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Railway workers among many who miss festival

Updated: 2010-02-19

Railway workers among many who miss festival

SHENYANG: For thousands of years the Chinese have spent the Spring Festival Eve with their families. But some people always miss this reunion, and chief conductor Zhuang Yuan is one of them.

At 9:12 pm on Chinese New Year's Eve (last Saturday), the train that Zhuang manages reached the southern hub of Shanghai after about 15 hours of travel from the northeastern city of Shenyang, Liaoning province. Zhuang then headed to the local dormitory to prepare a traditional meal of dumplings.

Dumplings are popular with northern Chinese on New Year's Eve, but in South China, few people follow the practice.

"Not many restaurants sell dumplings here in Shanghai, and it's more festive when we make dumplings by ourselves," Zhuang said.

In addition to Zhuang, 10 of his co-workers gathered to celebrate the Spring Festival. As soon as the bell rang at midnight, each of them made a New Year's call to their families. Some of the young people's eyes filled with tears upon hearing their parents' voices.

"This is the eighth Spring Festival that I could not go back home," said Zhuang, 28, an only child.

Zhuang's home is in Jinzhou, a coastal city of Northeast China's Liaoning province. For years he has had little chance of returning home because he has to work on the train - a job that is especially important during the holiday travel season.

"I really feel guilty about my parents, since I can't be with them during the festival," Zhuang said. "But they are so considerate and give me a lot of support."

Every year around the Spring Festival holiday, China witnesses the world's largest annual human movement as people rush home for family reunions. About 2.5 billion trips are expected during this year's 40-day Spring Festival travel season, up from 2.32 billion in the same period last year.

This year's Spring Festival travel for Zhuang began at 5 am on Feb 12, the day before Chinese New Year's Eve.

When Zhuang's train pulled away from the platform, he inspected every carriage to see if any passenger needed help or special assistance.

Zhuang has to inspect all eight carriages at least 15 times during each trip, which is equal to walking 7 km.

Moreover, each trip takes four days, meaning that two-thirds of his time during the past few years is spent on the train shuttling between Shenyang and Shanghai.

"Sometimes, I fall across my bed without enough strength to even take off my coat, and I fall asleep instantly," Zhuang said.

However, all the hard work is worth it, he said.

"It's my responsibility. I'm content that my efforts can help more people get home on time."

Zhuang is one of the first male conductors of China Railway High-speed (CRH) trains in China.

"Male conductors are not as kind as women conductors. But we can make up for it with sincerity," he said.

Zhuang's attitude wins him respect and appreciation from his passengers. Every year, he receives more than 30 thank-you notes.

Besides parents and passengers, another person on Zhuang's mind is Wang Yuyuan, his girlfriend.

Wang is also an employee of Shenyang Railway Bureau.

"I'm only off one day a week. So it's not easy for us to have off the same day. We may not meet for one month, sometimes," said Wang.

"So we never quarrel when we do meet since the time together is so precious."

At midnight on Monday, Zhuang finally arrived home in Jinzhou. The couple reunited at Zhuang's home the next day.

"My parents like Yuyuan very much. We have a family dinner and play cards together," Zhuang said happily.

But the reunion was short, as Wang went back to work on Wednesday and Zhuang continued his Spring Festival travel between Shenyang and Shanghai yesterday.

(China Daily 02/19/2010 page3)

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