times a year. I definitely will go back home for Spring Festival for a family reunion. Then back to Shanghai, and continue working Ė itís easy to make money here.

Liu Chuanyan,  aged 47

Whereís your hometown?
Iím from Jiangsu Province. Iím married and have one son. He just got married this year!

Why did you come to Shanghai?
My friend asked me to come here, he told me I can make more money in the city. The salary isnít bad and we have a nice boss. I would say Iíll follow him, if this project finishes and he starts another, Iíll go too.

Do you like Shanghai?
Iím happy to be here, I can make more money. The Shanghainese workers in our construction project are really nice, my boss is also a Shanghainese guy, and heís nice too. But I donít go to many places in the city. I heard if you go to some residential areas, you get pretty unwelcome looks. But when I walk around, I feel local people behave civilly and have good manners. I often go to the Alldays store, the cashier is Shanghainese, she is polite and very nice to me.

Whatís your opinion on the Expo?
I donít know about the Expo, so donít want to see it.

Howís your job going?
I feel happy to work here, my boss Mr. Zhu is a good man. There are many good  men in this world, you know. I donít feel that itís particularly hard working here, probably just a bit dirty since itís a construction area. We work eight hours a day, occasionally we work overtime, and earn RMB3,000 per month. Itís much better than working in my hometown, where Iíd need to do more than 10 hours a day, but for less pay.

I live in a dormitory with my co-workers and we have air-conditioning and basic facilities in it, so itís quite comfortable. You know, itís quite expensive to rent a house or apartment in Shanghai, I heard that it costs around RMB2,000-3,000 per month. So living here really saves me money.

Liu Lu, aged 19

Where are you from?
Zhengzhou, Henan Province. Iím from a farming family.

Do you have a girlfriend?
Nah, of course not. I didnít have a girlfriend back home and Iím not looking for one here in Shanghai either. Well, I mean I live with a bunch of men every day, where would I meet girls? Shanghainese girls are nothing special anyway.

How often do you go home?
Iíve only been here three months. I plan to go home during Chinese New Year and might stay for 20 days or so, but I havenít bought my tickets yet. Most of the guys here only go home once a year, so we can save more money. I speak to my parents on the phone every other week though.

Why did you come to Shanghai?
To make money of course! I didnít have a job back home, I just sometimes helped my parents to farm. I felt like I should make more money, so one day I bought the ticket, and came to Shanghai with my neighbor Li Jin, heís like my little brother. We left without telling our parents!

Are you happy to be in Shanghai?
Of course I am happy. Itís a big city, has so many big towers and lots of shops, itís much better than my hometown.

What are you working on?
I heard this is going to be a new department of Huashan Hospital. I think itís great. We donít have so many hospitals back home. But really I donít care where I work, as long as I can make money.

Will you visit the Expo next year?
Whatís the Expo? (After a quick explanation) Maybe. If itís next year I might go to see it if I have a bit more money. Is it free? Iím not going to see it if it costs money though.

How many hours do you work?
We get up at 7am, have breakfast, and start work at 7.30am. Our lunch break is at 11am, we start work again at 12.30pm, then finish at 5pm, so thatís eight hours a day. I work every day, we can have days off but then we donít get paid.

Do you like your job?
I like it. I get to hang out with my friend Li Jin every day and other guys on the site. This job isnít hard at all. If I stayed at home I would make much less money and probably work much harder too. This is my first job, so I want to seize the opportunity and learn some skills, maybe do something else in the future. But for now, I just want to make money, as much as possible.

Where do you live?
I live in the dormitory on the site and share a room with three other guys.

What do you do in your spare time?
Not much. Lie in bed and chat with my buddies after dinner I guess. I havenít seen much of Shanghai yet, we spend most of our time on the site. Every other week, I go out of the site and take a walk nearby. Otherwise it costs too much money. Iíd rather save all my money.

Will you stay in Shanghai? Or go back to your hometown after making enough money?
I havenít thought about it. Maybe after a couple of years in Shanghai Iíll travel to other cities and work there. I like it here a lot but donít feel like itís my home. I will eventually go home I think Ė who in here doesnít miss his family?