Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mourning The Sichuan Quake Victims

Less than a year ago, the Curmudgeon family enjoyed an extended vacation in Sichuan province, site of the massive earthquake that struck China two days ago.

We spent most of our time in and around Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, which has a population of more than 10 million people. Part of our travels included a trip to Mt. Emeishan, a 10,000 foot summit that houses one of China's major Buddhist shrines. (Below is one of our photos of the gold Buddha near the summit.) Mt. Emeishan is right on the edge of the mountains where the quake was centered, but probably 50-80 miles south of the epicenter.

We have many fond memories of our travels through Sichuan, especially of the hospitality shown to us by many Chinese, who, like Americans, tend mostly to be friendly toward foreigners and proud of their tourist attractions and history.

China is a real mix of the old and new these days. Chengdu is home to many modern office towers, hotels and high rise apartment buildings, most of which likely survived the shock with little or no damage.

By the same token, travelling through the Chinese countryside, one sees many old, smaller buildings that are having enough trouble just standing up on an ordinary day. Some of the smaller towns and cities have modern structures, others don't. And some of the larger buildings that are 20 or more years old probably would not withstand a large quake.
The photo below is of the Curmudgeon's father-in-law's ancestral home in China, which at one time (pre-Chinese revolution) was a magnificent estate in southeastern Sichuan, near Zigong. In the countryside, millions of Chinese still live in dwellings like this--and far worse--which could fare poorly in a large earthquake.

Thus, it is not that surprising to us that some important buildings, such as a hospital and several schools, collapsed. Sichuan Province has a population of nearly 90 million people, and it appears that tens of thousands lost their lives. Bad as that is, a 1976 quake levelled the Chinese city of Tangshan, killing more than 250,000. Very few structures in China at that time could withstand a major earthquake.

We almost took a side-trip from Chengdu to a tourist site that represents an example of ancient irrigation practices, and that is near one of China's largest panda preserves, which would have put us almost exactly at the epicenter of this recent temblor. While we didn't head in that direction, it is pretty clear based on our other road travels through the countryside that many roads would easily become blocked with fallen rocks, or made impassable by collapsed bridges and broken pavement, in any type of major earthquake, so we're not surprised by reports that rescue crews are having trouble reaching the hardest hit regions.

Our hearts go out to the victims of this most recent earthquake in China, in a region we've so recently toured, and where we were touched by the people and their hospitality toward us.

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