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Olympic 'undesirables' asked to leave Beijing

Olympic 'undesirables' asked to leave Beijing

Author: Andrew Jacobs
Publication: The Times of India
Date: August 9, 2008

Li Tianchao is an itinerant worker who has spent his adult life toiling long hours, living in bleak worksite dormitories and chasing the next construction job from boomtown to boomtown. A no-nonsense, weatherworn man, he is not quick to grouse.

But as he waited for a train to take him back to his hometown north of the capital, Li, 50, could not help but feel wistful.

"The Olympics have finally come to China, and I won't even be here," he said. He glanced up at the "Participate in the Olympics, Enjoy the Fun" banner and shrugged.

Like thousands of others who packed Beijing's main train station on Thursday, Li was prompted to leave town by a lack of work and an unwritten government policy encouraging migrant workers to clear out until the dignitaries and journalists have gone home.

As the city readied itself for the pageantry and the fireworks of Friday night's opening ceremonies, its main train station was packed with migrant workers whose jobs had been sacrificed to the Olympics juggernaut. The atmosphere was a mix of expectation and boredom, but also disappointment and regret.

No one knows for sure how many of Beijing's 17 million residents are migrants, but there are thought to be around 4 million.

He Yanjun and his wife said that for two years they had earned a decent living installing tiles in the homes of Beijing's newly moneyed class. When the work dried up last month, they rented an apartment and tried to stick it out. The jobs never came, and the rent was steep, so on Thursday the couple packed their belongings and joined the throngs at the station.

Not everyone was leaving Beijing with regret. Wang Cheng and Xiao Xinyan said they were initially annoyed to find themselves suddenly unemployed. But facing a month of idleness, the couple, both 22, decided to seize the moment and get married.

But what about missing the Olympics excitement? Wang, a construction worker, pondered, then said he was actually relieved to leave Beijing. "Besides," he added, "we'll get a better view by watching the Games on television."

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