More than migration: Journeying home for the Chinese New Year
Updated 16:34, 02-Feb-2019
Omar Khan
01:34

Just over a week ago, I sat on the back of a motorbike, zipping across south China with 19-year-old migrant worker Mo Youjian heading from Guangdong Province to neighboring Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. 

To some, this may sound like a thrill ride, but for the hundreds of thousands of workers that make this journey home each year for the Spring Festival holiday, it's simply routine.

This week, and much to my approval, I joined a family of four driving home from Beijing to central China's Henan Province. 

CGTN's team on its way from Beijing to Xinyang, a small town in central China's Henan Province. /CGTN Photo

CGTN's team on its way from Beijing to Xinyang, a small town in central China's Henan Province. /CGTN Photo

They come from a small town called Xinyang, some 1,000 kilometers away from the nation's capital. And despite the longer distance compared to my previous "migration participation," this time around the story is rather different.

Luo Shixin is a 27-year-old operations engineer, who came to Beijing nearly seven years ago after graduating back in his hometown. 

Similar to many people across China, his decision to uproot his life to a metropolitan city was perhaps the only shot at a better future. With him in Beijing lives his wife, Wang Huihui, who's now three months pregnant. 

Not too far away live Shixin's parents, in a tiny company dorm situated in western Beijing.

CGTN's Omar Khan (4th L) with Luo Shixin's family from Xinyang, central China's Henan Province. /CGTN Photo

CGTN's Omar Khan (4th L) with Luo Shixin's family from Xinyang, central China's Henan Province. /CGTN Photo

From the outset, I noticed that the Luo's were a quiet bunch, soft-spoken yet very polite. They expressed both a sense of excitement and cautiousness when it came to our upcoming road-trip, one that would include a modified van with two-fitted cameras, a cameraman, two technicians, a driver, and of course myself. 

A handful of strangers driving them home for what's recognized as the most family oriented and important holiday in China. Awkward, to say the least.

Traditional Henan cuisine at Luo's family reunion dinner in Xinyang, central China's Henan Province. /CGTN Photo

Traditional Henan cuisine at Luo's family reunion dinner in Xinyang, central China's Henan Province. /CGTN Photo

With the family split across three vehicles, we began our journey at 6 a.m. sharp, driving south and into northern Hebei Province. 

For Huihui, expecting her first child later this year, it would be a long and tiring ride. I can recall only a handful of times that she showed a smile. Most of the time she grimaced, trying to deal with car sickness and obvious factors. 

Shixin, on the other hand, was quiet, but willing to converse as I tried to dig in deeper about his past, family and future outlook.

CGTN's Omar Khan (C) with two kids from Luo's family, each wearing a Peppa Pig sweater to mark the celebrations for the upcoming Year of the Pig in China. /CGTN Photo

CGTN's Omar Khan (C) with two kids from Luo's family, each wearing a Peppa Pig sweater to mark the celebrations for the upcoming Year of the Pig in China. /CGTN Photo

Two TV broadcasts and several pit stops later, we realized that we were behind schedule. By that time, I'd also come to terms with the fact that this family really just wanted to get home, in one piece and with some energy left to enjoy a delayed family reunion. 

We drove through nightfall, went live for one final time and bid farewell to our viewers. Around 9 p.m. we had finally made it to Luo's family home in Xinyang.

But it's only once I walked into their home that I realized my actual experience of taking part in the world's largest human migration and homecoming process, would come to fruition, and it would all be off the record, with no camera in sight.

CGTN's Omar Khan (L) raising a toast with Luo's father in Xinyang, central China's Henan Province. /CGTN Photo

CGTN's Omar Khan (L) raising a toast with Luo's father in Xinyang, central China's Henan Province. /CGTN Photo

With the rest of the CGTN crew back at the hotel, I indulged in homemade Henan cuisine, including rainbow-colored dumplings stuffed with vegetables and lamb, steamed greens, deep-fried fish and of course, several mouthfuls of Chinese Baijiu (liquor). 

Aside from the lovely meal, I had the chance to meet the rest of the Luo family, and even extended relatives. They'd all been watching our journey on TV throughout the day, perhaps our biggest fans. And even though I was the first foreigner to ever step foot into their home, they didn't treat the circumstances as if there was an outsider intruding. I've felt this before, a sense of caution and adjusted behavior. 

But this time around it was as if the family was expecting my arrival. Truly an unexpected conclusion to a drive that at some moments lacked excitement and eventfulness.

Rainbow-colored dumplings in different flavors at Luo's family reunion dinner in Xinyang, central China's Henan Province. /CGTN Photo

Rainbow-colored dumplings in different flavors at Luo's family reunion dinner in Xinyang, central China's Henan Province. /CGTN Photo

In hindsight, however, this is exactly what the Spring Festival is about. 

One can put it this way, a long, grueling (annoying) journey home… all for it to pay off with the comforts of one's family and quality time. 

In this sense, not only did I shadow the Luo's returning home but I also became one of them, and one of the millions of others that traverse far and wide to be home with loved ones.