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Homes and Hope Special> Aftermath of the Quake> Homes and Hope
UPDATED: June-16-2008 NO.25 JUN.19, 2008
Warming Hearts
Putting aside their pain and hardship, quake victims celebrate and wish for a better year

CHILDREN'S DELIGHT: The Dragon Boat Festival is always a happy day for the kids as they can eat as much zongzi as they like. Zhan Xinyue, nine-years-old, who lived in the resettlement camp, made two zongzi to give to her parents as surprise (HU YUE)

The May 12 Wenchuan earthquake was overwhelming. It destroyed millions of houses and billions of hearts, but could not stop the Chinese tradition of celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival, which fell on June 8 this year, nearly one month after the devastating earthquake happened.

More than 1,000 victims in the Happy Home Community, one of the largest resettlement sites of Dujiangyan City, about 50 km away from the epicenter Wenchuan, joined in the festive happiness of the nation. It is a traditional part of celebrations all over the country to eat steamed rice dumplings called zongzi, salted eggs, and pray for a peaceful year on the festival. But this year, they spent the festival not only with families, but also with those who have come to provide help.

The annual Dragon Boat Festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, the date when the great poet Qu Yuan in the Warring States Period died thousands of years ago. Out of despair for the fatuous and self-indulgent King of Chu State, Qu committed suicide by throwing himself into the Miluo River. Ancient Chinese therefore fed fish in the Miluo River with zongzi so that Qu's body would not be eaten. To memorize this patriotic poet, Chinese people gradually developed the tradition of eating zongzi on that day every year.

In south China, boating races in boats made to resemble dragons are held on that day. Also, on the morning of that day some people would hang the Chinese plant species mugwort on their doors as a symbolic means to dispel bad luck and wish for peace and health.

It was the first festival that citizens in the Happy Home Community had embraced since moving in. The community prepared over 2,000 salted eggs for the victims. Local citizens of Dujiangyan offered zongzi of different tastes. A group of volunteers even brought fresh glutinous rice, red beans and jujubes to make one variety for the victims. Wang Ruhai, a 45-year-old volunteer from Chengdu, capital city of Sichuan Province, told Beijing Review that they planned to make over 1,500 zongzi as a comfort to the suffering victims to help them recover from their past miseries.

But it was not an easy job to make so many zongzi at a time since producing the food is believed to be a very complicated process. Wang said 20 volunteers had been learning how to wrap zongzi for two days and came to start the project very early in the morning. Though the zongzi they made were by no means perfect in shape, they were tasteful enough for the local Sichuan people, who are famous in China for enjoying good food, said Wang.

Zhou Xiaoping, Director of the Community Management Committee, told Beijing Review that they had specially prepared presents for the elderly and kids of the camp, such as vacuum cups and toys. What's more, the camp citizens could enjoy a big lunch for holiday, said Zhou.

The Dragon Boat Festival is usually celebrated in the morning while the Mid Autumn Festival is in the evening, said Zhou Jiahuai, 90 years old, who lived in Room 2, Unit 21 of the community with her 88-year-old husband. The old couple lost their daughter to the quake, but still remained strong to get over the grief. Zhou even joined in the young volunteers wrapping zongzi. Zhou said horseshoe-shape zongzi are for relatives and friends, while the sharp ones are for families to eat. The local citizens of Dujiangyan like the zongzi with cured meat inside the most, she explained.

"Everything is fine here--we've got rooms, clothes and food. Even being a victim today is better than living 30 years ago," she added.

Made out with loving care, the special zongzi must taste fantastic. A nine-year-old girl named Zhan Xinyue said it was the most delicious zongzi she had ever tasted. She said she would have died of hunger were it not for the resettlement camp. "I cherish the current life so much, and enjoy everything here," said Zhan.

"Whatever there is to eat, spending the festival with so many kind people is the happiest thing," she added.

Fifteen fourth-graders in the community primary school had a special lesson about the Dragon Boat Festival in the morning. They were taught about the origin of the festival and how to celebrate it. Their teacher Liao Yu, a volunteer from east China's Zhejiang Province, drew a zongzi on the blackboard and told his students that the zongzi embodies the patriotism of all Chinese people united in the disaster relief efforts.

Liao told Beijing Review that some students of his class had been orphaned by the quake, but no one had dropped out of school.

A 10-year-old boy named Mu Tianlang at the class said he had better understood the festival and enjoyed the zongzi even more.

Not only the victims, some others in the community were also greeted with sweet zongzi and salted eggs from the rescue force--the soldiers and armed police stationed at the resettlement site.

Since June 1, over 200 armed policemen from Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, have came to Dujiangyan. They patrolled day and night on the streets and helped rebuild a large number of makeshift houses. Liang Junwen, senior officer of the troops, told Beijing Review all the troops could do was mitigate the pain of the victims by bringing their lives back to normal as soon as possible.

Liang said some local shops in the disaster areas tried to refuse payment for goods from the troops working in the area to show their gratitude. Their kindness and sincerity further inspired the troops to serve the victims, he added.

Jiang Yun, a 26-year-old armed policewoman from Kunming, Yunnan Province, told Beijing Review that the zongzi came to them as a big surprise. Dedicated to rebuilding facilities and guaranteeing safety around the city, they had almost forgotten about the festival. Jiang said some of her fellow policemen had fallen ill due to lack of acclimatization, but still persisted with the work.

"The zongzi warms everyone's heart and symbolizes the eternal brotherhood of Sichuan and Yunnan," she said.

As a matter of fact, outside the Happy Home Community, the whole Dujiangyan City was imbued with festive happiness. Vendors selling zongzi and salted eggs were everywhere on the streets. Attached to some of the tents even hang bundles of Chinese mugworts. That is the silent cry of the victims for good luck after the nightmare.

The victims said they wish for every day to be happy, like the festival. On ordinary days they also need to be cared about and comforted. The soldiers and armed police pledged they would not give up on helping every single victim in the following days. The volunteers said they would provide further aid to help them recover the happy days in the past before the earthquake hit the hearts and lives of the people in the region.

(Reporting from Dujiangyan)

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