China Daily (Hong Kong)
Taiwan design team helps village become hot spot for wedding photos
Wall cleaners earn more than other unskilled workers, but life is tiring and risky. Yang Zekun
In Sanlou village in northern Fujian province, couples pose for wedding pictures under trees and tourists take in vistas of rice growing on terraces, some even working the terraces themselves.
More people have been visiting the formerly poverty-stricken village since a Taiwan design team introduced the wedding industry there.
Located on a mountain about 700 meters high in Nanping, Fujian, the village used to be about an hour’s drive from town. Villagers maintained their farming lifestyle and planted rice on terraced fields for a living.
The high forest coverage rate in the mountains gives the village clean air and a good environment, and the rice terraces offer four-season views like paintings.
Lin Chun, Party chief of the village, said: “Its natural beauty attracted many hikers and photographers, but it didn’t bring villagers much income without a complete industry. The agricultural products didn’t sell well.”
Villagers have had to leave the village to make a living. There are about 300 people living in Sanlou, mainly the elderly, about 25 percent of the village’s total population, Lin said.
As part of the country’s efforts to promote rural revitalization, Fujian rolled out preferential policies in 2018 to attract Taiwan designers to join village-building work in the province after a similar strategy was pursued on the island.
The incentives include giving subsidies of up to 500,000 yuan ($77,450) each to villages that hire Taiwan designers. By the end of last year, about 200 designers from Taiwan were involved in rural revitalization work in 117 villages in Fujian, according to the Fujian Provincial Housing and Urban-Rural Development Department.
In March, a Taiwan team arrived in Sanlou. After conducting investigations and holding discussions with local people, they decided to build the village into a wedding photography base because of its scenery.
Many wedding photography bases in Taiwan on remote mountains have become popular tourist attractions. One example is Pasture Yen Family in Changhua, Taiwan, which used to be an abandoned pig farm. Its large parkland area and barnstyle auditorium are also used for weddings and banquets.
Design team leader Hsu Chunhsiung said: “The experience of the pig farm transformation project in Taiwan can be used in Sanlou, where there are large areas of grassland and unique terraced fields. Surveys found that outdoor weddings in forests are growing popular on the mainland.
“The village has good natural resources, and some contain symbols of romance — for example, two camphor trees in the village accompanying each other.”
Two huge, ancient camphor trees — one about 1,000 years old and the other about 800 years old — grow side by side in the center of the village. Full of vitality, their branches intertwine.
The team made use of the village’s distinctive scenery to develop spots where people can pose for photographs. They include the ancient camphor trees as well as a picture frame with terraced fields in the background.
The open space around the camphor trees has been transformed into an outdoor wedding venue, and the village auditorium has been upgraded to accommodate wedding banquets. The village’s agricultural products are made into special dishes and gifts in distinctive packaging to increase their added value.
Lin said: “Local people go to the seaside to take wedding photos, but shooting in the rice fields and mountain valley is a new experience for them. We hope the wedding photography industry can activate other industries in the village.”
Visitors posing on the terraces also buy rice in the village because they can see that its fields are irrigated by mountain water, free of pollution, with wild snails in fields serving as a natural indicator of environmental quality, he said.
People can rent a piece of land to grow rice for about 360 yuan a year, and they can experience agricultural work such as transplanting and harvesting. Nearly 300 people rented terrace fields last year, Lin said.
In October, a cross-Straits wedding photo exhibition was held in the village, exhibiting forest wedding photos taken by photographers from Taiwan and the mainland.
The wedding industry brought more than 20,000 tourists to the village last year. This year, Sanlou plans to provide outdoor wedding services and improve its homestay accommodations, Lin said.
“Developments in the village have changed the villagers’ minds, with many returning last year to repair their old houses,” he said.
Moving up and down a rope, stretching his arms wide to wipe as large an area as possible, the life of external wall cleaner Shang Qianjin hangs on two cables 14 millimeters in diameter whenever he works high in the air.
The 43-year-old never thought he would enter the headquarters of China Central Television in Beijing’s Chaoyang district, a building he had only seen on TV.
Then, in 2018, he was employed to clean its external walls. Before starting work, he looked the building up and down.
Although he was not supposed to look inside the building while cleaning it, he couldn’t resist taking a peek. “It’s beautiful. I wish my children or I had a chance to work inside,” he said.
Shang and his peers are known as “spidermen”, and cleaning the external walls of skyscrapers is a booming profession. Many such buildings have sprung up since the reform and opening-up policy started more than 40 years ago.
The CCTV headquarters is one of them, while the 632-meter Shanghai Tower in East China is the country’s tallest building.
A recent report by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in Chicago showed that by the end of last year there were 1,733 200meter-plus buildings around the world, and China boasted 56 of the 106 completions globally.
The country is also home to 18 of the 30 highest buildings projected for completion this year.
In April, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development and the National Development and Reform Commission of China issued a document on the management of urban and architectural features.
The guideline imposed strict regulations on the planning and construction of skyscrapers. As one of the regulations was that no new building should exceed 500 meters, many architects had to reduce the heights of planned skyscrapers.
High-altitude cleaners have to obtain a special operations certificate, which is overseen by the Ministry of Emergency Management.
While they earn more than many other migrant workers, they also shoulder serious mental and physical challenges imposed by the work.
As a result, few young people are willing to undertake the work.
Shang, from Zhumadian city, Henan province, has been cleaning external walls in Beijing for about 13 years.
Before, he assembled prefabricated buildings in the capital, but an accident in 2007 changed his career path. Shang and several colleagues fell 5 meters when the roof of a building was disturbed by strong winds as they laid sections of tiling.
An inspection later found that the foundations were unable to bear the load, and the site’s technical director hadn’t made a preparatory safety check.
Though there were no fatalities, the workers suffered a range of injuries. However, the incident was not reported, according to Shang,
who said he received no compensation at all.
“It was quite scary. My employer had no sense of safety, so I decided to find a new job. I think my current job is much safer than my previous one because we can at least check our protective gear carefully before we start,” he said.
Having completed the practical and theoretical sections of a training course, he was issued with the special operations certificate that allows him to clean high buildings.
He usually works in teams of three to six people. After setting up their equipment on a high point and carefully placing the cables, they check their safety harnesses and start work.
They wear waterproof clothing, nonslip footwear, gloves and safety helmets. A plastic bucket of cleaning agent is tied to a wooden platform, which is attached to cables that can bear about 2 metric tons.
The workers sit on the platform and use wipers to clean as much glass as possible with each swipe.
They check the weather forecast before deciding on the next day’s work as inclement conditions can affect the work significantly.
They cannot work on rainy, windy or snowy days as raindrops and snowflakes make the glass too slippery, while wind makes the platform unstable.
Shang usually gets up at 5 am. After eating a simple breakfast of Chinese pancakes and soy milk that costs about 6 yuan (90 cents), he spends two hours commuting by bus or subway to reach his workplace by the 8 am start.
In winter, Shang’s working day ends at about 5 pm, but in summer
it is extended to 7 pm because the workers need to rest indoors to avoid the high temperatures at noon.
“In summer, the walls or the glass curtains are very hot and the water we rub on them evaporates in seconds. We are often soaked with sweat after working for a while,” Shang said.
“In winter, we need to wear thick, waterproof clothes, but the water droplets are still freezing. The thick clothes slow our working pace. Also, the strong winds in the Beijing winter make the work more difficult because even a little gust can make our platform shake.”
Jiao Kun, also from Zhumadian, has been doing the job since 1997.
The 43-year-old has heard about accidents in the industry, and he was involved in an emergency in 2007 while washing the top section of a building in Pangu Plaza in Chaoyang.
A sudden strong gust lifted Jiao and his workmate so high that they could not reach the wall.
They held onto one another and eventually were able to use suction cups to fix themselves to the glass and stabilize their platform.
Jiao spent months getting accustomed to working in high places, starting on low buildings and gradually working his way up.
He and his colleagues always visit the restroom before they start their tasks, each of which typically takes two to three hours.
If they need to go again they have to lower themselves to the ground by ropes and then climb back up to the platform.
“We need to go up and down, side to side and stretch to clean a wide area,” he said.
“A regular day’s work is always
very tiring, so I often fall asleep on the subway on the way home,” he said.
If a client is particularly hard to please, Jiao and his peers will return to the building, check their work and explain any problems to the client’s satisfaction.
The highest building Jiao has cleaned was about 200 meters, but he rarely tackles anything that size now because of safety considerations.
“Once, I wanted to clean the tallest
building in Beijing, but the plan got put on hold as I got older and became less fit. Being safe and protecting myself is the most important thing for me and my family.”
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