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March 20, 2013

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Migrant workers find homes in discarded shipping containers

IN a classic case of survival of the fittest some migrant workers have worked out a cheaper way to live in the city.

In a city where rents can shoot up to astronomical figures, some of the them have made shipping containers their homes and decorated them in suburban Shanghai.

Li Yanxin, a native of Anhui Province, and three other migrant families have lived in the so-called "container village" for the last 10 years.

The cargo containers were piling up on the side of a road in Sanlin Town in the Pudong New Area.

It is called a village as the containers look like a tiny community with several two and three-storey buildings - all of them equipped with doors, windows, electricity and water.

In a container about 15 square meters, Li divided the "room" into a small supermarket, selling food, drinks and other daily necessities, and a living room with a bed, sofa and even a television.

Bought from customs

Li told Shanghai Daily that there were a total of 17 containers in the area, all of which belong to a local man in his 70s whom they called the "old man".

"It was more than 10 years ago that the 'old man' bought the containers from local customs, costing 7,000 yuan (US$1,125) to over 10,000 yuan. He planned to use them as warehouses on the land he rented from the government but later decided to lease them out to migrant workers," said Li.

Li said renting the container cost him about 300 yuan each month, which was much lower than the rents at apartments nearby.

Other families pay about 400 yuan each month as their containers are bigger, said Li.

Another female resident living in the container said the "old man" took pity on some migrant workers who survived by collecting garbage and charged them very low rent.

He even paid electricity and water bills for them.

"Many people ask me how I feel living in a container. I say it's quite fine as I've never lived in an apartment in the city," said Li.

"The iron containers are quite solid and I do not have to worry about leakages during rain or the roof collapsing."

Safer than brick houses

The container village is only a few steps away from another community, which is home to many migrant workers who live in brick houses. But the "villagers" said they are more than happy living in containers as those brick houses were built illegally with serious quality problems.

The "villagers" said they never worry about thunder strikes when they work or sleep in the iron containers because "in the past few years, lightening has never struck their homes."

"We've put some wooden boards on the floor and placed other containers on the top so thunderstorm are not so scary, a resident said.

In his little supermarket in the container, Li revealed his ambitious plan.

"I've never heard a law banning people from living in containers on a land they rented. The problem here is that we have 17 containers but most of them are not used as only four families live here," said Li.

"If the government can work with us, we can surely develop the area into a true container village for migrant workers which is safe, cheap and convenient," Li said.

Villagers said local government officials have visited their container home a dozen times in the past few years but they didn't ask them to relocate.

A similar container village existed in suburban Gaoqiao Town in Pudong in 2011.

But last May, Gaoqiao government officials claimed the container village "posed danger to residents."

A total of 324 containers were then removed, including 111 containers which were modified into houses by the migrants.


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