Time to report on the train journey I went on the other day. To recap, around two hundred million Chinese people have been going home for the Chinese New Year. It's the world's biggest annual migration of people.
My colleague, Dandan Chen, and I began our journey late at night at Beijing West Railway Station with tickets on carriage 10 of the L43 train to southern China (our tickets cost 115 rmb or $17 US.)
[UPDATE, 15:55PM: Click here to see audio slide show of the migrant journey.]
It was a scramble to get on board. Not everyone made it onto the right train. Just before we left, the on board announcer broadcast a special call to one passenger.
"Your friend says you're on the wrong train. You need to get on the train on the opposite platform," the announcer said in an even voice. Everyone in the carriage laughed.
In the seconds before the train left, there was a bit of panic. Several passengers tried to jump onto the train - but were pushed off by a female steward. She was doing them a favour - it turns out that they were trying to get onto the wrong train. It was a common mistake at a station whose departure board advertised 151 trains.
At 12.41am - exactly on time - our train left with a judder. Some people had seats, or bunks. Others stood in the aisle. One family crouched in between carriages.
"Once we got onto the train, we spotted this little space," said Wang Yingdi, "So we rushed to occupy it. Last night I had to hold my daughter in the cold. This journey is a very painful experience. But if we don't go home, we'll miss our parents. After all, this is the only chance we get to reunite with our families."
Her eight-year-old daughter, Yi Liping, didn't seem to mind the discomfort too much, "I like the train because I can see the scenery," she said.
Many passengers on board train L43 were migrant workers going home for the first time in a year. In recent years, more than 200 million workers have left their homes in the countryside in search of work in cities - often as construction workers. But China's now been hit by the world's economic crisis. So, millions of these migrant workers have now lost their jobs.
"There's no work at home," said Yan Fumin, sitting in carriage three, "So I have to go out to find a job - wherever I can. But the competition is getting tougher - people are offering to work for low wages. I have three children at school. If I don't go out to work, where will I get the money to support them?"
"This last month I could only get a dozen days' work - much less than before," said Li Deyi, sitting opposite, "It is very bad. I can't get enough work. I can only bring home 1000 rmb this year ($145 US). I can barely have a good new year. I'm a farmer but the crop prices are very low. So we have to go out to get any work we can find."
At night most people on board tried to sleep (I was lucky enough to get a few hours sleep on a spare bunk - but woke up with frozen feet.)
In the morning, a restaurant car sold breakfast for 30 rmb ($4US). But most people brought their own supplies of nuts and instant noodles. The train was kept clean by stewards who swept the floors every hour or so. Many passengers spent their time playing poker or listening to music on their mobile phones. Some watched DVDs on a laptop computer. One woman dozed for hours on a luggage rack.
After 17 hours, my colleague and I got out at a station in the Hubei province. I was semi-grubby, with recently thawed feet. Would I do it again? In an instant.
PS - I can safely quash the urban legend that passengers on these trips have to wear astronaut-style diapers because of a lack of toilet facilities (a point of extreme fascination to people I spoke to when we first suggested doing this journey). I can state that train L43 had plenty of loos which were all kept very clean.