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Growing tribe of McRefugees

  • Source: Global Times
  • [21:14 June 12 2010]
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By Zhai Qi

The man who'd just come through the doorway of a McDonald's held two traveling bags. A moment later, he stepped to one side and stood still, with his back to the wall. The room was fairly empty. At 11 pm on a Monday only a few young lovers were still lingering in the restaurant.

With his back to the wall, the man scrutinized the room with a shrewd look. He examined the room until his eyes reached a table in a corner diagonally across from him, and then he quickly moved towards it. He put his bags on the table, and settled on a chair with a long sigh.

It was one more night for Duan Yanqing in his six months of retiring to sleep at places like McDonald's.

"Hotels are way too expensive," said the 30-year-old Duan. "Most of the time, I stay overnight at 24-hour outlets like McDonald's, KFC, or a congee store." He was wearing a yellow T-shirt that evening, and a pair of black pants. The clothes were neat looking but they could not suppress the odor from his small body.

Duan opened his bag, and took a bottle of water out. In the lamplight, his face looked drawn dry and yellow. After a time he was aware that he had been seen by one of the clerks he had been watching; then his mouth was set in a humble smile.

"Some clerks are mean, they think I'm a begger. There were a few occasions when the clerk told me to get out from the restaurant even though I ordered a drink," Duan said, as he half turned his head to look at the clerks behind him.

Jobless in Beijing

Duan came from Jiangxi Province to Beijing in February to meet a fellow villager who agreed to find him a job in a factory. But after he reached the capital, he was told that the job was gone because of the recession. Duan didn't want to waste money on a return trip. So he decided to stay and make a living in this strange city.

In China, an increasing number of people who cannot afford the high cost of housing survive by sleeping in some of the fast food restaurants that operate around the clock. It is this homeless tribe that gave rise to the word "McRefugee" in China.

Originally, the word was used to describe the new, homeless generation in Japan and Korea. Due to the high unemployment rate, exorbitant rent and steep transportation costs in these countries, many people turned to relying on McDonald's for shelter at the end of the day.

Last year, a record 4.4 trillion yuan ($560 billion) of residential property was sold in China - an increase of 76 percent over the previous - according to the National Bureau of Statistics. People have to pay at least a few hundred yuan for a bare room in suburban Beijing. In contrast, in around-the-clock restaurants, they may need to spend just about 100 yuan a month on drinks, which they feel gives them a legitimate right to stay in the outlet.

"The gap between the rich and the poor is becoming wider. There are at least a 100 million people in China who get less than $2 per day, which is the standard international poverty line," said Li Shi, the director of Income Distribution and Poverty Research Center of Beijing Normal University, who believes the "McRefugee" is created by the income gap and social inequality.

The term became an issue in China after a so-called McRefugee stabbed a McDonald's clerk to death in Shanghai in late March, when the latter tried to stop him from sleeping overnight.

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