In Beijing’s Urban Villages, Zhou Is Accustomed to Life on the Move
Photo Credit: Wang Xu
At 54 years old, Zhou has lived in Beijing for 13 years now, but life has kept him moving without end. “I was born in Pingdingshan City, in the Henan province,” he says. “I came to Beijing in 2003. First, I was a construction worker and lived in the town of Beiwu in a suburban district of Beijing. I lived there for about five years, and the cost of rent was US $15 per month. Then I found a job in the district of Changping, also as a construction worker. So I moved to a small village in Changping and lived there for 2-3 years. In 2011, I moved to a small village near Beijing western train station. I sold goods like shoes because there were many people in the train station, the rent cost kept rising from $30 to $53. However, the village was eventually demolished. In 2012, I had to move to the urban village of Anjialou, which is located in the district of Chaoyang. The price of rent was the lowest in the village.”
Zhou is paid $525 a month to distribute advertising cards to passerby along the main road near the United States Embassy, about a two kilometer, or seven minute bike ride, from his home. “I work from 6 am to 5:30 pm and have 40 minutes for lunch. I can rest on the weekends. I think the conditions of my work are okay. I don’t have any other means of earning a living.” Although he lives alone, Zhou is close with his daughter and wife—both of whom live back in rural Henan. With his daughter’s income of $150 per month from her job as a nurse and $750 per year from the family’s land, their total monthly income is around $750.
The room Zhou rents is about 8㎡, and only a bed and a few cooking utensils are provided. “It is very crowed,” he says. “The wall and roof are made by cement and the floors are made of concrete. It is dark even in the daytime. There are no radiators in the small room, so it is cold in winter.” But finding a room in Beijing can be difficult. “Every time, I moved to a new apartment according to my new workplace, as near as possible. I don’t have multiple options. If I can’t find suitable housing quickly, I have to sleep under the bridge.” Zhou has managed to stay in his current residence in Anjialou for the past four years, which he found over the course of a five day search with the help of a fellow villager from Henan province.
For Zhou, finding the cheapest option has always been important. “I rent a room from a private landlord. I live on the first floor,” he says, explaining that he pays about $90 per month—$82.50 for rent and $7.50 for water and electricity. Zhou paid the $15 deposit, but the landlord will ask the any tenant to move out of the house if the fees aren’t paid on time. “I can’t take a shower in the room, and the landlord provides water only at the breakfast, lunch and dinner time, which means we can get water just for cooking. We use buckets to get water in those periods, and we share the public toilets in the village. Generally speaking, I can get all these key services. But I am unsatisfied with the water, because we can get water only in limited time and sometimes it is inconvenient to wash clothes.”
Nevertheless, Zhou isn’t interested in living somewhere else—at least for now. “It is hard to find cheap housing in Beijing. This place is close to my workplace, a hospital and a market. I can see a doctor in the village and I can buy some food in the village, too. I just stay at home at weekends, but I am close to public transit. The quality of transportation is okay and there are many options like moped taxi, bike, e-bike, bus and subway, except that it is too crowed in Beijing. I feel insecure since I heard that we have to move because the government will pull down the urban village in October. People who live in village have to go away, because the village is planned to be demolished. I would live under the Dongfeng bridge nearby if I have to.
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