Dis­as­ter:

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

Shortly af­ter the quake, Gao Zhi­hong was trans­ferred to Xuzhou, Jiangsu prov­ince, and then Cangzhou in He­bei for treat­ment on her legs. She did not re­turn to Tang­shan un­til 1980.

Gao’s boyfriend broke off their re­la­tion­ship when he learned she would never walk again. “I was des­per­ate, I cried my­self to sleep ev­ery night for sev­eral years,” she said.

At the time, she was un­aware that her fu­ture hus­band was in the same po­si­tion. Yang Yu­fang, then 26, was also par­a­lyzed in the quake, and was sent to larger cities for med­i­cal treat­ment. He found it hard to ac­cept that his life had changed for good.

“When I re­turned to Tang­shan, I put some clothes over my head, so I couldn’t see the de­struc­tion in the city. Also, I was afraid to be seen; I was so ashamed of be­ing crip­pled,” said Yang, whose fa­ther and brother died in the quake.

Although it took a long time, he was even­tu­ally able to ac­cept the re­al­ity of the sit­u­a­tion. “What hap­pened had hap­pened. I couldn’t re­write his­tory. There were only two paths in front ofme— to­live or to die. I chose to live,” he said.

“There was no use be­ing an­gry or re­sent­ful. Once I had cho­sen to live, I had to face re­al­ity, to ac­cept it and make the best of it.”

Although Gao and Yang re­turned to Tang­shan in­de­pen­dently, they both moved into a clinic owned by the city, and met as pa­tients there in 1981.

In the past four decades, more than 1,800 peo­ple par­a­lyzed in the earth­quake have been treated at the clinic, and 120 of them still live there.

In­the 1980s, all col­lege grad­u­ates were as­signed jobs by the gov­ern­ment, and in 1982, when Gao had re­cov­ered, she was given a job as a preschool teacher. De­spite her back­ground as an en­gi­neer­ing ma­jor in col­lege, she was grat­i­fied to be given a teach­ing job.

In those days, col­lege grad­u­ates were seen as real tal­ents andw­ere­often­know­nas “State trea­sures”. Gao still keeps in touch with her col­lege friends. “They are suc­cess­ful and mak­ing their con­tri­bu­tions. They are lead­ers in fac­to­ries, and some are even suc­cess­ful politi­cians. Some­times I envy their suc­cess, but my life is peace­ful and happy,” she said.

She re­mem­bers Aug 15, 1982, her first day at work clearly: “Iwasso ex­cited. Iwas no longer a loser. I had a job and I earned money. I love chil­dren. Some­times when kids cried and would not leave their­mo­mand dad, some par­ents put the child on my legs. Be­cause I could not feel my legs, I never tired of the chil­dren sit­ting on them.”

Once Gao had a job, she took her par­a­lyzed mother un­der her wing. “At first, one ofmy broth­ers took care ofmy mother. He treated her very well, but I some­times wor­ried about him. With­out a job and with a par­a­lyzed mother to look af­ter, what girl would marry him?”

To re­solve the sit­u­a­tion, Gao ar­ranged for her mother to move into the clinic. She has taken care of her ever since.

Gao was so busy teach­ing her stu­dentsand­car­ing for her mother she failed to no­tice that Yang, her fel­low pa­tient, had fallen in love with her. It took three years, but in 1984, they mar­riedand­moved­into a 15-square-me­ter room pro­vided by Gao’s em­ployer.

They still live there. Although they only own a queen-sized bed, a wardrobe, two mo­tor­cy­cles adapted for the dis­abled and two wheel­chairs, the tiny space is packed.

They would like to move to a big­ger place, but money is an ob­sta­cle. “We can feed our­selves but can hardly af­ford a new­house,” Gao said.

Yang earns a liv­ing as an itin­er­ant key-cut­ter, pa­trolling the streets with his tools. He also writes sto­ries and po­ems. Some­times the cou­ple read Yang’s po­ems at home, or share them with pa­tients at the clinic, which they con­sider their sec­ond home, and at me­mo­rial oc­ca­sions.

“I have ex­pe­ri­enced so much. I re­ceived help and love from oth­ers. With­out their help, I would have died long ago. I have so much to say — that’s why I started to write,” Yang said, who has writ­ten a novel and a play about the earth­quake, and both will be pub­lished soon.

“Af­ter I be­came par­a­lyzed, dif­fi­culty and I be­came twins,” Yang said.

Gao echoed his sen­ti­ments: “Some of the things most peo­ple can do in five min­utes take us a lot of ef­fort to ac­com­plish. Los­ing the abil­ity to walk was dev­as­tat­ing, but we are grate­ful be­cause we are alive and we have each other.”

Zhang Yu con­trib­uted to this story

Con­tact the writer at: lu­owang­shu@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Mag­ni­tude: 7.1 Lo­ca­tion: Yushu au­ton­o­mous pre­fec­ture, Qing­hai prov­ince Ca­su­al­ties: 2,698 dead/ 12,000 in­jured Mag­ni­tude: 8.6 Lo­ca­tion: Zayu and Me­dog coun­ties, the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion Ca­su­al­ties: 3,300 dead/260 in­jured Sources: China Earth­quake Ad

Yang Yu­fang, a par­a­lyzed earth­quake sur­vivor

PHO­TOS BY WANG ZHUANGFEI/CHINA DAILY

Although left par­a­lyzed, Yang Yu­fang and his wife Gao Zhi­hong sur­vived the Tang­shan earth­quake.

Left: Deng Yap­ing plays ta­ble ten­nis in her wheel­chair in a lo­cal hospi­tal. Cen­ter: A me­mo­rial to the vic­tims of the 7.8 mag­ni­tude trem­blor. Right: Yang Yu­fang fixes a lock at his home.

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