Thursday, October 7, 2010
Rigors of travel -- Chinese style
Next time you're tempted to complain about working too hard or are stuck in an airport waiting for what seems to be an interminable flight delay, you might want to recall Last Train Home, a documentary by Lixin Fan. A resident of Montreal, Fan tells the story of Chinese laborers who attempt to return home to celebrate the lunar New Year. For many of the workers -- there evidently are 130 million of them -- this holiday trip affords a once-a-year opportunity to see relatives, including children who frequently are left in the care of grandparents. Because workers are all trying to travel at the same time, the train system tends to be glutted and waiting for an arriving train produces an atmosphere rife with frustration that can approach near riot conditions. Fan's film focuses on a married couple trying to travel from Guangzhou to their village home. Not only does Last Train Home make clear the ordeals of travel, but it also shows the difficulties that can arise in a family that endures prolonged separations. In this case the couple's teen-age daughter (one of two children) winds up in a confrontation with her father. The parents endure their absentee roles because they believe that they're earning the money that will enable their kids to enjoy a better future. Although there are gaps in the three years the film covers, Last Train Home remains essential viewing for anyone interested a telling look at one aspect of life in contemporary China.