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Sweating it out
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A policeman directs the traffic with his shirt soaked in sweat. [Bai Xianglin/China Daily]
A policeman directs the traffic with his shirt soaked in sweat. [Bai Xianglin/China Daily]

At 1 pm, passengers cram into the shade cast by billboards at the bus stop outside the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

Pedestrians quicken their pace to escape the sun, except for one man in an orange-red uniform.

Every day from 6 am to 4 pm, sanitation worker Shi Bencheng, 55, sweeps the road between the university and China-Japan Friendship Hospital.

"This summer is much hotter than previous years. Many people like to carry a drink or eat an icecream, so there's more littering," says Shi in a strong Hebei accent.

He has lost count of the number of times he sweeps the 500-m stretch every day to keep it clean, but is determined to pick up every piece of rubbish, despite the heavy traffic.

His supervisor at the Beijing Chaoyang Sanitation Center has told him that he can get 40 yuan (US$6) more this month, besides his 1,200 yuan monthly salary.

"They call it the heat wave subsidy and I am entitled to it for three months," Shi says with a broad grin. Under his straw hat, he looks much darker than most passers-by.

Besides the extra cash, Shi and his colleagues have also been given two boxes of plum juice, five bags of white sugar and four bags of tea, to cope with the heat wave.

As Beijing experiences a rare hot summer, many residents hide in air-conditioned homes and shopping malls or take to swimming pools. But there are many who have to brave the heat and work under the cruel sun.

At 2 pm, many of the seats on Bus No 684 are vacant as it arrives at Heping East Bridge.

The blazing sun beats down on the windows on the right side as the bus heads south. All the passengers sit to the left, except for one woman.

Bus conductor Wang, 44, says she and the driver have been working since 6 am and they won't call it a day until 4 pm.

As the bus waits at the traffic lights, the air inside feels horribly stuffy despite the open windows. Things get better as the bus begins to move.

Every round trip takes 150 minutes, says Wang.

Owing to a weak stomach, Wang can drink only hot water even on a steaming hot day. Once they arrive at the terminal, she makes a dash to fill up her big bottle with water.

"Our driver suffers more. If I feel too tired and stuffy, I can move around, but he can't," says Wang, adding that the engine makes the driver's seat much hotter than other parts of the bus.

Wang has been working as a conductor for more than 10 years. But this summer, her bag is filled with medicine for headache and sun-stroke.

Wang has not yet received her heat wave subsidy as the hot weather has arrived earlier than usual. But, she says, the bus company has ensured staff have access to enough tea, cold water and medicines.

With the sun fiercest at noon, it is busy at the intersection of Dongsi South Street and Chaoyangmennei Street. Pedestrians rush across the crossroads and disappear quickly into the nearby restaurants for lunch.

But a traffic policeman Zhang is standing right in the middle of the intersection, directing the traffic. Wishing to be known only by his surname, he says he has already been standing there for an hour.

His blue shirt is soaked in sweat, but his shift won't finish until 6 pm. Besides directing the traffic during rush hour, he also needs to patrol the roads on his motorbike.

Zhang says he usually takes two bottles of water on duty, but these days he takes at least four.

It is 3 pm, Old Xie and his colleague Old Ren have been working at a construction site since early morning, except for a two-hour noon break.

They are busy fixing scaffolding at an overpass near the North 4th Ring Road.

"Sometimes, the tools are too hot to touch," says Old Xie. The 55-year-old from Chengde, Hebei Province, has been working at Beijing's construction sites for five years.

Few migrant workers can afford to indulge in mineral water or fruits in the summer heat. They just drink ordinary tap water, while washing their sweaty faces and necks.

Although he has not received any heat wave subsidy, the pragmatic man says the 60-yuan subsidy is not worth complaining about and he is grateful he has a job.

"It is really hard to find a job nowadays," he says.

Taxi driver Zhang Jingliang always turns off the air conditioner and rolls down the windows to save on gasoline when there's no passenger. The gasoline price has recently moved higher by some 0.5 yuan per liter.

"Driving with the air conditioner on is very enjoyable. Without it, the car is just like an oven," says Zhang, 41, who works for some 12 hours from 6 am.

The heat makes Zhang sleepy toward noon. To keep safe, he often pulls into a quiet lane and takes a half-an-hour snooze.

(China Daily July 6, 2009)

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