Weather isn’t normally the main topic of conversation for the Chinese (unlike us British!) food, money, money and food seem to be the core topic of any discussion, but the unusually cold and particularly the snowy downpour that has fallen over China this week, has focused everyone’s attention on not only the bad weather, but also the strains put on the Chinese infrastructure.
What makes this week’s spell of bad weather even more disastrous is the fact that it ties in with the annual ‘Chun Yun’ (Directly translated as "spring transportation"), – the exodus from where you live and work, back to your family around the time of the Lunar New year. Commentators describe this as a mass exodus of ‘migrant’ workers from the cities – which conjures up images of farmers, laborers, factory workers and basically any menial employees who have traveled far from their hometown to find work. Whilst this is true, it is also a bit of a misconception by us westerners.
There are a significant number of people who come from rural areas to do the jobs that city folk wont, in particular the construction workers who help China become the largest user of steel and concrete in the world, but then there are the office workers, engineer’s, managers, policemen, school teachers, bankers – in fact all walks of life, and those people who cover the complete spectrum of age, wealth and social demographics.
They spend 11.5 months a year working in the large economic powerhouse cities that straddle the East Coast of China, and at several key points in the year, they try to get back to visit wives, children, parents, and grand parents. Many of my friends, colleagues and employee’s have become more and more concerned as the weather forecasts got worse and the snow got deeper and deeper over the last few days.
I cant even imagine the number of people trying to return to their home towns over the last 10 days or so (estimates range from between 200 and 500 million!), but having lived and worked in two Chinese city’s, Nanjing and Shanghai – 70-80% of the people I meet, don’t derive from the city that they work in, leaving friends, family’s and loved ones far behind in search of the Chinese promised lands. The official figures suggest that 2.3 billion journeys will be made on public transport over the 10-day period, and that 23 million children are separated from there parents during the majority of the year. Chinese New Year for most for some becomes the only time for families to get together.
In Shanghai the snow first fell on Saturday 27th January, at first it seemed like a welcome break to the cold, dull and mostly wet weather we had been having. This time of the year is always depressing, and the weather wasn’t helping the situation. Waking up to a sprinkling of white powder seemed to be the tonic for a depressingly dirty late January. Like many families we played out in the snow, built snowmen and used the weather as an excuse to snuggle up in front of the TV, eating warm food and generally being lazy – unaware of the saga that was unfolding around us.
Many have wrote stories about horrendous trips desperately trying to get back home, and we have all seen the pictures of politicians cashing in on the disaster by handing out blankets to those stranded at many an airport, train or bus station, I just wanted to add a few of the startling facts that have struck me over the last 7 days in a snowy Shanghai.
- The first story to put the darker side of a snowy day was the fact that in just a 24-hour period Shanghai hospitals 1000 people has been treated for bone fractures, after slipping on the ice and snow..
- Official figures highlight that nearly 9000 flights had been delayed or cancelled during the 1st 3 days of the snow at the city’s 2 main airports.
- 9,678 km of fixed-line networks and paralyzed affecting more than 19.2 million phone users nationwide.
- 149,000 houses had their roofs collapse whilst the snow damaged a further 862,000.
- Railway officials had estimated a passenger flow of 178.6 million people were delayed - the size of the combined population of Italy, France and Britain.
- More than 1 million kg of fish and about 30,000 farmyard ducks here have become victims of the bad weather.
- As of yesterday evening, railway departments in the province said they had paid refunds on more than 500,000 tickets.
- Close to 1 million police have been deployed to control traffic on China's snow-covered highways.
- 1.2 million people were stranded in Guangzhou train station as cross-country trains had been delayed and cancelled.
- 100,000 people pile into Shanghai train station square – waiting for news.
These are just a few of the stories from the last few days, my stories – well, the biggest problems I have had is turning a 30 minute journey to work in to a 3 hour scary roller coaster, scrapping the ice of my windscreen in sub-zero temperatures, and a mad dog that likes to swim in frozen lake water. Apart from that I have decided to stay put and warm my feet against a defrosting dog, oh and pray that the snow clears in time to keep the 250 ships stranded at the mouth of the Huang Pu River delivering coal to the Shanghai Power Stations so I can keep the TV going and the food hot!