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January 27, 2013

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Spring Festival rush under way

THE Spring Festival travel rush began yesterday, with travelers flocking to Shanghai Railway Station to make their way back to their hometowns for the Chinese New Year on February 10.

The station resounded with sounds associated with the annual rush: people trying to sell goods to travellers; scalpers hired by coach operators attempting to persuade would-be passengers to travel with them instead.

The day was warm and pleasant, ideal for traveling as part of what is known as the world's largest human migration.

Shanghai Railway Station said about 7.8 million rail journeys will be made during the 40-day rush - a 10 percent rise compared to last year. Shanghai Railway Bureau, the Yangtze Delta region operator, said temporary train services will be added to handle the volume.

Sitting on the edge of a greenery area at the railway station's north square, waiting for his connection, Zhu Bofeng played a cellphone game, almost dozing in the unusually warm winter noon.

"I think I'll just skip my dinner," said the 23-year-old who works in a molding factory in neighboring Jiaxing City, more than an hour's ride from Shanghai.

A native of central China's Shaanxi Province, Zhu bought a 300 yuan (US$48) rail ticket that will enable him to get home in 14 hours.

Zhu's train was due to leave at 3:50pm. "Just a night's sleep and the next day you're back home," said Zhu, lighting a cigarette.

Two bags and a new pressure cooker were the sum of Zhu's luggage.

"I'm taking nothing else home but the cooker," said the young worker. "The prices of everything are rising, it seems that only my salary stands still."

Some older migrant workers seemed more satisfied with their wages, which they've been saving away for returning home.

"The money is enough," said a worker, surnamed Sun, sitting on his bags at an underground ticket lot of the Shanghai Long-Distance Bus Station, waiting for his co-workers to bring back tickets to his hometown, Fuyang in Anhui Province.

Sun, in his 50s, said he could earn 4,000 to 5,000 yuan a month working as a mason on a construction site in suburban Pudong's Zhoupu area.

"The conditions there are harsh though," said the middle-aged man, settling down for a nap.

Sun said his son had also left their hometown and now works in Jiangsu Province.

Meanwhile, for three college students taking photographs in front of the railway station while waiting for a connection, the burden of raising a family is not a concern for now.

"The winter vocation is good for us to get out and about," said one of the students from Shaanxi Province, who were on their first trip to Shanghai.

Before they left the city at midnight, the students said they wanted to tour around the Bund and People's Square.

For railway workers watching the passengers gathering at the station, another rush year had just started.

"And of course, the peak has yet to come," said Wu Zhenrong, a rail station manager who over the years has seen millions come and go over the Spring Festival.

Wu and other station staff will spend the coming weeks mostly at the station, rarely going home. However, they will be so busy that there will be little time to reflect on this.

"One day after another just pass in a rush at this time of year," said Wu.


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