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Cover Stories Series 2011> Sichuan Reconstructed> Wenchuan in Retrospect> 2008
UPDATED: June 13, 2008 NO. 25 JUNE 19, 2008
The Art of Survival
A poor Dujiangyan family survives the quake and remains hopeful about the future

Deng Yan, 40 years old, is one of the lucky people in Dujiangyan City to survive the Sichuan earthquake. Her house was wrecked, but her family all came through unscathed, and Deng believes where there is family there is a home.

When darkness falls over Dujiangyan, Wei Xia, Deng's 15-year-old daughter, sits alone at the entrance of their 20-square-meter blue tent, pitched on the roadside. With no electricity in the tent, Wei reads by moonlight as she waits for her parents to return. The 10 wooden beds in the tent are the only items of furniture, an indication of the many people who share this temporary shelter.

Deng and Wei Xinjun, her 42-year-old husband, spend their days searching for steel bars on an area of rubble that will soon become a temporary shelter for earthquake victims. A local construction company offered them the temporary job to make a living after the quake. Every kilogram of steel fetches 1 yuan ($0.14). Deng said she could make 20 to 30 yuan ($2.9-4.3) on a good day. But it's a hard 12-hour slog from dawn to dusk.

"We can barely make ends meet," said the sun-tanned woman. "It's the government's tent and aid that sustained our life."

The aid Deng mentioned was 300 yuan ($42.9) and 15 kg of rice per person each month for three months from the Government of Dujiangyan. The three-month transition period is intended to give people time to get back to work and resume their normal lives.

Deng is not the only one in her family missing the old house. Since the earthquake, her husband Wei has walked the long distance back each day, just for a glimpse at the damaged house. It was where he spent the last 14 years of his life.

Fourteen years ago, the couple moved from the mountainous Juyuan County, west Sichuan, to Dujiangyan. The move was made to provide a better lifestyle for their daughter and find work in the city so as to put her through school.

In the first few years, Wei pedaled a tricycle cab to support his family while Deng stayed at home to look after the daughter, who eventually went to primary school. The family's luck changed when Deng decided to rent a 2-square-meter shop to sell her homemade tofu. Though not booming, the business went well. Last year at the begging of their daughter, the family bought their first appliance-a color TV. Always a comfort to the couple, Wei Xia has maintained good school grades. "I always came in the top 10 in class exams," she said.

That's probably part of reasons why the couple spoiled their daughter so much. They saved every penny to buy fruit and milk for the girl, as she prepared for the important high school entrance exam. It's a big event for the family as it would decide whether Wei Xia could get into a good high school or not.

At 2:28 p.m. on May 12, everything was put on hold. At that time she was at school having a math lesson. When the whole building started to shake violently, all the students were told to hide under their desks by the teacher before they came to realize what had happened. None of the children were hurt. They were then told not to leave the school without being accompanied by a parent. Wei Xia said she was not anxious when waiting as she knew her father would definitely soon come to fetch her. Indeed she did not wait too long. Her father said he was on his tricycle at that moment and immediately rushed to the school, ignoring any possible danger on the street.

Nowadays Dujiangyan was still suffering from aftershocks. But the father said the disaster would sooner or later come to an end. "That's when we start a new life," he said.

The couple confessed that their daughter had become their biggest concern. "If only she can be admitted into a high school, we would spare no efforts to support her," said Deng. But how they would find the money to pay tuition fees is still up in the air.

"I hope to reopen my tofu shop when everything returns to normal," said Deng. That's a tall order for the feisty woman, as the original shop was destroyed and they have little cash. "No matter how, I will find a way to restart the business," she said.

Wei Xinjun said the girl would return to class on June 23 and the following month would be a critical period for her to prepare for the big exam.

(Reporting from Dujiangyan)

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