SHENYANG, March 27 (Xinhua) -- An unused hostel restroom has been home to a poor migrant worker in a sprawling Chinese city for six years.
Zeng Lingjun, now 33, has built a home for his family since moving into the restroom in Shenyang. He has brought in simple furniture, gotten married, and had a baby, who is now 14 months old.
In the space of less than 20 square meters, Zeng placed planks over the squat toilet and uses the planks as a bed, which faces a small television placed on a table between two urinals. He has also hung a clock on the porcelain wall.
On the opposite wall, Zeng has pasted a red paper cut-out of the Chinese character "xi", or happiness -- a Chinese tradition to court good luck.
"I am satisfied with what I have now," said Zeng, who came to Shenyang for work 13 years ago with only 50 yuan (8 U.S. dollars) in his pocket. "Life actually is better here than where I used to rough it out."
Zeng has rented the toilet from the hostel near Shenyang's long-distance bus station for 8,000 yuan a year since 2006. He was also given, for free, a space in front of the hostel where he sits on a stool and polishes shoes for ten yuan a pair.
Zeng brings in about 2,000 yuan a month from the job, nearly double the minimum wage set by the government of Shenyang.
Zeng's wife, Wang Zhixia, was a migrant worker herself, but chose to become a homemaker since late in her pregnancy.
Zeng told Xinhua that he is so content with life that he named his child "Deyi" -- which means satisfying one's desire.
But living in a toilet is not always as "comfy" as he describes.
Though the restroom has long been deserted, Zeng said he has to flush the toilet frequently to "wash away" the stinky odors that creep down through the pipes from the functional toilet above his home. And long-term exposure to the humid atmosphere has left his child with eczema.
Zeng said he wants to find a better paying job and move his family into a proper home. But earning extra money is not easy, as he still has to wire money home to his aging parents in the countryside and the family will soon have to spend money on the child's education.
Zeng's struggles caused an online sensation after pictures of his "toilet home" were posted on the Internet. Compassion poured in and aid money was pledged from around the country.
China's 240 million rural migrant workers in cities and factory towns are crucial for keeping the world's second-largest economy humming. But many migrant workers live in undesirable conditions, have limited access to health care, education, and social security resources, and they face challenges in holding their families and marriages together.
Many migrants in big cities rough it out in makeshift tents and basements or crowd into dilapidated apartment rooms.
"Migrant couples like the Zengs toil in cities for years. They create value for society and deserve a proper life," said Tao Shuangbin, a sociology professor at Shenyang Normal University.
"The government should draw more policies to support migrants in terms of housing and health care," he said.
Government officials said migrant workers in Shenyang will be allowed to submit applications for government-subsidized apartments by the end of this year.
Subsidized apartments are usually allocated to low-income city residents, excluding migrant workers who generally lack urban household registration, or "hukou," in their newfound cities. But rules have recently been relaxed in several cities to boost the welfare of migrant workers.
Fu Hongning, head of Shenyang's Migrant Workers Rights Protection Center, said that although only 10 percent of the 36,000 public rental housing units would be open to the families of migrant workers this year, it is an applaudable move taken by the Shenyang government in helping the struggling migrants in the city.
"The living conditions of some migrant workers will get a fundamental boost," Fu added.