Although on May 12 I felt little more than the slight sway of the chair under my butt, the Sichuan earthquake has shocked me to my very core. You can imagine the awe I felt, as a young man who has no real experience of tragedy, when we went to Hongbai Town and were confronted by the collapsed chemical factories and saw the hundreds of tons of concentrated sulphuric acid, exposed and vulnerable to aftershocks, and witnessed the flattened villages (including an entire high school that was reduced to rubble). It wasn’t until then did I begin to comprehend the impact behind that slight sway of my chair back in Beijing.
But when we began our investigation into the chemical factories in the area and drove through the unobstructed highways, and met patient, kind-hearted refugees who helped us find our way within the maze of tiny village paths – that was when I felt that I had found the true meaning behind the slight sway of the chair under my butt back in Beijing.
As a member of Greenpeace’s rapid response team, I was honored to participate in the prevention of potential environmental problems in the disaster zone. During my time in Sichuan, I saw destruction, trauma, crisis, and pain, but all of this darkness disappeared in the bright beacon of the people’s strength, humility, kindness, unity, and friendship. From this bright optimism, a new Sichuan shall be reborn.
In the face of catastrophe, there is always a sense of helplessness. When we were on location, I encountered things that moved me, but the more I was moved, the more I felt that my words and photos were useless to capture the situation.
When my colleague placed a warning sign on the unstable walls of a factory, I suddenly thought of the countless workers buried under the rubble of the factory, or under the mines. It is difficult to capture this complete powerlessness over life. Let us grieve for the victims.
In this catastrophe, 103 (chemical factories) may seem like nothing, but we still believe that every last one counts towards preventing more loss of life. Reconstruction is going to be a tremendous project and we can only hope that our policy-makers will have long-term visions and do a thorough job of environmental assessment – should more chemical plants be located in a densely populated area, in the upper reaches of rivers, or in a geologically unstable area?
Even though our work did not receive a great deal of attention, we choose to quietly continue. Only in this way can we do our best work. So I say to myself: I will definitely return!
The investigation in Sichuan made me realize the value of life and how lucky I am to be alive! Walking through the ruins, taking in the dense, jagged landscape of collapsed buildings surrounding me, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the insignificance of human beings! After the tragedy of the earthquake, we should be even more aware of the need to respect and protect nature!