Holiday rush: Tens of millions of Chinese hit the rails and roads

YI CHANG, China -  Li Chen and her husband, Hu Liang, are packing up, bracing themselves to join the 100 million people expected to travel this day as China prepares to welcome the Year of the Horse.

In China, it’s very important to go home for the New Year holiday.

"Oh, that’s a big thing," Li said.

"Yeah, it’s just like your festival, Christmas," said Hu.

 The couple, who were high school sweethearts, live in Beijing. Their parents are 800 miles away in central China. But their biggest challenge is not the distance they have to travel – it's getting a ticket.

"You just cannot buy it – there are just too many people,” Hu said. "In China, we have too many people."

Entire trains sell out in seconds. Stations overflow with passengers toting gifts, or what looks like everything they own. The Chinese military is on hand to keep folks in line, if not exactly in a line.

They call this the largest annual migration on earth, and in a packed Beijing railway station, it certainly looks that way.

Teacher Zhang Jing said he used strategy -- and technology -- to get a ticket.

"You have to use certain software, certain programs, or apps, to compete for the tickets," Zhang said. "It's like winning the lottery."

One accountant who didn't win his lottery managed to get a ticket, but it only allows her to stand on the train – by the bathroom.

Migrant workers, who have moved to cities to find work, cram into old train cars. Those with more money can afford a seat on one of the new bullet trains.

"It is my first time to take the high-speed train to go back home," said Li.

As the trains travel at speeds topping 185 miles per hour, the cranes and smog of China become a blur to passengers. Still, it's not fast enough for Hu's mom.

"We have two hours to my hometown but she is probably already been at the station waiting for me," Hu said.

It took a total of 12 hours to get to Li's family's house. They were so happy to see everyone, they didn't even take off their coats.

"As you can see, my family has really, really embraced me a lot with their love," said Li.

As foreign as the crushing crowds may seem, there’s nothing more familiar than this.

  • Seth Doane

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