You see them everywhere in Beijing. Wearing tattered uniforms, battered helmets and hearty smiles. They sit along the sidewalks next to busy construction sites. They are the migrant workers and are the backbone of China's amazing economic rise.
And these people deserve everybody's respect.
When I came to Beijing for the first time I moved into an apartment near Wudaokou. The apartment was newly built and located in a district of small restaurants, suspicious-looking hair salons and Internet cafes.
Behind these restaurants lived an entire community of migrant workers.
Just a few months after I moved in, the laborers began to build outside my apartment building and in less than a week the restaurants were demolished.
From early morning I could hear the hammering, see these men balance up high without any protection on cranes and using ancient building techniques (bamboo scaffolding) that are not longer used in the West.
Old men who should be enjoying their retirement years were rising early to follow ambitious construction schedules laid down by their corporate employer. In some cases in China, the company would go bust and nobody was paid.
I awoke with the sounds of construction and heard the same noises as I lay my head on the pillow.
Winter is the worst time for migrant workers. I wondered how they manage keeping warm in their tents. I felt really bad was I passed their frost covered make-shift homes, thinking about how cold it could be in there while I strolled casually back to a heated apartment and even warmer bed.
Chinese are a very proud and hardworking people, and the migrant workers save all their money - average yearly salary is 17,000 yuan ($2,490) - to send home back to their families in provinces. A year or two worth of saving is a small fortune in China's countryside.
But the plight of the migrant worker is a global affair and Beijing's migrant workers remind me of the situation in my home country - Sweden - where there is an ever-increasing number of immigrants from Eastern Europe.
Many of the migrant workers share similar working conditions to those in China. They have limited residents' rights and earn lower wages compared to those paid to Swedish construction workers.
The working condition for Eastern European workers in Sweden is seldom fair and it makes me ask. Why does a developed nation like Sweden need foreign workers?
Our own labor laws for construction workers are very strict. When it comes to regulations for overtime, conditions in their place of work, breaks, pension and most of all their salaries.
The answer is simple: Why pay more when you can get it for less from a foreign worker.
Most of the Swedish population doesn't care about living or working conditions of these workers simply because they aren't Swedish.
But having said that, I believe the foreign workers in Sweden seem to be treated better those in Beijing because of strict safety rules.
Of course, China and Sweden have quite different social systems but I wonder if there are similarities in how locals perceive workers from less developed areas.
For example, are migrant workers treated less favorably than Beijing workers?
If so, is the local community concerned about their welfare?
Beijing's government has made efforts to improve the livelihood of migrant workers. But I still believe there is much more to be done.
And the laborers, just like those workers from Eastern Europe in my home country, can do much better.
They should be respected and treated with a decent pay, adequate work protection and basic living facilities.
Readers are welcome to contribute their thoughts to METRO. Articles about your life and work in Beijing should be less than 700 words. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org.