Thursday, January 31, 2008

Reining the Rat Race

Within China, millions of workers leave their homes to work in far flung factories and construction sites, suffering the separation from families and children, and patiently persevere throughout the year to provide for the needs of those left behind. Their yearlong thirst for their loved ones is quenched only by that small window of opportunity during the Lunar year when their physical presence and warm embrace shall be felt and reciprocated in a caring moment. That Lunar Year is also called the Spring Festival and it is 7 days away. And they are racing against time and very severe elements to get home for the Year of the Rat.

Facing the world's biggest mass migration of people is a hostile and unforgiving weather, bringing with it its worst condition in over 50 years. An estimated 190 million people are expected to travel by train and another 25 million by airplane; but authorities see that with the weather taking a turn for the worse, most of them will be stranded on the road and will fail to make it in time for the Chinese New Year. Where each of these Chinese citizens are concerned, they are of one mind, and they focus on only one thing: getting home is an obligation, the Lunar Year fulfills ancient obligations too for the family, and no matter how difficult it gets, reaching home is the only option. Multiply this 215 million times against the worst impact of weather turbulence, and you can see an epic collision of man against nature, in colossal proportions.

For those outside of China, the mere mention of the country or its people elicits images of vast expanses, hugeness, volumes of products, people in unimaginable numbers moving in several directions, or the cheap toys, t-shirts, shoes, clothes, food, or even lead content and contaminated dumplings. Statistics that define its growth and potential boggles the mind and misses seeing a critical fact: all the statistics were created and produced by the ordinary Chinese worker, earning US $4.00 per day working 12 to 16 hours daily, seven days a week. And here he stands in the snow and the cold, practically side by side with 215 million others just like himself, delayed for a chance to be with family and child, enduring but waiting patiently, thinking only of home, and determined to get there.

Here is a mass of humanity driven by a very human emotion to be with family, slammed by the forces of nature indifferent to their plight. If they make it home, they will be greeted by a power crisis because of frozen power grids, and paralyzed transport system due to the bad weather. The ice has destroyed crops and transportation paralysis has prevented deliveries in stores; causing shortages and inflating prices of commodities and items used for the season.The weather has already cost the economy US$7.5billion, and this is expected to rise as the storm continues.

The trains are the best chance of getting home and authorities have secured the railways to prevent riots and stampedes. Hundreds of thousands have camped out on the railway stations hoping to get a ride. Some estimate their travel time at 50 hours by train then bus, and a walk of 3 miles to get home, journey of more than a thousand miles. The Chinese government issued a request for the workers to abandon plans of returning home for the holidays due to the crisis, and employers have suggested that workers can return home after the storm has blown over. These efforts were aimed at putting a rein on the number of people who would be served by the transportation available. Reactions from the workers were lukewarm. Some said failing to come home is like "my child does not exist." Authorities were able to convince about 470,000 from flying to their destinations and were given their refunds. Most suspect that these passengers would simply look for another way to travel.

There are those who say that these problems could have been avoided if the Authorities stockpiled on coal and placed advance orders for coal from Australia. Others say that modernization of the power grids and transport systems have been delayed for so long that it has been overtaken by the volume of regular users, rendering these outdated and obsolete.

These could only be hoped for by those standing on the railway platforms waiting to get seated after 3 days. An improved weather condition today brightened hopes for the workers to get home. But forecasts remain bleak. The many faces here that represent many lives and many dreams and countless hopes might be viewed with awe or empathy, but these are human reflections with human emotions, desperate to rekindle the faith that binds them and the love that sustains their separation. Their power and endurance amidst frustration and anger is remarkable. This is a massive triumph for the human spirit.

The government's incompetence is the only real always.



Anonymous said...

A single stampede or riot would have tragic consequences of a huge magnitude in a situation like this.

I noticed that this is your fourth post on China or one that is related to it. Do you have Chinese blood?

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

You're right about the consequence of a stampede or riot.

So you've been lurking in my site! I don't have Chinese blood nor do I have any Chinese relative. But an event anywhere in the world that affects all of us like the environment, injustice, use of force and violence to oppress,ought to be of concern for all don't you think?

Now why don't you identify yourself, that would make better communication.:-) --Durano, done!

ozegold said...

G'day Durano,

Thanks for a very well written post, one that shows compassion.

Thanks also for choosing to speak out about China.

'Anonymous', humanity is humanity - regardless of whether they are black, white, yellow or any other color or race.

The blood is still the same!

It is unfortunate that the Chinese bureaucrats and government have failed to build infrastructure.

I guess too though that with such rapid growth, that planning and building new infrastructure is bound to lag.

One last note - the authorities do appear edgy, and for good reason. It's times like these that can generate change, something that the present regime doesn't like at all...

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Thanks Allan. I just feel for these people. The marginalized workers who are used abusively and then neglected for that one time when all their hardships will find some meaning.

The Authorities SHOULD be edgy, for all their projections of progress they have abandoned the needs of those that brought them there. They should take lessons fro Katrina in New Orleans on how to handle such situations.

I'm afraid that things are turning for the worst as the storm continues to ravage and the people continue to be desperate, tired, hungry, anxious, and all other elements that could trigger a tragic catastrophe.I certainly hope not, and I surely wish that they could muster a little more patience. But the government should really make major adjustments now to alleviate the transport crisis and do something immediately to ensure that this never happens again. --Durano, done!

Kim said...

tragic Durano..
and more so when I see the new swimming stadium that they have built for the Olympics....

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Kim,

Imagining the sense of longing of each of these multitudes, thinking of their loved ones waiting and hoping for their arrival; slowly turning into anger, desperation and despair is already a tragedy multiplied 215 millions times.

The tragedy I don't want to see and I hope never do, is that the situation becomes violent and uncontrollable.

I pray it works out well. --Durano, done!