Man on the Street: Drilling Technician

By Tristin Zhang, October 19, 2017

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Man on the Street is a regular series where we talk to someone doing an everyday job, in order to gain insight into the lives of normal Chinese people.

On a Sunday afternoon, we find the sidewalk at a crossroads near Guangzhou Avenue North manned by police. All of a sudden, two officers hasten across the busy intersection, seemingly oblivious to the red traffic light and approaching vehicles. Their prey? A line of electric bicycles, all loaded with heavy-looking drills intended for home renovations. 

“We are hole-punching technicians,” says one from the motley crew, about 10 minutes after police have left the scene. His name is Liu Tiejin, a 20-something from Jiangxi province. “We don’t dare go far now, because of [electric] bike seizing. For areas nearby, [we charge] 100 kuai per hole – and cheaper if we drill more than one,” he says, waving away our cigarette offer. 

About five feet away, a phalanx of older drill technicians sit on the edge of a sidewalk flower bed, scrutinizing us with narrow eyes. Liu continues: “We haven’t earned a cent in the past few days.” 

His trade has been affected by new regulations on electric vehicles in Guangzhou.


Liu, who hasn’t worked for a week, can earn up to RMB400 a day on a rare appointment. Unlike others in the industry, he refuses to double as an e-bike driver when requests for drilling are scarce. So, for a week now, he’s been waiting. Waiting for a phone call or personal visit from a client to end the dry spell.

Liu specializes in drilling holes for a number of appliances, but mostly air conditioner tubes and water pipes.

“I’ve been busted previously,” he tells us, though not for reasons we expect. One seizure of an e-bike can cost more than RMB1,000, Liu explains, and he’s lost three vehicles throughout his three-year drilling metier. Still, he says saving up to RMB20,000 at the end of each year is his impetus.

An older worker approaches, jokes with Liu for a second, and walks away. It seems safe to assume this squad has never taken interviews before.

Previously employed at a construction site in Jiangxi, Liu says a friend introduced him to the hole-punching trade. He had to invest RMB3,000 to buy a set of drills, though – equivalent to an entire month’s salary.

“Our lives aren’t as comfortable as you steady wage earners,” Liu frowns, delving into his past encounters with slippery contractors.

“Sometimes, these contractors don’t even pay you after you work at a site for 10, 20 days. They just run away.” His tone turns resentful. “We call them ‘black-hearted’ contractors.”

Before we part ways, Liu says we shouldn’t bother looking for him in the same spot next week because “lingdao (leaders) want to inspect the area.” And he’ll be gone.


Monthly salary: RMB2,000-3,000 
Days per week: varies
Hours per day: 1-2 hours per appointment 

To read more Man on the Street click here.

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