NANJING, Jan. 28 -- Luo Hengdi arrived home at 3 a.m. on Tuesday after an epic journey that typified the annual travails of millions of Chinese migrant laborers in seeing loved ones over Spring Festival.
The 2,000-km trip from Nanjing in east China's Jiangsu Province to his hometown in southwestern Sichuan Province took exactly 36 hours. With Luo's permission, Xinhua reporters accompanied him throughout the bulk of his trip to witness his bittersweet journey home.
In 2003, Luo, now 51, left his life of peasantry in the countryside to further his livelihood and that of his family back home by working as a carpenter in the city. Since then, he has labored in temporary jobs at construction sites in Wuhu, a small city in the eastern province of Anhui.
Going home was costly and time-consuming, so he did so only once every 12 months, on the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year. This year, the new year begins on Jan. 31.
But his heart was torn between his wife and 10-year-old daughter at home, and his grown-up son who works as a chef in Nanjing.
He was particularly disappointed that his son, Luo Heng, was not going home with him this year: the young man had decided to spend the new year with his in-laws in Anhui.
Eager to see his son and his nine-month-old granddaughter, Luo took a bus to Nanjing on Saturday, a day before he traveled home, and spent a night with them.
Luo cuddled the baby girl all the while and posed for photos with her. "My wife and daughter have never met her," he said. "It's a pity I cannot bring her home, so I can only show them her pictures."
After he waved goodbye to his son's family, Luo boarded a train from Nanjing to Chengdu on Sunday afternoon. It was there that he was joined by Xinhua reporters.
The train carried 1,140 passengers when it left Nanjing. Luo was among some 200 passengers who had no seat -- as demand for tickets far exceeded the train's capacity, extra tickets were sold for the same price of 244 yuan, but with no seat. These ticket holders could only stand or crouch in the aisles or near toilets.
After a few stops at major stations, the number of passengers topped 1,800 and most carriages were overloaded. The majority of the passengers were migrant workers from Sichuan, just like Luo.
Theirs was a common fate among Chinese migrating during the 40-day holiday travel rush which began on Jan. 16, a period that will witness an estimated 3.6 billion passenger trips by train, air, ship and buses.
About 257.8 million of the trips will be made by train, and it is forecast that daily passenger transport will top 10 million journeys on the busiest days.
Luo, a seasoned traveler, knew the tips to make his trip more comfortable: at dinner time, he stumbled along the crowded aisles toward the dining car, where he could have a decent meal before sleeping away many hours at the table.
The dining car was only five carriages apart from where he was, but it took him at least 40 minutes to get there. Every now and again, he tripped over luggage or people.
He sat down at the dining car table and read the menu. Most hot dishes were sold for 20 to 30 yuan each. "That's too expensive," he complained, finally ordering just one dish and some rice.
Hard work and irregular eating habits have led to deteriorations in his health, and he had stomach surgery in 2003.
Following the meal, Luo bent over the table and slept until 5 a.m. on Monday. He walked back to his carriage, found a quiet corner and sat motionless on the floor until the train arrived at Chengdu East Station at around 6 p.m..
By then, he had traveled 26 hours by rail.
After he got off the train, Luo took the subway to a bus terminal near another train station in the northern suburbs of Chengdu. On all his previous trips, Luo had taken buses from there to his home county of Longchang. This year, however, things were not the same.
"The workers at the terminal said buses to Longchang did not go from here any more," he said. "They said I had to travel to another bus terminal, or wait until tomorrow to try my luck here."
Luo decided he could not wait. He jumped back on the subway and returned to Chengdu East Station, where he bought a ticket for a slow train from Chengdu to Longchang that night.
The five-hour train ride got him to the Longchang county seat at 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday.
It was foggy outside. Several taxi drivers were waiting for business, but none were willing to take Luo and his huge luggage that weighed at least 30 kg to the countryside in the misty weather.
Eventually, he had to offer nearly three times the standard fare to persuade a driver to take him home. The 10-km ride cost him 40 yuan.
It was 3 a.m. when Luo arrived home in Guangcan Village of Jin'e Township. He didn't have to knock on the door too hard; his wife had been waiting all the while.
After he put his luggage down, he took out the stuffed toy and crayons he had bought for his daughter and left the gifts at her bedside table. The girl was fast asleep.
His wife cooked him a quick meal: a hot bowl of soup with vegetables and eggs.
Luo sipped the soup, and smiled for the first time after leaving his son in Nanjing. "So it's been another year," he sighed as he took out his cell phone and showed his wife pictures of their granddaughter.
From Wuhu to Nanjing and further on to Sichuan, Luo covered more than 2,000 km across three days. "It's worth the trouble as long as I can get home," he said. "I hope we'll have a big family gathering next year."