A home that resides in a public restroom

Alia | November 15th, 2012 - 3:43 am

The education of migrant workers’  children has been a hot topic of debate for a long time in China. As of 2011, China has approximately 240 million migrant workers. However, due to residency restrictions (the notorious Hukou), it’s very hard for children of migrant workers to attend local public schools in cities where they parents are serving (Basic education is free only to those with local Hukou), and those private schools open specially to these children are oftentimes faced with forced shutdown due to lack of  proper permits.

For example, in Beijing along, there are about 100 thousand such children who are left with no school to attend. Last year, Beijing shut down 14 illegal schools for migrant workers’ children, which left over 14 thousand children schooless. After years of discussion, the education situation for migrant workers’ children hasn’t really improved, otherwise, the couple in the story below wouldn’t need to call a public restroom home.

[Source: Sina News]

What concerns the couple most isn’t leaving their hometown and working as migrant workers in the city, but the education of their only boy. Both of the couple are from villages in Guangdong. Not wanting their son to become a left-behind child (left-behind children are kids of migrant workers who stay at hometown), the couple closed the small corner store they’ve been running for years and picked up the new job of contract public restroom cleaners (usually government contractor), all because kids of contract cleaners can attend local schools in Guangdong without paying temporary schooling fees.


Their home, or the public restroom, is located in Beijing Road, the busiest and most popular shopping strip in Guangdong. In between shops and billboards, there is a little sign that reads “public toilet.”


The pathway to get into the toilet is extremely narrow that only one man, and not a fat one, can walks through at a time.


“If not for my son’s education, we won’t take this job. It’s not paying well. We can earn much more if we go back to our village, growing vegetables and raising pigs. Besides, we have a much bigger house back home,” said the 33-year-old Liao Xiaoming (the husband). But the couple heard that kids of contract toilet cleaners in Guangdong can enjoy the ffree 9-year compulsory education. Therefore, they ended their corner store and took their son to their new home – a public restroom on Beijing Road.


A small ladder leads to an attic in the toilet, which is about the size of a queen bed. The walls of the attic are full of hooks with clothes and bags. This is their bedroom, as well as the “office” for their son. Though the family lives in a public restroom, they never complain. They love watching TV and playing cards on the attic.


Below the attic is the family’s living room + kitchen. While their son is doing his homework on the attic, Wang Xuanna, the wife, is cooking underneath. The couple used to enjoy some tea time every day, but now, like Wang comments: “Can’t you see? I have no space for tea sets. When we were still running the corner store, we drank tea every day. Now I packaged all my tea sets back to my home village.”


The toilet room for the disabled is their bathroom. A shower means soaps + a barrel of hot water. Wang has always wanted to rent a studio for his 13-year-old son, but the rent of merely a bed in nearby neighborhoods costs at least 400 yuan.  The family of three has to squeeze in that tiny attic for now. “As long as we have a place to sleep,” the son comments.


Climbing out the shabby window on the attic is where Wang wind-dries their clothes – this narrow strip in between two buildings gets no sun at all.


During down time, Wang loves to play with her cell phone on the passageway of the restroom. She sets up a QQ group (similar to circles in Google Plus) that’s called “Everybody’s happiness.” It’s a very popular group. Wang, who never complains and always has a smile on her face, thus defines happiness: “Happiness isn’t about money. Happiness is about a loving family. I feel happy because my husband cares about me and my son is a good boy.” (Judging from the size of her cell phone, it’s probably one of those all-in-one Shanzhai cell phones. Combining this and his husband’s laptop in the picture below, it needs no further words to stress the importance of the Internet and technology in the lives of the underprivileged in china.)


Wang is on her way to grocery shopping, her husband Liao Xiaoming takes the turn to take care of the restroom. Their month salary is 3000 yuan, barely enough to cover all of their expenses like their son’s books and lunches, as well as routine living costs. Wang says: “I make two dishes every day, and I make sure that every meal has meat. My son is growing fast. We cannot save money on foods.”


Though only 13 years old, their son A Hao understands very well the hardship his parents have been enduring. He never asks for unreasonable things. A 15-yuan meal at McDonald’s is how the family celebrates his birthday.


Wang’s only wish now is that his son has good performance at school. After his son graduate from college and lands his first job, she will be care free. At that time, she wants to visit Hong Kong, a city just at the other side of the river.

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