China heads home for the holidays
The Spring Festival travel rush - the largest human migration in the world - is in full swing, and it is estimated that nearly 3 billion trips will be made via cars, buses, trains and planes as people across the country visit their families to celebrate the most important festival of the year. China Daily reporters spoke to four travelers to discover how they planned their journeys, plus a woman who has bucked the trend by deciding to stay in Beijing instead of visiting her family.
Two months ago when the duty roster was handed out, Zhong Zhaoshuang was thrilled to see that her last shift in the Year of Rooster will be on a train that will arrive in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, at 8 am on Feb 15, which is Spring Festival Eve.
The timing meant she could invite her parents to travel from Harbin, capital of the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, to visit her in her apartment in the southern metropolis so they can celebrate Lunar New Year together.
She has rarely been as lucky, because since she started on the rail network in 2005, Zhong has spent nine out of 12 Lunar New Year's Eve's working.
"For train stewards, four days on trains followed by two days' rest is the norm. Only the lucky ones finish work in time for the family reunion feast at the end of the year," said the 34-year-old head steward, who works for the China Railway Guangzhou Group.
As millions of Chinese head home for the festival, the rail network will be under pressure to cope with the largest annual human migration on the globe.
According to the National Development and Reform Commission, nearly 3 billion trips are expected to be made during the 40 day travel rush for the festival, and more than 390 million of them will be by train.
Apart from their two-day breaks, railway employees are not allowed to ask for leave during the festival period. "When I started working, I thought spending the day away from home was cool. But when I saw thousands of Chinese brave all the difficulties to make it home, I started to miss my family," she said.
In 2005, when Zhong graduated from a railway college in Harbin, Heilongjiang, she joined the railway company.
At first, she worked on slow trains, but she was promoted to the post of head steward on a bullet train five years later after passing several exams, including one on emergency procedures.
"On the slower trains, there were so many people in the carriages that passengers on the platform had to use windows to get onto the train," she said.
"We could not move on the train, either. I remember once we collected six bags of trash from just one carriage after the passengers disembarked."
During the Spring Festival travel rush, passengers bring more and heavier luggage. Zhong said she has seen migrant workers bringing buckets full of eggs on the train, and even a TV set once.
"Those were the New Year gifts they were taking home. I felt obliged to help them guard their New Year gifts," she said.
And when the clock strikes midnight, signaling New Year, she said the passengers - irrespective of where they come from or what they do for a living - all take out their phones and dial their families and loved ones.
"I always call my parents first. I am their only child and I know they will be waiting for my call," she said.