'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Corpses are not part of our closeted world, and certainly not several at once. Most of those I'd seen before becoming a reporter were treated with powder and rouge, dressed in their finest, displayed as much to provide "closure" to survivors as to respect the memories of the deceased.

Looking at this unvarnished business, you can't help wondering what these people must have felt at the end, their worries and passions. The woman with the beautiful long black hair, now by the fifth day starting to fall out. How she combed it, admiring herself in the mirror, careful to choose the flowered dress she wore on the last day of her life hoping a husband or lover might notice. An elderly person unidentifiable beneath a blood-soaked mattress who had hobbled as far as the front door before falling head first, blocking the stairs, cane jammed against the wall.

Most victims appeared to have died quickly, but I'm haunted by the body of one large man. By the looks of it, he had lived long enough for some good Samaritans to place him on a bed frame and fashion makeshift stretcher handles before abandoning him to save their own skin. Nearby, a store mannequin, split in half, mocked human grief with its painted smile.

Heading out of Beichuan on the steep incline up to the road, a resident back for one last look gave a wave at the wreckage. "Goodbye, my lovely hometown," he said. "My house is gone, the relatives have fled, I'll probably never see you again."

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