Sunday, February 3, 2008

Kung Hey Rat Choi!

Rubbish when wet and on the road, trodden down by thousands, turns grey and mushy. It was smeared thick on the unseasonably chilly streets of Guangzhou yesterday when I rocked up to gawp at the stunning volume of folk heading to the city’s main train station ahead of the Spring Festival.

The perfect storm had descended upon the world’s most populous nation just as people were turning their attention to the week-long holidays. The worst snow storms for more than 50 years wreaked havoc to the already strained Chinese transport system, just as the biggest human migration was about to get underway – where millions upon millions of Chinese head home from their factories, offices, farms for a well earned rest.

The taxi driver took me as far as he could. About one kilometer from the station barriers had been erected and swarms of police funneled the pedestrians from there on in. Looking ahead the street, Hua Shi Lu, was just jammed – a sea of people pushed, heaved, shimmied and shuffled their way forward, the swarms of cops becoming battalions – I’d never seen so much bacon in one place.

Barriers ensured progress was slow and irritation was high.

Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers had passed before me desperate to get home and still, with just a couple of days to go authorities estimated two million more had to process through the station.

An errant banker might have squandered €4.7bn in Paris a week earlier and the Federal Reserve may well have been slashing interest rates quicker than Freddie Kruger but the real story affecting the world economy these past days has been the frayed Chinese transport system. The engine of the world has blown a gasket and really it’s hardly surprising. Latest World Bank figures show that a quarter of all rail movements – both freight and passenger – take place in China on just 6% of the world’s tracks. Manufacturers here are on edge. Wait till they see how the Beijing Olympics messes with their crucial Christmas deliveries this August. At least then it will be hotter, though that’ll make the sodden, trodden trash wreak more.

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