For most sanitation workers, having a nianyefan (New Year’s Eve dinner) with their families is impossible.
Unlike many other migrant workers, they can’t return home because they are needed here. They usually spend the night alone cleaning the city’s streets in often freezing temperatures while others are enjoying family reunions.
This year, however, will be different for some fortunate sanitation workers.
Shanghai Greenery and Public Sanitation Bureau launched an initiative before the Spring Festival hoping to find warm-hearted residents willing to invite sanitation workers to their homes to have nianyefan.
Seven households in Yangpu and Putuo districts applied to participate.
A retired couple in Yangpu District held a lunch with two sanitation workers yesterday. The timing was due to both workers having to work on Lunar New Year Eve.
“Sanitation workers make contributions to our city and most of them have not enjoyed family reunion on the New Year’s Eve for years,” said an official surnamed Meng.
The banquet organized for the two sanitation workers was a sumptuous affair. It comprised 18 dishes such as boiled chicken and smoked fish, as well as must-have dishes for nianyefan.
“In Chinese, 18 is a lucky number, and danjiao (egg dumpling) and babaofan (steamed sweetened glutinous rice with eight different ingredients) are also some auspicious dishes,” said Chen Longzhu, who hosted the dinner for the two workers — Qi Zhongcheng and Tong Wenfei. She said she made the dishes extra salty to cater to their tastes.
“Sanitation workers are the beauticians of our city and they contribute a lot silently,” Chen said. “There is no ranking of jobs. We welcome them to our home any time.”
For Qi, who has been a sanitation worker in Yangpu for 16 years, New Year’s Eve is a poignant time.
In all those years working in Shanghai, he has never returned to his hometown in Henan Province during the Spring Festival.
“I burst into tears on my first year’s New Year’s Eve here when I saw others having the most important reunion dinner with their families while I was alone, sweeping streets, feeling cold and lonely,” said 45-year-old Qi.
“I had no place to go and missed my families so much at that time,” Qi, who cleans Nenjiang Road, told Shanghai Daily.
Tong, who is 53 years, has not returned to Anhui Province for 18 years during the Spring Festival. He could have done but gave up the chance to do so to let younger colleagues go instead.
“I am old now and have been used to the job. I want to return and reunite with my wife and children as well, but I am willing to give the chance to other younger people.”
There are about 100 workers in his team, 70 of whom have to work over this year’s festival.
“The New Year’s Eve is the busiest time for sanitation workers, and a nianyefan is impossible for us,” he said.
Tong and his colleagues have an essential job. Without them garbage would pile up on the first day of the New Year if they did not clean up.
His New Year’s Eve dinner is the same every year — until this year that is — Chinese dumplings and yuanxiao, or glutinous rice dumplings, two festive foods in his hometown.
“I felt sad when I swept the roads alone in chilly and rainy weather on the first day morning of the Lunar New Year. There were no people outside as everybody is sleeping, and the doors of all businesses were closed, leaving me alone.”
Whatever the weather, both Qi and Tong start work at 4:30am. Qi once thought of giving up — “I wanted to quit just days after working as a sanitation worker because it was too hard for me, but every job needs people,” he said.