300，000 People Commute Between Beijing and Hebei Yanjiao: “Chun Yun” Everyday, People Squeezed Until They’re Like a Picture
Cross province commute, “people squeezed until they’re like a picture [squeezed flat]”
“It really was a very difficult time, but we could do nothing but grit our teeth and hang in there, because we had no other option.”
February 28th, 33-year-old Liu Xiaomin started her story with this sentence. In 2004, she and her husband, Song Bei graduated from Heibei Medical University. After graduation, the couple worked in a county-level hospital in Baoding for two years. Life was calm but dull. Finally, Song Bei couldn’t put up with the slow pace and repetitive life in a small town any more. By then, they already had a child. Wang Xiaomin told her husband: “You go to graduate school. I will stay at home to take of the child. When you settle down, I will bring our child to join you.”
Song Bei successfully got into a medical college in Beijing to pursue a master’s degree, and three years later, he wanted to work in the hospital attached to/associated with the college, but that didn’t happen. Coincidentally, a large private hospital that was recently established in Yanjiao came to the school for recruiting, and offered good pay and conditions. Song was not familiar with Yanjiao. All he had heard was that a lot of migrant workers who can’t afford houses in Beijing have purchased houses there, commuting back and forth everyday. One weekend, Song Bei made a trip to Yanjiao to look around. After taking the Route 930 bus and getting off at “Yanjiao Distillery”, he was astounded by what he saw. Luxurious real estate offices filled both sides of National Highway 102 with the streets littered with [real estate] leaflets and nothing else, all for housing projects. He grabbed a taxi and the base fare was only 5 kuai, far cheaper than that in Beijing. Going around town, he saw that it was bustling and prospering, far more than the county seat that was his own hometown. Returning to his school, he decided to sign the contract with that large hospital, and came to Yanjiao to work.
Soon after, Liu Xiaomin left Baoding and came to Yanjiao, but here she wasn’t able to find work quickly and ended up signing a contract with a hospital in Beijing’s Changping district. And so her nightmarish life began— That hospital required her to come in to work before 8am everyday. ”I had to get up at 5am every day, get dressed, and arrive in front of Fucheng 5th Development to catch the Route 814 public bus. Only after bouncing and swaying [on the bus] for about 40 minutes do I arrive at Guomao [in Beijing]. At Guomao, I transfer to the public bus to the hospital, which is another 40-plus minute ride. Just about everyday I might be late, and if I’m late, I’m penalized [deduction of pay].” Liu said that for over a year, from Monday to Friday, she wasn’t able to see her kid awake, because it would be nearly 9pm when she got home every evening by which time her child was already asleep, while when she wakes up in the morning, her child would still be sound asleep.
Fucheng Fifth Development is a large residential area in Yanjiao, with most residents being among the migrant worker “tribe” who have flocked to Beijing for work. Every morning around 6am is the busiest time for commuters. The queue at the bus stop often goes as long as over 200 meters. Some parents have followed their [adult, working age] children to Yanjiao. In order to let their children sleep just a bit longer, they often come out of their homes to the bus stop and line up for their children, calling their children to hurry and come down only when the bus is about to arrive. Even though there’s a queue, it still gets rather chaotic when people get on the bus. Only when the bus is packed to the brim does it leave. A classic local expression is: people are squeezed until they’re like a picture [squeezed so flat they become 2 dimensional]. Therefore, local residents are not astounded at all when seeing scenes of people during the Spring Festival “Chun Yun” travel season scrambling to get on trains, even climbing in through train windows, because this kind of Chun Yun circus plays out everyday in Yanjiao.
After getting on the bus, passengers who got a seat will take the opportunity to sleep. Those who don’t have a seat can also lean on each other and doze for a bit. Liu says, in winter, the bus is like any train car traveling overnight during Chun Yun, and not at all like what one would imagine a public bus to be like.
These migrant workers who have to commute into another province spend a significant amount of time on the bus everyday. “It doesn’t matter if you are a young and attractive white collar worker or a laborer moving bricks at a construction site, everyone is squeezed together [on the same bus], where you are not only unable to move freely, you can’t even breathe or think freely. The overcrowded bus numbs your emotions as well as freezes time. Sometimes, I too ask myself why I gave up my simple life earning 2000 kuai in a small town and insisted on coming here to suffer like this,” said Liu. A lot of people in Yanjiao have probably asked themselves the same question, but only very few of them have actually ran back to their hometowns. “For us doctors, Beijing has patients from all over the country, the best doctors, and the opportunities to learn and practice are too many. But, I am still not sure if I am living here for my dreams or if its just due to inertia.“
Other than public buses, the transportation choices of many others
Although the public bus is cheap, it’s slow and getting a seat isn’t that easy, requiring both time and stamina. Therefore, people in Yanjiao have started carpooling to survive. Carpooling is popular in many cities in China, but there probably aren’t many places where the carpooling market is as large as it is in Yanjiao. Advertisements for carpooling can be seen on all sorts of classifieds websites or QQ groups. “Meet at Fucheng Fifth Development west entrance, 6:30. Destination: Guomao. 10 yuan per person”. The virtual but ever present internet has become the most important place for Yanjiao people everywhere to connect with each other. Traveling from Yanjiao to Guomao, there are two toll stations on the way. The highway toll is 15 yuan total. The journey itself is about 30 km long. The direct cost for one roundtrip is 40 yuan which, for a private car owner, is definitely not a small expense. Carpooling therefore has become an important way for them to lower the costs of owing a car that also allows them to make friends. “I definitely think carpool is a good idea. It’s much more comfortable and faster than buses. Also, I don’t have to get up so early in the morning so I can sleep that much longer.” ZAKER from Qiqihar told this reporter that every morning at 7:10, he meets his friends at the bus stop on the north side of National Highway 102. Just being able to sleep an extra half an hour has immediately increased his happiness index quite a bit.
On March 1st, this reporter met with commuters who are carpooling. After getting in the car, the driver immediately handed this reporter a business card: “This is my name. If the traffic police stop us, tell them we are friends.” Turns out some carpoolers were stopped for “illegal operation” [as a “black taxi”] by Beijing traffic police in Beijing a while back. Since then, everyone has learned to immediately introduce their names with each other in the car so [when there’s a traffic check] everybody will be on the same page.
During rush hour, apart from public buses and carpooling, there’s yet another travel option for commuters: privately-operated buses. These large passenger buses charge 8 yuan per person, far more pricy than the public bus. Still, when commuters can’t squeeze onto public buses, they will resort to such a transportation option.
Regardless of whether it is the public bus, carpooling, or even “black taxis”, most passengers get off at Guomao, the business center in Beijing, where the headquarters of many companies are concentrated. At the same time, many public bus lines and subways converge here. Commuters from Yanjiao here scatter into various office buildings or embark on the second part of their journey towards various corners of Beijing.
These days, the jobs of Yanjiao residents are no longer limited to the east of Beijing, as there are quite a few residents whose jobs are located in the west of Beijing. Just this month, a privately-operated shuttle bus from Yanjiao to Xizhimen [in west Beijing] was launched specifically to meet the needs of this group of people. A direct route to Xizhimen makes getting to Zhongguancun much more convenient, requiring only one transfer. It seems northwest Beijing residents plagued by high housing prices may also be turning their eyes towards Yanjiao to buy real estate.
For those who buying homes in Yanjiao, many will factor in how convenient it is to get to National Highway 102, the reason being that highway leads to Tongyan highway and this is the only route to go to Beijing for most Yanjiao residents. As a result, the Chaobai River east side of Yanshun Road is extremely congested every morning and evening.
Early in Yanjiao’s development, most real estate projects were situated to the north of National Highway 102, since the south was cut off by railway line. However, as more and more underpasses are opened, this is no longer a problem. Now, the local government is putting great efforts into developing the south of the city. Investors like Hebei Tourism Investment Group and China National Travel Service (HK) Group Corporation are pouring huge amounts of capital into lands that are still currently growing wheat but will be developed for tourism.
These huge investments are made on the premise that Beijing will be focusing on developing Tongzhou New City in the east, and the accelerated construction of the the eastern road network. It’s reported that apart from the National Highway 102 bridge spanning Chaobai River, Yanjiao connecting construction projects such as four more bridges also crossing the Chaobai River as well as the M6 line metro, and high-speed railway lines S3 and S5 are waiting to be launched, with some of them already having made tangible progress.
From public buses to carpools, and then to subways, the roads from Yanjiao to Beijing are increasing in variety and convenience.
Comments from NetEase:
Fucking just what the purpose of life [what exactly is one suffering this for]?
荷大壮 [网易云南省昆明市网友]： (responding to above)
There’s some bullshit here!
Going to Yanjiao to breath the smog for 2000 [RMB] a month! I live in one of the poorest parts of Shandong province and the average salary for a nurse is 2000 and above [per month]. Although it’s a bit poor here, there’s little pressure, good air, and low housing prices.
With well-developed logistics and widespread internet, what’s the problem with living in a smaller city?
I’ve been to Yanjiao that place. To be honest, I didn’t like it at all. That kind of miserable overcrowded life is so hopeless.
Don’t tell me it’s about dreams and what’s ideal, all I want is a real and tranquil life! Being far away from crowds, breathing fresh air, being able to spend the weekends going out with my wife and kids, or going home to see my parents.
Is Beijing so good?
Entering the “imperial city” is like jumping into the sea, where your parents become strangers!
Those people working hard to make a life in Beijing, do you have time to go home? Do you have the means to have your parents stay with you?
What’s the purpose of life?
Tian Tong Yuan and Yanjiao have the most commuters every day and therefore are the most difficult places to commute from in Beijing. Of course, Yanjiao is technically part of Heibei, and thus cannot be considered Beijing, but Tian Tong Yuan at where Beijing’s Chaoyang district and Changping district meet is definitely one of the most difficult places to commute from. It’s indeed the time to expand the transportation infrastructure connecting Tian Tong Yuan to the outside.
Lao Wang starts raising pigs. He has 10 pens. But he’s a bad habit in that he only feeds pen no. 2, 5 and 8. For the rest of the pens, he doesn’t always feed them. Therefore, pen no. 2, 5 and 8 are overcrowded with pigs. People ask him why. He said slowly that because those pens are the nearest, and he’s too lazy to go far!!!