So we were supposed to go to Mount Four Girls (四姑娘山) with the nurses (this sentence always sounds so wrong) because one of the girls heard there was salmon there. Salmon…. In China… Of course we had to check it out.
We booked a bus from Zoige (诺尔盖) for the township of Ying Xiu (迎秀). According to the map, Ying Xiu was the closest point we could get to Mount Four Girls on the High Way back from Zoige to Chengdu.
Like many of our other adventures with the girls, things started with an unexpected turn of events. We were dropped at the side of a (literally) dusty highway. Turns out this was the current stop for Ying Xiu since the original township had been destroyed in the Sichuan earthquake of 2008. We trekked for half an hour (with our backpacks) to the rebuilt town of Ying Xiu where we were told that the bridge towards Mount Four Girls had been damaged in the earthquake. The only road there now is a slippery and dangerous four hour drive through a narrow mountain pass on a bumpy dirt road. We decided this might not be the best course of action (It seemed there ARE limits to our taste for adventure) and decided to change course for Qingcheng Shan instead.
Stuck in the middle of nowhere, the girls decided to head back to the highway to hail passing buses on their way to Chengdu that would drop us at Qingcheng Shan. (I swear it’s true)
Anyway, as luck would have it, there was a tout at the roadside. After some haggling, we negotiated passage to Qingcheng Shan PLUS detours to see the sites that had been ravaged during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
A quick sidenote: the epicentre of the earthquake that hit Sichuan on May 12, 2008 was along the LongMenShan fault in Wenchuan County. The quake measured 7.9 on the Richter scale and the outcome was catastrophic. 88,000 were killed and 375,000 injured. 33 million people were affected, with 11 million left homeless and 1.5 million people displaced. (source: Lonely Planet China, 2011 ed)
The numbers are mind numbing. But if you are like me, the statistics above are meaningless numbers.They are huge, but I had no idea what they truly mean.
Along the way, the tout introduced himself as Uncle Zhang, and told us that he, like almost everyone who lives in the area, is a survivor of the earthquake. On the way to the Xuankou Middle School Memorial, he told us that most of the casualties of the earthquake were babies and children. He clammed up suddenly after telling us of a primary school where more than 300 of the 400 children studying there were crushed because they didn’t know how to get out of the building. This was especially devastating because of China’s one child policy. The parents who lost their kid would have lost their only child. We suspected he lost his child in the quake too and didn’t dare to press any further.
The ruins of Xuankou Middle School were left intentionally in disrepair. It was sobering to hear the guide tell tales of what happened in the school during the quake. To hear about the teacher that held up the door frame to let 41 of his 42 students escape (he was crushed to death along with number 42); about the family that could not bear losing their only child and committed mass suicide by jumping into the Min River.
The cynical side of me wanted to think that the emotional aspects of the quake were played up, but it is not easy to be indifferent standing amidst the ruins of the school and hearing the mournful bugle music played over the loudspeakers.
This was the first of our many encounters with quake survivors. It’s really hard to believe that something that lasted two minutes could have done so much damage. It’s truly terrifying. We saw mountains that had been split in half and rivers that had changed courses because of the quake during our time in Sichuan. We saw the mass grave for 6,000 people that perished during the quake because there was no time or resources available to conduct individual rites in the aftermath of the quake. But all these paled in comparison to the human stories. Stories of people trying to find support from walls only to have the walls collapse on them. Stories of children who were drenched by the torrential rains that followed the quake because they had been locked up in the school fields by well-meaning teachers trying to save them from the aftershocks.
I suppose, more than anything, I was reminded about the uncertainties of life. Sometimes, uncertainties bring unexpected rewards, like our detour to Ying Xiu and its surroundings, but other times it brings about a total change in the way you thought you would/should live. Nobody really knows what tomorrow would bring. Living in naturally calamity-free Singapore, I suppose I had been lured into a false sense of stability and security.
This made me glad that we had chosen to take this travelling option… Even if it might be for just a little while.
Life is too short.