re-building in post-earthquake sichuan with shifus

As a birthday present to myself two years ago, I signed up for a 5-day build in the town of Zhuyuan, Qingchuan county, Sichuan province, with Habitat for Humanity China. This area was particularly hard hit in the May 12, 2008, Wenchuan earthquake, and we were building a multi-unit housing community for displaced families.

Bookending the photo here are construction shifus (or masters, a term traditionally used to show respect for a person’s skills and experience, especially craftsmen), who were paired with our 9-person team.

Friendly, chain-smoking, patient and speaking (to our ears) barely comprehensible Sichuanese Mandarin, these shifus were wonderful at showing us the ropes. On our first day of mixing cement and laying bricks, we promptly nicknamed them after well-known pop Hong Kong pop singers, based on their musical preference.

This build was in partnership with the government for the Zhuyuan township, and the goal was to finish construction before the freezing winter sets in. The units were spaces of 90sqm, 120sqm, and 150sqm. Each costed an average of roughly RMB 80,000, with local government slated to provide subsidies ranging from RMB 16,000-19,000 per family. Families were also to be given land compensation subsidies for previously owned land, and the government has likewise arranged for these families to receive low-interest loans from banks.



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