Freezing wind, long queue and lengthy journey for nostalgic Chinese

09:21, January 20, 2011      

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Wang Jun woke up at 4 a.m. on Wednesday. He spent about one and a half hours riding his bicycle through quiet streets against freezing wind to arrive at the Beijing West Railway Station, only to find the tickets to his hometown sold out.

"Shall I buy tickets from scalpers?" Wang, a migrant worker, asked himself.

Wednesday is the first day of the 40-day Spring Festival travel season, or Chunyun, which was said to involve the "largest migration on the planet."

To the Chinese people, the Spring Festival remains the most important occasion for family reunions, but 37-year-old Wang, from the southwestern Chongqing Municipality, said he had been celebrating the festival away from home for years.

"I came to Beijing when I was 19. Over the 18 years I was only able to return home once for Spring Festival because it was too hard to buy a ticket," said Wang, rubbing his hands to get warm.

The scalper would charge Wang an extra 200 yuan for getting him a ticket, about one-fifth of his monthly wage.

"I have been used to celebrating the holiday away from home," he said, with apparent disappointment.


Estimates by the National Development and Reform Commission showed that during the 40-day period, about 2.85 billion passenger trips will be undertaken nationwide.

An official from the Ministry of Transport said that 710 million people would travel during the holiday.

Ticket is difficult to get.

In Harbin, capital city of the northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, 60 booths were open to help passengers get tickets quickly. Xu Feng, vice head of the Harbin Railway Station, told Xinhua that nearly 200,000 tickets were sold to students beginning Dec. 1 and 5,000 were sold to migrant workers.

In Tianjin, train tickets could also be purchased at nearly 100 supermarkets, which begin selling tickets every day at 9 a.m. "People don't have to queue at railway stations in such cold days," said Ding Zhiyuan, an official in charge of ticket selling from the city.

In Shijiazhuang, capital of north China's Hebei Province, however, the ticket-selling hotline was cancelled, as the ticket system is being upgraded.

About an hour before the start of ticket-selling in the Beijing West Railway, long queues had been waiting in front of the 120 temporary booths. In each queue there were an average of about 40 people.

It was minus 10 degrees Celsius and some passengers had been waiting overnight. Campstools were prepared for them, but no one would sit down as they were jumping in place to warm themselves.

Jia Shengchao from Henan was one of the luckiest to get a ticket. Sitting on the floor of the station's waiting area, Jia had a backpack, a paper case and three boxes of instant noodles.

"I haven't dreamed I would get a ticket so fast," he said, though he couldn't hide his excitement. "The train is this afternoon."

Jia has a three-year-old child in his hometown.

"I miss him so much."

Many passengers had to buy tickets without seats.

Holding three tickets, a grandmother from Chongqing wondered how to get home without seats.

"The trip is about 30 hours long. I am OK, but how about them?" she asked, looking at the two toddlers playing around her. Their parents were migrants in Beijing and the two children were just three and one, respectively.

As a result, stools were selling well.

"I can sell 30 to 40 a day," said Wang Juan, in her 30s with a coarse voice.

"It's cheap, just 10 yuan, and easy to carry. In the peak season I can sell 50 to 60 a day," she said.


Although the peak travel days are still to come, passengers began swarming in stations.

In the Beijing West Railway Station, the number of passengers has reached 310,000, up 20 percent from last year, said Song Jianguo, an official with the station.

The journey could be very long to many.

Gu Xiao took a backpack of instant food with her. A college student in the southwestern Sichuan Province, she is from Shenyang, capital of Liaoning in the northeast. Her route back home, 2,882 kilometers, is a diagonal line on the map of China.

"The trip is about 40 hours," she said. "I have to take a long rest at home to recover from the fatigue on the way."

Ten elderly people were sitting in a train from Lanzhou in northwest Gansu to the southern Guangzhou city. They have to sit for 40 hours, too.

"We were volunteers to develop the northwest in 1958," said 74-year-old Wang Weizhong, who made her last trip back to her hometown 20 years ago.

They prepared a lot of gifts for their acquaintances, as well as medicine for emergencies.

"The journey is long but we have companions," she said. "However tiring it is, we are closer to home."

Adding to travel concerns, southwest China has been hit by a new round of cold snaps. Roads in seven provinces are obstructed.

It had been snowing in Chongqing for three days and the snow on the roads in Qianjiang district was five centimeters thick. Migrant Ran Yanbo, carrying on her back a huge bag almost the size of her body and holding another in her hand, had been trudged on the road for three hours.

She arrived at coach station at 2 a.m., Wednesday, only learned that due to bad weather, distance buses were temporarily cancelled.

"I have promised my parents to be back today," she said, puffing.

Another migrant Gan Xiaobo told Xinhua that by bus the way of 100 kilometers just took an hour. "But on foot we have to walk for at least 14 hours."

"If we cannot reach home, we will find somewhere to sleep at night and resume the journey tomorrow," he was optimistic.

To make sure that the road traffic be smooth, workers spread salt to prevent the roads from being frozen.

Zhang Weimin, 46, started working at 4:20 a.m. Wednesday in Guiyang, capital of the mountainous Guizhou Province. Together with 32 others, he was in charge of 49 kilometers of road.

"The salt is corrosive and each day I have to change several gloves," he said.

Coldness is another headache.

"Our hands were frozen and we couldn't hold the chopsticks after work, so we grasp the food with hands to eat," he said.

Thanks to the efforts of workers like Zhang, road traffic resumed in Qianjiang.

Gan Xiaobo told Xinhua via telephone that he embarked on a van at 12:30 p.m. "I can get home earlier," he said happily.

(Xinhua reporters Cao Jiyang from Heilongjiang, Cao Yan from Sichuan, Wang Li from Guizhou, Ren Liying from Hebei, Zhang Chi from Chongqing, Zhang Wenjing from Gansu and Zhang Zewei from Tianjin contributed to the story.)
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