Homeward bound

09:16, April 30, 2010      

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"Weekend Dads" taking the Beijing-Tianjin high speed train from Beijing South Station on a Friday evening. Photos by Jiang Dong / China Daily

Capital's soaring housing prices are forcing many white-collar workers to look to cities such as Tianjin to settle their families. Wang Junjing reports.

As always, Zhang Junzhe, a supervisor with the Beijing Gamadecor Bathroom Furniture Co Ltd, is waiting for the train at Beijing South Station at 7 on a Friday evening.

After a hard work week, he is heading back home - in Tianjin.

The Beijing-Tianjin high speed train, which covers the distance of about 120 km in half an hour at 116 yuan ($17) round trip, is what he has been taking between home and work for the past four years.

"My parents have bought a flat for me in Tianjin, but I work in Beijing, a city whose housing prices are way beyond my budget," the 27-year-old Tianjin hukou (residence permit) holder says.

Zhang knows his predicament is not unique.

"I meet many other Tianjin residents who work in Beijing and regularly take this train. Sometimes, we even arrange to go back together."

While the exact numbers of such commuters are hard to come by, according to a survey by the Tianjin Municipal Institute of Economic Development, about 30 percent of apartments sold in Tianjin in 2009 were bought by non-Tianjin residents, of whom half were those with a Beijing hukou.

Many white-collar workers like Zhang commute every week between the two cities, earning themselves the moniker, "pendulum clan".

Every Monday morning or late Sunday afternoon, they leave home for their workplace, and return at the weekend.

"The living costs in Beijing are very high. An apartment that I share with one of my colleagues in Fengtai district, costs me 1,000 yuan ($147) per month. Besides the train ticket, I have to also buy a bus ticket to or from home at both ends.

"It is tiring. Even though it takes only about 30 minutes from Tianjin Station to Beijing South Station, I have to spend at least an hour and a half to reach the stations," says Zhang.

"I love Tianjin, where I was born and grew up, but still choose to work in Beijing as it offers better opportunities," he adds.

Zhang's wife continues to live in Tianjin, where she has a stable job and plans to start a small business.



"I do hope he can come back. But I know he is ambitious, and wants bigger challenges, while I prefer an easy life. We have failed to come to a compromise," she says.

As to the future, neither has a clear plan.

Living in one city and working in another is common in Europe, says Lu Xin, a clerk of the Union Bank of Switzerland, Beijing branch, referring to the large numbers of such commuters he encountered while in Switzerland.

"People who work in Zurich may go back to their homes in small cities everyday. Unlike China, it takes much less time, and the train is more comfortable and less crowded."

In contrast, just traveling from one corner of Beijing to another can feel like commuting between two cities.

Professor Xu Gang, of the Guangdong Social Conditions Research Center, says China's "pendulum clan" faces considerable pressure - both physical and mental. "Many couples do not live together and this can lead to a marriage crisis," he says.

Despite the inconveniences, more and more are choosing to live their lives "swinging" between their workplaces and homes.

For Li Min, a 40-year-old clerk in an investment company in Beijing, the reasons are obvious. "High salaries and a comfortable work environment make Beijing a perfect choice," he says.

Li's wife and daughter live in the outskirts of Fengrun district, Tangshan, located 150 km from Beijing. He sees little possibility of settling down in the capital because of the high housing prices and a restrictive hukou system.

Moving back to Tangshan is also not an attractive option.

"I have been living in Beijing for more than 10 years and find living here very convenient. The job opportunities are better and compensations, more lucrative. The healthcare facilities are also better. After getting used to this, it's difficult for me to move to another city, even it is my hometown."

But he also admits that, "I am getting tired of this routine. It takes me more than two hours to drive home and my back hurts.

"I may live together with my family after retiring, but for now I have to live like this."

The "pendulum clan" can be seen not only in the Bohai Rim Economic Zone - that includes Beijing and Tianjin - but also in the Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta regions.

The Southern Weekly reported last year that more than 60,000 people commute between Shanghai and Hangzhou, with their families in either city and workplaces in the other.

Another study puts this number at between 70,000 and 100,000 for those commuting between Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

Increasingly, growing numbers are shuttling between Shanghai or Guangzhou and neighboring second- or third-tier cities.

"What this phenomenon brings about is a waste of resources. While these workers spend much time and money on the road, many houses in the big cities lie vacant," says Professor Dong Baomin of Beijing's University of International Business and Economics.

But Guangdong's Professor Xu feels it will eventually lead to more balanced growth and hence result in better resource allocation.

Source: China Daily

(Editor:石希)

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