The Odyssey of a Chengdu Resident: Looking for Mother After the Earthquake Hit

A 32-year-old resident of Chengdu City embarked on a week-long odyssey, rafting over earthquake-made lakes and crawling past landslides in search of his mother, who was traveling in the mountains of Beichuan County as a tourist when the recent earthquake hit the region.

The intrepid son, who called himself “Dazed Now” on his blog, wrote about his marvelous journey and posted a number of photos documenting the trek last week. Summarized and translated by CDT:

I decided to leave Chengdu for Beichuan the second day after the earthquake to look for my mother, when I couldn’t get any information about her safety. A colleague offered to accompany me. We carefully packed and set off on the journey in my car. But we had to leave the car behind shortly afterwards, because the road had been twisted by the earthquake and blocked by landslides.

earthquake odyssey 1
Photo: I put on my backpack and walked through fallen rocks.

earthquake odyssey 2
Photo: We saw a bus stopped by a big rock on the road.

Hours later, we arrived at the biggest town of Beichuan County, which had been devastated by the earthquake.

earthquake odyssey 3
Photo: A truck fell into a pit and was covered with the rubble of collapsed buildings in the town of Beichuan.

We saw bodies of victims and heard from survivors that thousands had died, including many school children.

We continued the journey after spending a night in a tent on the outskirts of town, because my mother could be in a tourists’ village in the mountains several dozen miles away from the town.

We came to a bridge, which had been cut in half. Vehicles had fallen and were buried under rubble at the riverbed below. The river had just been dried up by the earth’s dramatic movements.

broken bridge 4
Photo: the dried-up river and the broken bridge.

There was no other way to cross over, except for walking across the riverbed, which we did. We looked in awe at Beichuan Town after reaching the other side of the river.

odyssey 6
Photo: A large portion of the town’s ground had been cut away, exposing the bare earth .

The way forward was daunting. Not a single road survived. We had to crawl across mountain slopes to forge ahead. The slopes were steep and slippery, and sometimes shook in aftershocks.

odyssey 5
Photo: The red line marked the treacherous way.

After half a day’s trekking, we saw another town, which had been heavily flooded by encircled river water.
town flooded odyssey

We were happy when we saw a road. However, after several dozen feet, the road disappeared into rocks and dirt. We decided to slide down a slope and walked on the riverbed below. The riverbed was marshy. We had to be careful not to get stuck.

We put up twigs and to make a shed on a hilltop, and spent a night there. With only a bottle of fresh water left and the road ahead unclear, we hesitated.

We didn’t know how long the water can support us. If I went back, I wouldn’t have any way to know the whereabouts of my mother. But if we moved forward, we might die in the mountains.

The next morning, we chose to go on. We came up with an idea to make the way easier — we made a raft and went forward on the surface of a lake that was newly made by the earthquake.

odyssey 7 making a raft
Photo: We tied together logs and wooden boards from collapsed buildings and made a raft.

We paddled over a town that had sunk under water.

odyssey 8

Photo: A few chicken and pigs were stranded on the top of a submerged house.

rafting 8
Photo: We met two residents of the disappeared town, who were salvaging wreckage on a raft. We were glad to know that most residents of the town had survived.

After more than nine hours’ rafting, we walked ashore onto a paved road, which led us into another town where some relief had arrived.

The government building of the town had been made into a rescue center. Doctors were busy treating injured residents. But we didn’t have enough medicine for all those who needed help.

We each got a bag of instant noodles and a bottle of water from relief workers. I slept under the sky covered only with a raincoat that night. I was awakened by a chill in the middle of the night.

We continued to walk up the mountains to get closer to the tourist spots where my mother might be staying, with an army soldier leading our way.

We got to a region where the Qiang people, an ethnic minority, live. The hospitable locals treated the two weary wayfarers to a good meal, and sent several of their boys to carry our backpacks.

qiang people in safety

odyssey 10
Photo: Qiang villages survived the earthquake almost intact. Nature was still showing her lovely face there.

By the evening we finally arrived at the village where my mother’s tour group stayed. I shouted aloud my mother’s name. Nobody answered. My heart sank. But dozens of seniors came over to me and asked what happened outside of the village.

They also told me that my mother had gone to visit another village nearby and stayed there after the earthquake. She was safe, they assured me.

seniors gather odyssey 9
Photo: tourists stranded at a Qiang village. Most of them were seniors from Chengdu City.

Later that night, my mother and I finally met. We hugged and burst into tears.

Odyssey 11 mother and son

monkey-with-him.jpg
Photo: A monkey, which was saved in the mountains from the earthquake, plays on the shoulder of the happy son.

After the reunion, I started back, while my mother stayed at the village. I needed to go back to Chengdu so my wife would stop worrying about me, but the way back was too difficult for my mother to get through.

I returned home to Chengdu three days later, while my mother came back in a government helicopter two days afterwards.

odyssey 12 reunion
Photo: The family reunited in Chengdu ten days after the earthquake. To her right is my wife, who was six months pregnant.

However, for countless survivors of the earthquake, such a moment of family reunion is a faraway dream. I grieve for all my fellow people who passed away in the disaster. I wish all the survivors a peaceful and happy life…

I went back to Beichuan a week later, delivering donations to help those less fortunate.

June 2, 2008 3:36 PM
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