It’s three days before Lunar New Year. Thousands of millions of migrant workers are rushing home in their final sprint, just to make it to the reunion dinner on the Lunar New Year’s Eve.
The Spring Festival travel rush this year began on January 13 and lasts till February 21, a period when 3 billion trips are expected to be made, said the Ministry of Transport on December 1 last year.
The coastal province of Guangdong alone, which hosts millions of migrant workers from all over the country since the mainland’s “Reform and Opening Up” movement began in the 1980s, is expected to see 130 million trips in this period.
This massive migration of people rests on the shoulders of its two major cities, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
At Luohu Railway Station Square in Shenzhen, it is a waiting game as people try to find a comfy spot before they can head home. A middle-aged traveler sits on the bucket and leans back against his bags and luggages. Others try to take a nap on the grass under the shade of the trees.
To prevent an overcrowded waiting room, people are only allowed to enter the train station two hours prior to departure. An elderly man can be seen rushing to the ticket barrier using a tried and traditional method to cart all his bags – a sturdy pole on his shoulder with his bags adeptly balanced.
A family with their two-year-old boy share a snack while they wait to board their train to Wuhan province. The couple work at a restaurant in Shenzhen and they bring their son with them because their elderly grandparents in their hometown are too frail to look after him.
The mother may have to stay in their hometown when their son reaches school age in three to four years. “It is almost impossible for us to enrol our son in a school in Shenzhen,” the mother said.
Four women from the Bai ethnic minority in Dali city of Yunnan province work in a tissue factory in Shenzhen. They earn around 4,000 (US$582) yuan per month for 10 hours of work every day.
Without any knowledge of online booking, they bought tickets the old-fashioned way by queuing and failed to secure seats on a direct train from Shenzhen to Dali. Instead, they will travel more than 30 hours to Guiyang city first, take another train to Kunming city on the second day and then transfer to Dali on the third day.
They bought red plastic stools to sit on to relieve their legs from the fatigue of a three-day journey without a proper seat.
A 25-year-old woman, who is an office clerk in the manufacturing industry, her husband and brother are expecting a 12-hour journey to get them home to Wuhan.
She has worked in Shenzhen for three years and had previously tried to find a job in Beijing, but it was much harder there. “Many job vacancies in Beijing require a degree or diploma,” she said, “Shenzhen has larger number of job opportunities.”
Another man aged in his 30s and wearing a green vest is traveling back to Sichuan province with a girl’s family. They work at Huiyang city in a factory producing ukuleles. The plant is located in Qiuchang town, where one third of the factories produce musical instruments, he said.
Because there is no train station in Guiyang, their journey starts from Shenzhen with a 30-hour trek starting from 4am to Chongqing city. From there, they will transfer to a bus that will take them to their hometown of Guang’an city in Sichuan province.
Outside the train station, people from all walks of life are waiting for the same moment – to get on the train that takes them back to a reunion with their families whom they have not seen for a year.
They all wait – some are patient, but others are anxious.