Traveling home

By Chen Shasha Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/21 18:03:39

Shanghai’s migrant workers prepare to spend Spring Festival in their hometowns

A young couple with their luggage at a railway station in Shanghai Photos: Yang Hui/GT

"Going home for Spring Festival is more like a ritual for me. I feel even warmer than usual when staying with my family during the winter," said 25-year-old Jia Jing (pseudonym), who moved to Shanghai in 2010 from Wenling of East China's Zhejiang Province. She plans to leave Shanghai to celebrate Chinese lunar new year, which falls on February 16 this year, at home with her parents.

Family reunion festival

An important traditional festival featured by family reunions, Spring Festival attracts hundreds of millions of Chinese to return annually to their hometown and reunite with their families.

The national holiday's travel rush, known as "chunyun" in Chinese, results in the sudden movement of large populations of migrants across China coming and going in all directions. According to a report by China Youth Daily, the 2017 Spring Festival travel rush saw 2.7 billion trips in just 40 days, among which 300 million were completed by rail.

A report by on January 8, 2018, said that 2.98 billion trips were expected to be made between February 1 and March 12 of this year. But for many, the way home is not always smooth going, but nonetheless full of happy expectations.

Nancy Ma, originally from Anyang of Central China's Henan Province, was surprised when it dawned on her that she'd been in Shanghai for 15 years. Her husband runs his own business here and her 4-year-old son attends a local kindergarten.

Even though the migrant family has settled down in this city, they continue the tradition of going home twice a year to visit their parents and siblings. Spring Festival is one occasion that they never miss no matter what.

Travelers walking with their luggage

Never enough time

According to Ma, they must spend six hours by China Railway High-speed (CRH) bullet train, or more than 15 hours by car, to get home. Like other migrant workers in Shanghai, the family can only choose week-long holidays such as National Day holiday and Spring Festival, which allow them to spend quality time with their families at home.

Train tickets, one of the most economical choices, must be purchased 30 days in advance of departure. However, due to the sheer volume of people all leaving the city at once, it is often not easy to obtain these tickets.

"To get train tickets during holidays, it's pure luck," Ma said, adding that they prefer to drive home than glue themselves to 12306, China's official online ticketing website.

However, driving home via the nation's highways is not always a safe or convenient choice. She still remembers the unpleasant experience they went through during the 2017 National Day holiday.

"It was raining heavily, the expressway was terribly jammed and our car blew a tire on the way. It took our 36 hours before we arrived home," Ma lamented.

But Ma still feels it was worth it. She is now planning her next journey home during the coming holiday. "It is cold in my hometown in the winter, but what I worry most about is that the holiday is just too short," she said.

She believes that family reunions during Spring Festival are even more meaningful nowadays despite China's latest technological developments in communication platforms and transportation infrastructure.

"It would be much better if we had public holidays on more traditional occasions like Lantern Festival [celebrated on the 15th day of the first lunar month of the Chinese calendar]. Otherwise, our children will only know Christmas and Halloween and forget about Chinese traditions," said Ma.

Travelers buy tickets from station vendors

13 going on 30

Zeng Fan came to Shanghai in 2005 from Nanchong of Southwest China's Sichuan Province. The 37-year-old is now a co-founder of a local company focusing on laboratory systems. He plans to go home at the end of January with his wife and 3-year-old child, then return again to Shanghai in March.

Currently, there is only one old-style train between Shanghai and Nanchong, which takes more than 30 hours. His other option is to catch the CRH bullet train to Suining, a neighboring city of Nanchong, which takes about 13 hours, and then ask his relatives to pick him up there.

"Sometimes the only option is to fly if all the train tickets sell out," Zeng said. "But there are no discounted flights from Shanghai to my hometown during Spring Festival. Usually it costs more than 1600 yuan ($250.04). It is too expensive," he explained.

But now that he owns his own company, his flexible schedule allows him to get a jump-start on the travel season. "I can avoid the travel rush by leaving earlier and coming back later, because train tickets won't be scarce during that period," he said, adding that bullet train tickets now only cost around 600 yuan per person.

"I think it is important to go back home and spend Spring Festival with my parents, who have devoted a lot to us. When I myself became a father, I understood that what we can do for our parents is far less than what they have done for us," he said. "It is nothing about money. Companionship is the most important. I will stick to this tradition, spending every Spring Festival with them."

Travelers at the Shanghai Railway Station and Hongqiao Railway Station

Return to your roots

Spring Festival marks a new beginning. For many Chinese, it is when people conclude the previous year and plan for the new.

Terran Chen, a 37-year-old researcher with a Shanghai-based pharmaceutical company, has deep feelings about that concept, as the occasion tends to make him feel anxious if he hasn't accomplished anything.

For many years, Chen seldom went back to Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, to spend the festival with his relatives. "Sometimes I felt so intimidated to visit my parents especially during Spring Festival, because I don't want let them down by seeing me achieve nothing during all these years away from home," he said.

"When we were innocent children, I was always happy for Spring Festival because of all the candies and fireworks. But when we grow up, things have changed," he said. "Besides visiting relatives, we have to face the judgment of others, kind or unkind, and we have to judge ourselves as well, which is hard," Chen said.

But several years later, he found he was wrong at that time. He feels regretful about not visiting his parents often and plans to give them more attention during the upcoming holiday.

"When you go back to your parents, you return to your roots, which brings you more motivational power and courage to carry on," Chen said.

Travelers at the Shanghai Railway Station and Hongqiao Railway Station


Travelers at the Shanghai Railway Station and Hongqiao Railway Station



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