Home sweet home: Snapshots of lost city dwellers after migrant workers went home for Spring Festival

10:38, January 29, 2011      

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Migrant workers wait in a waiting room in Hangzhou Railway Station in Hangzhou City, capital of east China's Zhejiang Province on Jan. 13, 2011. A temporary train L199 traveling from Hangzhou City to Guiyang City, capital of southwest China's Guizhou Province, departed from the Hanzhou Railway Station Thursday. It was the first temporary train arranged by the railway station for the Spring Festival travel this year, during which millions of migrant workers will return their hometowns. (Xinhua/Han Chuanhao)

Nothing, not money or free sight-seeing trips, can stop millions of migrant workers from returning home before the Spring Festival, the most important occasion for family reunions in China, which has left a large hole felt by many city dwellers.

The Spring Festival, or Chinese lunar new year which falls on Feb. 3 this year, always inspires the Chinese to return home, no matter where they are or by whatever means they can, including train, car, plane, or even motorbikes. They all share one and only goal: go home.

However, city dwellers who have become used to the services provided by migrant workers feel an unpleasant void when they are not around and use all kinds of means to lure them into staying, often in vain.


Elan Inns chain hotel in Hangzhou, east China Zhejiang Province, has been short-handed for some time and now the situation has gone from bad to worse, with many employees coming back home.

"We are in such a bad labor shortage that the job requirements are two, you are a person and you are alive," joked hotel manager Wang Ying.

Many hotel managers raise salaries to attract candidates.

Garden Hotel in Hangzhou offers a monthly 3,000 yuan (455 U.S. dollars) starting salary for receptionist positions, an offer considered high by many people.

Even after the hotel manager, surnamed Xu, posted job openings online and called potential candidates by phone himself, he still could not find the right employee.

Yao Kai works at a decoration company in Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province. He decided to go home, even with an offer of triple wages around the Spring Festival vacation if he stays on the job.

"Thirty one out of the total 36 workers in our company have left. I am the 32nd to leave. I'd rather go back home than earning more money," said Yao.


"I have never thought about giving up my career," said Chen Ying, a Hangzhou mother, after her husband suggested that, perhaps, she should become a stay-at-home mom.

"I may have to become a housewife if I cannot find a good nanny in 2011," said Chen.

Both of her two nannies returned home before the Spring Festival. Before they left, Chen sought many ways to keep them, offering twice and then triple wages, even a free trip to Hong Kong, but they declined.

For millions of migrant workers who left their home and families behind to work in big cities, Spring Festival may be the only time in years that they can be with their family for a few days, having a taste of home that many urban people take for granted throughout the year.

Around 230 million farmers, approximately one fifth of the national population, came to seek jobs in wealthy cities in 2009, hence a main force of China's urbanization, according to Chinese government statistics.

With the influx of migrant workers, the public facilities in many cities are under a lot of pressure. But it takes time like the Spring Festival for the city dwellers to rethink the role of the workers.

A Hangzhou citizen Chen Jianmin went to have a hot and sour rice noodle meal as usual, only to find the couple running the small restaurant had left for home in Sichuan.

"Their dishes are very popular around here. It seems that we really can not live without each other," said Chen.

Source: Xinhua
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