Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Last Train Home

(Canada/China/UK, 2009)

Wiki says the population of China is 1,339,724,852. Over a billion of them don’t travel for the New Year’s holiday, but about 130,000,000 of them do. All at once. It is the biggest migration of humans anywhere on the planet, much bigger than the Hadj, bigger than the mind-boggling gatherings of millions on the banks of the Ganges. Most of them are returning to their villages from their mind-numbing jobs in the cities, and most of them go by train. The train system in China is not nearly up to the task. This amazing and heartbreaking documentary follows one couple over two years, with two trips home to see their daughter who, all her life, has seen them only a few days a year. The hardships to get there will make you weep. If you’ve ever waited overnight in a crowded bus station … you don’t have the faintest idea of what these people go through. They wait for days, standing up, in the rain, shoulder-to-shoulder with the other millions, trying to bribe someone by paying three times the normal ticket price. They live in a dormitory with no walls, work all day sewing jeans for you and me, all of this so their children can get an education and live a better life. And what is the result? Their daughter doesn’t want any part of it. She doesn’t know these people, doesn’t love them. The standard story of the dutiful Chinese child breaks down here. All she wants to do is get out of her beautiful little town—where there is no work—and go to the same shithole city where Mom and Dad work, get a job sewing, and go to nightclubs (where she serves drinks), talk on her cell phone, and buy some nice clothes. It is so, so sad to see what is really behind the Chinese “economic miracle,” and you have to wonder what’s going to happen if and when The People finally get fed up with it. A communist revolution? Could happen, because what they have now, with billionaires and a growing upper class, and a billion with almost nothing, sure ain’t what Mao had in mind.