“Rat packs” living in Beijing’s underground to be driven out
From Beijing Times
22-year-old Shi is a salesperson in a department store near Muxiyuan. Her fiancé Guo is a trucker at a logistics company. They live in a makeshift room in a tunnel, one of thousands built in 1960s and 70s as air raid shelters.
At 6 p.m. Shi bought some leafy vegetables for food on her way home, washed them, and waited until Guo got home to cook them. Shi’s stir-frying veggies in their room created a lot of fume and odor. Guo left the room and grabbed dirty laundry to get them washed.
Shi and Guo were high school classmates. After they graduated from the high school, Shi came to Beijing whereas Guo stayed in Jiangsu province. At the end of last year, they engaged, and they both settled down in Beijing and began to eke out a living. The couple’s monthly pay totaled slightly over 4,000 yuan, or US$600. However, the average rent of a one-bedroom apartment, according to China Economic Weekly, has soared to 2,570 yuan, or $400, over the last year.
Shi said they came to Beijing to explore the bigger world and make some money so that they would have the capital to start a business in their hometown years later. They would still have to strive in Beijing for another couple of years and at least save enough money for their wedding. “Before we came down here, we thought basements are damp and smelly and could not accept that. Now that we have lived here for a long while, we are used to that.” (Read how a young vagabond in Beijing built an egg dwelling house to avoid costly rent.)
Although it is but a room as small as 8 square meters (80 sq ft) without a door, a kitchen or bathroom, its close proximity to their workplaces and 450-yuan rent ($70) are pluses. It can still function as a home.
Shi said that she had no idea since when people like her have been referred to as the “rat pack.” “Living in the basements means we deserve to be called ‘rat pack’? It has derogative connotation, isn’t it? We don’t steal rice,” she said with a smile. Her “neighbor” Da Jun said, “It’s my money, aboveboard. There is nothing underworld about it.” Nevertheless, they never mentioned to their families about living in the tunnels in Beijing.
“When we have a kid in the future, I will do my best to answer his needs, at least not to make him live in a basement.”
After dinner, Guo came out to the aisle and had a cigarette.
According to statistics released by Beijing Municipal Commission of Housing and Urban-Rural Development in 2009, hundreds of thousands of people live in the city’s warrens of tunnels like they do. They have to come to Beijing and make more money. They have no way to afford a roof above the ground. Their hands are tied in the face of Beijing’s effort to clear out tunnels by the end of this year and take up all shelters and other subterranean domiciles for public causes. High-sounding. But what public cause besides chasing migrant workers out of the city can this be possibly up to?
Shi was very concerned, “Where can we go if we don’t live here? Moving up is not realistic at all. We can only find a bungalow far away. Then commute is going to take two to three hours a day. It is so tiring. At worst, we would just pack up and leave for our hometown.”