ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris. All this week our co-host, Melissa Block, is reporting from Southwest China leading up to the anniversary of the earthquake in Sichuan Province. That earthquake killed 90,000 people, left millions homeless and left the local economy in tatters. Today, Melissa reports on one industry that's springing up to revive the economy: earthquake tourism.
MELISSA BLOCK: Of all the things I imagined about returning to the earthquake zone, I didn't imagine this.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: I didn't imagine I'd be running through a mountain park alongside young Chinese tourists in camouflage suits toting plastic laser guns. They're in the middle of a laser tag firefight.
(Soundbite of paint guns)
Unidentified Man #1: I'm dead.
Unidentified Woman: You're dead? Oh, I'm so sorry.
BLOCK: The Counter Strike laser tag park is based on a shoot-'em-up videogame. The park is outside the town of Baoshan in a lush garden filled with huge pink peonies and moss-covered pagodas.
Unidentified Man #2: (Mandarin spoken)
BLOCK: These laser tag warriors are shooting it out just steps away from homes that are in ruins, huge heaps of mangled concrete and twisted steel destroyed by the earthquake. The idea is that Counter Strike provides a team building exercise for office workers who might drive up from the city and at the same time help the local economy recover, says Dai Jun. He heads the tourism section of the Baoshan Group, which has developed the Counter Strike Battlefield Park.
Mr. DAI JUN (Baoshan Group): (Through translator) I think building this base here provides more job opportunities for local people, and I don't think it's unfair to those who died in the earthquake.
BLOCK: Even though the people who play these games are simulating death in an area where death was very, very real for so many people?
Mr. DAI: (Through translator) The people in disaster-hit areas need to get back to a normal life. They need to walk out of the shadow of this disaster as soon as possible.
BLOCK: So this is the new normal. One of the young city visitors, Counter Strike warrior Zhang Ling, tells me, we need to let everyone know the earthquake of May 12th has passed.
Mr. ZHANG LING: (Mandarin spoken)
BLOCK: He says this game teaches us that we need to stay united and help each other. After the earthquake, the relief effort went so well because the Chinese people united as one. We're here playing this game with the same goals in mind. It's not just about battling each other.
BLOCK: Another promised tourist destination is the flattened city of Beichuan. I'm standing just in front of what used to be the Beichuan Middle School, one of many, many schools that collapsed in the earthquake. And still, a year later, it is a huge, ghastly pile of debris: bricks, columns, huge concrete beams, twisted rebar. Hundreds, maybe a thousand, children died in this school. People have come and left notes and flowers stuck to the fence outside.
And hard as it is to imagine, the idea is that in the future, this schoolyard will be the site of the Beichuan Earthquake Museum. Visitors will be allowed to walk through the ruined city, where today many bodies still lie buried beneath the rubble, and some local residents are not at all happy about that idea.
Ms. LIU XIAOHUA: (Mandarin spoken)
BLOCK: Just down the road, I meet Liu Xiaohua at the temporary housing camp where she lives with her family. Her mother-in-law was killed in Beichuan. Her body was never recovered.
Ms. LIU: (Mandarin spoken)
BLOCK: About the tourism plans, Liu tells me, many of us feel uneasy about this. So many people died; their bodies are still buried. Of course we don't feel good about it. There are so many bodies that can't be retrieved.
But the deputy county chief of Beichuan, He Wang, sees tourism as an important way to revitalize the area, to memorialize the dead and to promote national unity.
Mr. HE WANG (Deputy County Chief, Beichuan): (Through translator). It will be a somber environment. I believe that everyone who visits the Beichuan ruins will experience a spiritual baptism and at the same time learn something about humanity and patriotism.
BLOCK: What would you say to people whose family members may be buried in that rubble who say this a private space. I don't want people coming here to look at this. This is my graveyard, really.
Mr. HE: (Through translator) We need to respect the feelings and wishes of the victims' families. But personally, I believe that we'll be able to gain the families' understanding.
BLOCK: One more thing about Beichuan. Remember those huge earthquake lakes that formed after landslides dammed up the rivers? There was a lot of fear those lakes would burst and cause disastrous flooding, but now they're going to take that lemon and make lemonade. The quake lake at Tangjiashan will also be turned into a tourist spot. In a year or so, you'll be able to go out boating and sip tea at teahouses along the quake lake banks.
(Soundbite of workers)
BLOCK: About 100 miles to the south, another earthquake museum is about to open.
(Soundbite of workers)
BLOCK: In the town of Dayi, workers heave a broken concrete slab into place and scatter rubble about. They're recreating a room to make it look like it was crushed in the earthquake. This will be an exhibit at a new earthquake museum set to open next Tuesday, on the anniversary.
And visitors who come to this earthquake museum can also pay a visit to the earthquake pig. This is a famous pig named Zhu Jianqiang, strong and tough pig. She is said to have survived for 36 days under the rubble in Pangzhou(ph) and her nickname now is Three-Six. She's a big, fat, blonde pig.
Unidentified People: (Mandarin spoken)
BLOCK: A cluster of Chinese tourists rushes up to take pictures with the pig. It's the quake pig, they shout. Hug her, hug her.
Unidentified People: (Mandarin spoken)
BLOCK: But a member of the museum staff warns no, don't hug her. She might bite.
The museum's creator is a famous, wealthy, real estate developer named Fan Jianchuan. He takes me through a dusty warehouse that holds the thousands of earthquake artifacts he's scooped up.
Okay, they've pulled a megaphone out of a carton.
Mr. FAN JIANCHUAN (Real Estate Developer): (Mandarin spoken)
BLOCK: This is the megaphone that Premier Wen Jiabao used in Dujiangyan when he arrived there soon after the earthquake.
Fan shows me dusty children's backpacks recovered from the school that collapsed, a motorcycle in which a man carried away the dead body of his wife strapped to his back. As soon as he has enough money, Fan tells me he is going to install three earthquake simulators here.
Mr. FAN: (Through translator) The room will shake. The ceiling will collapse. TVs will come crashing down. The sounds of people screaming will come out of the speakers, just like a Hollywood movie.
BLOCK: So you can basically dial up a 7.9 earthquake. Who would want to do that?
Mr. FAN: (Through translator) I think young people will be very interested. I've found that earthquakes happen every 30 years or so. When another one comes, I'll be 80. It won't matter if I die, but I want young people to learn how to protect themselves against the next one. Only then will our society have hope for the future.
BLOCK: Fan tells me he's worried that people will forget what happened here in Sichuan last May 12th. He sees his museum as a bulwark against oblivion. Next Tuesday, at 2:28 in the afternoon, the minute the earthquake struck, a siren will sound and Fan Jianchuan's earthquake museum will open for business.
I'm Melissa Block in Sichuan, China.
NORRIS: And you can find photos of some of the earthquake tourism spots, including the earthquake pig, at npr.org.