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February 23, 2010

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Migrant workers forgo family reunions to toil on Expo site as deadline nears

THIS year's Spring Festival holiday was hardly a golden week for Liu Helin, a 55-year-old carpenter from Yunnan Province who toils day and night - and in good spirits - at the World Expo 2010 site.

Lunar New Year's Day, February 14, was a working day for Liu, except that he made a call to his two, one-year-old grandsons back home in Yunnan, wishing them a happy Year of the Tiger.

"I do miss my grandsons, but it is my duty to finish the work first," says Liu who voluntarily remained in Shanghai to work on the 5.2-square-kilometer site, along with around 30 fellow migrant workers from Dali, Yunnan.

They are all working on the Yunnan Pavilion for the six-month Expo that begins May 1. The schedule is tight, and their pavilion is 60 percent complete.

Most Chinese people took time to return home and be with family on the most important festival of the year.

But nearly 3,000 construction workers, most from neighboring provinces, stayed at the Expo site during the festival.

Shanghai Daily photographer Wang Rongjiang spent the Spring Festival holiday with the workers, recording their busy and happy holiday at the Expo site and Shanghai.

"Spring Festival is the biggest holiday in China, a time for family reunion, especially for those working outside of their hometowns," says Wang.

"Those workers didn't go home, but continued working at the Expo site to guarantee the World Expo opens in time. They never complained during my interview. What they said most is 'It's for the Expo.' A successful Expo can't be achieved without their efforts."

The Expo organizer arranged 50 free movies, eight per day, and many other festival activities for workers who remained on site. The Shanghai Construction Group, the major contractor, helped buy train tickets for many who were going home for the festival. Many live in nearby Anhui and Jiangsu provinces, as well as Sichuan Province.

Most are back now and more than 20,000 people are working on the site.

It would take too much time and money to go home on this holiday, says Liu.

"There are only around 60 days to go before opening of the Expo, so if we go home, the building won't be finished on time," he says. He plans to fly home when the Yunnan Pavilion is completed in March.

Most workers voluntarily stayed at the Expo site during the festival, says Wang Yi, deputy director of the Shanghai Baoye Construction Corp, one of the major Expo contractors.

Although they are separated from their families, they remain enthusiastic, hard working and efficient, he says.

Construction is complete for many pavilions and interior decoration and installation of exhibits is underway.

The site will be ready by the end of March for five test operations from mid-April.

Currently, the workers' main tasks include construction on the plazas at the Expo entrances and some stand-alone pavilions.

Two migrants from Sichuan Province, a father and son, spent the festival together at the Expo site. Both Liang Huiping and his son Liang Hao are welders for the China Pavilion, the iconic Expo structure.

"I feel quite proud and happy to spend the festival with my son working on the magnificent China Pavilion," Liang says.

Liang Hao says his biggest wish was to have a look inside the China Pavilion after the Expo opening.

Some foreign workers were also toiling at the Expo site during the festival.

Around 30 workers and engineers from Germany kept working on the "Balancity" Germany Pavilion, while about 230 Chinese workers from Hunan and Anhui provinces returned home for the holiday, says Marion Conrady, press officer of the Germany Pavilion.

This is no problem for the German workers, because they had a week-long Christmas vacation, says Conrady.

Final exterior work and interior outfitting are underway simultaneously on the 6,000-square-meter pavilion. It will be finished in mid-April for operation, she says.


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