Survivors look ahead one month after quake

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Hundreds of blue tents, sprawling across a course where horses used to race, are serving as temporary homes for residents in Gyegu town, exactly one month after a deadly quake shook the Tibetan community in northwest China's Qinghai Province.

The former racecourse, overlooked by the snow-capped plateau, is now the biggest settlement in town.

Several white trucks parked in the tent community transport daily goods from the provincial capital Xining, about 800 kilometers from Gyegu.

"Five retail companies have set up outlets here," said Li Jinxi, a salesman of Qinghai Department Store.

Li said the outlets were opened four days after the 7.1-magnitude quake hit Yushu, a Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, on April 14, to meet the essential needs of the quake survivors.

Despite the high transportation cost, not a single vendor had raised their prices, he said.

In another corner of the community, a group of Tibetan children were playing on a simple slide and a trampoline. Their laughter seemed to tell everyone they had, at least for the moment, forgotten the nightmarish quake.

"Some of them have actually lost their parents in the quake," said Padma Lhamo, a teacher with the Ghee Lamp Children's Home, a kindergarten founded by a non-governmental organization in Yushu.

Nineteen children were registered at the kindergarten so far, but Padma Lhamo said the number was set to grow to about 100.

"We expect to give them classes in about two weeks," she said. "When more funds come, we'll also provide them free meals."

Padma Lhamo, 23, is the third of five children in a local Tibetan family. The quake toppled 85 percent of homes in Gyegu town at the heart of Yushu, including hers.

Next to the debris of her old home are five tents, four acting as bedrooms and one as a kitchen for her extended family of 14.

"My elder brother is out searching for caterpillar fungus (a traditional medicine widely used as a tonic) and may not return for another month," she said. "My younger brother is a monk at Gyegu Monastery and rarely comes home."

Even in early summer, the night temperature still falls to zero degree Celsiu in Yushu, which sits at an average altitude over 4,000 meters above sea level.

"When it's unbearably cold, our whole family will huddle in the 12-square-meter tent kitchen, where there's a fire," she said.

The fire is fueled by dried yak dung.

Each day, Padma Lhamo and her mother would spend some time to sit in the kitchen, turning around the Tibetan prayer wheel in observance of the Tibetan ritual.

"We're lucky compared with some other families," she said.

No one in her family was injured in the quake, which has claimed at least 2,200 lives.

The food rationed out by the government and other organizations was enough to feed the whole family. "Our diet is more or less the same as before: we have tsamba for staple food and potatoes and cabbages as vegetables," said Padma Lhamo.

Many signs of a trade recovery can be seen in the Gyegu tent community. The town is a major place of commerce located on the ancient trade Silk Road. Tents align the main street selling a variety of things including vegetables, fruits, liquor and other beverages.

At least three hair salons were competing for business. Wireless service providers including China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom all set up outlets in tents.

Gao Zhiqing, owner of Jinyuan market, said daily sales were around 1,000 yuan (146 U.S. dollars), down by half from the pre-quake days.

"Business will recover and will even expand when the town is rebuilt," said Gao. "The quake has actually made Yushu famous."

Across the Jinyuan market is the Hongqi Primary School, whose buildings were severely damaged in the quake. "Prefabricated houses are being built. Hopefully all the students will resume classes in a week," said school principal Fu Wencai.

According to the bureau for housing and urban-rural development of Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, all dangerous houses would be demolished and ruins would be cleaned in Gyegu town by the end of June.

Devout Tibetan Buddhists can often be seen walking clockwise around the sacred Mani stone mound, muttering their six-syllable prayer and occasionally adding stones to the pile, to observe their daily ritual.

Many crawl while making their long prayers.

Dozang, 53, has prayed around the mound for three days. "All my family died in the quake," he said. "I make 1,000 long prayers for their souls."

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