After Quake, Entrepreneurs Do Business In Tents Despite government claims that it will restore the living standards of quake survivors in just three years, many Chinese aren't waiting for a permanent structure to open shop. They're using tents for barber shops, restaurants and stores.
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After Quake, Entrepreneurs Do Business In Tents

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After Quake, Entrepreneurs Do Business In Tents

After Quake, Entrepreneurs Do Business In Tents

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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China hopes to restore its earthquake zone within three years. But even that ambitious timetable leaves the question of how people live through the next three years.

This morning, we'll hear the way some people are doing it. They try to rebuild their lives even as the earth keeps shaking beneath their feet. Just yesterday, Szechuan Province felt another aftershock. Interruptions like that do not stop the Chinese, who are now doing business from tent cities. NPR's Louisa Lim reports.

LOUISA LIM: Twenty-one-year-old Li Jin was meant to be cutting hair in her brand new salon, not where she finds herself now: in a blue tent, its sides open to the elements. Her salon was due to open on the very day the earthquake struck. Instead, it was flattened, killing one of her business partners inside. Now she cuts hair for the homeless and displaced for a fraction of her normal charge, earning just a couple of dollars a day.

Ms. LI JIN (Salon owner, Szechuan Province): (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: To be honest, it's very difficult, she says. I feel a lot of psychological pressure. So many people died, including my friend. I'm at a loss what to do. But I just tell myself, I need to stand up by myself.

And a surprising number of businesses have popped up in this temporary tent city. Even though its residents are due to move into prefabs, local businesses haven't wasted any time. There are drink shops, accessories stores, hot pot restaurants, lawyers' offices - all under canvas.

Mr. LI GUIMIN (Supermarket owner): (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: Fifty-nine-year-old Li Guimin helps a customer find a toothbrush in his tent supermarket. Once close to retirement, he's now starting from scratch, but with $300,000 worth of losses.

Mr. GUIMIN: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: I had four supermarkets before, he tells me, shaking his head. They were destroyed in the quake, and I donated any goods I could salvage to earthquake relief.

But he's determined to make a go of it. For now, he's targeting the quake survivors' government stipends of just over a dollar a day. So he stocks cold drinks, tins of food, mosquito repellent, toilet paper - things they may need. He hopes the business district will be back to normal in just three years.

That may sound extraordinarily optimistic, but counting money at this tent-based credit union, they're reporting some surprising financial consequences.

Mr. XU YONGJUN (Employee, Credit Union): (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: Savings have gone up by one-and-a-half million dollars since the quake, says employee Xu Yongjun. It's because people no longer have houses to hide their money in.

When asked how long it will take before the local economy bounces back to pre-quake levels, his self-confidence is amazing. Five years if things are good, he predicts - 10 if they're bad.

And the woks are blazing at Jiang Sunfa's tent restaurant. She started with money made from salvaging scrap metal from the ruins of her house, then selling it. She says the busy trade shows a certain devil-may-care attitude.

Ms. JIANG SUNFA (Restaurant Owner): (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: People here are saying, if you have money, you may as well eat it now, she says. They say there could be another earthquake tomorrow, so you may as well spend all your money on food.

This hints at the psychological trauma many quake survivors are suffering. And psychologists warn this period is when reality sets in and the suicide rate begins to spike. But the many, many tent entrepreneurs tell another tale, one of sheer resilience and determination.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.

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