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March 3, 2010

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Witnessing Sichuan rebuild with help from Shanghai

A 10th grader from a Shanghai high school leaves his comfort zone and travels to quake-hit Dujiangyan City for Spring Festival holiday. There he gets a lesson in courage and determination. Qiu Kaiyu reports on his trip.

On the first day of this Spring Festival, I traveled alone to Dujiangyan City, Sichuan Province. I planned the trip not for sightseeing, but to witness the rebirth of a place ravaged by natural forces. The resilience of human spirit that I observed there is awesome.

I first learned about the city from my history book, for it has the world's oldest hydraulic works and famous Taoist mountain, Mt Qingcheng.

Ever since the earthquake struck Sichuan in 2008, the name of the city hit the headlines all the time. The city, close to the epicenter, suffered severe damage. Later, Shanghai partnered with Dujiangyan under a central government program to assist in reconstruction. Many Shanghai people have since been posted to Dujiangyan.

I first visited the construction site of Dujiangyan Venture and Employment Base, on which the government is building standardized manufacturing plants for subsidized lease. Workers at the site toiled in the drizzle on the first day of the Lunar New Year while most people were staying at home enjoying their holiday.

Construction began on September 30, 2009, and completion is expected this June, according to the Shanghai-Helping-Dujiangyan Rebuilding Headquarters.

The operating plants will provide more than 5,000 jobs for disaster survivors - that's a lot of job opportunities. Maybe I could find work after I graduate from university.

I also visited a community under construction with help from Shanghai. The project is named "One Block," meaning that in a one block area, residents can find all civic services and amenities.

The 1.5-square-kilometer community will have schools, hospitals, commercial areas, green space and leisure facilities. Thinking about the people moving into this safe, comfortable and beautiful new home, I thought of the words of Shakespeare: "Love, can create miracles; destroyed love, once the re-construction, is more ambitious than the original, more beautiful, more tenacious."

I visited several temporary settlements for homeless quake survivors. Many people had planted flowers at their door. I saw a father and son playing table tennis. The little boy was playing very seriously, unwilling to show any weakness in front of his father. From them, I saw the strong character of Sichuan people.

However, I was most impressed by a little girl named Wang Jiaqi.

When the quake struck, Jiaqi, who was less than 8 years old at the time, was buried in rubble for more than 20 hours. When he visited the area, Premier Wen Jiabao spoke to her through the ruins: "I'm Grandpa Wen Jiabao. You, child, must hold on. You will certainly be saved!"

Little Jiaqi now lives in a temporary settlement at the foot of Mt Erwangmiao. Learning that we were to visit, she waited and greeted us far away from her home.

In her home, there was only one refrigerator and two beds made of benches. Two pictures taken with Premier Wen were hanging on the wall.

The earthquake not only traumatized her, but also caused injuries to her leg, face and head. Her medical expenses are a burden for the whole family. Her elder brother originally had planned to enter university, but dropped out.

However, the shadow of the disaster and burden of life are not evident in her face.

Gradually, she opened up and we chatted about our school, studies and friends.

Xinjian Primary School, where she had studied, collapsed in the earthquake. Her mother said Jiaqi missed the original class so much that she still kept in touch with the former teacher. At this point, Little Jiaqi's face was a bit tense, but soon she beamed when we move to other topics.

Jiaqi studies very hard. She says she looks forward to "growing up quickly and learning more skills to build my own beautiful and happy new home."

It was difficult to imagine how much pain she had suffered, but she had not been defeated.

I tried to remember what I was thinking and doing seven years ago in my carefree and innocent times, but the picture was blurred.

Those who suffered in the earthquake gained the spirit and determination that does not usually take root in children who live a sheltered and comfortable life. I believe that struggle is the basis of life, even happy life.

Balzac once said: "Desperation is the advancement step for genius, the priceless treasure for the able and the abyss for the weak."

From Little Jiaqi, I know the meaning of a strong spirit.

Now the city is full of construction sites, as if singing "Step-by-step, better and better" everywhere.

When I left Dujiangyan, I saw the sunshine breaking through snow clouds. The trees seemed ready to bud new leaves.

I was so moved by this spring moment that I decided to grasp every moving moment of my life from then on.


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