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New beginnings offer hope of future happiness

FROM time to time Huang Changrong wonders about the two-month-old baby she is holding: has time reversed and brought her back to the days when she was a young mother, or is this the grandchild she never met?

Huang lost her daughter in the devastating earthquake that destroyed their homes in Mianzhu City.

"Had she not been pregnant, she'd have easily survived. She used to be so agile," Huang said. Her 22-year-old daughter was due to give birth in three months when she died after her four-story apartment building collapsed.

Now, at 42, Huang is a mother again. The baby was a pleasant surprise, as well as a headache for her and her 48-year-old husband Wang Xinglin.

"When he grows up and gets married, we'll be nearly 70 - too old to help him build a home or bring up his children," said Huang.

Another bereaved mother, Zhao Rong, seemed to forget her loss when she talked about her new pregnancy.

"This time I want a girl, because I already have a good boy," said Zhao, 35. Then her smile gives way to sadness at the memory of her eight-year-old son, a second grader whose body was never found after his school collapsed. The boy and his father were both killed.

A town official, Zhao Rong, was too busy to concentrate on her own grief at first, helping rescue and relief workers relocate 1,800 people away from a swelling quake lake.

She now keeps her pain to herself. Every night, she subconsciously makes room for her son when she goes to bed.

"Sometimes he'd climb on to my bed at night, saying he felt cold sleeping alone," she said.

In January, she married again. "I told myself that life must go on, that my husband and son would be happy to see me carry on," she said.

Before her remarriage, Zhao burnt all the old family photos. "They are here in my mind," she said, pointing to her head.

In Beichuan County alone, several hundred people who lost wives or husbands have remarried.

Classified ads in local newspapers often state "quake-widowed" alongside the advertiser's height, occupation or income level.

"Remarriage is the simplest, but most effective way to reignite hope in these lonely hearts," said An Guangxi, a Shanghai-based photographer who visited Beichuan four times to record the lives of the survivors.

"Many said remarried life was not perfect, but was better than living in the shadow of past miseries."

An's work has been collected into a photo exhibition at the Shanghai Library, entitled "Memories of Life."

The quake disaster helped Chen Yan, 37, find his true love.

The Chengdu-based businessman and volunteer lifted 29 students from school ruins in Dujiangyan.

One of the girls he brought out died later in hospital, but her cousin, Peng Lu, a waitress in Mianzhu, fell in love with him.

The couple were married yesterday.

"We all suffered heartbreaks last year," Chen said at the wedding, which began at 2:28pm, the time the earthquake hit. "We hope 2009 will bring us happiness and laughter."


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