Wednesday, January 30, 2008

下雪了- It's Snowing!

While many of us here in the US jump for joy over a snow day, we still know the destruction that unexpectedly heavy snow can bring. This morning, the BBC compared the current snow emergency in China to Katrina. Hundreds of thousands of travelers are stranded (two times the entire population of the USA), homes, crops, and greenhouses are being destroyed, and in 17 provinces, emergency blackouts are being enforced because of coal shortages.

China is a very fragile country in many ways. The infrastructure was, I'm sure, quite unprepared to handle this weather situation... in fact, this morning I read that China hasn't seen snow of this magnitude since 1954.

The situation is particularly challenging because Spring Festival starts next week. The national holiday that lasts for two weeks around Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) is well known to be the busiest travel time of the year in China. Migrant workers and workers in sweatshops travel back home to their far-off provinces by the cheapest means possible - mostly by slow train. This travel is brutally bare-bones and uncomfortable. The trains are incredibly crowded, smoky, cold, and dirty because of the sheer mass of people. People eat instant noodles and packaged foods like sausages, sunflower seeds, and cookies to the tolerance of their budgets along the way, using the only free service on the train: boiled water. Perhaps conditions have improved in the past 5 years I've been away, but I doubt they've changed that much, especially for the masses of travelers who are barely affording the travel.

Spring Festival is actually a 12-day event, with prescribed rituals for each day, beginning on the eve of the holiday, when everyone should be home. At least in Sichuan, it was considered bad luck to be traveling on the first day - Chinese New Year. After the insular first day of the festival, different visits are carried out to various family members and neighbors. Of course, I'm talking about celebrating in the countryside... I never actually spent a Spring Festival in the city. If there are any readers who have, please share!

My heart goes out now to all those stoic holiday travelers, longing and toiling to get home for a holiday that's probably more culturally dear than Christmas is in the West, if you can image that. I'm hoping for safety and protection for all those facing this unpredictable weather situation.

No comments: