Monday, June 23, 2008

Tumblin' down

Dear No One in Particular,

The earthquake in China happened a little over a month ago now, which makes it old news to many of us who have grown accustomed to the rapid-fire news days that were ushered in with the new millennium and the Internet age. However, you do not need to do a whole lot of digging to find news being leaked out of China and into the foreign press. For a government so tightly locked down around its people, much information -- the vast majority of it heartbreaking -- is widely available.

I grew up in California, Land of Earthquakes, but somehow managed to -- so far, knock on wood -- escape major devastation. I was a toddler during the 1989 earthquake, one that spared my immediate family -- and just barely, since they could have easily been one of the many that died in the Bay Bridge collapse -- and left my aunt and her two boys homeless when the Marina went to hell.

Because I have a spotty recollection of the devastation that the ’89 quake caused, I have no frame of reference in which to view the horror of the Sichuan earthquake. Few of us do. We are infinitely lucky.

The stories that trickle out of Sichuan province are devastating, in every sense of the word. I have never been an extremely emotional person; however, whenever I hear about the victims of the earthquake, I cry. Not just a few drops, squeezed out of the corner of my eye, but body-wracking sobs, my teeth clenched around my fist.

NPR’s All Things Considered sent two of their best correspondents to China to report on the victims of the quake. Melissa Block’s story on a young couple frantic to find their family in the wreckage was the first that I heard that caused me to break down. I listened to it in the car, on the way to school; I was lucky that the Boy was driving, because by the halfway point, I was an emotional wreck. I barely had enough time to compose myself before class. I urge you to listen to the story -- the raw emotion in Block’s voice really drives home the palpable desperation.

And then there’s Coco Wang. Her wonderful comic strips are the very definition of “bittersweet”: the drawings delicately handle the profoundly tragic subject. She keenly cuts through the heartbreak with humour; her comics make me smile through the tears.

I can not remember another time when I felt so deeply, so keenly a stranger’s pain. I so desperately want to help, to ease their suffering. I wish I could throw money at the situation, donating whatever meagre amount I have in my savings to the Red Cross, hoping that the dollars trickle down to the peasants who have been hit the worst. I have been told that monetary donations are not the best -- but how to help? I genuinely wish to know; if someone more knowledgeable than I happens to read this, please let me know.


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