This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Our fellow host, Melissa Block, is reporting from Sichuan China this week - the region hit by a magnitude 7.9 earthquake last year. For today's story, Melissa headed out to ask about the earthquake's effects on the local economy. And to figure it out, she brought along someone who has long experience in China, a familiar voice to NPR listeners.

MELISSA BLOCK: I'm standing right now at the bus station in the city of Mianyang, and I'm joined by NPR's Beijing correspondent, Anthony Kuhn. Anthony, good to have you back.

ANTHONY KUHN: Great to join you here, Melissa.

BLOCK: And the reason we've come to this bus station, we should explain this, we've been curious about what the economic impact of the earthquake has been here in Sichuan - huge numbers of people and industries affected. And we've come here to check out who might be coming home to look for work.

KUHN: Yes, if you just look around, you can see all these people with duffels and satchels, obviously laborers on the move. And so I think we can get a sense here of what jobs there are for people to go out and find.

BLOCK: Okay. And here's a man right over here. Let's go talk to him.

KUHN: (Mandarin spoken)

Mr. ZHANG XIANGANG: (Mandarin spoken)

BLOCK: So his name is Zhang Xiangang. He's a migrant worker doing construction. He's from here in Sichuan. But he just got back a couple of days ago from inner Mongolia, where he was trying to find work.

Mr. ZHANG: (Mandarin spoken)

KUHN: He said a lot of the construction sites just couldn't get started in inner Mongolia. The money wasn't coming in for the projects.

Mr. ZHANG: (Mandarin spoken)

KUHN: He's on a bus at 11 something to the city of Mianzhu to look for work.

BLOCK: What kind of work?

Mr. ZHANG: (Mandarin spoken)

KUHN: He's a steel worker.

BLOCK: Well, it would seem like there would be a lot of that kind of work right now, with all the rebuilding going on after the earthquake.

Mr. ZHANG: (Mandarin spoken)

KUHN: He's very confident he can find something. There's definitely work to be done in Sichuan now. I think there are a lot of places in China like inner Mongolia, where Mr. Zhang went, where construction projects are just standing idle because the investment money has not come in. At the same time, in Sichuan, there are endless housing projects and factories to be rebuilt. And I think a lot of the migrant workers who have gone out to the coast, or other parts of China before, are now going to be looking for opportunities closer to home.

(Soundbite of construction)

BLOCK: We've come now to a huge construction project in the city of Leigu outside of Beichuan - big structure going up. And everywhere, there are workers climbing on scaffolding, people tossing bricks, hammering, sawing. This is a huge project, and they're trying to get it done by the fall.

We walk up to a group of women dumping heavy shovels full of mortar into wheelbarrows. Fifty-four-year-old Li Chuanyin, pausing from her labors to talk with us.

Ms. LI CHUANYIN: (Mandarin spoken)

KUHN: They're residents of Leigu. First they were hit by the earthquake, and then they were hit by the floodwaters. Their homes were destroyed, and they were living in tents, so they have no choice but to be working here.

BLOCK: So you're working here ,shoveling mortar right now. What do you get paid?

Ms. LI: (Mandarin spoken)

KUHN: Fifty renminbi a day.

BLOCK: It's about $7 a day. What are you building?

Ms. LI: (Mandarin spoken)

KUHN: She's not too sure exactly what building it is.

Ms. LI: (Mandarin spoken)

BLOCK: Anthony, she just gave you her hand to feel. Very thick calluses on her hands from the heavy work she's doing here.

Ms. LI: (Mandarin spoken)

KUHN: All I do is work hard, sweat, make a little bit of money, and take care of my family.

BLOCK: And we can tell it's hard work. We learned from some teachers that this will be a middle school to replace one heavily damaged in the quake.

You know, Anthony, today we've seen lots of little scenes and heard people talking about their individual cases, people coming back for work, people going away for work. Women here working 'til their hands are callused, for $7 a day. Can you draw any big conclusions about what's going on with the economy post-earthquake here in Sichuan, from what we have seen today?

KUHN: I think that it's very hard to draw huge conclusions from this just because this is such a huge area, and the conditions in different parts of it are so different. You have fertile plains and very remote mountains, some very well-off townships and cities and some very, very poor, hard-to-get-to areas. And while a lot is getting done, it's clear that, first of all, it's not all going to get done at the same time. And while a lot of people have confidence that they will find work, that life will get better, that the economy will move ahead, there's a lot of uncertainty about the future.

BLOCK: NPR's Beijing correspondent Anthony Kuhn, with me here in Sichuan province. I'm Melissa Block.

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