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January 19, 2011

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Big freeze affects holiday rush

WHEN Zhao Zhonghua slurped the last drop of his instant noodle soup, there was still four hours to go before the ticket booth opened to start -selling rail tickets.

"Now I feel much better," said Zhao, a native from central China's Hunan Province. "But it's still cold."

The flying snow, lasting almost all day long, blanketed Zhao and tens of thousands of ticket buyers and rail travelers coming and going at local transport hubs yesterday, one day ahead of the annual 40-day Spring Festival rush, which starts today.

The local rail system is expected to deal with 176,000 passengers today.

For the passengers, the snow added to the uncertainty of getting a ticket or catching a train home.

"I just want to leave," said a passenger, surnamed He. "Any train would be fine." He, a native from east China's Jiangxi Province, lit a cigarette, a good way to stay warm and focused, He said.

To kill time, buyers in the market read newspapers, books, or played Chinese chess on the ground.

"I can stay here for a while," a young man said to his girlfriend, asking her to wait in a warmer indoor KFC restaurant.

Such consideration, however, was not to be enjoyed by everyone.

Outside the ticket square, passengers lined up for hundreds of meters in the snow, waiting for a long time to be given numbers for the next day or struggling to grab a ticket home.

There was no shelter overhead, many shivered while holding umbrellas as shields against the driving snow. The line soon merged into a white background.

Ding Wei, 24, the only person wearing a suit and a tie in the line, had never been so regretful. "I should have put on more clothes," said the Sichuan Province native.

Ding, who had not been to the station to get a ticket up until then, said he did not know he would have to wait for almost a whole day just to get a better position in the next day's queue.

For some, the wearing ticket-purchasing process ended and they were about to embark on the journey home.

Zhang Shijun, from Henan Province's Zhengzhou, sat at noon in a underground passage of Metro Line 1 to dodge the snow - his train did not leave until about 5pm.

Zhang, a carpenter, kept close watch on his three large cases, tied together on a bamboo pole, as dozens like him also took shelter in the subway.

"Hopefully snow won't hinder my journey home," said Zhang, referring to his 15-hour journey. The carpenter had bought a standing ticket.


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