Down and Out In Beijing

Walking to the subway station one morning this summer I was greeted by the usual contrast of rich, poor, new and old: the broken neon sign of a run-down brothel, a gleaming real estate agents, an old man selling fruit from the back of a trike. Further on a grand concrete building came into sight, the entrance dominated by large red stars, the clear sign of a government building. In front of the stars stood the national flag; majestic when the wind blows, but on this still, muggy August morning it drooped like a deflated balloon.

Outside the building there sat a group of around twenty migrant workers, skin burned dark brown from spending the whole summer working outside.This was the second day in a row that I’d seen them sat there, so I was curious as to what was going on. They looked worried, and from the scene I gathered that they hadn’t been paid for some work they had done, and had come to this place to peacefully protest.

They sat on ragged blankets, leaning against the fencing outside the building, out of luck, out of money and out of hope. Their prematurely wrinkled faces told stories of harsh labour and harsher conditions, poor wages and constant sacrifice to provide some semblance of security for their children.

I heard their lungs rattle as they breathed, broken only to hock up piles of blackened mucus or light up cigarettes. They looked at me and other people as we walked past on our way to work. I wonder what went through their mind as we went by: Envy? Resignation? Despair? All three?

On that particular morning the police had arrived. Not to help the migrant workers get their pay, but to shoo them away. Although the workers had only come to peacefully ask for help getting money that was rightfully theirs, there were too many of them in one place. They were causing a scene, and scenes are not tolerated.

The bitter irony that the very government who once upon a time dreamed of equality now fenced out its most vulnerable citizens was, sadly, not lost on me.

Where will they go?

What will they eat?

Nobody cares, as long as it’s not here.

migrant workers


About Greg

A simpleton from West Yorkshire, England living in Beijing. I try to document the oddities, frustrations and funnies that happen to me whilst out here. Hopefully you enjoy reading these little episodes as much as I enjoy writing them.
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4 Responses to Down and Out In Beijing

  1. Elyse says:

    Well done. I looked at the earlier version in Diamonds or Dust and liked the changes. Smoother.

    • gregschina says:

      Yeah I cut out a lot of content I felt was unnecessary and I’m feeling pretty happy with this version. Thanks to the suggestions of yourself and all the other D or D members I’m more confident in it.

  2. maesprose says:

    I didn’t see the earlier version of this… it’s eye opening just the same. Makes my Dallas moment look like a whiny pants tale of woe!

    • gregschina says:

      The earlier version was a draft. Elyse and I are part of a group where we help critique each others work – this is the post-suggestion rewrite.
      Yeah, I suppose this kind of thing puts life into perspective, although being stuck in an airport all day is certainly nobodies idea of fun…

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