Life at the Top

These boys are employed to apply a compound of molten lead and some sort of plastic to the exposed ends of wiring on this construction site, a 34-storey residential tower in Korla, Xinjiang. It is midwinter; inside the building is about minus 10 degrees Celcius.

  They melt the compound with blowtorches; the thick toxic smoke that comes off this compound as it is being heated fills up the room from the top. By the time they have finished the two large apartments on that level, smoke fills the whole room; the only place to breathe relatively safely is right at floor level.

  For this, they are paid 80 yuan (USD$12)/day—more than any other job boys with their level of education could get without much better guanxi. Two months' wages would not quite buy them one square metre of space in the apartments that they are helping to build.