Thursday, April 15, 2010

Yushu earthquake

This morning, about 400 people were killed by an earthquake in China. I was shocked to read that this earthquake struck in Yushu, Qinghai province. I spent some time in Yushu last summer (blog entries here and here). Two years ago, a major earthquake killed 87,000 people not far from Yushu in northern Sichuan, another place sky-high in the mountains, also due to the Indian subcontinent smashing into Eurasia.

I count myself fortunate, of course, that this didn't happen when I was there. Yushu being as remote as it is, the only way out was a 15-hour bus ride through high mountains on dirt roads to the south or east. My second reaction, however, was one of sadness. I met some fantastic people in Yushu, and to imagine 400 of them dead is heartbreaking, moreso because I've been there.

For all I've heard about China's ascendance, I was surprisingly surprised when I got to Yushu. I remember that nobody spoke English and many people didn't even speak Chinese given that they were Tibetans. I remember that there didn't seem to be a shower or a flush toilet anywhere in the town. I remember reading that there was no way to get money from an ATM, and I remember searching forever to find an Internet connection. I remember paying $12 to get a neat double room that had no shower or bathroom, but a free thermos of hot water and a large colour TV.

You can describe China roughly as sloping down from west to east geographically, but economically it slopes down from east to west. The cities on the east coast, places like Shanghai, Beijing, Dalian, Qingdao and Tianjin are by far the most developed. Places in the far west are so obscure that no one has ever heard of them, places like Qinghai, Xinjiang and, were it not for Brad Pitt and the Beastie Boys, Tibet as well.

It's sad that this is how Qinghai and Yushu, which Lonely Planet described as a remote corner of a remote province, made the news. Maybe one day development and the rest of the world will find them again, but right now, they make about a dollar a day and their children die in poorly-constructed schools. Given the constraints of geography, infrastructure and abilities, the Chinese government's response seems to be better than it would be in other countries, but I don't envy anyone trying to get there by any way other than flying.


Shan said...

I had heard of Xinjiang long ago. I found it on the globe hunting for places that start with the letter X for a potential advantage in a rousing game of Name, Place, Animal, Thing.

Jennifer said...

This is very moving, Adeel. Thank you again for a great read.