family of migrant workers in China too poor to rent a proper apartment, have made their home in a public restroom, on Beijing Road, the busiest and most popular shopping strip in Guangzhou.
Earlier this year, I wrote a post about a resourceful Chinese family in Shenyang who managed to turn an abandoned public restroom into a cozy home. Their story was pretty unbelievable, but the one I’m presenting today is even more so. 33-year-old Liao Xiaoming, his wife and their child all live in a functional public toilet on the busiest street in all of Guangdong province. Not wanting to leave their child behind in their native village as they left to the big city in search of a better life, the two accepted the job of contract public restroom cleaners, because kids of contract cleaners can attend local schools in Guangdong without paying temporary schooling fees. Normally, Chinese residency restrictions prevent children of migrant workers from attending local public schools in cities where they parents are serving. Since their child’s education is very important, the two parents agreed to the contract, even if that meant they had to live in it too.
Their unusual home is located on Beijing Road, in between shops and billboards, and has a small sign above that reads “public toilet”. The pathway leading to the toilet is so narrow that it’s hard to imagine how a slightly overweight person could make their way through. Inside, the restroom looks clean enough, thanks to the efforts of Wang Xuanna and Liao Xiaoming, but it’s not somewhere where you’imagine someone could live. As you walk by the cubicles you can see a small room, barely 2 meters by 2 meters in size. This is where Wang cooks and deposits most of their stuff. It’s also where they eat dinner as people walk in and out of the public toilet. Luckily, they also have a small attic above the room, where they sleep and where they like to hang out, watch TV and play cards, from time to time. Their bathroom is the toilet for disabled people, where a shower means rubbing their bodies with soap and washing it off with a bucket of hot water. It’s hardly the ideal home, but the son comments “as long as we have a place to sleep…”
Wang and Liao wanted to rent a studio, where they could raise their 13-year-old son properly, but renting a mere bed in the nearby neighborhoods costs 400 yuan ($64) a month. Their monthly salary is 3000 yuan, barely enough to cover all of their daily expenses and the boy’s books. “If not for my son’s education, we wouldn’t have taken 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,” the husband says. But his wife seems more optimistic: “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.” Her only wish is that he son does well in school. Once he graduates from college and lands his first job, she and her husband will be carefree.
This story proves China’s economic growth can be deceiving. The truth is the gap between the country’s rich and poor has never been wider, and while some people bathe in luxury, others are struggling to make ends meet and put their kids through school.