Respectable waves of humanity begin journey for Chinese New Year

Massive waves of humanity were traveling Friday for the Chinese New Year holiday an annual movement of hundreds of millions of people that's much larger than the migration inspired by the Muslim hajj. Travelers bound for home or vacation were streaming into airports, train stations and highways in Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China for the weeklong festival, which begins Sunday when the Lunar New Year starts.

China's government said it expected people would take a total 2 billion journeys including plane, train, ship and automobile trips during the 40 days around the holiday. To avoid the travel crunch, millions of people mostly migrant workers began heading home weeks ago.

Chinese transportation officials estimated that about 4 million people per day would be riding the rails during the monthlong travel period.

In Taiwan, another mass migration was kicking off on the island of 23 million people. About 7.5 million Taiwanese or nearly one-third of the island's population, were traveling home or going on holiday in the next few days, officials said.

"The spring festival is one of the most important festivals of the year, and everyone wants to get home for family reunion as early as possible," said transport minister Kuo Yao-chi.

Highways were expected to be so crowded that only cars taking at least three passengers will be allowed. Mobile toilets were installed along the way for travelers caught in the snarled traffic.

Taking a bathroom break on cramped trains in mainland China can also be difficult. Some savvy travelers were packing adult diapers to avoid queuing outside the often stinking toilets. Diaper sales have been soaring at supermarkets, Chinese media reported this week.

The movement of people dwarfs the hajj, an annual pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia required at least once in a lifetime for able-bodied Muslims who can afford it. The official count for this year's hajj was around 2.3 million pilgrims, but the unregistered participants likely brought it up to more than 3 million.

In Hong Kong, many holiday-makers cheered by a recovering economy have packed up for short getaway trips to the mainland China or abroad. Officials expect 6.5 billion people a number close to the total population of the city to leave or enter the border over the holidays.

Long queues snaked through the city's busy airport Friday morning, as a record 870 flights were expected to depart or arrive up 12 percent from the average daily flight numbers.

The threat of bird flu has been lingering over the holiday, but it hasn't seemed to have forced travelers from canceling their trips. The World Health Organization has not issued travel advisories warning people to avoid all nonessential trips to affected parts of Asia.

The Lunar New Year is also the only time of year when direct flights are permitted between Taiwan and China. Regular direct flights were suspended more than five decades ago when the rivals split amid civil war. Tens of thousands of Taiwanese living in China fly are being allowed to fly home on direct flights.

On Friday, 250 Taiwanese flew to Beijing on a jet decorated with the popular Hello Kitty image.

"There will be terrible traffic jams in Taiwan so I want to spend the new year in Beijing," one woman, who wasn't identified, told Taiwan's TVBS cable news station, reports the AP.


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