Wearing new hats for the chance to stay

Updated: 2012-10-25 12:50

By Zhang Yue (China Daily)

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Relocation has never been easy, says Liu Luguang, who was once a furnace man at steel maker Shougang Corp's now abandoned plant and stayed on at the site as an engineer as the area is transformed into a creative industries zone.

He can stay because of the skills he has learned over the past two decades, which come in handy with his new position at the old plant in Beijing's Shijingshan district.

But "almost half of the people I know have left", he says.

Even his favorite noodle stand near his workshop, where he always enjoyed refreshments after night shifts, has closed this year, as most workers have left.

For Liu Chunli, a 52-year-old iron worker who started at the factory in 1983, it was hard to bid farewell to the Shijingshan plant. But it was impossible to "leave the industry that had brought me pride and joy".

Being an "iron" man has been his life - or even the purpose of his life, he says. His diligent work earned him such honors as recognition as the capital's model worker in 2010.

So, he chose to move with the factory.

However, the choice means he has to be away from home, since the new factory is three hours away in Caofeidian, Hebei province.

"I am now the oldest worker in my department in the new factory," he says. "Only young people, as well as those who have not gotten married, are willing to work in some place so far away from Beijing."

Zhang Peisheng, a 44-year-old who has also been working in the new factory in Caofeidian since 2008, says the only pain for him in the past four years has been distance from his son.

"I only come home every two weeks because there is always a lack of hands for my position, driving the engineering truck," he says.

"There is never enough time with my family - it feels like I just took a nap at home the other day, and then I have to board the bus and go back to work."

Such choices are so hard that many others, especially those in their 30s who have married, simply chose to leave.

As people leave the subway station of Gucheng, the nearest station to the old Shougang site, many taxi drivers are waiting to offer rides. Many like Zhang Hui are former Shougang workers.

"My family members are all here and I do not want to move at all," says the cab driver, who now makes 3,000 yuan ($480) a month - twice what he earned as an iron worker.

"There is always a way to make a living."