posted on February 22nd 2015 in with 0 Comments

Beijing/RatTribe/2014/pictures by Sim Chi Yin / VII / story by Ian Johnson/ An estimated 800,000 to 1 million migrants live in Beijing’s basements and air raid shelters, earning the label the “rat tribe”. Chen Laxiu, 50, cleaner at Beijing subway station, from Guizhou. / / Chen Laxiu: The Granny who Cleans the Subways Chen Laxiu knows one thing about herself: she’s always in a good mood. The 50-year-old comes from the coal-mining town of Liupanshui in Guizhou province. There, her family had a little over an acre of land but three sons. Including her and her husband, that wouldn’t have left enough land. A few years ago, her youngest son moved to Beijing. In early 2014, they followed him to the capital and haven’t looked back. “Farming is hard work,” she said while sitting on her tiny bed. “You work in the fields and then you’re still not free because you have all these other chores to do. Here, I work my hours and then I’m off.” She and her husband found jobs cleaning subway stops on the same line–the new Line 6, which runs east and west through the center of town. She keeps the Dongdaqiao stop clean and he works the Hujialou stop. Their basement dwelling is a few stops further east, just near the Fourth Ring Road. “Of course our home back in Guizhou is much better. There’s no comparison,” she said, laughing at the thought. “We have a courtyard and six bedrooms. Here we just have four square meters. But we don’t plan to stay here forever. It’s a safe place to sleep at night and watch some television serials off a disk.” But the unit has become something more. It’s part of one of the warmest, friendliest underground housing compounds in the city, run by Guo Xiaolong (see below). Chen’s son found the unit for them and not coincidentally his fiancÈe’s parents live a few doors down. Always gregarious, Chen is often down with them talking, even though she usually can’t understand their thick Shanxi accents. Other times, she’s out window shopping–but never spendin

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