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    Twists and turns on the long journey home
Zhang Feng
2005-01-26 06:41

Chen Qiuxiang, 2, might have been the youngest migrant waiting for a train at the Beijing Western Railway Station on Tuesday at midnight.

She was still excitedly running around the platform waiting room, not old enough to worry about the fact she had been waiting for 9 hours for a train for her hometown in Hanzhong in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province.

"We don't have enough money to afford a rest room at the station or at some hotel, so we'll just sit and wait through the night," said Chen's father, Chen Chuanjiu, 26.

The family is not alone. It is much like thousands of homesick migrants dotting the waiting rooms of various railway stations.

Most are farmers-turned-workers who wear shabby clothes, occupying all the chairs in waiting rooms, chatting, sleeping or eating snacks to pass the time.

Many people who cannot find a chair gather together and sit on the floor or on their shabby baggage.

Chen said his wife is still staying at their work place, an iron mine in Tangshan, Hebei Province, and will not be going back home this Spring Festival, a special holiday when families typically reunite.

"The ticket price (for a hard seat) is 208 yuan (US$25). That's quite high for me. I can only earn about 1,000 yuan (US$120) a month," Chen said.

He added that, if his wife were also to travel home and back, the fares would be too expensive.

For these farmers-turned-workers, both hard and soft sleeping berths are unimaginable because they are too expensive. Some of them have failed to buy a seat and have bought a "standing" ticket.

Chen was echoed by many farmers reached by China Daily, who said it is much easier for them to buy a ticket this year thanks to additional trains and additional ticket-sales sites.

However, money shortages still exist, making trips home a hardship.

"I bought a ticket this morning and can take the bus soon to my hometown in Anyang of Central China's Henan Province," a man who declined to give his name said at the Beijing Zhaogongkou long-distance bus station yesterday afternoon.

However, buying a ticket with greater ease was not enough to make his 12-hour-long trip home any happier.

"I am very lucky that I bought a hard seater ticket last night after I failed four times to get a ticket in the past week," said Wang Yong at the western railway station.

Wang, 23, said it was 11 pm and there was no bus for him to get back to his apartment.

However, he had no money for a taxi to get home, so he chose to stay in the station for the whole night, so as to take on a bus at dawn.


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