Archive for May, 2008

Earthquake, Shanghai (18.05 to 24.05)

May 25, 2008 Leave a comment

For three days, all I got on my room’s TV were scenes of crushed people, rubble and stoic rescuers. The TV replayed footage from the Sichun Earthquake; reporters conducted interviews with survivors, heroes and despairing family; it showed brave rescue attempts by tired volunteers and youngish soldiers.

One afternoon, it highlighted an old man who had arrived at the fringe of the disaster area with a bamboo pole balanced across his shoulders. Water bottles, food and clothes creaked and swayed from both ends of the pole. He was advised to go back by the TV reporter who had spotted him much earlier.

Dejected, he turned back into a speck on the broken tarmac.

She wept.

The TV also dispensed updates on the tent cities dwellers – living in tents because they were afraid of concrete and steel-reinforced buildings, and they had nowhere else to sleep – and updates on people who drove day and night in cars packed with bottled water, tents and instant noodles into Beichun County. Many came from across the country – from the north to the south and in between. Now and then, the TV glared with broken people carried out on stretchers. Often their eyes were covered by white gauze; sometimes they were so shrouded in white cloth that I could tell neither sex nor shape of the corpse.

On the last of the three days, I had dinner with my Shanghainese contact and his wife. They ran a design studio and I was there to discuss work (although for much of the week, I was at play). While on the way to the restaurant, Shanghainese rolled and tumbled out from their SUV’s short-wave radio. My Shanghainese contact (let us call him S); S said, "They’re moving out now."

"Yah." said his wife (let us call her SW). She was seated behind me. "The tents were all sold out. The small, camping tents can’t be used. They need the big army tents. Anyway, they have stocked up on food and water. You’ll need an SUV, like ours to get into Sichuan."

She continued, "I’m actually quite worried for him. Is he going alone?"

"Well, he is going alone from here to Xiamen. But someone’s waiting for him there. So it’s not too bad." answered S. "You need a pass from the army to get into Sichuan now. Otherwise, they will send you back."

It would take a day and a night to drive from Shanghai to Chengdu. S turned to me, he kept his eyes on the road, "They’re going together as a big group to bring food and water to the people there. I think they’ve spent about 2,000 yuan getting all the stuff. You need an SUV like ours to get there. The roads are bad now."

As our car slid into a basement car park, the chatter on the short wave radio turned into hisses and spits. We did not talk about S and SW’s friends in their SUVs and all-night drive after that.

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