Monday, June 21, 2010

Migrant Beats: Skin Village

“Where’s bus number 641?” Fangrong asked himself as he glanced through the bus schedule plates. We arrived at this bus station after pulling out a complicated list of directions from Sanyuanqiao to Picun. A street cleaner in an orange jumpsuit passed by. “Excuse me, is this where take 641?” I asked.

“641? 641…It’ll come,” the street cleaner replied, not looking up from the pile of dust he swept into

this portable dustbin.

“But there’s no sign here,” says Fangrong.

“It’ll come.”

Twenty minutes later, the mystery bus actually came. Past the fourth and fifth ring roads in the northeast of Chaoyang near the border of Beijing and Tongzhou, it took us to a small country stop called Picun, literally Skin Village. At the stop, the assistant curator and manager of the museum, Mr. Zheng Zhixi, awaited us.

“Get in this van and it’ll take you directly to the museum,” he said, handing the driver a small

bill. “I’ll follow behind on my bike.” He walked over to a pink and white bike parked in front a barley field.

The van stopped at a small neatly paved square with buildings colored with paint drawings done by children’s fingers. The Beijing Migrant Arts and Culture Museum, as I found it online, was more peaceful and less-visited than its pictures suggested. Mr. Zheng opened the museum door. A wave of trapped stale air went up my nose. The artifacts and documents spread throughout the exhibition quickly aroused my attention and ignore the dead scent.

The museum seeks to cover the history of the migrant worker, from its identity as the nongmin (farmer), to the nongmingong (rural migrant worker) and finally the xingongren (the new

worker). It started from the establishment of the household responsibility system in 1981 and the development of the special economic zones in the south, and fades into a bittersweet conclusion on the current hardships that new workers face through discussions on recent grassroots NGO development and changes in Chinese labor laws. I tried to take pictures of letters written by migrants to their factory bosses that they promise never to be late and work hard even after lasting through 22-hour shifts, but Mr. Zheng prevented me doing so. Instead, I bought the museum’s periodical, aptly titled Xin Gong Ren, and a qualitative/quantitative survey called “Research Report on Migrant Workers’ Residential Status and Future Perspectives.” The poetry contained in the periodical will be pertinent later on. The research report seems more relevant for those inclined to a social science essay, but it still contains valuable details on migrant life.

The basic layout of most migrant villages is similar. A grand gate with the village name in flowing xingshu calligraphy stands before a long road of small produce and butcher shops, clothing stands and secondhand electronics stores. Branching off from the main artery, vessels and veins of brick and cement houses that are hot during the summer and cold during the winter form a surveyor’s nightmare. Open waste containers piled with garbage and feces rot under the Beijing sun. And, even though the villages are all set to be demolished within two to three years, landlords continue to build houses and offices.

“The local landlords get compensated by the government for every usable square meter that is taken,” explained Mr. Zheng. “If they build, then the extra floors of usable space a

lso count. That’s why the walls are so thin – to maximize space. It costs about 500 RMB to build something per square meter, and compensation is around 1000 to 1200 RMB per square meter per floor… it’s a destructible investment.”

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1 Comment:

Kelly McLaughlin said...

Is anybody nervous about such construction moreso after the earthquake?

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