Andrea Hsu

Chengdu On Our Minds

(To read comments from the previous version of this entry go to our May 28th posting HERE.) .

It's my first day out of Southwest China since I landed in Chengdu on March 19. I was woken this morning by the sun, thinking it must be seven or eight in the morning already. And then I remembered: I'm in Beijing. In fact, it was only 5 am (China is all one time zone).

ATC Chengdu Group

NPR audio engineer Stacey Abbott, right, with NPR Beijing Bureau assistant Joy Ma. Photo by Brendan Banaszak, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Photo by Brendan Banaszak, NPR

Chengdu was a really hard place to leave. Largely, of course, because there is just so much more to say about the earthquake and its aftermath. Fortunately, we now have Rob Gifford in Sichuan; he'll be in there for the next couple weeks. And he promises to write something for this blog.

But also, it was hard to leave a place that so embraced us as we set out to tell its story. This was true before the earthquake, and became even more so after. Before leaving, I didn't get a chance to see and thank all of the people who helped make our coverage possible. Trying to list them here would take pages and pages.

ATC Chengdu Group

Our team in Chengdu included, from left, pianist and Northampton, Mass. listener, Xiaoyu Xie, originally from Chengdu; Yadi Zhong, known to us as Rebecca, who teaches English in Chengdu and helped us arrange interviews; and interpreter Philip He. Photos by Art Silverman, Brendan Banaszak, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Photos by Art Silverman, Brendan Banaszak, NPR
ATC Chengdu Group

NPR producer Andrea Hsu spent a lot of time in China on the phone making arrangements for reporting. Photo by Art Silverman, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Photo by Art Silverman, NPR

It would have to include every one of the dozens of people who invited us into their homes and shared their lives with us, on tape. It would include the fantastic team of people we had translating for us, helping us to set up interviews, and working as ambassadors for NPR when people were skeptical of our motives. It would include the fleet of drivers who took us to where we needed to go under the most difficult of circumstances. And of course, it would include the many, many people who despite suffering unimaginable losses in the earthquake took time to talk with us so that we could relate their stories to you.

Yesterday, as I was sitting at the Chengdu airport, I got a text message from Wang Dan of Dujiangyan. Her brother Wang Wei and his wife Fu Guanyu are the couple we followed two days after the earthquake. The bodies of their not quite two-year-old son and his grandparents were eventually found, buried in the rubble of their apartment building. Wang Dan had messaged me once before to tell me that they were living with relatives in the countryside, where conditions were not great. "But we are glad to all be together," she'd told me.

Her message yesterday was a request. "Dujiangyan has already started to pull together plans for rebuilding," she wrote. "Please do whatever you can to help."

- - Andrea Hsu

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Andrea Hsu's hard work and resourcefulness made the Chengdu project possible. She uprooted her life for months to research, plan and sweat over this enterprise. She arranged all the helpers and learned about the lay of the land in Chengdu prior to the earthquake, so we were ready to go to work immediately when it struck.)


Chinese Peasants as Typical Human

ATC Chengdu Group

NPR's Robert Siegel in town of Gong Xing two days after the earthquake. Photo by Art Silverman, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Photo by Art Silverman, NPR

Having gone to Chengdu to report from and about a booming city, I found myself instead spending a lot of time in rural villages that were hard hit by the quake.

Here's the thought I kept having: there are about six billion six hundred million people in the world. There are somewhere eight hundred and nine hundred million rural Chinese, people who might commonly be called 'peasants' there.

In other words, about one person out of every eight of us on Earth is a Chinese peasant. If a reporter from another planet were to try to find a 'typical' human being, they might reasonably conclude that human life best represented by the people we met there. What struck me most about them, as reflected in their hospitality, generosity, and their modest material (and perhaps political) ambitions, is their knowledge that life is lived intensely in the midst of other people: family, friends, neighbors, officials, even nosy American journalists. The experience leaves me curious about what the words "privacy" and "individualism" mean to people there.

- - Robert Siegel


Alike in Response

ATC Chengdu Group

Brendan Banaszak in Chengdu's enormous Tianfu Square. Photo by Joy Ma, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Photo by Joy Ma, NPR

The relief efforts by everyday men and women would seem shockingly similar to what you'd see in the states. Despite cultural difference between China and America, the way these two countries react to a disaster is almost identical. People have been giving money, donating blood, volunteering their time, and helping distribute food and water. But beyond that it's the way in which the grief and relief efforts on worn on these two nations' collective sleeve. It was only days after the earthquake when I began to see people walking around with t-shirts and hats showing support for the victims of the earthquake. The desire to do something for the victims is so strong that even the act of physically showing one's support seems to offer comfort.

— Brendan Banaszak


Not Over Quite Yet

I was up in Beichuan county Sunday afternoon, checking out a village inhabited by the Qiang ethnic minority. I had just enjoyed a home-cooked lunch of cured pork ("la rou") and spicy noodles, when the the 5.8 aftershock hit. (now reported at 6.0 in many sources)

Everyone bolted out of their homes and into the village square, the fear evident on their faces. It is now apparent that these sometimes powerful aftershocks may continue for weeks, if not months. This increases the risk of related disasters, such as flooding and landslides. This story is far from over, and we will do our best to keep covering it to the high standards that the "Chengdu Week/All Things Considered" Team has set. Stay tuned.

—Anthony Kuhn


Home to Shanghai

ATC Chengdu Group

Louisa Lim reporting from the mountains of Sichuan. Photo by Brendan Banaszak, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Photo by Brendan Banaszak, NPR

Returning home requires a series of adjustments. The first thing I did on getting in was assess the stability of my home in an earthquake (not good considering the entire building sways when a bus rumbles past). Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the other members of my household exchanging meaningful glances. When I shower, I can take my time without fear of aftershocks. When I sleep, I no longer have a bag packed with all my necessities by my bed in case of evacuation. But going back to my intact house and family also brings up feelings of guilt, as if the very act is an abandonment of those whose shattered lives we've been documenting. I hope that's not the case, and I hope to return to Sichuan very soon.

- - Louisa Lim


Generosity of the Chinese

In the short time I have been here I have been amazed by the generosity of the Chinese people — both in the city and poor rural areas that are now devastated. There have been more offers of food and water from complete strangers than I can count. And even simpler gestures. While standing in downtown Chengdu one lovely day I broke out into the slightest of sweats. And almost on cue, a guy in his early 20s came up to me and offered me a tissue to wipe my brow.

— Brendan Banaszak


(EDITOR'S NOTE: To find earlier comments about this entry, go to this location. )



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

I just heard Rob Gifford on the radio.

I'm so happy he is back to China to cover the quake aftermath and perhaps to add to this diary.

I have been his fan and missed his reporting from China. It is great that he leaves from the comforts of his home from London and do the hardship stories from Sichuan.

Now, he can use his Mandarin and tell us more about the development stories in Sichuan.


Sent by Alice Lee | 10:50 PM | 5-30-2008

I was walking to class when I felt the earthquake; I knew I was safe and I thought my eight-year-old daughter at her school would be as well.

The shaking intensified and although I thought the epicenter was perhaps 300 miles away, I knew that people close to the core were losing their lives. I saw them in remote villages perched on hills, standing in fields. I pictured a small wooden home clinging to a hillside - with just a few ears of last fall's corn still hanging on the second floor porch. I watched this fragile home break into pieces and slide down a grassy hill. I knew people were dying but I could never have imagined how many people at that moment were falling under the weight of collapsed walls and ceilings.

Now, I want to feel their pain but I don't know where they are. I am no more connected to the unknown-to-me millions who are suffering from this earthquake than those of you who have watched it on TV. Yet, I am connected to them through the waves I felt underneath me, the waves that connect me to the children who died in a class room sitting at their desks in straight rows, in just a few seconds, looking to their teacher to tell them what to do.

I am connected through the people I know who know people who died and lost family and homes. I am connected by the blankets I bought and sent to orphaned children.

The number of people who feel connected to this tragedy is unprecedented. For the first time in Chinese history, reporters from around the world are at the scene, the news coverage has been thorough, creating a precedent here in China like the live coverage of the death of John F. Kennedy Jr. that was a precedent in the USA 45 years ago.

This story is the emblem of China's entry into the first world of media. 15 million people have been evacuated from their destroyed towns. When the reporters leave, when those with means and media leave, a man will still be sleeping by the side of the road wondering how it could be that he has lost his home, his son and daughter-in-law, the grandson who stayed home with him everyday while his parents worked, his wife, his friends, his fields, his wedding photo, and if the Chinese government does not follow through with what they are promising, he will be destitute for a lifetime.

Sent by Anne Zuckerman | 9:36 AM | 5-31-2008

I don't like your comment such as "...But there's no guarantee that the parents will find justice under the communist-controlled legal system.".
Is there any legal system at all that GUARANTEES the justice?
You might not like communist party, but please be subjective when reporting from China.

Sent by Reader | 12:20 PM | 5-31-2008

Thank you for reporting; we needed to feel their tragedy and often i was moved to tears, i felt so helpless; we live in a world community; i am also glad to hear Rob Gifford reporting from China again,

Sent by lin xiulien, honolulu, hawaii | 2:46 AM | 6-3-2008

The poor 'peasant' never saw a foreigner all his life, when he was pulled out by foreigners. He said later in the hospital, "F*** the Earthquake, it shook so hard that I thought I was shaken out of China to a foreign land".

Sent by Mary | 3:15 PM | 6-3-2008


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