In China, the country’s 24-hour earthquake coverage is over. No longer do the number of minuscule aftershocks, counting into the thousands, trot across our TV screens. There are no more Chinese reporters excitedly leading cameramen into piles of rubble, down distant mountain paths, through crowded survivor camps or along destroyed roads. Instead, we see buildings hastily erected and solid dwellings going up.
The left-overs of the earthquake are quickly being hauled away– the rubble cleared, the roads smoothed, the buildings reconstructed.
But in Chengdu, the remnants of a frightened city still lay strewn about in small pockets here and there. They are little ghost towns of dusty tents and tattered tarp that still fill numerous neighborhood open-air nooks and crannies. My apartment compound if one of them; the adjacent park another.
It’s hard to believe, just one week ago today, another report of possible aftershocks caused schools to close and upper-story residents once again to collect their things for an outdoor sleepover. That day, I remember roaming my neighborhood, watching the flight unfold for a second time. I followed the fuss with my camera. I chatted with the nearby campers. I shared candy with the kids.
Seven days later, I now walk through my apartment compound and along the walkways of the park to find an eerie silence. The shelters are still there, but the people are not.
Today, I made my way through this mess and took note of what I saw. The blazing afternoon sun baked the crumpled and frayed plastic tarp that residents had used to create their cheap shield from the elements. Their temporary homes seemed to breathe inward and out with every hot breeze that puffed by.
When the loose flaps opened, the insides were bared. Old, discarded bedding lay in jumbled heaps. Dirty mattresses on rotted wooden frames were pulled askew. Metal folding cots lay naked, side by side.
Store-bought tents were either zipped up tightly, protected from the outside dust, or upturned with their crooked leg supports reaching skyward. They reminded me of some dead thing, belly-up.
Last Wednesday, the park was full of life: hundreds of people eating take-out, sipping tea, playing mahjong, calling friends, reading newspapers, settling in for the night. Today, a lone man stood reading an announcement board; a cluster of six elderly shaded themselves under a tree. Some gardener’s cabbage leaves lay out to dry on the courtyard’s searing tiles.
And all around, the ghostly tent city remained.
The earthquake survivors are trying to put their lives back together, wishing and praying to erase any reminder of their May 12th experience. You would think the Chengdu folk would want to do the same, yet here lies all their stuff, cluttering up grassy areas and taking over pleasant views.
I realize Chinese have never been ones to pick up after themselves. I constantly see streetwalkers dropping anywhere they please their empty plastic sacks, candy wrappers, chip bags, fast-food drinking cups or take-out containers. A trash receptacle might be just a foot from where they are. Still, onto the ground the discarded items go.
The few times I’ve pointed out people’s bad littering habits, I’ve been given a shrug and told, “That’s what the street cleaners are for.”
But these tarps and tents will take a bit more to get rid of than a simple “swish!” by a street cleaner’s broom.
I, for one, am tired of seeing these remnants of a frightened city, but I guess until everyone else sees likewise, I’ll be stuck with them.
From Chengdu, here’s wishing you all “Ping An” (Peace)
REMINDER FOR AID IN BUYING TENTS, VACCINES, AND OTHER SUPPLIES FOR EARTHQUAKE RELIEF EFFORTS
United Methodists: UMCOR Advance #982450, International Disaster Response, China Earthquake