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A year after quake, grief remains, hope regained in China's Sichuan
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19:51, May 12, 2009

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· Anniversary of May 12 Quake
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Huang Changrong still has that faraway look on her face.

From time to time, she'd wonder who that two-month-old baby is: has the time machine reversed and brought her back to the days when she was still a young mother, or is it the grandchild she never met?

Exactly a year ago, Huang lost her daughter in the devastating earthquake that destroyed their homes in Mianzhu City of southwest China's Sichuan Province.

"Had she not been pregnant, she'd have easily survived. She used to be so agile," Huang said. Her daughter, 22, was to give birth in three months when she was caught in the rubble of her fourth-story apartment building.

Now at 42, Huang became mother again. She constantly got confused, thinking it was actually her grandchild.

The baby son has come as a pleasant surprise, as well as a headache for Huang and her husband Wang Xinglin, 48. "When he grows up and gets married, we'll be nearly 70 -- too old to help him build home or bring up his children," said Huang.

In China, particularly the countryside, parents feel it's their duty to finance the weddings and new homes of grown-up sons and take care of grandchildren.


As the nation mourned the victims of the earthquake and stepped up building of new homes and safer schools in the quake zones Tuesday, bereaved families relived their nightmarish past.

For many, the trauma takes a lifetime to heal. Zhao Rong seemed to have forgotten about her son when she said smilingly she hoped to have a new baby.

"This time I want a girl, because I already have a good boy," said Zhao, 35. Her smile gave way to sadness at the memory of her eight-year-old son, a second grader whose body was never found in the rubble of a toppled school building.

The boy and his father were among nearly 18,000 people listed as missing in Beichuan, a county that perished under collapsed mountains during the quake.

The old county seat was deserted after the quake but reopened to mourners for four days since Sunday.

Not far off, the bustling crowd and roaring cranes were busy at the construction site of the new county seat. "Keep in mind Hu's instructions to build a better Beichuan," reads one of the signboards.

An official in town, Zhao Rong was grateful she was kept busy and could not concentrate on her own grief. She joined rescue and relief work and relocated 1,800 townspeople away from a swelling quake lake three weeks after the quake.

To the outsiders, she is still the "iron lady" who works like a horse. She reserves the pains for herself. Every night, she'd crouch on her old king-sized bed, subconsciously making room for her son. "Sometimes he'd climb onto my bed at night, saying he felt cold sleeping alone," said Zhao.

In January, eight months after the quake, she married another quake-widowed official in town. "I told myself that life must go on, that my husband and son would be happy to see me carry on," she said.

Before the remarriage, Zhao burnt all the old family photos. "They are here on my mind," she said, pointing to her head.

In Beichuan alone, several hundred quake widowed got hitched again after the quake. Classified ads posted at local newspapers or down the county streets often stated "quake widowed" alongside the proposers' height, occupation or income level.

"Remarriage is the simplest, but most effective way to reignite hope in these lonely hearts," said An Guangxi, a Shanghai-based photographer who visited Beichuan four times to take snapshots of quake survivors' life. "Many said remarried life was not perfect, but was better than living in the shadow of past miseries."

An's works have been collected into a photo exhibition in Shanghai, entitled "Memories of Life" to mark the first anniversary of the quake.


The quake disaster somehow helped Chen Yan, 37, find his true love.

The Chengdu-based businessman and volunteer lifted 29 students from the ruins of toppled schools in Dujiangyan. He was since known as "China's No. 1 volunteer".

One of the girls he brought out died later in hospital, but her cousin Peng Lu, a hotel waitress in Mianzhu, fell in love with him.

The couple chose Tuesday as their wedding day. "We all suffered heartbreaks last year," Chen said at the wedding starting at 14:28, the exact time the earthquake hit. "We hope 2009 would bring us happiness and laughter."

Seven of the students he saved also attended the wedding reception.

One of the students, 19-year-old Xue Xiao, is studying at a foreign language school in Chengdu and has received an offer from a university in Florida. Many Chinese still remember him as the "Coke boy" -- his plea "Give me a Coke, iced please" uttered from the ruins and broadcast live, amused millions of teary TV viewers.

One of the rescuers bought him a coke. The empty tin, bearing Xue's signature, has been collected into a private museum that opened Monday in Chengdu.

"I want to major in economics," said Xue, who has lost an arm. "I want to be a businessman and philanthropist, just like Li Ka-shing."

He wrote a letter to his dead classmates, and burnt it hoping they could "read" it. "I miss you so much, and hope you are all having fun there... I'll do my best and won't let you down," he wrote.

For bereaved parents like Huang Changrong, however, it is hard to let bygones be bygones. "Every time I close my eyes, she'd be there: in her sportswear and her face radiating with vitality," she said.

She wrote her dead daughter a letter, "Please rest in peace. Mom and dad are doing fine here. Every time I see your little brother, I feel it's you again... Yes, I still cry when I miss you. What else can I do? But after all, the quake disaster is an act of God, not human."

Source: Xinhua

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