Travelers make final stretch for reunions

By He Na (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-02-12 07:20
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Nanhedian, Henan: As Li Fengcai looked into the two large plastic bags stuffed full of gifts for his wife and children, he broke into a wide smile. His long wait to see his family was almost over, his home just a short train ride away.

Travelers make final stretch for reunions
Li Fengcai, a bricklayer who works in Beijing, is reunited with his wife, Zhang Zhe, and son, Chenchen. Li only sees his family in Henan once or twice a year. [Photo/Feng Yongbin]

"I have been waiting for today for a long time. The minutes dragged like hours this morning," said the 45-year-old father as he stared from a platform at Beijing Railway Station. "I haven't been back home for more than half a year. My youngest son is only two but he grows so quickly; I do not know whether the clothes I have bought him are big enough."

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Li is a bricklayer and has worked in the capital for more than 10 years. He only gets the chance to return to his hometown of Nanhedian in Henan province once a year, usually for Spring Festival.

Now is the most important time for migrant workers who spend most of the year doing hard labor on large city construction sites. Every year during the "spring rush", the country's peak travel time, thousands of them will be hoping to collect their wages and head out to the countryside on trains and buses.

The lucky ones get their pay in time, but wage problems are common and still contribute to a rising number of labor disputes.

"I planned to catch the long distance bus as soon as I got my wages for the last six months but my boss failed to get the money in time, so we all had to wait for a couple of days," Li said. "I eventually got the money and can have a good Spring Festival with my wife and children. I wish I had wings and could fly straight home."

After the chaos caused by a snowstorm last month, when almost 90 percent of flights from Beijing were grounded and most highways were closed, Li opted to travel by train instead. The nation's rail network transports about 200 million people every year during spring rush, which lasts 40 days. "I usually take the bus because it is quicker. It normally only takes me 13 hours to get home," he said.

Following a one-hour delay, Li was in his seat and chattering like an excited child as the train pulled out of the station at 1:30 pm. His mood quickly changed to one of impatience, however, when the train kept stopping to wait for other ones.

As millions of Chinese return to their families for Spring Festival, He Na travels with a migrant worker to his hometown in Henan province

He was already stood waiting at the doors with his plastic bags in hand when the train arrived in Nanyang, the closest city to his hometown, at 7:30 am the next day. Within minutes, the laborer had lugged his heavy bags out of the station and onto a bus heading to Nanzhou county.

Li was on the home straight but he was now more anxious than ever. He was becoming angry with the bus driver who was going slowly so he could pick up more passengers. "My wife and my son will be waiting for me at the bus station in the cold. I really want to beat the driver. Does he not realize how badly I want to go home?" complained Li.

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