Hey, where is everybody?

Ever risked being unable to buy a plane or train ticket home for, say, Christmas because the demand was great and you waited too long? Then you can imagine the trepidation with which two Chinese migrant workers – we'll call them Zhang and Li – approached the matter of transportation home from wintry Shanxi Province to Beijing for the Lunar New Year holiday. It would be their only opportunity to visit their families, but at best they expected to settle for standing room. Given the crowds, the slow pace of the trains – on a bad day the trip can take 16 hours – and the difficulty of managing both baggage and the gifts they'd be carrying, it didn't figure to be a relaxing ride. And it wasn't, but not for the reasons they expected. According to reports, Zhang and Li boarded Train L342 just before it pulled out of the station and discovered to their amazement that finding a place to sit would be no problem. Not only could each have a seat, but others were available for their belongings and the gifts. The two travelers for whom there was no space on any regular train to Beijing turned out to be the only passengers on what was intended as a backup. So what did they have to complain about? Well, the heating system wasn't working properly and neither were the lights. They rode in what could best be described as cold comfort and, each time the train went through a tunnel, total darkness. No news of their return trip, which presumably was more – ah – normal.

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