No matter where you go in Suzhou, you can find a man wearing a hard hat. Like many of the still growing cities in China it has a constantly changing skyline.
Construction workers from all corners of the country come to work on large building sites that are often fenced off by giant billboards displaying images of fancy shopping malls where all your dreams come through. One particular billboard across the road from our apartment accidently displays an extremely grumpy looking girl, on which Richie never fails to comment, “Look what a great time she is having”.
The billboard belongs to a large development that has continuously been in operation since the day we moved in. Its second tallest building will soon reach topping out and it has already acquired the nickname ‘pants’ for its resemblance to a giant pair of pants. The entrance to the metro stop across the road is often swarmed with curious Chinese people tilting their heads backwards looking up whilst pointing and shouting ‘kùzi kùzi’ (kùzi being the Chinese word for pants).
The men work day and night and mostly live on the edges of the building site in small two-storey temporary housing. In the morning they eat their breakfast at the food stalls, most of them bicycle carts, which pop up around the building site at the required time. Around noon they occupy the benches of the nearby park, mostly to take little naps, sometimes to play cards. Their orange overalls stand out against the green background of the trees and can be spotted from afar.
Back on site the workers occasionally come across turtles that are clearly unable to keep up with the constant rezoning of their territory. The lucky finder stands in the middle of the busy junction for as long as it takes to sell the animal. He holds it up to passers-by, and not worried about the creature’s wellbeing may occasionally drop it too. The smaller ones can also be put on a rope and hung of a makeshift rod, which its temporary owner can angle for hours, as if waiting for a bigger catch. One day I asked the fisherman whether the turtle was to be someone’s pet or someone’s dinner and was told both would be an option.
The footpaths in the vicinity of the new development are also in constant flux, being dug up and repaved every couple of week. The current job requires piles of long plastic orange pipes, which lie on the pavement stacked on top of one another like a house of cards. The cycle path had to make way for the equipment pertaining to this particular job.
When the buildings will finally be completed, there will no doubt be a grand opening. There will be many important officials cutting red ribbons and walking on red carpets through red-ballooned arches, which will be set up in front of the main entrance. There will be fireworks, customary at every great achievement, which will provide us all with the final bit of noise.
The workers will not be present at the party, as they will have moved on to the next vacant piece of land.