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Beijing Review Exclusive
Special> Aftermath of the Quake> Beijing Review Exclusive
UPDATED: February 16, 2009 NO. 7 FEB. 19, 2009
Holiday Spirit
Earthquake victims in Sichuan Province embrace the Year of the Ox and wish for an auspicious 2009

"We are not feeling quite as cold in the house, because the community has handed out some cotton-padded clothes and quilts to each household," said Wu Qunying, a 51-year-old painting teacher who was cooking her family's holiday dinner. "Some dirt-poor families even got some food, oil and flour, as well as gift money for the festival."

Wu was preparing chicken with chili and Sichuan pepper, the favorite dish of her daughter who had just come from Shanghai to visit her parents. She pointed to her original house in a five-story building behind the temporary housing community. Although it had not collapsed, it had large cracks in the walls, rendering it uninhabitable.

"But wherever we live, what matters is that there are always family reunions," Wu said. "That's what the festival is for."

But the holiday also brought sorrow to those who lost loved ones in the disaster.

"I cannot help but miss my boy every time I see other kids playing basketball in the community," said Jiang Biyun, a 35-year-old barber who was cleaning her flowerpots. Her only child, a 15-year-old son, went out for a get-together with his classmates at noon on May 12 and never came back.

For the past months she has lived alone in the Happy Home Community, another temporary housing camp in the city. She said her son was a mischievous boy who was starting to get serious about studying for the competitive exam so he could attend a good high school. Like many other rural parents, Jiang expected him to get a good education.

"But I have not felt quite as lonely these days, because a lot of warm-hearted neighbors and volunteers from Shanghai have visited me often," Jiang said. "Moreover, the art troupes and film companies in Chengdu also gave us marvelous performances and exciting movies that have made the holiday less boring."

While the quake survivors say they are happy in their temporary homes, some others had to work during the holiday or celebrate it away from home. Wu Zongjie is one of the volunteers and soldiers who have made sacrifices to brighten the mood of quake survivors. The 24-year-old soldier from the Nanjing Fire-control Officer School has been devoted to the disaster relief efforts in Dujiangyan since the quake struck.

"I am responsible for fire control in the community, and I have also helped organize several singing and dancing activities during the holiday to entertain the victims," said Wu in a thick Shandong accent. "This Spring Festival is indeed special and more meaningful for me. I wished my parents a happy New Year over the telephone, and they also gave me their support."

The vigorous relief efforts are paying off as the battered town has shown signs of recovery. With aid from Shanghai, Dujiangyan had built 197 temporary housing communities by January, providing shelter for more than 400,000 homeless quake survivors, said Xu Xingguo, Mayor of Dujiangyan, in a report.

Shanghai, which has been appointed by the Central Government to assist Dujiangyan in its reconstruction efforts, has spared no effort to help with the town's infrastructure construction and industrial rehabilitation. Currently, Dujiangyan plans to complete the permanent resettlement of all its earthquake survivors by the end of 2010 and recover its economic prosperity as an international tourism hub by the end of 2012.

In Dujiangyan's Puyang County, some homeless survivors have already moved into new permanent homes thanks to a pilot resettlement program conducted by the city government. Among the lucky survivors is Li Shanshun, a 55-year-old farmer from Donglin Village, Puyang County, who has a new, bright and spacious home on the second floor of a blue building.

"My family moved in right before the Spring Festival, and we paid nothing," Li said. "My original house was destroyed in the quake, and I did not expect to have a new one so early."

Each homeless survivor from Li's village received a floor area of 35 square meters, so that some households got two new apartments, he said.

Paintings depict future

Jiannan Town in Mianzhu City was also among the areas that were hit the worst by the earthquake. Only 8.3 percent of its houses remained intact, while 500,000 residents were left homeless. Renowned as the hometown of Chinese New Year paintings, it continued its splendid tradition of displaying New Year paintings this year in its temporary housing area.

With 20,000 units and about 50,000 residents, the town's temporary housing area is the largest in Sichuan. Colorful New Year paintings were pasted on the walls of homes. Yu Tianpei, Director of the Publicity Department of the Mianzhu City Government, said there were about 2,000 paintings pasted throughout the housing area.

"Mianzhu's New Year paintings are still flourishing from the remains of the earthquake in spite of the catastrophe," Yu said.

The eighth Mianzhu New Year Painting Festival began on January 15 and lasted for 20 days. A variety of activities were held to show the charm and long history of the town's New Year paintings.

Liu Xianrui is one of the painters. His home is decorated with his own calligraphy and pictures. "Since the earthquake, I spend most of my spare time painting, because it makes my life more colorful," said Liu, who added that he receives a subsidy every month from the government.

Just as in past years, a variety of activities were held during Spring Festival in Mianzhu, including table tennis matches, a photography competition and a tug-of-war.

One of the residents who enjoyed the holiday festivities was Zhang Zhiwen, who likes to tend his small vegetable garden between the rows of temporary houses. After his right eye was injured in a traffic accident, 50-year-old Zhang was laid off from his job as a laborer just before the earthquake struck. Now he works as a night-patrol guard in the housing development and receives a salary of 500 yuan ($73.5) per month.

Zhang lives in the temporary housing area with his wife. His daughter works in Chengdu, and his son studies at a university in another city in Sichuan. The children both returned for the traditional family reunion during the Spring Festival.

"We experienced a hard year in 2008, but I believe the following years will be much better," Zhang said. "As an old saying goes: He who survives a disaster is destined to have good fortune in the future."

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