Chengdu residents today were quite pleased with themselves. A pouring, all-night rain showed their tent purchases, no matter how outrageous the price, proved to be money well-spent. Those who created their own makeshift wonders, stockpiled with comforts of home and roofed off from the elements with thick plastic sheets, likewise felt satisfied with their efforts. Cozily sleeping away from their apartments, Chengdu residents, in their undamaged city, had a good night’s sleep last night.
The same can’t be said for the 5 million homeless north of us.
Tini Tran, of the Associated press, reported that 280,000 more tents were being shipped to the disaster areas, another 700,000 ordered but 3 million stilled needed. With the rain coming down in Sichuan last night, I doubt very much the earthquake survivors, huddled in their flimsy shelters, had much sleep at all.
Our second day of mourning yesterday was to blanket the city with concern and loving support of our earthquake-hit Sichuanese brothers and sisters. Instead, it turned residents inward. The panic of strong aftershocks left everyone forgetting about those up-province and concentrating more on themselves. My apartment compound’s outdoor community doubled. The number of open-sky squatters at Sichuan University exploded. Grocery stores, family-run snack shops and outdoor equipment businesses quickly emptied their shelves.
Despite seismologists’ public news conferences yesterday assuring us that tremors most likely would not cause great harm to the city, it was too late. Panic prevailed. The damage was done.
Today’s final day of national mourning finds Chengdu with cool temperatures, overcast skies and a sizable feeling of relief. In my apartment complex, late morning still had my neighbors sleeping soundly upon their bedding. Most are now in their apartments, going about their daily chores. Shoppers leisurely cruise the streets, but the tent communities remain. No one seems willing to call it quits quite yet.
Originally, city schools were to resume classes two days ago and continue for the entire week. But after Monday’s late-night panic, that has changed. No classes for some schools for at least another day, including those at Sichuan University.
Today, while taking the dog for a stroll through the campus, I noticed some normality had returned. The frantic business of yesterday was gone. Students walked slowly along the sidewalks. Many sat inside their tents playing cards, chatting or sleeping. Damp bedding was being aired out on bushes. In the woodsy sitting areas, several were deeply engrossed in their studies. A few of the departmental buildings were open, allowing the teachers to finally get some work done. And on the basketball courts, the college sports’ crowd was once again enjoying shooting hoops or playing badminton.
My walk led me eventually to the stadium, which I had not seen since Monday afternoon. Hundreds of more tents filled the lawns and the sports field. Dozens of cars lined the curbsides. Two trucks heaped high with trash drove by.
“Did you sleep outside?” I asked a middle-aged couple I saw standing beside their car.
They pointed to a makeshift shelter.
“Are you afraid now?” was my next question to which the woman laughed and shook her head.
“When are you going home?”
She was uncertain but predicted very soon, perhaps this evening.
Little Flower and I worked our way through several camping communities. Every so often, I would stop to ask students passing by or people in their tents if they were afraid, if they were staying put, and when they were returning to dorms or homes. Everyone I talked to felt upbeat that all was well in Chengdu and there was little danger in sleeping indoors.
“We’ll go back tonight, or maybe tomorrow,” was the answer I received from most.
Yet others were hesitant, saying to wait another two or three days would be best.
My greatest question comes to the tents. With the tremor panic relatively at an end, what will these Chinese urban folk, who would never in their lifetimes have considered buying a tent, much less one for such a ludicrous amount of money, do with their now unneeded item? Will they be donating to the earthquake survivors, in so great a need after losing all they have?
On the Sichuan University campus, responses were not very encouraging.
“No,” those I asked replied, rather shocked that I asked. “We’ll use ourselves.”
But my neighbors, the family of three who had purchased their tent the other day for $50, had a different answer.
“Of course!” the wife answered emphatically. “When we live in our home, we will send our tent to the survivors. We ought to do this.”
I just hope that others will be as generous and giving.
Wanting to help with tent purchases (and other supplies)? Send money using PayPal, or other means, through this Chinese NGO, The Amity Foundation. ALL your dollars go directly to supplies, not office or staff costs.
(Click on the English version, then under Earthquake Relief Update, click on “EARTHQUAKE APPEAL: donate here”)