Technology is taking the stress out of Lunar New Year travel
Across China, hundreds of millions are on the move to celebrate with family and friends, their lives made much easier thanks to modern technology
The proverb “the more things change the more they stay the same” can sound a little tenuous amid the digital revolution. How can things ever be the same? Deep-rooted cultural tradition, however, can weather change with its observance enhanced.
A good example is the Lunar New Year, with hundreds of millions of people in mainland China bound for home returns, family reunions and, increasingly, tourism in the world’s biggest annual mass migration.
Ironically, technology, the driver of change, has come to the rescue to ease a lot of the pain associated with mass national holiday travel, with bullet trains that have restored the appeal of rail against the attraction of air travel that has prevailed in most other places.
Nearly 400 million people are expected to travel by bullet train alone on the nation’s high-speed rail network this new year.
This has been despite the disincentives of rising costs and the ordeal of a long journey on stressed conventional rail and road systems. In the past, snowstorms have closed airports and trapped thousands at train stations while touts have fleeced migrant workers desperate to get home, and increased holiday travel on the mainland’s notoriously dangerous roads has turned what should be the happiest time of the year into tragedy for many.
This year, hi-tech tools like facial recognition will be deployed to supplement mobile payments and web-based apps in reducing queues for tickets and waiting times at railway stations. Hopefully, this will not only enhance the safety and security of the travel experience but also allay concerns at a time of labour shortages that migrant workers will not relish making the return journey.
The return ritual is not entirely impervious to change. More migrant workers than ever have chosen to stay behind in the big cities this year. They will work through the festivities, often in low-paid jobs in which they can earn more for working at this time. Native urban dwellers have them to thank for helping keep big city life ticking over even as productivity across the nation grinds to a halt.