This weekend, many around the world are remembering their mothers as Mother’s Day arrives.
But for us in Sichuan, May 12 brings a different kind of remembrance.
5 years ago, the Wenchuan earthquake struck this province, killing more than 87,000 people. All of us who experienced the initial shaking, swaying and rumbling, then the unspeakable aftermath, will most likely have different reactions this Sunday than many of you. Our Mother’s Day will bring not so much celebrations of mothers but of distant horrific memories of the event coupled with, of all things, rejoicing. Today’s Sichuan celebrates rebirth, new beginnings and rising-from-the-ashes tales which this weekend are highlighted in newspapers, news reports and survivors’ stories from all over.
Memorial Museum Open
One of the biggest anniversary features concerns Qushan, a city so near the epicenter it sustained devastating damage. Now a shining star of tidy streets, well-paved roads, modern buildings, and sturdy schools, people will be flocking to show their support and wonder at this rising phoenix of a town.
The key visiting point in Qushan will be the Wenchuan Earthquake Memorial Museum. The museum officially opened to the public for free a few days ago on May 9 to commemorate the earthquake’s fifth anniversary. Pictures of the museum and those visiting can be seen at:
Also, BBC has a very good write-up about the 5th anniversary commemoration activities, as well as information concerning the overall scale of the 2008 disaster.
Earthquake Education at Our School
Along with the 5th anniversary came an earthquake education meeting held for all the students on Friday afternoon.
During noontime, the local army disaster relief volunteers arrived to set up tents used during emergencies and also display billboards explaining safety procedures when disasters strike. They lined these up on the sports field along with accompanying tables with free water bottles and earthquake brochures published by the city of Luzhou.
The booklets contained information about where in the city to go for shelter in case of a disaster as well as what procedures to follow for numerous situations, including fires and floods.
Our Grand Seminar: Did We Really Learn Anything?
At 3 p.m., a siren sounded and the entire student body was to follow earthquake protocol of exiting their dormitories.
They then made their way to the sports field where each class was grouped by majors.
After everyone had arrived, the leaders began their speeches from the stadium stage explaining the importance of safety and what to do at our school when a catastrophe struck.
Afterwards, students were free to wander around, inspecting the tents, getting free water and grabbing up brochures. They could also watch a continuing video, played from a truck, of the Chinese at work in disaster relief situations.
I thought we’d have some sort of demonstrations on what was being talked about but it was one of those bland, over 1-hour talking sessions by the leaders. Each had to take a turn to instruct students on what to do, which became quite tedious, not to mention overly repetitious, for those of us listening.
The sun was wickedly hot and everyone had to stand in their tidy rows until we were finally dismissed.
Quite a few standing near the tents made a mob-scene dash for the free water. It was gone within minutes, as were the brochures.
After a long week of classes and an afternoon of speeches under a boiling sun, all were ready to enjoy the weekend.
Most likely, this earthquake educational seminar was required for all colleges and schools in Sichuan. I have as yet to ask if this took place at other schools but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. The recent Ya’an Quake that left over 200 dead and thousands injured was probably the selling point on why we needed this.
Personally speaking, I think demonstrations on stage how to protect yourself in an earthquake would have been a lot better than lectures but that’s the Chinese style. The school can now officially announce to the provincial government that, yes, they did have their seminar and everyone attended. Whether they learned anything or not is another story.
At Church: Our 30 Minutes of Prayer
Most meaningful for me concerning the earthquake’s 5th anniversary concerned our church service this morning. We had a longer worship than usual due to a guest pastor who spoke unusually long for his message.
We were finally able to close worship at 10:30, after 1 ½ hours, but an announcement had us all remaining in the pews. Pastor Liao asked us to stay for continued prayer regarding the Wenchuan Earthquake’s 5th anniversary and those in Ya’an who recently experienced their own heartache in yet another quake last month.
Pastor Liao and others took turns leading us in prayer for 30 minutes, after which we closed with a hymn.
Such a fitting way for Christians to remember those in need and offer their support to others through God’s everlasting love.
From along the Yangtze, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your Mother’s Day!