春运: Where’s home?

From Jan 19 through Feb 27, 2011 we float through the happy daze of 春运 or “Spring [Festival] Movement.” Indeed, the scale of Spring Movement merits its own website. Possibly of more interest to anthropologists, the scale of movement provides another opportunity to wonder about how the tension between hometown feelings and making oneself at home shapes Shenzhen identity.

The Municipalitaty estimates that during Spring Movement, Shenzhen’s land, sea, and air borders will be crossed over 9.4 million times, an increase of 700,000 from 2010’s official Spring Movement stats. However, folks have already started travelling and some, like me will leave during Spring Movement, but return after. Or leave before and return during? So again, shakey figures. Should we go with an estimated 10 million holiday related border crossings?

Other facts shed interesting light on the scale of Shenzhen’s Spring Movement. During these five weeks, the city guarantees that everyday, 9,000 buses will be leaving and returning to the city; in addition to the City’s 1,640 chartered buses, another 2,000 charted buses have been loaned to the City; the downtown and west railway stations will fill 960,000 seats before Feb 3; the airport guarantees 500 flights per day.

The point is that Spring Movement is not simply important, but also one of the events that the government takes very, very seriously. Indeed, going home for the holidays is, among my friends, a self-evident good and therefore a necessarily political event; for officials, problems during Spring Movement can be carreer ending. For many migrants to Shenzhen, Spring Festival makes immigration meaningful. Some may have come to try something new and find new opportunities, but most understand (and endure) the process of migrating to Shenzhen in terms of families elsewhere.

A friend explained to me the feeling of eating with her family.

“I used to think it was really annoying to be with my parents because they nag and stick their noses where they don’t belong. However, once in Shenzhen I had to eat by myself. Everytime, I eat alone, I really miss the feeling of being with my parents. As soon as I get home, they rush down five flights of stairs, carry my suitcase for me, and bring me into a warm room with a big table of food. It’s so comfortable and I’m not lonely, not like in Shenzhen.”

And then she sighed because after the holiday, she’ll return to Shenzhen, alone, to continue working at a job she doesn’t really like so that she can continue to send remitances to her parents, who in turn, will save the money for the next Spring Festival reunion.

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