Countless Chinese took to the highways last weekend to avoid the crush of train travel. Little did they know what would await them.
Taking a holiday in China can be anything but a vacation. Better adjectives might be exhausting, stressful and even deadly.
Today marks China's annual National Day, celebrating the founding of the Communist Party in 1949. This year, it also follows Sunday's mid-autumn festival, turning what would have been a seven-day "golden week" into eight days. These longer holidays -- there are two a year -- are notoriously disruptive, turning train stations into a massive game of musical chairs as millions fight to get on board. Official reports say that nearly 740 million trips among 85 million travelers will be made this week alone. It is a frustrating time -- train lines wind on for hours if not days and the government's efforts to fix it via an online ticketing and queuing system have only made matters worse: the site crashed from an overload of users and people from time to time got accidentally deleted from the virtual waiting line.
This time, it seemed that driving would be the better option after the government promised, for the first time, toll-free journeys for those traveling with seven or fewer passengers, in an effort to keep traffic from bottle-necking at the tolls. As a result, a slew of additional drivers took to the highways, turning them into miles-long stretches of parking lots this past weekend. The snarl isn't expected to be resolved until midnight today. The state-run Xinhua News reports that it took some travelers nearly an hour to move 1,000 meters.
Web users soon took to Weibo, posting pictures of the gridlock and even humorously taking photos of people walking their dogs as they tried to pass the time. The Chinese press reported that temporary toilets were brought in as well, and some of those stranded on the highway even passed the time by playing a game of tennis. The congestion took a tragic turn early this morning, however. Photos surfaced of a tour bus bursting into flames after hitting a container truck on the Beijing-Tianjin highway. The death toll is now at six, including five Germans and the Chinese driver. Fourteen others were injured.