Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hanwang. It's not easy to describe life in the tent city, because it's quite unlike anything you have experienced. Not really sure what kind of shower facilities they have, but it cannot be very comfortable. Fortunately, though, the earthquake took place during a time of the year when people who have lost their homes are not going to freeze to death. It doesn't get that cold in Sichuan in the summer time, so sleeping in a tent is not life threatening in that sense. But it really is not a very convenient life. It amazes me to see how cheerful people can be in the middle of a situation that is so trying.

Life goes on. I took this picture of the beauty parlor during the lunch break, so there no customers, but this place actually keeps pretty busy. All through the earthquake zone, you will see people going on with their lives. Side walk markets are pretty common in China anyway, so when the earthquake wiped out local businesses, they just moved to the streets. Of course, in every area, there are some buildings that don't seem to be affected that much. Then there are others you would expect to be stronger, that just don't make it, such as the Bank of China in Mianzhu, which is a pile of rubble on which are standing four wreaths for the four bank employees who were unable to get out of the falling building.

The tent school in Hanwang is a pretty impressive project set up by university students and the army. The PLA officers are real gentlemen. They salute and then they shake hands. The teachers are a bunch of energetic university students who have dedicated their summers to teaching students from the earthquake zone who have had their education disrupted. The English teacher is a student from Oxford who is home for the summer. He took me in his car and showed me around the area, then invited me to come back for the afternoon English class. He wanted me to speak to the students about the importance of learning English. Students in China are required to learn English, but they display varying levels of proficiency. This is because some students learn only the minimum level of grammar needed to pass the tests, while others are very serious about communicating. When I meet students who have a high level of English proficiency, I always ask them how they learned English. Invariably, they will tell me that they started listening to the Voice of America when they were in middle school. The Voice of America has special programs for learning English. The VOA web site is blocked, but short wave radios are not expensive. I asked the English teacher when he started learning English. He told me that his father bought a subscription to HBO when he was young, so he grew up watching American movies.

After school was out, we returned to the farm to get ready for the evening meal. The peaceful countryside is such a welcome relief from the chaos that afflicts the town. But all around are reminders of the so recent disaster. A sweet neighbor lady sitting in her living room on a summer evening. No walls. No roof. Just the floor and her chair. This quiet countryside really is quite pretty. Looking out over the rice fields, you can't imagine that there was an earthquake here. But if you look up toward the mountains, you can see the massive landslides that indicate something quite drastic has happened. It will take time, but the earth will heal itself.

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