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July 26, 2013

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Toiling away on Shanghai's landmark tower

SIPPING the last drop of soup he brought from home, Li Futang is ready to take a quick afternoon nap besides a pile of wood waiting to be chopped into pieces.

The afternoon sun drenches the construction workers in sweat and dozing off briefly to beat the heat is more than welcome.

Even the ships and the vessels seem to be moving at a leisurely pace on the Huangpu River - or at least so it seems from Li's 52nd floor of the under-construction Shanghai Tower in Lujiazui's financial hub in Pudong.

An hour's nap was more important than any other thing at the moment, even while working on the city's upcoming landmark.

"Here, we are paid by the hour and that's all that matters," said the 47-year-old Li, a carpenter by profession, stretching himself next to a large piece of wood.

It's the same for the other 1,600-plus workers, slugging it out at different levels, at Shanghai's tallest structure.

On completion, it will be 632 meters tall and will have a total of 125 floors.

Currently standing at nearly 580 meters, the tower's main structure is expected to be completed by August 3, meaning it is all about meeting the deadline for the likes of Li and others.

Working on an average between nine to more than 11 hours a day, the workers, brought in from all over China, dodge the stifling summer heat by either starting off early or working late in the night.

Shanghai's high-temperature regulations means they have to down their tools in the afternoon scorching sun.

The blazing sun and the tough working conditions have left their marks on the workers' faces. Tanned by long-term exposure working outdoors, Di Jianxue still could afford a smile - his front tooth missing and the rest tainted by years of smoking.

At 57, Di has not given any thought of retiring, just like his many colleagues slogging it out in the city.

A father of two sons, Di says he sends money home in northwest China's Shaanxi Province that feeds his family, including his grandchildren.

"People like me are supposed to live a hard life," said Di, who earns between 4,000 yuan (US$651.61) to 5,000 yuan a month. He has been working on the site for more than two years.

Di, who has never worked in Shanghai before, previously worked in north China where the harsh weather conditions seemed to have toughened him. He is unmoved by Lujiazui's many high-rises around him and carries on his task, handling cement structures, after gulping down a bottle of salt water.

The 69th floor on which Di is working will have a public viewing observatory. The neighboring two high-rises, Jin Mao Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC), seems to be within a hand's reach.

Because of the heavy upward-downward traffic at the construction site, the workers' meals are distributed on every floor to save time.

Right now, the trip from the ground floor to the top takes roughly about half an hour. On completion, the same distance will be covered in a minute.

Rather ironically, the workers working on the tower may not even get the chance to enjoy a ride on one of the fastest elevator in Asia.

"We leave when the building is done ... It is always like this and it will always be," said Li, who first came to Shanghai in 1993 when his son was just over two years old.

Now he has a grandson of nearly the same age.

"When I first arrived here, it was still a farmland," said Li, looking at the modern-day Lujiazui with the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Jin Mao Tower, SWFC and the Pudong Shangri-la - buildings that he also worked on.

After the completion of the structure, Li said he would come again when the interior decoration work starts. It's a job that can earn him 220 yuan for nine hours of work every day.


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