Friday, February 01, 2008

Chinese New Year and Crippling Snow; A Perfect Storm

China has experienced a severely cold winter this year and we are even feeling the effects here in Shenzhen. In an average winter the weather in this city stays around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (or 10 degrees Celsius) but this past week it has been between 32 and 40 degrees (or 0-5 degrees Celsius) In the southern parts of China most homes have no central heating units because it rarely gets cold enough to need them. This means millions without heat. Eric and I bought a space heater and have literally been barricaded in my office (the smallest room in the house)leaving only to dash the bathroom, boil water for tea or order up a pizza. For us its only a mild inconvenience, and we can make a game out of it, pretending we are pre-Donner Party pioneers. But for the millions of Chinese people trying to get to their hometowns to celebrate Chinese New Year, it has been a very trying week.

Heavy snows meant a paralyzed rail system and thousands of stranded people. Just the other day during a visit to Louwu station I snapped this picture of stranded travelers, many of whom had been camped out in the cold weather with their entire families for days.

One cannot overstate the importance of New Year in Chinese culture. This two week holiday is a time to relax and celebrate with your family, and prepare for wealth and happiness in the new year. Married couples give out Hong Baos (red envelopes filled with crisp new bills) to their unmarried friends, the children of married friends and sometimes to service people. Special pork dishes are cooked, as are dumplings. The home is filled with flowers and red decorations. Orange trees, a symbol of fertility and wealth, are decorated with red lanterns and envelopes. Cherry blossom branches are forced open and cheerfully decorated.

For many of the migrant workers in Shenzhen (it takes a lot of people to build a massive city like Shenzhen in just ten years, the official estimate of this city is 8 million, but the unofficial estimated population is as high as 15 million meaning that almost 7 million are unaccounted for) Chinese New Year is the only chance to make a long journey to see their families. It is reputedly the largest human migration. The whole country celebrates Chinese New Year for two weeks so for many this is only time of the year when workers can make 20 hour long rail journeys. At this time of year the cars are extremely crowded forcing many making the entire journey in standing room only.

This story on outlines the scene at Guangzhou station, just one hour from Shenzhen and the site of our fabled trip to Ikea. Check out this clip to get a better idea of the sheer size of these crowds, or this article to find out what the government is doing to ease the situation.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...