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UK tourists touched by locals
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Foreign tourists take a helicopter to Chengdu on Friday after being evacuated from Wolong in Sichuan province. [Photo: Xinhua]

Judy Wong's three-hour panda-watching trip turned into a disaster - but at the end of it, she has been left with a greater appreciation of China.

The 59-year-old Chinese-Briton was about to cuddle a giant panda and get a photo taken when the earthquake stuck the Wolong giant panda breeding park on Monday.

She told the press yesterday that being in Beijing was a miracle. "We were in the middle of the panda center surrounded by sheer cliffs. Rocks fell all around. But here I am, completely fine - and that is only half the miracle.

"The other half is the Chinese people and the way they took care of us."

She said the generosity of the people in Sichuan and the professionalism of the army as well as China International Travel Service staff presented a true picture of China to the British tourists.

"I've never been to China before. And (the experience of) the reunion is very important for me.

"We grieve for Chinese people in the tragedy but I am so glad to see that they still look to the future," Wong said.

She was in a 19-member British travel group that was flown to safety by helicopter after spending three nights on a bus in the Wolong. None was hurt.

Paying tribute to the Sichuan people, Wong said they were always ready to share what they had though there wasn't much left for them.

"They shared their food with us, basically rice," she said, adding she had eaten more porridge in the past three days than in her whole life.

Penelope Edwards, another member of the travel group, said she would never forget the Sichuan people.

"I was so cold on the second night when it was raining and someone gave me some dumplings with sesame fillings. It made such difference. They were smiling at us and I felt so warm," Edwards said.

She said despite losing their homes and being distraught, the people showed them kindness, help and support."I met a group of Tibetan students and they invited me to eat and sing."

The two women were also touched by the staff of the Wolong center who risked their lives to save pandas.

(China Daily May 18, 2008)

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