Home away from home: Beijing's urban village

“Beijing is so big, so cold, and so hot while my home is not here...” so reads the lyric of Beijing, Beijing. These words are not from Wang Feng, a famous singer's magnum opus Beijing, Beijing, but from the Beijing, Beijing, composed, written and performed by New Workers' Ensemble hailing from the Pi Village in the city. Photos: news.qq.com
Pi Village, situated outside the 5th ring road of Beijing, is an urban village neighboring the Beijing Capital International Airport, with the nearest subway over 10 kilometers away. Every few minutes, people could hear the roar of an aircraft passing by. Being on the flight path, no high buildings are allowed to be built in the Pi Village and residents here are ensnared in shabby and low-rise houses, unlike the downtown Beijing. Temporarily forgotten by the city's demolition teams, the Pi Village is continuously building cheap apartments. As the nearby Dongba area is being demolished, people are rushing into the village, with almost all of its original flats being restructured or simply heightened to house more tenants.
In August 2017, the demolition began in the Dongba Village, about seven kilometers away from the Pi Village. The migrant workers moving from Dongba to Pi have created the Pi landlords—who're concerned about their own rental apartments being pushed over - good news. Those with land are laying foundations for new ones while those with rental housing are adding floors on the original buildings. To some extent, the Pi Village is like Beijing's 3rd ring road area, with forests of buildings and a dense population, although the ashen and dwarf walls studded with countless outdoor segments of air conditioners and covered by weblike electric wires, remain obscure among ubiquitous bright red signboards carrying the names of apartments.
In September, rows of outdoor hanging machines of air conditioners can be seen in the narrow alleys of the Pi Village.
 
Courtyards in the village charging 200 yuan per month per room have sheltered many migrant workers in the city. With more and more rushing in, the rent has been increasing, and now it's 800 to 1,000 yuan per room. Those who are reluctant to bear the rise in rent would “fire” their landlord and find new places, and find new homes with their saved money.
There are over 20,000 migrant workers living in the village, where self-forming “supporting facilities” have made it a miniature community.
In summer days, the Pi village is kind of quiet, while kids during the summer vacation bring the place some vigor. They either attend the local school for children of migrant workers, or come from hometowns in remote areas to reunite with their parents. The kids are called “migrant children”.
At dusk, a little girl is sitting at the back of an electric motorcycle to wait for her dad who is buying groceries. The school for the migrant children is to be shut down. Playmates may be together one day, but part company with each other the next day. Many kids have to be sent back to their hometowns, where they have hukou. The parents talk about the issue a lot after work, when their small kids would have to part with them or drop school at such a young age. Every five or six years, the schools for migrant children are subject to a crackdown, because it's impossible for them to be rated as qualified (by educational authorities). The destiny is predetermined—demolition, and then shutting down. The parents cannot help with it while the children have nowhere to go.
The construction sites everywhere have become the wonderland for the kids. Different from their peers living in the downtown area, they've got no playground, slide, or merry-go-round in this huge residential community that houses nearly 30,000 people. Clay mound and sand screed have become cherished toys for them.
At night, the village emerges from the dullness of the daytime, with over 20,000 migrant workers riding the longest distance on the city's public transportation to return to the temporary shelter. The only street in the village embraces its prime time every day. During the daytime, the workers are busy with building or sweeping other people's homes, or nursing other people's parents or children. As the day ends, they cannot find a sense of belonging to the city.
On August 20, the evening party featuring “Poetry and Songs of Working” is held in the Worker's Home in the Pi village.
As night falls, the village waits for all the tired people to return. No matter how hard they work, they cannot imagine owning a property in the city, but dignity and equality are dreams they are fighting for. The dream works as a painkiller for the men and women to swallow their unspeakable sufferings, although the anxieties at the bottom of their hearts may never be relieved. Beijing, Beijing—one is the real Beijing, and the other is the Pi village's Beijing.  
 
 
The article is translated from the photo story series of news.qq.com titled One Day, One Life. 

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