At 7:30 a.m. this morning, I sleepily wandered into the kitchen where my mom was listening to NPR, eating her breakfast. She’s a very early riser but not so much me and always turns on the radio for the latest news
“There was a plane crash in China,” she announced while slurping away at her oatmeal. “I think it was Longzhou, way in the south. Something like 200 were on board. Isn’t that where you lived before?”
Well, that certainly woke me up!
Yes, I spent 3 years in Longzhou, a tiny town in Guangxi near the Vietnam border. My school was Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities. After 3 years teaching in this remote town of 700,000, a different campus moved to the larger city of Chongzuo. 8 foreign teachers had already been recruited to teach there so the Amity Foundation and I felt I was no longer needed. In Longzhou, not only was I the only foreign teacher at our small school or 2,000 students but I was the only foreigner within a 50 mile radius.
I loved every minute of it! Along with my rescue Chihuahua, Little Flower, I had the time of my life: smaller classes (I actually knew the names of all my students), being able to walk from one end of the town to the other (just 20 minutes), getting to know all the small shop owners, enjoying a tight-knit group of Christians at the local church (we had about 20 in attendance every Sunday), enjoying a gigantic apartment (4 bedrooms, sitting room, inside kitchen, bathroom and balcony) and hosting activities in the English Center which was located on the 7th floor of Classroom Building 3. The spectacular view of the vast mountain landscape from the window was well worth the climb as we had no elevators.
When my mom mentioned Longzhou, those were the memories that immediately came to mind. But the idea that a plane crashed there was a bit of a mystery as there was no airport in Longzhou when I was there, and Longzhou is not on anyone’s flight path yet one never knows.
I reached for my phone to contact a young man who used to come to my apartment with his friends when he was in junior high. His English name is Joe and he graduated from the university 2 years ago and is still searching for a job in accounting. It hasn’t been easy. He tried in the capital city of Guangxi Province, Nanning, but wasn’t having much luck due to the virus and other applicants having better qualification. He returned home last month to hang out with his family and continue searching online where next to send out his resume.
“Hey, Joe!” I texted on WeChat. “My mom heard there was a plane crash in Longzhou. I didn’t know there was an airport in Longzhou. Did she get the right name?”
Our time difference is 14 hours ahead of me, being around 9:30 p.m. his time, and I figured he’d be up. Sure enough, he was.
“Not Longzhou,” Joe immediately replied. “In Wuzhou. I’m watching the news now.”
Then he attached a video, one of many which local residents near Wuzhou posted. His was of a distant plane plummeting head first into the ground, smoke billowing upwards with distressing cries from those recording.
If you’re wondering about distances, here is the distance between Longhou and Wuzhou.
And another from Luzhou (7 million), my current teaching placement (which does have a new international airport) and Wuzhou.
I’ve now read it was a China Eastern plane carrying 132 people. The last major crash in China was in August of 2010, where 42 people were killed. That is quite a good track record considering that in the 1990s, when I first arrived in China, a string of crashes gave mainland China the reputation of being the most dangerous country for air travel. With a complete overhaul of planes and pilot training, that changed the entire airline industry entering into the new century.
Now the safety of China’s flights is the highest in the world so this current crash has really sent the entire country into shock. I am already receiving messages from Chinese friends, former and current students, also my church choir members, if I’ve heard about their recent tragedy.
Some of my students are posting videos of the crash or notes of concern.
My colleagues and friends are including screen shots of news reports.
The choir members in our WeChat group are including prayers for the victims and soothing words of solidarity for their families.
Zhou Yan, a Luzhou friend who is an extremely successful businesswoman, wrote: “Yet another bad thing happens in my country. We are watching the news now about the plane crash. So many people died but still searching for the survivors. I wish everything is normal. I wish you can return soon. I am waiting for that day! Please take care of yourself.”
“Yes,” I texted back to Zhou Yan. “I wish the same: to return to Luzhou, for everything to be normal, to end tragedy and the virus and the war. We just have to remain hopeful, keep in touch and support one another. That is important.”
She replied with a heart emoji, I returned with a dove. Thus ended our messaging for the day: her late evening, sending world hopes of love; my early morning, with those of peace.