Posts Tagged ‘building

27
Jul
10

A day of rest

He was sitting alone, surrounded by concrete sand and mud, reading a newspaper on top of a tiny table. Behind him was his home, a large blue storage container which served as temporary accommodations for workers on that construction site.

I greeted him good day. “No work today, sir?” I asked, motioning my camera for permission.

He smiled, his crow’s feet pressed together to form a startling handsome face. I was so struck, not just by his genial disposition but by how perfectly framed his face was by his beard and hair, colored evenly with grey, black and white.

For a moment, I knelt there, mesmerized by his features while he stared back, not so much at me but past my shoulder at something else. I repeated myself, asking if he was enjoying his day off.

Suddenly, a voice boomed out from the side. “Today’s Sunday! We’re not working. What are you doing here anyway?” A large and portly middle-aged man, in nothing but a pair of bright red briefs, was in mid stride to the container when he spotted me. Standing firm with his legs apart and hands on hips, he waited for an explanation while I tried very hard to look anywhere but his underwear.

I didn’t recall what I stammered in response, only the image of the smiling old man who quietly acknowledged my departure.

July 2010

10
Mar
10

How do you view China?

If I were a romantic, I’d paint a picture of China’s social and economic contrasts. A stalwart  worker poised on his bicycle, a mode of transportation that once defined an entire generation of Chinese before the country opened up, against the backdrop of the bellowing economic beast.

If I were a skeptic, I’d say that he fits like a small piece in a huge jigsaw puzzle that is China, a cliché that journalists and pundits use to sweepingly illustrate trends like “the widening chasm of income-inequality” or “the growing flows of migrant classes”.

But today, I’m neither.

This man was merely bicycling to (or from) work at 7:30am and enjoying a cigarette in the process.

And when you smiled at him, he nodded gravely and continued along his way.

“(…) it turns out that there’s another way of comprehending the reality of modern-day China — one that captures the contradictions of the place and allows them to co-exist.”

“So the tug-of-war continues, and the stories keep rolling in. The bigger story is a long way from over. Stay tuned.” ~ Christian Caryl, Foreign Policy, 28 February 2010 “Beijing’s Labor Pains”

November 2009

08
Mar
10

Everyday is bring-your-child-to-work day

At the moment, existing or ‘live’ old neighborhoods that are spared from the wrecking ball are either refurbishing their exteriors or reconstructing in slivers of spaces that can be found. It makes the tight squeeze of the alleys and courtyards all the more … ahem, intimate.

Often, they appear to be just a light facelift. Other times, the safety codes are simply so appalling that occasional inspections lead to warnings of much-needed home improvement.

Home improvement is a constant activity in the alleys and courtyards and help is not very far away. There is a surfeit of available handymen (or women), trained and otherwise, to help you with plumbing, wiring, repaving, unclogging drains etc. Hence, they are very much part of the daily on-goings within the communities.

Labor can sometimes be a family operation. In this case, husband and wife are paid a little money to haul bricks. Since a babysitter is out of the question, often times, you just have to bring the little tikes along. Plop them in a pile of dirt, and they will be endlessly entertained.

November 2009

21
Feb
10

Worn sole, worn soul

Apparently, in shoe factories in China, it takes two hundred pairs of hands to make a running shoe. Cutters stamp sheets of fabric to form soles, stitchers then sew them together along with logos, shoelace eyelets etc, followed by sole workers who use an infrared oven to glue the soles and frame together. Assemblers will, of course, further assemble the various parts into a final product and finishers will do a quality check and pack.  (“Factory Girls”, Leslie Chang, 2009)

So much labor and so many man-hours. A never-ending supply chain that envelops an entire country.

How many pairs of shoes does a construction worker go through in his work-life time? I wonder.

October 2009

08
Feb
10

The makings of a humble pancake

For poor construction workers, each meal is about loading up enough carbohydrates to carry them through the day of heavy lifting, shoveling or jack hammering. The foundation ingredients don’t vary much. Dough-based products for breakfast and rice or noodles for lunch and dinner, preferably, all in large quantities. The idea is to keep it cheap and utilitarian.

Once customers gather en masse and the orders begin to roll in, the hawkers work at full speed. In a short 10 minutes, 6 pancakes are rolled out, cooked and stacked, 7 bowls of porridge are dished and about 8 dough sticks are deep-fried and served.

The beauty of street fare is not only its humble composition but freshness and taste especially when consumed standing in a cloud of aromatic steam. The liberal use of oil in street fare can sometimes be a deterrent but not necessarily a non-negotiable for a curious foodie.

November 2009

04
Feb
10

Office space

They all called me 小姑娘 or “Young miss”. This group of workers is by far the most cheerful lot since I started visiting construction sites and photographing workers around Shanghai.

“Come and take my picture!” the elder man, seen above, waved me over when he spotted me. A female worker paused from hauling debris and joked that I should take a photo for him to send home to his wife.

“Show her how hard he’s working!” she cackled, slapping her knee at her own joke.

This particular building was part of a key thoroughfare that connected one live neighborhood to the main street. Residents on their way out of the alleys had no choice but to walk through all the unsightly and dangerous activity. To get the worker’s attention, they would raise their fist and yell angrily at them to stop hammering so they can pass through, often shielding their head from debris dust coming down like a heavy mist.

So while some of the workers were having a light laugh, a handful of older residents at the end of the alley were scowling endlessly at the whole affair. For they knew that not only was their peace permanently interrupted, but their houses were next to suffer the hammer’s end.

November 2009

03
Feb
10

Bringing down the roof

You see them almost immediately as you emerge from the Dalian Road Metro (大连路地铁站) station along Changyang Road (长阳路), a jarring picture against the late afternoon sun.

Two men were perched precariously on top of a roof ledge, swinging their thin hammers to break up, brick by brick, yet another old house.

What was immediately disconcerting was the way the demolition was taking place. It was incredibly manual and alarmingly dangerous. Most building construction (ground up) have basic scaffolding and even if they seldom meet onerous Western standards in the same industry, efforts are made to provide basic safety beyond a rickety plastic helmet.

Demolition can be a different matter.

They are often outsourced with little proper supervision or regard for basic safety since the objective was to just flatten everything and have the debris carted away. Moreover, demolition of old houses is not done by bulldozers largely because they cannot fit into the alleys and it is not uncommon that there are still-occupied neighboring ‘hoods. An engineer would have surveyed the land to identify public water or sewage pipelines to avoid but otherwise, the task is left to workers with instructions to hack from morning to night.

This man was part of the demolition crew.

November 2009




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