For quake victims, a dose of joy
DUJIANGYAN, China -- In a narrow alleyway, family and friends enjoyed a special dinner of fish, duck and pork as they watched Friday night’s Olympic opening ceremony on television. They’d been waiting years for this night, but cast against a brutally trying few months, the celebration also serves as a welcome distraction.
Ke Hong, clutching a bottle of wine, had been enjoying the night enough for all of China. His Olympic spirit, in fact, might have resulted in a headache the next morning.
As an area patrolman, Ke works here in Dujiangyan. His family, however, has lived for years in a village near the epicenter of the horrendous earthquake that devastated this region just three months ago. Eight of Ke’s relatives died. Like all of his neighbors here, he lost his home and has been residing the past couple of months in a makeshift refugee camp.
“China is so strong to host the Olympic Games,” he said, waving the half-empty bottle of wine. “Now I can see the future for China and for myself! We have the confidence to rebuild our home.”
In Beijing, fireworks filled the sky and revelry filled the streets. But the party surrounding the opening ceremony was hardly limited to the capital. More than 900 miles away, in Sichuan province, an area racked by grief and accustomed to loss found reason to rejoice -- even if the kickoff to these Games did highlight disparity.
Since the May 12 earthquake, $10 billion has been devoted to relief and reconstruction efforts, a figure that pales in comparison to the money China has spent preparing for the Olympics over the last decade. When the medals are handed out and the dust settles, the price tag on these Games will likely exceed $44 billion.
The toll related to the earthquake is staggering: about 70,000 dead, 375,000 injured and more than 5 million left homeless.
While the world casts its eyes on Beijing these next 16 days, Dujiangyan is worth remembering. Flags hang from light poles across town, the white ones reading “Let’s rebuild our homeland” and the red, “We’ll wish the Beijing Olympics good luck.”
Not far from the eastern entrance into town, a hospital, seemingly post-apocalyptic, stands barren. The windows and doors are all gone. Every room has been gutted, and the floors are littered with rubble and trash, shoes without mates and even a teddy bear.
In front, blue and green tents offer temporary medical services. Sitting at an old wooden table, Ty Quiong Yin, a 72-year-old grandmother who lost her home in the disaster, lists her ailments for Dr. Wang Zhuang. Wang was working on the third floor when China began to shake.
“When the earthquake happened, the ground went up and down, up and down,” he said, “and then from left to right. The stairway broke and collapsed.” He says the hospital was evacuated and no one was seriously hurt.
In the urban area of the city, there are 14 “resettlement” villages that house refugees, estimated at more than 50,000 for Dujiangyan alone. Xingfu Jiayuan -- which roughly translates to “Happiness Homeland” -- is the second-largest, housing about 7,000 people in 2,200 units.
While television antennas extend from bamboo poles atop many buildings, the entire community was outfitted this week with cable. The area’s director, Yang Zhong Ming, wanted everyone to have access to the Olympic Games, but Friday morning, a portion of Xingfu Jiayuan was stuck with snowy stations.
But Lin Jing He -- the cable guy -- showed up in the afternoon. In nearby Chengdu -- as in most of the country’s major cities -- a giant clock has been counting down to the opening ceremony. As Lin screwed a white cable into a television in the common room, an Olympic news report began flashing on the screen. The countdown clock in Chengdu would have read 4 hours, 4 minutes.
Yang, the area director, knows profound loss -- his grandson died in the quake. But he speaks mostly of rebirth.
“There’s much excitement about the Olympics,” he promises.
Four hours later, that would become very evident. As the sun set on Dujiangyan, that excitement began to stir into a near-frenzy. News of the Games was broadcast on outdoor speakers throughout the resettlement area. A half-hour before the opening ceremony, televisions were already tuned in row upon row of small homes, and those without TVs began filling the empty seats in the common areas to watch together.
“We are so excited,” said Peng Ding Hua, 59. “We skipped supper.”
Across the courtyard is another common area where more than three dozen gathered, their collective gaze fixed on a single TV set. In the middle of the room sat 58-year-old Yang Zhong Kang, clapping. In May, the earthquake took her home and nearly her life. Yang was in another building, one that stood four stories tall, when she felt the rumbling.
“I dashed out of the building and I just narrowly escaped,” she said. “It was just like a movie.”
And now she lives here. She used the word “fortunate” to describe herself and all of China to be hosting these Games.
At 8:08 p.m., the opening ceremony officially began in Beijing. More than 900 miles away, a roomful of refugees rose from their seats in awe.
They’d spent three months feeling sorrow; these next couple of weeks are reserved for joy, they say.
“Even the earthquake cannot stop the people from enjoying these Olympics,” Yang said.