Except for that first person, who seemed more worried about the consequences for himself if the foreigners got hurt, nobody cared that we were wandering out to the edge of a dam still under construction. Looking out over the edge I realized how high up we must have been, my apartment was on the 8th floor, and this was much higher than that. If I had to guess, I would say it was close to 15 or 20 stories above the river bed below.
It was at this moment that we noticed a group of men standing at the edge talking with each other and pointing at something. When we got to the edge we noticed a man who was doing some welding on the side of the dam. All that was holding him up was a small loop of webbing that had been tied around a 6-inch piece of rebar that was sticking out of the dam. We couldn’t help but be terrified for the guy. The heights were dizzying and we weren’t the ones dangling off the side.
We learned a lot that day about construction sites in China. We lost count of the number of people wearing flimsy rice picking hats and flip-flops. The construction workers’ lives became a bit clearer when we found their dorms at the edge of the site: low, long buildings that must have been incredibly hot in the summer sun. Behind those buildings were a mountain of empty baijiu bottles (baijiu is a popular kind of Chinese liquor, it can be incredibly cheap and is 55%+ alcohol).
In China, millions of people have left their homes to go work in the cities. Construction is one of those jobs that employ the most migrant workers. At this point we started to wonder where these men came from to end up living in a dorm, miles away from a town that nobody else had even heard of.