The following is a second journal entry from Becky Priebe, who, as Becky Hoops took part in the recent ‘Clown Trauma Tour.’
See also Part 1 for a report on Clowns Sans Frontieres’ tour of Sichuan.
China Earthquake Tour, Part 2
The second half of our tour took place in a city called Mianzhu. This city, 2 hours north of Chengdu, was gravely affected by the earthquake. At first glance we immediately saw small signs of damage: cracked buildilngs, random piles of bricks, almost empty river beds (dams that controlled the rivers had burst during the earthquake), but the most obvious sign was the thousands of rows of temporary housing and temporary schools, on the outskirts of the city.
This “temporary” city, made of white and blue metal, consisted of corrugated retangle row housing, forming a completely new city… like a refuge camp within the country’s own borders. Conditions are basic: electricity, no heating, no running water and no windows. There are more than a million people currently living in these conditions. They are no longer receiving governement aid and most are separated from their family networks. In China, family, community and work networks are very important, many earthquake victims are left without this support system.
Most of the shows we did in Mianzhu were in one of the temporary schools. There were about 10 000 children attending this school, so we did multiple shows at the same school for a few days. The children were between the ages of 5 and 16, and shows were for between 400 and 1200 kids at a time. By the end of the week we were had apparently earned a somewhat disconcerning rockstar status…. for those who are curious: yes, 1000 Chinese teenagers who all want an autograph at the same time, is a bit intimidating.
In Mianzhu we also did shows for a retirement home and in the temporary housing project for those who happened to be there. The elderly reacted just as strongly as the children, with a bit less pushing for autographs at the end. One man began yelling, or what I perceived at yelling, at me before we started a show. I was intimated and thought that he didn’t want us there, he seemed agressive and upset. Upon receiving traslation, we realized that he was expressing his apologies that we should see such an ugly part of the country and that he was happy we had come. After he saw me two-person-hula-hooping with a stern, young police officer he was even more happy we had come.
The day that hit me the hardest was when we visited the city of rubble where all of the displaced people had lived, worked and attended school. For the first time since we had arrived in China, it was quiet. There were no people in streets selling fruit, cheap clothing and plastic toys, no herds of school children, there were no traffic jams or honking horns. But within the disturbing silence, if you listened carefully, you could still hear the millions of people screaming as their homes and schools collapsed upon them. Among the rubble we saw toys, stuffed animals, baby shoes; unsettling reminders of children crying and whimpering under mountains of rubble, wondering if they would be rescued in time. Or relatives, crying out to loved ones for days and weeks, with the chances of their survival dwindling with each hour. This day hit me hard. It made me realise in a very tangible way what these “refugees”, we have been performing for, had been through. It fed me with a heightened desire to make the children laugh, to bring joy and smiles to the people. My ridiculous complaints about the food and cold weather began to seem insignificant and frivolous compared with the grim realities these displaced people had lived through and are continuing to face.
One collapsed school we visited was reduced to rubble in seconds, killing 3000 students instantly. Some parents lost their only child; with the “One Child Policy” in China, families are legally restricted from having more than one child; couples are sometimes sterilized after their first child is born.
The government is not really giving much money or aid to these temporary cities. Maybe I don’t understand the issue in its entirety, but I am still somewhat enraged when I think back to the massive expenditures of the recent Olympics in Beijing. There is also a theory that the numerous dams built in the area contributed to weakening the fault line. There are so many issues like these that seem to become increasingly complex upon deeper research and investigation. It is really touchy for any Chinese people to say negative things about the government; even when we had translaters it was difficult to know how people really felt.
The last show we did was in a school for children that had lived in the hardest hit city of WenChuan. These kids were, for some reason or another displaced over 6 hours from their families to live in a vacant factory. The kids were mostly teenagers of minority background. They loved the show and we even won over the slightly reluctant principal. This show, and one other show we did during this tour, was in collaboration with an organization called “Sichuan Earthquake Relief”. This non-governmental oganisation (NGO) has done and is still doing some really phenomenal work in the quake stricken communities accross the province. For more information on this NGO please visit:
For those who are interested in statistics of the aftermath of the quake (as of June 2008, stats obtained from Sim’s Cozy Guesthouse):
69 197 deaths
374, 176 people were injured
12, 222 missing
7, 789,100 houses were totally collapsed
24, 590,000 houses were damaged
15, 147,400 survivors had been transferred (mostly to temporary housing units, I described earlier)
Up to 46 million people were estimated to have been affected.