Our holiday spirit shines through

Liang Hongfu

2008-02-13 01:13:26  China Daily      

Having been brought up in Hong Kong, I never felt anything too special about Chinese New Year. When I was a kid, the only thing I looked forward to was the extra pocket money I got from the hong bao, or red envelopes. To get that, I had to follow my parents on a tiring trek to visit relatives living in different areas in the city. What a bore.

The last time I went home for the occasion was in 2003, and I chose to fly on Chinese New Year's day to avoid the crowd. The ticketing agent kept asking if I'd want to fly home a day earlier so that I could have New Year's Eve dinner with my family. She looked a little aghast when I told her that was not important.

But the pictures of tens of thousands of migrant workers stranded at the railway stations of Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing during the snowstorm woke me up, much like the Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens' immortal novel, and showed me that Chinese New Year is not all humbug.

The look of anxiety and anguish on those faces upon realizing that they might not be able to arrive home in time for the New Year's Eve dinner demonstrated vividly the strong family ties that have served as the bedrock of Chinese society, which is facing unprecedented challenges as the country marches resolutely down the road of modernization.

Many migrant workers, some of whom had been waiting for days at railway stations, are probably going to miss their family reunions this year because of the unusually foul weather. But their show of restraint and fortitude in the past several weeks - a time spent crammed together at railway stations, in bitterly cold weather - was nothing short of a true manifestation of the Chinese New Year spirit, the embodiment of harmony and tolerance.

That same spirit also shined through the thousands of people of all ranks who have been working tirelessly and selflessly to clear the ice-locked railway tracks and highways and repair the broken electricity cables in the vast regions stricken by the relentless snowstorm. And we shall not forget those who have sacrificed their lives while combating the snowstorm so that we could go home for the new year.

The newspapers in recent weeks have been filled with stories of courageous deeds performed by common people called upon to face a severe test of their stamina and endurance. There was the story of a group of young men on Liangzi island, near Wuhan, hacking a 15-km passageway across a frozen lake with pikes to allow delivery boats to bring a much needed supply of food and fuel for their 3,000 or so fellow inhabitants.

A Shenzhen hotel has opened up to 60 rooms to accommodate stranded passengers for free. In Wuhan, a group of hotels issued an open invitation to citizens whose homes have been affected by the constant disruptions in the water supply to shower in their unoccupied rooms.

To be sure, there have been reports about bureaucratic indifference and incompetence in dealing with disgruntled passengers at different railway stations and airports. Profiteering by unscrupulous merchants is evident in some of the cities and towns hardest hit by the snowstorm. But not even the unusually foul weather could dampen the Chinese New Year spirit. On the contrary, it has only brought it forth in greater intensity than ever before.

Ask Fu Song, a high school student in Tongzi county, Guizhou province. He walked 20 km to his home village for the family reunion, braving a treacherous snow-bound mountain road where no bus driver dared to go.