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A Girl in Yushu

24 April 2010

The following story was told by a PLA officer and published on Chengdu Business (成都商报) in Chinese:

Anyone who joins the rescue operation in Yushu would certainly take notice of a ruin site near the Gesaer Square due to its astonishing visual appeal: It is virtually a hill of fresh flowers. The reason for that is simple: that pile of rubble used to be a fresh flower store.

On the afternoon of April 16 , two days after the deadly earthquake, I led my rescue team of a dozen men passed by this graveyard of flowers, and saw a girl aged 17-18 standing there. Soon I found she came to join us and was following me around, so I said to her as gentle as I could, "Little sister, please leave this area, this is a very dangerous place."

The girl said nothing in reply, but halted her pace with tears welled in her eyes.

Next morning at about 9am, I led my team approaching the flowering site again and, once again, found her standing there. Her head was covered in a white woolen cap and her slim body wrapped in a feather-filled white coat; she was silent, staring blankly at the rubble.

When I passed her, she came to follow me again and said in a small voice, "Uncle, my mom died, my old sister died, my dad could not be located, now I only have my younger sister with me." My heart twinged and I paused to listen to her story. So I learned the flower shop was owned and run by her family moved here from Pingdingshan City in Hebei Province, near Beijing. On that fateful day the whole family was buried under the collapsed building, and she was injured on head and taken to hospital by the rescuers. Immediately after left the hospital, she returned to the ruined home, hoping to find some clothes for her younger sister still in recovery, and save some memories of her mother and old sister who had already been cremated.

The tear streamed down her pale cheeks and my heart was broken. So were all my soldiers. And we began to dig through the rubble for her. That day we kept working from morning to afternoon, and no one mentioned about taking a lunch break. Among the items that we scavenged there was a cell phone belonged to her mom and a giant woolly bear, her once favourite toy, but these were not what she was looking for. She desperately wanted to find photos of her mom and sister so whenever she missed them, she could take a look at their pictures. But until we reached the bottom of the rubble pile at 5pm, there were no photos of her mom or sister found. The girl buried her face deep in the bear. We knew she was trying not to let us see her crying.

I gathered my team and took out all the money I had in my pocket. Everyone followed suit and did the same - but still we only got 1,700 yuans in total. I placed the money in her hand said to the girl, "You've lost your family, and from now on, the PLA uncles are the one you can always turn to. Please be strong."

She burst out crying and held me tight. And I clenched my jaws trying hard to hold back the tears in my eyes.

Finally she brushed away the tears, got a pen from her bag and wrote quickly on the back of a mud stained and partly damaged photo: "I give this torn photo to Uncle Yang as a way to say thank you. Thanks, Uncle Yang, and thanks everyone. Zhou Mengyan. April 18, 2010."

"I have nothing in return for your kind help, this is all I have," she said and put the photo in my hand.

On the photo she is looking at me, without blinking.

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