One Day In The Life Of A Beijing Tile Worker

This is a translated post from’s housing forum:

Tile workers [most of them are also migrant workers] are a large group of people. What’s the difference between their daily lives and ours [probably refers to lives of the forum readers who are mostly city residents]?

I will show you a common tile worker’s one day in this post. The person I’m going to introduce to you is Wang Shifu [Wang is his family name and Shifu or Master, is a common addressing given to, but not limited to, blue-collar workers in China]. He’s thirty-nine years old, from Henan province and he has been working in Beijing for sixteen years.

Tile worker Wang Shifu 1

Wang Shifu lives in Demao Zhuang outside the South Fifth Ring and his current working place is in Datun which is out of the North Fourth Ring. He has to cross nine ring roads everyday to work place ……

Work hours for tile workers are not fixed from 9 am to 5 pm so in order to arrive in the construction site by 8 am, he has to take the first Speed Bus [a part of metro transportation system] at 5:30am. He leaves his home at 5 am in every morning.

Tile worker Wang Shifu 2

If a man is iron then a meal is steel [a Chinese proverb which means eating well is important to keep people energetic]. A white-collar worker may skip a breakfast and still be unaffected but since tiling work requires physical labour, a good breakfast is a must.

A box of steamed stuffed buns and two bowls of purple rice porridge are the breakfast for Wang Shifu and another young Shifu.

Tile worker Wang Shifu 3

This is the crowded Speed Bus line No. 1 that takes numerous people to Beijing to work in the early morning. To save on living expenses, they don’t rent a place in or near the city but live in suburb and take crowded transportation tools into the city. They don’t even dream to have a life with a house and a car in Beijing.

That’s a dream too far away for them.

Tile worker Wang Shifu 4

The destination of the Speed Bus is Qianmen. Then Wang Shifu takes subway toward the North Ring direction. Taking bus there requires much longer time.

Tile worker Wang Shifu 5

Make time to take a nap in the train. Who [has the fortune] to ride such an empty train to work?

Tile worker Wang Shifu 6

There’s a 15-minute walking distance between the subway station and the construction site. A scene of an empty station is unfamiliar to most of us city commuters but it’s a part of everyday life for Wang Shifu.

Tile worker Wang Shifu 7

Wang Shifu’s construction site is on the top floor of this small building which has the feature that all tile workers hate: no elevator. Everything has to be carried up by hand.

Tile worker Wang Shifu 8

7:25 am

Wang Shifu comes to the ground floor. Since there’s no elevator,  moving things up and down is a big problem.

Wang Shifu takes construction materials upstairs and construction waste downstairs every time he comes down to the ground to reduce the time of moving things.

The bag of sand in the picture, is the thing he is carrying with himself to the sixth floor.

Tile worker Wang Shifu7:50am

Today’s work is floor leveling. The first thing he needs to do is to clean up the mess on the site.

Tile worker Wang Shifu 9


Wang Shifu is preparing the material of construction: sand.

All the sand is carried to the top floor by him and the young Shifu.

Tile worker Wang Shifu 10

8:30 am

Wang Shifu and his young apprentice Tian Shifu are working on a leveling string. It’s said this is the first step in floor leveling. Correct setting of the leveling string is crucial to the degree of levelness of the entire floor so they must be very careful.

They are doing measurement carefully.

Tile worker Wang Shifu 11

9:40 am

They start to mix cement with sand to make the material stuffed in the floor’s foundation.

Tile worker Wang Shifu 12

11:00 am

Lay the mixed cement against the leveling string, wait until it becomes dry.

Tile worker Wang Shifu 13

12:00 pm

Wang Shifu and Tian Shifu are having lunch: Sichuan pickles, peanuts, a big bing [a Chinese wheaten pancake, not the Microsoft one] and a bottle of beer.

Tile worker Wang Shifu 14

Tile worker Wang Shifu 15

This afternoon’s work is tiling walls. After taking an afternoon nap they are preparing for tiling.

Tile worker Wang Shifu 16

1:30 pm

Wang Shifu starts to install tiles which he’s very good at. He often receives praise from customers.

2:30 pm

A wall is almost done.

Tile worker Wang Shifu 17

Continue installing ceramic tiles.

Tile worker Wang Shifu 18

Tile worker Wang Shifu 19

6:10 pm

Tiling has been finished on the upper part of the wall in bathroom.

Let me tell you a trick on tiling. Why hasn’t the bottom been tiled yet? Wang Shifu told me it’s called “wall pressing on ground” and the bottom should be tiled after the floor is tiled to avoid been flooded [Something professional. I have no idea what it is].

Tile worker Wang Shifu 20


Tile worker Wang Shifu 21

6:40 pm

Tired, having been working for a whole day, Wang Shifu walks out from the community and is heading home.

He has to take the subway first then the Speed Bus to his rented house outside the Fifth Ring. He rarely works overtime.

From waking up and hurry to his work at 5 am in the morning, to finishing work at 6:40 pm in the evening[, that was the day of Wang Shifu].

Tomorrow, his work will be continued, day after day …

Tile worker Wang Shifu 22


Written by Python

Python is an enthusiastic supporter and contributor of chinaSMACK. He used to like writing articles for this blog but currently his interest is more on the software side of this website, i.e., fine-tuning server and database, solving scalability problem and maintaining the server's swift and smooth response.

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