Duan Xinxue knows all about the National Day celebrations, but he has been too busy to join in. He could not take the time off when he was butchering cattle and dogs in Henan, and he cannot afford the time now as a migrant worker on the outskirts of Beijing. 'Back home in our village, there was no National Day,' Duan, 38, said. 'I've only just found out in recent years that Beijing people have so many reasons, and time, to celebrate. 'The only reason to leave home is to earn money. It's a harsh life in Beijing, but I'm happy because one day my children will live a better life.' Leaving his son and daughter, and a 50,000 yuan (HK$56,850) debt from his cattle farm, in Xiayi county, he took his wife and mother to the capital four years ago, hoping to find a new life and treatment for his mother's cataracts. Now with their 15-year-old daughter, they have settled in Jiugong town in Beijing's Daxing district, recently moving into a humble two-bedroom apartment, which costs 1,800 yuan a month. Although the furniture is minimal, Duan calls his apartment a luxury, acquired so that they can live near the middle school his daughter attends. The only colour comes from some plastic flowers. With his fifth-grade education, Duan and his illiterate wife, Liu Huiyun, sell pork at the temporary Dashijie wet market, a five-minute bicycle ride from home. The indoor market is filthy and packed with migrant workers with similar hopes. 'I only know two festivals - one is the Mid-Autumn one, when we exchange mooncakes with relatives, and the other one is Lunar New Year. That's when I get to take four days off,' Duan said. On the remaining 361 days, he and Liu rise at 4am to run their meat stall until 9pm. Their hard work has paid off. With the family income now tripled to about 40,000 yuan a year, Duan has paid off the debt and can afford to pay for his daughter's education and vocational study in Guangzhou for his 17-year-old son. When Duan and Liu married in 1982 at the age of 21, their income was only about 1,000 yuan a year. They lived in a rundown brick house and owned two hectares of land to grow wheat on. 'We could not survive simply by growing wheat,' Duan said. Before he started his cattle farm, he collected dead dogs or live ones that bit people in his village, and slaughtered them to sell the meat. Even though he was a butcher, Duan said the family seldom ate meat except during the two festivals. 'But it's different now in Beijing. We work hard but we are eating better. We have meat in our daily meals,' he said. His parents had to eat tree bark. 'My parents worked so hard their entire lives and still ended up with nothing,' he said. 'I want to earn enough to support my children's studies and so we can have a house in Henan.' As he looks around Jiugong, he sees a town far different to the one where he settled in 2005. 'It was still filled with single-storey houses,' he said. 'But look at the place now. There are markets, shops and residential estates.' He said development had happened so quickly. The technology in Beijing was something he could never have imagined and he had found it hard to keep up when he first arrived. His days may be filled with work, but now Duan allows himself the occasional glance at the world around him and China's rising status. 'I saw [President] Hu Jintao on television. I didn't understand much of his speech, but I have a feeling the country is a much stronger one now.' And Duan can even take a few moments to enjoy the festive atmosphere and the red banners of a holiday he once had no time for. 'It might just be another day selling pork, but my heart still trembled when I saw the television pictures of our weapons display,' he said. 'Foreign countries can't bully us any more.'