News Feature: Tent dwellers in quake-ravaged China town never lose heart

2008-06-10 01:48:10 GMT       2008-06-10 09:48:10 (Beijing Time)       Xinhua English

by Xinhua Writers Zhou Yan, Bai Ruixue

BEICHUAN, Sichuan, June 9 (Xinhua) -- The tent community is wide awake before the sunlight shines on Leigu Township locked in the remote mountains of Sichuan Province.

For the 3,000 quake survivors from Beichuan, a county that perished with the 8.0-magnitude earthquake of May 12, home means a tent shared by at least two families.

Their lives goes on in the 300 tents in Leigu, south of Beichuan County. The men and women, young and old, have never lost heart though the grief over their dead family members and friends persists.

ONE BIG FAMILY

Every tent is crowded with an average of 10 people. In tent No.126 live three families: 50-something Luo Shao'an and his wife Yuan Bangying who lost their only son in the quake, Li Yuping, 40,with his wife and daughter, and Mao Zhiyun's family of five.

Their tent was reinforced and its soft, waterproof floor consists of bricks, plastic, palm fiber cushion and a bamboo mat. Their little home is piled with food: biscuits from Guangdong in the south, instant noodles from Chengdu and bananas from Yunnan.

But what makes these Sichuan natives heartily content is the half a kilo of rice a day rationed out to each tent dweller. People take turns cooking at the makeshift "burners" made of bricks and fueled by firewood handpicked from the foot of the mountain or rubble of former homes.

After a meal they can get a newspaper free at the nearby "post office" -- another tent that is piled with mail and parcels from across China. "Many are simply addressed to 'people in quake-battered Beichuan County'', said Huang Qiong, a postal worker.

Huang said she delivered all the letters to children. "Those encouraging words make ideal textbooks for them."

At dusk, after doctors disinfect each tent, it's time for a movie, a daily occurrence in the past weeks. Large crowds are drawn to the daily feast of entertainment, be it a cartoon, an action film or a detective film.

When the film is over and everyone is ready to sleep, Xie Chunrong's baby son almost always wails. The seven-week-old infant has apparently slept too much during the day.

As the mother apologetically looks around her, she finds her roommates have all learned to fall asleep without being disturbed.

"HOUSEHOLDERS"

The "householders," often men elected for each tent, are responsible for collecting and distributing the bottled water, toilet paper and other materials rationed out to the tent dwellers.

Occasionally, people squabble over who gets more than his share.

When a Hong Kong-based charity organization gave out teddy bears to the children, the anxious crowd got out of control. Some parents pushed to the front to snatch a toy for their children.

One little girl cried in her mother's arms for not getting one.

"How come we can do that to lose face for Beichuan after the quake disaster?" one woman scolded.

The crowd became silent. Several people put their toys back into the charity box.

"Householder" Mao Zhiyun is not in his tent. He has walked back to his home about 20 km away. The return trip takes two days because the roads were damaged in the quake.

This is his second trip home after the quake. Last time he took back at least five kilos of pork he found in the rubble of his home, and fed the pigs.

Several other men went with him, to feed their cattle, find some food in the ruins, check on the cropland and try to figure out whether they can still rebuild their homes.

Some even harvested some wheat and vegetables in the field.

HELPING OURSELVES

Everyone tries to help himself: when the government recruited cleaners for the tent community for 350 yuan (50.54 U.S. dollars) a month, nearly every adult applied; some have chosen to work in factories in other provinces or joined the massive reconstruction in other quake-hit areas.

Eight-year-old Xu Dengyi pursed her lips as her mother scolded her for not having written one single entry into her diary after the quake. "It's a big pleasure not having to go to school, right?"

The girl is certainly eager to get back to her classroom.

Like most other children in the tent community, she was not among the 1,200 schoolchildren to be sent to the eastern Shandong Province for classes.

The only school that has resumed classes in Leigu is a kindergarten built by the Chengdu Area Command of the People's Liberation Army.

The kindergarten's tents are enclosed by fences, outside which stand parents and grandparents every afternoon, waiting to pick up their kids.

Nearly all the preschool children in Beichuan county seat were buried in the May 12 quake. Many died. As a result, the county has few orphans.

The young tent dwellers are largely from the outer areas, Beichuan County official Tang Zongwu said.

Like all children their age, they paint submarines and airplanes, sing songs and tell happily-ever-after tales.

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