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Now THAT'S Mobility!

That holiday spirit is taking really taking hold now that we’re down to only a week before the official Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, begins. Cubicles are emptying, office lunchrooms have more “home town” favorite foods available for snacking and vendors, like the one below, are on the street selling all manner of decorations to adorn homes and apartments. The biggest annual holiday is nearly here.

But as a practical matter, the holiday started January 30 – the day the official 40-day travel season begins. This is the one time of year when most Chinese feel a very strong compulsion to return to the home roots, connect with families, eat their favorite hometown foods, and generally kick back and enjoy time with family and friends. 

For migrant laborers, peasants from rural areas who’ve gone to the big cities to work in factories or as laborers, this may be the one and only holiday each year when they can reunite with their families. And I don’t mean reunite with the extended family. Many migrants who live and work in urban centers leave their spouses and children behind in the home village – too expensive to move the entire family to the city – so getting home to spend a week or two with family is the annual highlight.

The numbers are awesome and deserve contemplation:

  • The government predicts 2.54 billion journeys by rail, intercity bus, sea, ship, and air between January 30 and March 10.
  • 210 million passengers will go by rail. That’s like moving nearly the entire populations of the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, the UK, and Italy somewhere else. And then moving them back home a few weeks later. The trains will move an equivalent of nearly the entire nation of Denmark each day.
  • 29 million people will travel by air. Imagine airlifting every person in Texas to Minnesota and everyone in Minnesota to Texas. 

And then getting everyone home again. And there’s always the possibility of bad weather. To say nothing of airport luggage conveyor belts so overloaded that they start smoking. So it’s not uncommon for foreigners to go into hiding at this time of year. We’re just not equipped to handle the throngs, but until you’ve been in the swimming in the sea yourself, it may still be difficult to fathom. Here is a very nice compendium of photos from different sources giving you a sense of real mobility in action during the first few days of this year’s travel season.

Travel safely. And be careful of those fire crackers!

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