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They dream of building better life for their kids
( 2003-10-23 15:03) (China Daily HK Edition)

It is about six o'clock in the evening. Darkness has set in, when I lie on a rocking chair on my balcony looking out of the window.

There I see a construction site.

The construction workers are ready for their supper. They bring their lunch boxes from their dorms in the basement of the building next to mine, where various pipes run over their beds.

There is only the glass window between me and the workers. I can see clearly that they are having noodles and baozi, steamed dumplings. Yet, it seems that we are a world apart.

I know little about the construction workers, although there are around 900,000 of them in the city and you can hardly walk two blocks without coming across one.

But things changed as days went by. Every day as I walked past, some of them would slacken their pace to watch me. At first, I would respond with a frown, annoyed at being awakened at 5am by their non-stop drilling and hammering.

By and by, I found myself doing this no more. It was because of something in their eyes. Curiosity? Envy? I couldn't really tell, but I didn't frown at them any more.

On day, I saw one of them scribbling in a notebook: "October 11, full day, 30 yuan (US$3.6)." It was his payment record.

Curious, I asked: "Can I have a look at that?"

There were giggles all around but the man handed me his notebook.

As I flipped through the pages, I found one with his balance sheet in September (see box).

"He is always careful about money," said another constrution worker in his late 20s. As I read through the notebook, others joined us and I was glad that our awkward confrontation had turned into a free exchange of views.

They are peasants from Anyang, a county with a population of around 800,000 in Central China's Henan Province. Each year, around 100,000 of the people there leave the swelling cities for jobs on construciton sites.

Zhang Xuefu, the father-of-three I had first approached, has been a migrant construction worker since 1983, spending most of that time in Beijing.

"Beijing has changed a lot. There never used to be so many high-rises," he observed.

Over the past 20 years, he has helped build dozens of construction projects across the city. Some were related to the Asian Games in 1990 and others will house events for the eagerly anticipated 2008 Olympic Games.

He also observed one unwelcome change: "Beijing people are not as friendly as they used to be."

His words resonated with the others.

Some of them eagerly talked about their unpleasant experiences like a rude bus conductress kicking their quilts on the bus and bystanders ignoring their requests for directions.

However, they were not complaining. They told the stories as though telling something interesting, unrelated to themselves.

"Life is hard, so we cannot be hard on ourselves. Whenever we are free, we chat, joke and laugh, sharing cigarettes," said Zhang, who says missing home is the hardest part.

Like most of his workmates, he has been away from home since early this year. Family life is always a hot topic amongst them.

"Whenever I am home, my kids ask me about Beijing. Usually I tell them I have seen Tian'anmen Square again and that Beijing is getting bigger and more beautiful and that Beijing people are polite," Zhang said.

Having grown up in a small village myself, I understand what he is trying to convey to his kids.

He is talking as a father who harbours a city dream, a better life for his kids.

My father said similar things to me when I was a kid, which partly accounts for my achievements today.

Suddenly I realize what is in their eyes when they watch me pass: hope. They are wishing for a better future for their kids.

My thought was interrupted by a whistle.

"Our supervisor is calling us to work extra hours," someone explained. "The project has a rigid deadline by the end of this month before it gets too cold to work."

"Three yuan (US36 cents) for one hour. That's good money," murmured Zhang while scribbling it down and put the notebook in his pocket.

As I watched him walk back to the construction site, I told myself: I know a construction worker now. He is an ordinary man like the rest of us.

He has kids to educate, houses to be build and a family to support. He has hopes and dreams.

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