At first, I didn’t see; now it’s clear
Ten years ago, at age 14, I was in my third year of middle school in northern Hebei province. That was the first time I physically felt an earthquake. The main thing I remember was donating 100 yuan ($16; 13.3 euros; £11.6) to the children of Sichuan. At that time, I had only 5 yuan per day of pocket money for my breakfast.
Ten years later, I stepped on the oncedevastated land as a journalist. At the beginning, it was difficult to find any scars. At first glance, Beichuan county — the worst-hit county during the magnitude-8 Wenchuan earthquake — consisted of unique ethnic architecture interspersed with welldesigned apartment buildings, schools, hospitals and parks. I saw people dancing in the square, walking dogs by the river, playing with kids on the street and dining out in restaurants.
I saw things that this county alone has. I saw things that every other county also has. But no scars of an earthquake. I wondered whether an earthquake had ever really struck this place.
Then I was taken to old Beichuan. The local people told me the new Beichuan was actually called Yongchang, but they were used to the name Beichuan and didn’t want to lose it.
Walking in the ruins, I faced for the first time the moment of the disaster. I saw scattered clothes, cigarette butts, dusty dolls and ropes made of bedsheets to save hundreds of students trapped in a dormitory building at a vocational school. My tour guide told me of the bodies of thousands of victims that were still buried under the ruins, which had become a large cemetery.
I suddenly understood why so many people had told me that even if it were geographically possible to rebuild on the site of the old county, things would never be the same again.
The new Beichuan is a shiny new home in which people can forget their grief and start their lives over again. The old Beichuan serves as a lasting memorial for quake survivors, who can mourn their departed family members and friends. It’s a warning for humans to respect the power of Mother Nature.
When I wandered in the new county again, I looked at every local resident with renewed respect. Reconstructing a whole county within 15 months is a truly extraordinary accomplishment, the likes of which is seldom found in other countries around the world.
Even more inspiring, it seems to me, is playing a role in rebuilding people’s lives. That people here in the new Beichuan county can live normally — as normal as anywhere else — is a miracle.
Their experience shows how weak humans are in a confrontation with nature, and how tough it can be to prevail.
Now I see the earthquake. And I see Beichuan and its people courageously standing up afterward.