Louisa Lim

To Eat or To Mourn

Chengdu nurses

Lunchtime in the village of Hongbai. Photo by Brendan Banaszak, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Photo by Brendan Banaszak, NPR

"Sit down! Eat!" was the order. Bowls of steaming rice porridge were shoved into our hands and stools jammed under our knees. We looked at each other, unsure of what to do next.

We'd just watched as the Ma family buried their eighty-seven year old matriarch, Li Mingxiu, on the hillside above the devastated remains of their quiet country village. Her reflexes dulled by her age, the old lady had been too slow to run outside when the earthquake struck, and she'd been crushed when the kitchen wall collapsed on her.

LUNCH AND DEATH

But we had to admit we were hungry. And the family's neigbours were refusing to take no for an answer. "Eat! Please eat!" they kept on urging us, pushing the bowls of hot food into our chests. Finally we gave in and sat down. They looked relieved. When I thanked them for their hospitality under such difficult circumstances, they broke into smiles. "That's what Chinese people are like," they said.

We were sitting at a table on top of what was once somebody's vegetable patch. Tarpaulins strung up between trees served as makeshift tents for the villagers.

LIFE GOES ON

The entire village of Hongbai had been levelled by the quake. But as we ate the food provided by the relief workers, we almost forgot where we were. The food — as is always the case in Sichuan — was surprisingly good: cold spicy cucumbers with crushed garlic, potato and chicken stew, and stewed fatty pork. We even began chatting with the villagers about matters not related to the quake.

Then suddenly a team of soldiers ran along the path beside us, a stretcher on their shoulders carrying a corpse in a yellow plastic body bag. We froze; our chopsticks mid-air, hovering above the food, feeling guilty that we could eat under such tragic circumstances. Nobody else skipped a beat.

After five days of living in a disaster zone and pulling the corpses of family members out of the rubble that was once their homes, the unthinkable had simply become routine.

Comments

 

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Thank you, Louisa.
This report is realy moving, and it shows how kind Chinese people are.
Thank you all the American who care about the people suffering from the disaster .

Sent by Mike | 9:41 AM | 5-18-2008

I am a native Chinese. My students are in their first year of learning Chinese. I have been sharing earthquake inforamtion and stories since last week's earthquake. I also linked your blog to my school website. Facing disaster, people re-discover their human natures, strength, unity and hope which were thought lost in our materalistic life. We tend to appreciate what we have and who we are more than before when thinking about those victims. I use this opportunity to teach students Chinese characters, values, and cultures through the news report. This story is another a perfect example to show Chinese people's hospitality. It is a realistic thought that no matter what happens, life still needs to continue. Eating is fundamentally important for those survivors. I won't be surprised to hear the command - sit down and eating while the families are still mourn the lost loved ones. Thank you for your hard work. Please take great care of yourselves. We are looking forward to more stories.

Sent by Lan | 10:21 AM | 5-18-2008

Donation to Red Cross in epic zone.

Red Cross Society Of China Chengdu City

Beneficiary's Bank in China???CHINA CONSTRUCTION BANK CORP???SICHUAN
BRANCH
SWIFT???PCBCCNBJSCX
Beneficiary's Account No??? 51001479008050283842
Beneficiary's Name??? Red Cross Society Of China Chengdu City
Beneficiary's Address??? No.17???Dacisi road
Telephone Number???0086-028-86658913???86653654???86655782

http://www.chengduredcross.org/html/xxym.asp?ID=9512

Sent by simon | 11:29 AM | 5-18-2008

Thank you so much, Louisa Lim, and the entire NPR crew, for this humanistic story and all the other reports. The basic good nature of people shines through. Eating, as in life and death, is so much a basic part of the cycle of nature. I am overwhelmed by stories I heard and read of rescues, heroic service and miraculous teamwork. Surprisingly, I haven't heard of reports on looting and unlawful activities that often break out during times of chaos. I am moved by the people who contribute in the communal effort to overcome adversaries and tragedies. I am encouraged to see another side of human nature, especially when we are so routinely desensitized by unending reports of crimes against fellow humans, man-made atrocities, rape, genocides all over the world. I hope there is a lesson here for all of us.

Sent by Albert Wong | 12:06 PM | 5-18-2008

Thanks again for the coverage again. It's uplifting. Another example of quality journalism.

Sent by JY | 2:28 PM | 5-18-2008

Dear NPR,

We are so grateful for the fact that you are in China covering this story and for bringing all of us human beings much closer.

I have been so moved by the love expressed by Americans. Whatever issues exist between China and U.S. seem so trivial.

NPR readers will also appreciate this story of a mother hunching over her infant and before her death typed a SMS message on the phone wrapped with the baby:

"Baby, if you are able to stay alive, you must remember I love you"

http://www.thechinesecentury.org/2008/05/baby-if-you-are-able-to-stay-alive-you.html

Chinese people around the world are taking notice of your generosity and your outpour of love.

Sent by D.Li | 4:13 PM | 5-18-2008

The Road Ahead

Hurry up, my baby
Grab mama's hand
The road to the heaven
Too dark
Mama is worried
Don't hit your head
Hurry up
Grab mama's hand
Let mama walk with you

Mama
I am scared
The road to the heaven
Too dark
I can't see your hand
Even since
The wall has fallen
The light has gone
I no longer can see
Your kind eyes

My baby
Keep going
The road ahead
No more worry
No more textbooks
No more Papa's fist
Please do remember
Mama and Papa's look
In the next life
We still walk together

Mama
Don't worry
The road to the heaven
A little crowded
Many classmates and friends
We say to each other
Don't cry
Everyone's mama is our mama
Every baby is mama's baby
In the days ahead without me
Please give your love to those babies still living

Mama
Don't cry
Your tears won't light
the road ahead for us
Let us
Walk the road ahead slowly
Mama
I will remember
You and Papa's look
Please remember our promise
We will walk together again
In the next life

Thank you, NPR, for your fair coverage.

Sent by Xin Huang | 4:26 PM | 5-18-2008

That's what I understand the true journalism should be.

Big thanks!

Sent by scroogle | 6:05 PM | 5-18-2008

Being a native Chinese, I am not surprised, not at all. This really is what Chinese people are like. Thank you, NPR crew, for your on going reports. Since the day one,I have been crying watching the children buried under the rubbles and parents' grief over the lost children. How can we go on ? What's next ? United we build a better and brighter future while mourning our beloved lost ones and learning our lessons. Life must go on.

Thank you again for your report and take care of yourself.

Sent by czhu | 7:12 PM | 5-18-2008

your coverage of this tragedy has been great. i only wish we could have similar coverage of the tragedy in burma. if only that government would let the international community help, as we so desperately want to.

i would like to make an observation on this. anyone who has been through tragedy and terror like this knows that the only way to begin the healing process is to return to the normal routine of daily life, to keep moving forward. at a certain point, dwelling on the terror all around you becomes pointless - you must at a certain level take care of yourself, in order to then be able to continue to deal with and help with the tragedy that surrounds you. by joining them in their meal you were honoring that.

Sent by a. | 7:19 PM | 5-18-2008

Thank you Louisa Lim for the report.

It is heart wrenching and heart warming at the same time. I smiled and cried reading your story. Unbelivable resilience.

Sent by JL | 7:48 PM | 5-18-2008

Thanks Louisa, i am in china, but still moved by your words.

Yes, chinese people are kind and quiet tough sometimes they dont know how to express their feeling and thinking well, but they really know what to do and how to help each other especially during the serious disaster.

Just like your words: "life goes on", I pray for all the people who lose their life in the quake and the suvvivors.

Sent by Hao | 9:13 PM | 5-18-2008

The entire blog is Pulitzer Prize worth of journalism!

Sent by L Jia | 9:20 PM | 5-18-2008

I've been following this blog since the heart-wrenching story about a couple searching their child. Now with journalism like this I start to have some hope for the mutual understanding between China and the West. I had been first surprised and then pessimistic about the gap since I came to North America 10 years ago. The portrait about China here is so divorced from reality. Most reports cherry pick facts and twist them in order to fit the presumed ideology, as most recently evidenced in the reports of the Tibet riot. Let this be a lesson to both sides. Hope the Chinese government would realize transparency is much better than blocking information. Hope the west would realize that China is a country with 1.3 billion human beings with blood, flesh, emotions and brains, not just a country that is so convenient to blame everything on.

Sent by Melody | 12:17 PM | 5-19-2008

Thank you NPR. Your stories always shine of humanity, sympathy, and objectivity
. I've been reading them for a week, and you have never made me disappointed.

I've been a fan of NPR for quite a while, but what you did after this
earthquake have made me trust your channel more than ever. I truly appreciate your effort to report real life of real people in China, especially after such a disaster.

Sent by Q Xiao | 2:58 PM | 5-19-2008

I am a Chinese living in Canada. "Sit down! Eat!" my mom says that to me all the time. Chinese are not very good at expressing feelings. It is their way to show their care and say thank you. Please be take care and be safe.

Sent by wec080 | 4:56 PM | 5-19-2008

Once again NPR and Public broadcasting show their chops, blowing away the for-profit news agencies. For the first time since Tienanmen Square I see the bravely humane face of China. And it appears the Gov't reacted much more rapidly and efficiently than the Bush administration did on Katrina. Can the US get nothing right anymore?

Sent by Rique | 5:03 PM | 5-19-2008

Hi Louisa,

I'm from Singapore. Did you happen to see our Singapore rescue team in Hongbai? They were performing rescue work in the Hongbai area.

Sent by alvin | 4:58 AM | 5-21-2008

Just love your coverage from China since the quake, wish there is a team out there reporting from other parts of China and other stories and culture exchanges. It's the best form of diplomacy bridging the gap between the west and the East. No war just better the understanding.

Sent by Jean of San Deigo | 1:25 AM | 5-23-2008

I just want to thank NPR's crew, whom I regard as the most professional jounalists, to share us their hand-on experience in China

Sent by Frank | 7:41 PM | 5-23-2008

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