To celebrate Spring Festival, Wang Li's family used to build a campfire in the middle of the house. Sitting by the fire, the parents and children shared candies and snacks and told each other stories and riddles.
It became Wang's most cherished Spring Festival memory and the favorite time of the year for her and her siblings when they were young.
"It is our family tradition … my dad is so good at telling old-time stories," she said. "I thought mom and dad were so impressive with the way they always had difficult riddles for us."
Wang is from a village in Zhaoping, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. Her family lived in a house on a ranch but relocated to a new apartment down the hill in 2014. Lighting a fire in the apartment is forbidden for safety reasons, so the family now places a brazier in the center of the living room during the holiday to carry on its tradition.
However, Wang, 25, has missed her "treasured" moment for the past three years, ever since joining Air China, China's national flag carrier. She works for its ground service department in Beijing, more than 1,200 kilometers from her campfire.
This year was Wang's third Spring Festival in the capital, ensuring passengers were able to travel home safe and sound. Thousands of other civil aviation workers were also unable to join their own family reunions for the same reason.
Air China organized a livestreamed Spring Festival gala to entertain the employees and Wang's department placed some snacks in the employee lounge for them to have during breaks from their busy work schedule.
"Before work, it never occurred to me that I would be away from home during Spring Festival－not accompanying mom and dad," she said. "It is a very important holiday for all Chinese people, including me… I did not really see the meaning of the word 'reunion' because I was young and never away from home for a long time. But now, when I am hundreds of kilometers away from home, I understand the word and think I should cherish 'reunion' more."
But while she regrets being absent from the family reunion, being able to serve people and help them join their own family reunions makes her very proud.
Wang now works at the airline's ticket office at Beijing Capital International Airport, where she has learned to solve customers' problems by looking at things from their perspective.
"For instance, if a flight is canceled and no other flight is arranged on the same day, passengers will be anxious and ask airline employees to provide a solution … what we can do is to come up with a solution from the passengers' perspective and try our best to ensure the backup plan works," she said, adding that it is a challenge to calm worried customers and have them listen to her advice.
"My supervisor is very good at solving passengers' problems and handling emergency situations," she said. "After her solution, customers can gradually calm down and listen to her, and usually accept her advice."
She said that skill relied on a full understanding of the airline's operation and devotion to serving passengers.
Wang has been working at the ticket office for three months after spells working at boarding gates and check-in counters.
During the COVID-19 epidemic, she has had to be more patient and explain disease control and prevention protocols to travelers, such as helping some obtain health codes to board flights, especially elderly ones who are not familiar with the use of smartphones. A green health code is usually a requirement for travel.
She also explains local epidemic control policies to passengers. Sometimes, when travelers cannot make the journey because of such policies, Wang and her colleagues have to explain the details and comfort the passengers.
Wang and her colleagues are required to wear protective face masks, goggles and gloves all the time at work. After a day's work, marks are sometimes left to her face from the hours spent wearing a mask and goggles.
The work was challenging even before the epidemic, Wang said, adding she hopes the virus can be vanquished soon and people can return to normal life, allowing more people to go home for Spring Festival reunions.
Wang worked an early shift finishing at 2pm on Thursday, which was Lunar New Year's Eve, and was looking forward to calling home.
"I can call my family and join them in celebrating the festival via the internet after my shift," she said.