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Volunteers embark on journey of self-discovery
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08:09, May 27, 2008

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Messy hair, flashy chains, trendy T-shirts and low-slung jeans had long defined Zhang Qian as a typical spoiled, only child - a rebel without a cause.

After the quake on May 12, he has found a cause - and the rebel in him changed.

A five-day trip to Yingxiu, one of the worst-hit areas, transformed his life, the 25-year-old said emotionally as he pounded the table in between deep drags of cigarette smoke a week after he returned to Chengdu.

"I was determined to walk into Wenchuan, the epicenter, just hours after the quake," the pet-shop owner recalled.

"I didn't know why - I simply felt that it had to be done, and if I hadn't done anything then, it would have haunted me for the rest of my life."

On the night of May 12, communications broke down in Chengdu. Many slept on the streets; others went around town seeking help. Zhang left his cats and dogs behind, bought two bags of biscuits, water and medicine, and started walking toward Wenchuan.

More than a day later, he was within reach of Yingxiu - about 100 km from Chengdu - along with 11 volunteers he had met on journey. Among them were seven from other provinces who drove as far as the roads would allow and then started trekking.

They walked for 10 km along the cliffs to a temporary ferry terminal, where tents were being put up by the first batch of rescuers and soldiers.

When they returned days later, only one of the seven vehicles remained intact; five were smashed by rocks, and one fell into a valley.

"We were not afraid," Zhang said. "So many soldiers and rescuers, who were just as young as us, or even younger, were fixing roads, saving people - what reasons did we have to back out?"

But as the group attempted to proceed to Wenchuan, a landslide separated three of them from the group, who had to stay near the ferry point for three days before roads were cleared.

During the three days, the nine - eight of them younger than 25 and with less than three years of work experience each - helped carry packages of medicine and disinfectants to a hilltop village about an hour's walk from the ferry point, and helped in handling corpses.

With the help of You, a nurse in her 30s who was part of the group, they even set up a temporary medical tent - the only one around the ferry point until May 18 - where they provided first aid to hundreds of wounded villagers and soldiers with bandages, alcohol and cotton pads.

Fatty Wang, a 22-year-old office worker from Henan and one of the nine volunteers, said: "The scenes absolutely shocked me. I had been picturing the many heroic things I would do; but in the end, there was little we could do to help.

"And in those anxious hours, we were extremely worried about our three comrades, who we had just met but felt an instant connection with. As we treated the Wenchuan villagers who walked out of the dead, I kept wondering where they were."

On May 18, the nine eventually entered Yingxiu, where they met the other three who took shelter in a crowded tent by a bridge.

That evening, all of them retreated to Dujiangyan, where they hugged each other and bid farewell in tears.

"We couldn't possibly go to Wenchuan through those cliffs it was much more judicious to stay in Yingxiu where we could help people in need, instead of marching in alone and creating trouble for rescuers," Zhang said.

The young man, who lost 11 kg and all his business, stressed that the catastrophe "has offered new ground for unity and self-identity - all of a sudden, I feel I truly know who and where I am."

Source: China Daily



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