As the G402 high-speed train pulls into Xinxiang East station in central China’s Henan Province, Li Xiang, who’s been waiting on the platform, trots down to coach No.13 with a lunch-box.
Li works at the railway station. His wife, Zou Xiaojuan, is on the train at the moment. She is not a passenger but in charge of catering services on board.
During this year’s Spring Festival travel rush, or Chunyun, an estimated 413.3 million train trips will be made as people head home for the most important family gathering of the year.
Railway passenger trips in China rose 8.6 percent year on year to 143 million during the first 15 days of the annual travel rush, which started from Jan 21 and will last till March 1.
The G402 high-speed train from the southwest China city of Guiyang to Beijing stops at Xinxiang every five days, each time for no more than two minutes.
It’s the longest time the young couple spend together at work.
Li hands the lunch-box to his wife after guiding passengers on and off the train. Zou, in return, gives Li a “finger heart” by crossing her thumb and index fingers while no one’s watching. It’s a touching scene.
The two-minutes is bittersweet, the small lunch-box becoming a symbol of their love.
The romance began with an encounter when Zou Xiaojuan wearing her uniform, was commuting by train via Xinxiang East station and drew Li’s attention.
“I’ll never forget the day we met,” Li said. It was Dec 6, 2014, and he was supposed to get a day off but stood in for a sick colleague. Following standard procedures, Li made inquiries with Zou, who happened to be standing by his side.
“Is everything fine?” he asked.
“Yep, all going well,” she replied.
Just pleasantries perhaps, but Li remembered her name and where she worked. They became friends. Once in a chat, Zou said that she had never tried the spicy noodles, the local cuisine, even after so many stops at Xinxiang.
When Zou stopped at the station next, she found a thermal bag that contained spicy noodles at the door of the train. Li had been listening. She did not open the bag until after work, but the cool noodles warmed her heart.
“Our encounter is full of coincidences, which coincidentally put us together,” Li said. After the two met, Zou worked on many high-speed trains on different routes because of staff transfers, but everyone would make a stop at Xinxiang. Each time when the train stopped at the platform, there was a red thermal bag quietly placed at her door.
To ensure his wife eats well, Li has learned to cook. Spicy noodles have been replaced by fried rice, fried noodles and pumpkin soup.
Due to the increasing density of rail networks, the time for the G402 high-speed train to stop at Xinxiang East station was cut from six minutes in 2016 to two in 2019.
Each one of the couple has responsibilities of his or her own in this two minutes. Zou is required to station at the door while Li has to serve the passengers. No contact is made other than picking up the bag through the door.
Sometimes the two get so busy that they even don’t have time to meet. In such cases, Li leaves the bag by the door, while his wife pulls down the window shade to the upper third — it is their “missing-you” code.