Four years working as a white-collar worker in China's largest city of Shanghai, Liu Xiaoqiang feels he's far from being able to afford his own apartment there.
He makes 5,000 yuan (US$640) a month as an IT engineer, but that's only half the average price for a square meter of housing in downtown Shanghai.
When Liu finished college study in 2002, he had vowed to buy an apartment in three years at most so that his parents would leave their countryside home in central Hubei Province and live with him.
"They spent up their savings to finance my education through college while other villagers had moved into bigger houses," said Liu. "I just hope houses in Shanghai would be more affordable for home buyers like me."
A recent survey made by the Shanghai government shows 33 percent of the new settlers in the city think they'd need at least10 years of hard work to buy an apartment, 32 percent said they would need six to 10 years and 20 percent said five years.
"If the Chinese government's macro control policy could drive down the house prices in big cities, I might make enough for the down payment of a two-bedroom apartment in a year or two," said Liu as he moonlighted as a gaming software programmer on the New Year's Day.
Sun Lijuan's family in north China's Shanxi Province has been in debt since her daughter came down with pancreatitis last summer. The operation cost nearly 200,000 yuan (US$25,640).
"If I had been sick like that I doubt if I would have readily paid the bills," said Sun, a laid-off worker from a state-owned firm in the provincial capital of Taiyuan.
Sun received a government-sponsored vocational training program toward the end of the year and is having her fingers crossed that she might find a new job this year.
She might not know the gloomy job market is set to disappoint tens of thousands of new graduates in 2007, let alone laid-off workers.
Ministry of Education said there'll be 4.95 million new graduates, 820,000 more than last year. For many graduates, the slim job market has overshadowed their new year.
"In 2006 I visited seven recruitment fairs, distributed more than 50 resumes and went to three interviews," said Xu Liying, a senior student at Shanghai Foreign Trade Institute. "Job offers? Zero."
Xu, an advertisement major, said she's a straight-A student but has been rejected by many employers. "Why is it so difficult to find a job? Give me a job -- that's the best New Year gift I would ever dream of."
Citizens in Lanzhou, northwest China's Gansu Province, woke up on Monday to another bad day: the freezing cold and smoggy weather dampened all their enthusiasm in the New Year.
The city, one of the most polluted in China, has had smoggy weather since mid December and visibility was reduced to 100 meters in the worst cases.
Local hospitals were crowded with respiratory disease patients even on the New Year's Day.
"Have you got any idea when it will clear up?" asked a young man who offers yacht rides in the Yellow River that flows through the city. His business has been bad this winter. "Who's keen on taking a ride in a gloomy day and in a contaminated river?"
Like the air, the Yellow River turned red and white last year with industrial flushing and sewage water, which annoyed many citizens in Lanzhou.
"I don't mind working twice as hard to make the city a better place to live," said a cleaner who gave only her family name as Lu. She starts sweeping the ground on a downtown square at 4:30 AM every day.
(Xinhua News Agency January 2, 2007)