Empty house, near Yingxiu May 2009 ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn
Yesterday (blogspot runs on American time I think) was the first anniversary of the Sichuan Earthquake. It was an emotional day for me: For one, my daughter turned double-digit and I felt that time was slipping away and that she was getting too big too soon. (I've hopefully got another 9 years with her before she moves away from home so some comfort there). Secondly, the memories from the earthquake last year are still all too fresh and recently accentuated by our visit through the epicenter at Yingxiu.
Paddy and I (tearfully) watched the documentaries and commemoration on Chinese TV and saw how the government eulogized both the victims and their families but also glorified the party and the government's efforts to save lives and make everything right again. Better to concentrate on the positive and not all there still has to be done. Or all of the people that have fallen between the cracks and aren't reached by the enormous state reconstruction apparatus. Every other picture was one of the flag of the Communist Party and or the seal of the PRC. I suppose no different than the number of American flags that were shown after Katrina or 9-11 (Wenchuan and Katrina however were natural disasters with no political agenda). In Sweden we are more discreet in showing our flag and equating disasters and tragedies too closely or patriotically with our government (even after the 1994 MS Estonia tragedy or the 2004 tsunami).
Driving through the quake area the other day I sometimes felt like one of those "morbid tourists" that I wrote about on Feb 2. The TV showed them yesterday too, how Chinese busloads and caravans of cars and motorcycles visit Yingxiu and are guided around amongst the still highly visible ruins by the teenagers and young people that survived the earthquake. In the beginning their guides are cheery and strong and tell how boulders the size of small houses rained down upon their heads and how entire mountains slid into and over the city, crushing and smothering everything in its wake. After a while, when things get more personal and they relate what happened to them and their families and the people around them they break down crying and can hardly continue. It is all still too horrible to think about and I wonder how long these young people - just at the beginning of their lives - will have the energy and emotional balance to keep on talking about something so close to the bone. I hope that they will be able to move on eventually to a life that doesn't revolve around the earthquake everyday. But like victims of any huge disaster or tragedy loosing a large portion of your family is something that will alter your life forever.
As 14.28 crept up on the clock yesterday (the time of the earthquake) I began to feel a little anxious and wanted to have everything in order. I made sure that this year I had already showered and dressed and that I had my shoes on (last year I was still in my pyjamas, lazing about, and that's how I ran out of the house). When 14.28 arrived the commentary on the TV stopped completely and the cameras panned slowing around the epicenter in total silence for one minute. Complete quiet in China is always something particularly peculiar and the effect was very unsettling and moving. It even seemed that the city around me here in Chengdu was quieter than usual, but a look out the window showed me that no, most people were actually going about things as usual, loading cars with goods, bicycling, chatting, talking on their cell phones.
We spent the evening at the Bookworm participating in the earthquake anniversary benefit. As ever my extreme admiration for Peter Goff, the Bookworm staff and ALL people, too numerous to mention, Chinese and foreign, that have helped out at Sichuan Quake Relief over the past 12 months, finding earthquake victims who have "fallen between the cracks" and helping them in ways both big and small. Within just a day of the earthquake their relief efforts began and they are still going on, with numerous short and long term projects that really make a difference in people's lives. All profits from last night went directly to quake relief projects. (Burton and his band Ze Puppies played too and everyone sang Happy Birthday to Emy, thanks for the yummy cake Kim Dallas!). Last night was also the release of Abigail Washburn's (of Sparrow Quartet fame) and David Liang's CD Afterquake. The CD mixes the actual sounds of the rebuilding with the voices of relocated school children, talking and singing. Truly moving. More here.
The Sichuan government, sister provinces and cities all over China, and the enormous efforts of all people in the quake areas have also accomplished a truly heroic amount of reconstruction this past year. There is so much to do it just seems so overwhelming...you are all TRULY AMAZING.
Lest we forget: The Wenchuan Earthquake killed up to 90,000 people, injured 400,000 and made 5 million people homeless (5 million is the entire population of Denmark). A tragedy of this proportion can't be put to right over night, work will go on for many, many years so please remember how people still need our help and support.