02/06/2013, 00.00
CHINA
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Year of the Snake brings usual hectic traffic and "great upheaval"

by Chen Weijun
For most Chinese workers, the lunar New Year is the only time for holidays. As legions of migrant workers try to get home to their families, they seek out all available means for a total of about 3.4 billion journeys. However, as wages stagnate, prices rise with state approval. Many are thus forced to take to the road on their motorcycles. Many more are now waiting what new things the Year of the Snake will bring.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - Rising prices are making travel home for Chinese New Year that much harder. For two weeks, China will stop to celebrate the event. The country's transportation system is bracing for an estimated 3.4 billion journeys on trains, buses and ferries as millions take advantage of this once-in-a-year opportunity to be with their family. However, the observance also underscores the country's social facility.

On Friday, as the Year of the Black Water Snake begins, the Year of the Water Dragon will end. According to Chinese tradition, with the new year, fire drops into water. Politically and personally, chaos will rise; confusion will grow, and will not necessarily be negative for snakes tend to mind their own business.  

About 400 million migrant workers will travel home by every conceivable means of transportation. In the Pearl River Delta, an estimated 140 million people will be on the move between late January and early February. Of these, only 32 million will be able to buy cheap train tickets. Others will have to pay higher fees, up to 60 per cent. In order to avoid such state-authorised larceny, many will opt for alternatives.

For motorbike riders, toll-free highways will be the preferred choice. Even if distances are huge, a thousand km on average, it has the added advantage that they will be free to decide when and where to go.  

"During the trip, we need to refuel five or six times," said one traveller. "We will eat instant noodles or bread when resting at petrol stations. If it rains, we will pay 80 yuan for a cheap inn room. If the weather is good, we will only have a rest on the roadside and set out again at dawn." The two-day journey will cost about 400 yuan (US$ 65) for each motorbike.

For most people, low-cost travel is a necessity, not an option. Low wages are an obstacle to China's development. On average, a skilled worker makes 3,000 yuan per month (US$ 500). An unskilled worker will make instead about 1,200 yuan (US$ 200). In the countryside, workers can make as little as 700 (US$ 120) a month.

Experts, even government officials, have been urging Beijing to improve the situation. However, the world's financial crisis has been felt last year with the worst GDP performance in a decade.

For astrology aficionados, the Year of the Snake will bear ill tidings to investors. Hong Kong's Hang Seng always dropped in the last four Years of the Snake. The snake has also been a time of great upheaval, like the Russian Revolution (1917), the Great Depression (1929) and 9/11 (2001)

Yet, futurologists have not given up. According to the Feng Shui Index issued by the Credit Lyonnais Securities Asia (CLSA), "there are signs that this year's beast will be better behaved: All five of the basic elements or energies are present in the fortune charts (including the market-driver Fire!); and the annual Flying Star energies all return to their 'home' sectors for the first time in nine years."

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