Xie Guolu in the house built by money sent from his son abroad.
LUJIAZHUANG: Xie Guolu proudly shows off the two-storey home he is having built in this small Chinese village, paid for by money his son earns thousands of kilometres away in Algeria.
The 63-year-old's son is one of more than 300 people in the village -- about three hours from Beijing by road -- who work in sometimes unstable countries, lured by better pay and firm contracts.
"In China, it's difficult to get paid regularly. If, for example, work on the construction site stops, we don't get any more money. So if he can sign a contract abroad, my son will do it," Xie said.
The dangers faced by migrant workers abroad came under the spotlight at the end of last month when dozens of Chinese labourers were kidnapped in Egypt and Sudan.
While those captured in Egypt were subsequently released, 29 workers were still being held in southern Sudan, where the body of another missing Chinese worker had also been found, according to China's state media.
But the risks have not deterred the residents of Lujiazhuang -- a village where working-age men are in short supply and the work of tending the arid fields and raising pigs and poultry mostly falls to women and the elderly.
Village chief Guo Zhanyong said Lujiazhuang had been sending its young men abroad since the 1980s, when a large group of workers went to Sudan. It has a reputation for sending an unusually large number of its people overseas.
"Out of fewer than 3,100 inhabitants, we have more than 300 abroad. They are scattered in most European countries, but also in Singapore, Angola, Congo, the United Arab Emirates and Mauritius," said Gu.
Some construction workers toil away around 10 hours a day, 30 days a month, and with few opportunities to spend their hard-earned cash they send it back to the village where plush new homes are being built with the proceeds.
Most residents in Lujiazhuang have relatives working overseas.
They earn between $8,000 and $11,000 annually, well over the average annual salary for construction workers in big cities such as Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, which was 40,500 yuan ($6,400) last year.
Jing Liying, another villager in her forties, says her husband is in Cameroon and her two sons in Singapore.
"I live with my daughter-in-law," she said. "The recruiters come here as they know people here are ready to leave. They take those who are under 45," she added.
Officially, more than 810,000 Chinese people currently work abroad, according to the commerce ministry, the majority on short-term contracts of one or two years.
In 2011 alone, 452,000 workers went overseas -- including 243,000 people employed by Chinese firms -- and few of these have any substantial contact with locals.
Africa, where China has emerged as a major funder of infrastructure projects, is growing particularly attractive for migrant workers seeking to earn good money.
But the work does not go without its share of risks, as was illustrated last week by the abduction of the road-builders in Sudan and the technicians and engineers working for a military-owned cement factory in Egypt.
Last year a dozen workers from here were involved in the mass evacuation of 36,000 Chinese nationals from Libya as civil war raged.
Gao Baohu, for his part, has just returned from three years in Singapore.
"Our firm arranged accommodation for us. Ten of us would sleep on bunk beds in a room, and we had our food delivered or would make it ourselves," he said, adding he was able to expand his house in China thanks to his earnings.
"We often worked overtime, from eight in the morning to around 10 or 11 at night, with an hour for lunch. On Sundays, we finished at five in the afternoon."
Wang Peng, a carpenter, earned 60,000 to 70,000 yuan a year between 2002 and 2005 in South Korea, but now hopes to be able to earn almost as much at home.
With the gap in earnings shrinking, the numbers working overseas may start to decline. "Salaries are on the rise in China," said Wang. "So it's becoming less interesting to go abroad."