When no news is a living hell

2008-05-26 02:12:28 GMT       2008-05-26 10:12:28 (Beijing Time)       Xinhua English

BEIJING, May 26 -- While there has been much sorrow and grief for the victims and families of the Sichuan earthquake, what about those staying here in Shanghai? For many university students, it has been a nightmare.

At 2:28pm on May 19, exactly a week after southwestern China's Sichuan Province had been devastated by magnitude-8.0 earthquake, the nation seemed to freeze.

National flags fluttered at half-mast. Drivers honked their horns. Office workers stood in silence, heads bowed. Classes stopped. For three minutes the nation mourned for the earthquake victims.

In universities, as for the students from Sichuan living here in Shanghai, teachers visit them regularly to ensure they are well - both physically and mentally.

Memorial ceremonies continue to be held while students donate money and blood, wear yellow ribbons to show their care and light candles for blessings.

"The earthquake was merciless. But there is care and love everywhere," says Shao Renbin, a Shanghai Jiao Tong University student. "We students may not be able to donate much money, but we can donate blood and encourage and comfort those from Sichuan.

"I have an idea to adopt an orphan or fund his or her education. Actually, I have sold many used books to contribute to the construction of schools," Shao says.

Buildings collapsed, people were buried, mothers lost their children and kids lost their parents. It's heartbreaking, especially for those from the quake-hit areas.

"Ever since the earthquake happened, I have spent almost all my time watching news and closely following the situation," says Wang Longxi, from Mianyang City, one of the heavily affected places. "China Central TV, Sichuan TV, Phoenix TV - I didn't miss a channel. I still feel concerned about the people in Sichuan. Though my parents are safe, I am grieving for my high school classmates whose families are still in danger."

Jia Lixin, a social work major at Fudan University, says people are likely to suffer shock and grief immediately after a tragedy, but more sorrow and stress can follow.

"Theoretically, pain can be reduced by sharing with others," Jia says. If people show concern and share the pain of those who are suffering, they can help make that person feel better, he adds.

Yang Xin from quake-hit Chongqing, a student at Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade (SIFT), still feels for a girl in his school who lost contact with her parents.

"She worried so much that she was at the point of collapse. To her great relief, her roommates stayed with her all the time. They talked with her and encouraged her not to lose faith and hope," Yang says.

It is not easy to cure a broken heart, neither is it easy for victims to speak about their suffering and face the reality of the heart-breaking scenes of death and injuries.

At a SIFT graduation ceremony on May 14, a call was made for donations for the earthquake victims. The proposal read: "Save the money from one meal, one KTV outing or one dress. Fund the relief and reconstruction work in the quake-hit regions. It is not a large sum of money to us, but it really matters to the quake-hit counties and townships."

Shanghai University has distributed 50-yuan (7 U.S. dollars) IP telephone cards to students from Sichuan in the hope they could contact their families as soon as possible.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University spokesperson Su Zhuojun says they have provided both physical and psychological assistance to students from quake-hit regions. An average of 600 yuan will be given to the students from worst-hit regions every month until they graduate.

"I am deeply grief-stricken by the deaths and injuries of my compatriots," says SIFT student Yang. "Natural disaster is beyond our control, but I have a strong feeling of warmth and unity. Misery just brings us closer. I really appreciate the care and love of my classmates and teachers."

His teacher got in touch with him within two hours of learning about the quake to ask about the safety of his parents and every day talks to him, offering support.

One Jiao Tong University senior student from Beichuan, which was among the worst-hit regions, is studying in France as an exchange student. When she became distressed after failing to contact her parents, the school sent a teacher to France to provide psychological help and living subsidies.

Jiang Zhumin, another Jiao Tong student from Beichuan, did not get any word about his family until May 14, two days after the quake hit. His sister told him that their parents were safe and living in temporary tents. "But I am still worried whether it is safe as there are still aftershocks," he says.

"It was really a suffering back then. Nothing mattered. My only thought was to contact them as soon as possible," Jiang recalls. "Luckily my classmates have been by my side. I am not alone."

Yet his schoolfellow, Wang Song, immediately wanted to go back to his hometown, Beichuan. But while classmates helped collect traveling expenses for him, teachers provided psychological support.

Finally he gave up the idea and vowed to return to help the Beichuan rebuilding effort after graduation. It's a familiar sentiment.

"I love Sichuan. After the earthquake, we are all more firmly determined to make contributions to our hometown," says Mianyang native Wang. "I hope Sichuan can get over the devastation and build a better future."

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