Li Tiezhu is a 30 year old man from a village near Baoding, Hebei Province. He has spent over 10 years working in Beijing as a construction worker, but recently returned home after a leg injury. Mr. Li never finished 8th grade.
HJ: Hi Tiezhu, what happened to your leg?
Tiezhu: I fell off some construction scaffolding, and scraped my arms and leg badly enough that I was rushed to the hospital for stitches.
HJ: That’s terrible. Are you covered by any worker’s compensation insurance?
Tiezhu: No. I was not a regular employee of the construction company, just a temporary worker, or migrant worker as many people in Beijing would call us. I was not covered by any insurance. My boss was a decent guy and paid for my hospital bills. If you are unlucky and have a bad boss, he would just claim that it was your fault and not pay for anything.
HJ: Construction is such a dangerous profession, especially for a temporary worker like you. Why did you choose it in the first place?
Tiezhu: I had no choice. Who wouldn’t want a cushy office job that pays a lot and has a safe and pleasant work environment? But I have no college diploma, not even a high school diploma; and I have no specialized technical skills. What choices did I have except construction jobs? I wish I had stayed in school, but it’s kind of too late for that now.
HJ: How did you get started in the construction business?
Tiezhu: It was more than 10 years ago, and I was 18 at the time. I didn’t want to be a farmer like my parents, so I decided to go to Beijing and try my luck there. I had 50 RMB (about $6) on me, and boy it was scary. The moment I stepped off the train, I was shocked: so many people, cars, and glittering buildings. Everyone seemed to be going somewhere, except me. I had no friends in Beijing, and was clueless as to where to stay for the night. I bought a map, found cheap lodging, and began looking for job right away.
HJ: Was it easy to find a job?
Tiezhu: Not really. I am shy by nature, but I had to go out every day to search for a job. I went inside of countless stores and asked if they had any openings. The answer was always no. Like “no, we don’t need anyone right now”; or “no, why don’t you try the shop next door?” Eventually I ended up on a construction site. They were always looking for strong, healthy young men to build more residential apartments and shopping centers. So that’s how I began my construction career.
HJ: How did you like your work?
Tiezhu: It was back breaking work. Especially during hot summer days when it was 100 degrees outside, and we had to spend all day outside transporting bricks, cement, and other heavy construction materials on the site. Food was never good, and we stayed in these primitive buildings with awful sanitary conditions. Several times I wanted to leave and go home, but couldn’t actually make myself do it. After all, the salary was a lot higher in Beijing than in my hometown, and I needed the higher income to help my parents, and to save for my wedding and future.
HJ: I bet you were always looking forward to the annual one week Chinese New Year vacation.
Tiezhu: Of course I was. But it was always somewhat annoying when other passengers on the train looked down on us. I mean we were always carrying more stuff than others, and we obviously looked like manual labors with our darker skin color. But I don’t understand why they thought they were better than us. We paid for our train tickets just like anyone else, and our money was earned through hard, honest work. Some people are just so snobbish!
HJ: There are always going to be rude people in this world. Don’t let them get to you! Have you thought about what to do after your leg and arms are healed? Are you going back to Beijing?
Tiezhu: I don’t think so. I’ve saved up some money over the years, and would like to start a small restaurant business in my hometown. There are some factories nearby, and I think my wife and I can offer good meals for reasonable prices and we’ll see how everything goes from there. At least this way, I can spend more time with my wife and 5 year old daughter. Besides, I’ve had enough of the construction business.
HJ: I hope your business takes off smoothly and that you enjoy your time with your family!
Tiezhu: Thank you.