Thursday, 12 May 2011

Mixed Feelings Three Years On

It's the third anniversary of the Beichuan earthquake in Sichuan province that killed some 20,000 people.

The media are showing amazing pictures of how the town was destroyed and three years later is almost completely rebuilt.

The place has now become a tourism destination, with tour buses showing visitors a memorial park which are keeping the souvenir shops and restaurants busy.

Because of the earthquake, the reconstruction of the area has led to the establishment of more than 200 shops, from food outlets to jewellery stores, creating some 4,000 new jobs.

One resident, Wang Chengyi used to do odd jobs and now runs a Qiang-style restaurant with his brother. "Honestly life is easier after the earthquake," he said. "I don't need to go out working for others."

He said he earned between 6,000 RMB to 8,000 RMB ($923-$1,230) per month, about average for the over 20 restaurants in the area.

But for those who lost their loved ones in the 9.0-quake, they are still trying to heal their wounds. On Monday some parents whose children died at Beichuan Middle School tried to meet with Premier Wen Jiabao, who was affectionately known as "Grandpa Wen" during the rescue efforts. They are still demanding an investigation as to why so many schools collapsed while others nearby were still standing; however they were monitored by security officials, making it difficult for them to meet with the premier and hand over their petition.

Meanwhile some parents have successfully had babies since the quake, some 700 of them to replace the child they lost.

One parent, Zhu Huayin, 40, lost his son who was eight and daughter, 16, in the school collapses.

"I went to the schools many times but nothing came out of it," he said. "Eventually I accepted compensation of 30,000 RMB ($4,616) and gave up."

Six months after the quake he married a woman who had also lost her spouse and now the couple has an 18-month-old daughter. There will be a small generation of children with much older parents because of what happened three years ago.

While they are lucky, there are those who have tried to have another child and have had miscarriages, blaming it on the high levels of formaldehyde in their prefabricated emergency housing or on the poor living conditions and intense pressure to conceive again.

The government had hoped having another child would diffuse parents' anger, but there are those still wanting justice.

Xiong Yonghao lost his 11-year-old daughter in the quake. He even went to Beijing to file a petition and demanded an investigation into the shoddy construction of schools in the quake-hit area, but got no response.

"We got no feedback. The letter was like a stone lost in the sea," he said. He has also contacted lawyers in Beijing to take on his case, but no one would, owing to the sensitive nature. "It's never about money," Xiong said. "We don't want compensation. We want justice."

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