Rail journeys: Second-class camaraderie

FOR THE past two weeks, nearly all of China was on the move, as hundreds of millions of people made the journey home for their New Year celebrations. According to official figures, 2013 will have seen a record-breaking 3.41 billion passenger trips during its 40-day Spring Festival travel season. Of those many travellers, 225m—equivalent to the total populations of Germany, France, and the United Kingdom—will have taken a train within China this month.

Chinese travellers queue up early each year to secure tickets on the more popular routes. The government has enacted measures to combat ticket-scalping. Some enterprising buyers have found high-tech hacks to solve the perennial problem of getting a ride home.

Thirty-six hours is the lifespan of the adult Mayfly. It is the average work week (plus one hour of overtime) in France. It is the name of a 1965 film starring James Garner. It is also an incredibly long time to spend on a train. In the midst of the Lunar New Year rush, your correspondent is travelling 36 hours by rail from Beijing to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, in China’s south-west.