A construction migrant worker’s notes

[From MOP] A young migrant worker updates a post of his raw, yet I found to be truthful and insightful notes while working at a construction site of soon to be multi-million luxury homes in Sanya, Hainan.


I never speak out. I am a “diving” migrant worker.

(潜水: Diving means lurking here, it is a Chinese internet slang, means someone who reads forum posts but never replies, never expresses their views. It is like underwater diving, never pop their heads out of the water.)

I used to have very low self-esteem, just because I am a migrant worker working at construction sites every day. Maybe it’s because I went to junior college for two years, our manger Yang made me the publicist, so I got the opportunities to take photos.

Migrant worker is the synonym of low-quality in the society. I admit that we are the people living in the lowest level of the society. Even if we were paid attention to, we were seen as the weakest group.

But now I do not feel worthless anymore, in fact we the migrant workers are also human beings, we are proud, all of the high-rise buildings are built up with our blood and sweat; we also are educated, I can write posts; we also know how to live. The reason I write this post is so everyone can know how we build a block of high-rise buildings, and also to show you our lives as migrant workers.

This photo is recorded while we are working, the person in the photo is not me, I am a reinforcement metal worker, he is a structure worker named Wang Zhigqiang, as for how a structure worker works, I will tell everyone later.

The place we are working at is Sanya, Hainan. Wang Zhiqiang’s home town is Leshan (I am from Suinging). He has not been home for a year and half. His wife and kid are still at his home town, he misses his home very much. During lunch we all go down to the cafeteria to eat, he does not go. He brings lunch, sitting at the site, watching the ocean, homesick.


First, posting a working picture of me, Laohu took the picture for me. My head was almost not in the picture! I am 24 years old, went to junior college, I chose to be a construction worker that is also the job for migrant workers. Our construction site is at Sanya in Hainan province, a very beautiful city ~~~ I always liked the ocean since when I was a kid, I also like this place Sanya, the real ocean makes people feel broad-minded.


How many of you are curious, what it is like upstairs more than 100 meters high, while the building is being built. Actually there are many procedures adding levels to the building, I am a reinforcement metal worker, it is a very important job, the job of reinforcing the load-bearing beams. We have to do this on every level of the building.


This year my home town is now every cold, and I am very worried about my mother, her poor health. I am here at Sanya which is one of the China’s only tropical cities, is actually very warm. Unfortunately I can only build building here, but cannot afford to buy a home! Take this building I am working on as an example, it’s named Phoenix Island Health Resort, I heard it will cost 80,000 yuan per square meter. How wonderful would it be if I can let my mother come and live here?

He is a structure worker, from same hometown as me, bother Wang. It was him that introduced me here, he is very good to me…


But my monthly salary is 1,600 yuan, if I don’t eat anything and just work, in about 5 years I can buy 1 square meter.

Sanya is indeed a beautiful place. Our company is constructing the best building in Sanya, named Phoenix Island. This picture is taken at the gate of the site. It will look like this when it is done! The main building is 200 meters tall. Is that not beautiful?!


Now many people think the migrant workers eat wotou (steamed corn bread) and drink water soup… But actually things have changed, I am not sure about the migrant workers elsewhere, but we eat very well here. There is beef and fish… This is one of the 6 cafeterias. Because there are three shifts, the main course will be made three times a day.


As for our cultural life, is also not like everyone thinks. We live in the shack at night, chatting and masturbation is our only activity.

When we rest, we watch TV and our TV is a 42 inch flat-panel HDTV. Migrant workers here have a normal live, kind of like everyone else.


Elevator work is relatively the easiest job around here. They are 4 people taking turns. The elevator needs to be operated 24 hours a day. Sayan is very hot city so their work is also very hard, staying in the cage for hours. Wang Meili is from Lesan in Sichuan, she operated the elevator for 5 years now. She likes me. Every time when I go on the elevator she always think of some things to talks to me.
But I don’t like her like that, I don’t dislike either. I don’t like the books she is reading, she always reads pirated books about murder and romance. Her romantics surprised me because she weight at least 180 Jing!



This elevator is outside of the building, going up and down, but in fact it is pretty safe with doubled doors. The happiest moment is getting off work. Ring the bell, waiting for the elevator, every time Wang Meili stares at me. I am happy, because we are getting of work…

Close to midnight, taking the elevator down from 100 meters in the air to the ground, the sea breeze blowing at our sweaty body, feels very nice.

They would make dirty jokes, intentionally telling them to Wang Meili. Wang Meili always turns red and curses at us.


I don’t think migrant workers are sad, every buildings in cities of China has our sweat. There would be no so called modern city without us.

On top of the ocean, in the elevator cage, watching the night scene of Sanya, very beautiful!


On the way back to our dorms


We have a place for showering, but uncle Yu is used to getting hosed down outside. He said that he does that at home.


Why are migrant workers in the pictures wearing white hats and red hats, no one is wearing the normal yellow hat?

Yellow hats are for leaders, they are from the construction company. They get monthly salary and we are paid by the hours, work one day and get paid for one day. If we get a cold, then there will be no pay.

However the yellow hats are not bad people. Manager Yang wears a yellow hat, he goes to work earlier than us, and is the last person leaving the site. He hasn’t gone home for 2 years already. He is the quality responsible person at the construction site. One day, I saw him crying by himself, I knew he also misses home!

These couple of days it is very old at my home town, but because the typical weather, it‘s still very hot here. When we rest at night we watch TV together, the highest rated show is not the news here, we don’t have the right to concern about the national affairs. We are more concerned about the weather following the news. We will chat about the weather conditions of our hometowns, and sigh for a while then go to sleep.

Sun son is our concrete worker here, his home is in Shijiazhuang, the house was crushed by the snow this year, but fortunately no one was hurt.


Lele is Lao Wang’s kid. He never smiles. This is happiest picture I took of him when playing riding the horse game. This is his biggest smile.

This is the back yard where the migrant workers service the migrant workers. Lele grew up in this courtyard from age 2 to 4.


Lele looks like this normally


Actually we have women here, but they do not go upstarts. They do some moving work at the ground level. Lao Wang’s wife just came here last month and she does this kind of work. She is very pretty, but Phoenix Island is very windy so she covers herself like this…

As for her yellow hat, Manager Yang gave to her, because they ran out of hats.


Next to our construction site is the ocean. I took this photo myself, the water is soft and transparent, looks very beautiful. When I am on breaks I would sleep on the beach. This place does not belong to us, but because we are constructing buildings here, we can look at the most beautiful ocean of our country without spending any money.


Getting back to business, I got this photo from manager yang’s computer. This is how the buildings would look when they are done. I heard they start selling them in December already! 80,000 per square meter. I worked here for two years, if I do not eat and drink I can afford to buy 0.45 square meter. I don’t understand how many reinforcement metals the person needs to make to afford a home?


In the middle of the night I sneaked up and went online, I was criticized. There are good amount of computers here, but I don’t have one. Most of notebooks are Shenzhou brand, and most of them are used to play little games that come with Windows.

I borrowed it from my roommate Wang. His family is wealthier than mine.


Because we are on an island, we also have our own grocery store on site. I go there once every three days, every time I would buy a pack of Hongmei, we all smoke this here, cheap. The female boss at the store likes me and I also have good impression of her. For a while, I thought about her when I masturbated at night. Sometimes I do it two to three times a night, thinking about how she is treating me well. Then one day right after I masturbated I had to go work the night shift, plus sitting on the cold metals and the ocean breeze, I got sick, JJ (slang for male genital) stopped “working”.

After that day, I quit the bad habit of masturbation. When there is “hunger and thirst”, I look at the boundless sea, taking a deep breath then I am done.

She uses a Lenovo notebook.


I grew up with poor health. When first came here, I had high fevers for couple of times. Once when I was sick I hid in a cement pipe and slept for a day. Someone found me and sent me to the hospital. Then I got better, now I almost don’t get sick anymore. It looks like working is the best cure. My physical fitness is a lot better than before also.

This is our living place, looking down from upstairs.


Today I was criticized by our leader for posting photos online. I was very angry and said I didn’t post any bad photos. Anyway, he said no, if I was to post anything, I would have to say we are very clean, we are very good… I said as long as it’s the truth. Anyway today I was lectured.

When I first came here, the building looked like this already.


Now it’s like this.


I don’t know why when I am writing the post I feel very difficult; I remembered I was so talented when I was in high school, could write down so much beautiful words, and now I know my dream of being a writer is gone.


The post stopped here as for today, perhaps he can get over his feeling of shattered dream of being a writer and tell us more.

  1. When I first came to China some migrant workers building a place by my apartment became my good friends. I couldn’t even have a conversation with them. They were just good guys. One of them taught me how to play erhu. As my Chinese got better we became closer until they finished their part of the project and moved on.

    Just like anyone else, they have hopes, dreams, good lives, and bad.

    I hope this guy continues to write. I can see it now, “Journal of a Migrant Worker.”

  2. What an interesting story . I never even viewed that a Simple Migrant Worker can have a Good Life .

    What , i know is that Everyone weather businessman or Migrant Worker has dreams . They are all human like us . I wish this man would right more of his adventures .

    His words actually motivated me to work harder and help the poor and needy .

  3. Beautiful, thanks for translating , this site is getting better and better.

    There are so many fake stories and so many idiots trying to call peoples attention in the Chinese BBS, for a long time I stopped checking those sites. But here is finally an authentic story, and a guy with some talent. Good choice of post!

    “I don’t understand how many reinforcement metals the person needs to make to afford a home?” Respect to the migrant workers.

    1. Thanks xyz, you are right, “潜水” means lurking, it means someone who reads forum posts but never replies, never expresses their views. It is like underwater diving, never pop their heads out of the water. I am going to keep the original translation of diving, and add the meaning of the word. 🙂

  4. Very insightful post! I never really gave much thought into the process of constructing together a building and how much hard work and labour is involved. I hope the writer continues with the posting and I hope you guys get to keep translating =]

  5. we need more of these unflourished first person experience writings, especially if it is as frankly expressed as these migrant worker accounts.

  6. Do Chinese really talk about their mastrubation and sick jj so freely? This makes me question the authenticity of the article.

    1. How I see this is an internet phenomenon. Sure Chinese people don’t really talk about their masturbation and sick jj freely normally. I think this is true even for a lot of other countries. But somehow people are willing to talk about more things that they normally would not on the internet. This phenomenon is universal and comes out in different ways in different cultures and societies. What I have been noticing on the Chinese internet is that the Chinese people often viewed as reserved and don’t like to talk about their feelings are much more vocal on the discussion forms. Maybe they feel safe, or safer to speak out what they really think on the internet. The polymorphic Internet gives people the ability to hide behind a mask and speak anonymously, at least they think it’s anonymous.

  7. Probably the guy added those details calculating (rightly) that he would get more chances of success in mopu BBS. But this doesn’t mean the story is fake.

    There is loads of personal info in the article, if it was fake the guy could be human-searched and exposed in a matter of hours!

  8. This is really a good and heartwarming story. We all see these huge constructions going on, and forget that humans are building them. I wish lots of happiness and good future to the writer. I hope that he and his fellow workers soon will see their families. And that he continues writing his blog. His leader should understand that what he is doing is a good thing.

  9. Interesting look at migrant worker life. Sanya is a nice place, too. The “求精” made me laugh.

  10. Thank you for posting this entry. Life, in all of its diverse forms, is fascinating, and this guy has helped to answer some of the questions that are pondered every time I pass by a construction site here in China. EVERYONE has a story.

  11. Hi Folks
    This is truly a great site,and this guy here is really a MAN. I hope somebody will tell him that his writing has to be continued as we in Norway will follow him during his trips around Great China..stay cool,man!

  12. I’m a novelist researching migrant workers for a short story and I found this post fascinating and insightful. I want to find out more about how they live, their dreams and aspirations, and their humanity. Does anyone know someone I can talk to? Bear in mind, I don’t speak Chinese. Thanks

  13. Heey!! I am on a design project and would like to develop some product/furniture to improve migrant workers life (:
    Could you help me with some information about needs or what would be nice to have in this situation?
    I REALLY wanna do a useful thing to me proud of helping people (:
    Thank you!

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