The elevated highway we traveled under on our way to Yingxiu in 2008. It's now dismantled.
Took a trip up to Yingxiu today just to get a sense of what things are like in the quake zone. It was a much faster trip this year than last, and it's about to become even faster, when a new stretch of highway opens up in a few weeks. Last year, it was a harrowing four hour journey - one that took us past vehicles that had been crushed by falling boulders, through a couple long, dark tunnels, and under a stretch of elevated highway sitting atop pillars that had cracked and shifted. You can listen to Melissa's report here. It was only after we were safely back in Chengdu that my fellow producer Brendan, translator Xiaoyu and I all admitted to each other that at several points along the way, we each wanted to turn back.
Today, the trip took just under two hours, and as we neared, we passed road signs that pointed the way to "The epicenter town of the earthquake, Yingxiu." That was the first hint that Yingxiu has turned into a tourist destination. Still, I was surprised to see tour buses pull into the parking lot just beside Xuankou Middle School, which looks almost exactly the same as it did last year. The plan seems to be to leave the buildings as they are, as a sort of memorial. A plaque in front tells us that 55 people died at the school, including 43 students and 8 teachers. Looking at the ruins, it seems a miracle so many were able to escape — the school had more than 1500 students. We're told tourism is driving the local economy now, and preserving the buildings is important not only to visitors, but to locals as a way of memorializing the tragic events of May 12. To be honest, it's not something I'd want to look at every day. It felt a bit strange, but mostly just sad.
THEN: Xuankou Middle School in Yingxiu on May 23, 2008
NOW: The same school on April 18, 2009. Except for the absence of the flag and the characters for middle school, the buildings appear to be unchanged from a year ago.