Quake survivors reunite with those who took them in

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Dozens of young Chinese returned to familiar surroundings when they arrived on Sunday at the Ocean All-Russia Children's Care Center in Vladivostok in the Far East district of Russia.

The 41 youths were among 1,570 youngsters between ages 9 and 14 from the Wenchuan quake zone who were invited to recuperate in Russia by then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in 2008.

It was still early in the morning on Sunday, but many Russian children had already lined up and were waving the national flags of Russia and China as they met a bus full of Chinese young people from Sichuan province. The greeting included hurrahs of welcome and national dances.

Andrei Bazilevsky, director of the children's care center, gave brief but warm opening remarks at the welcoming ceremony.

"In 2008 ... the center became the second home for Chinese children. Now I would like to say sincerely: Welcome home! You are coming home!" Bazilevsky said.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the magnitude 8.0 earthquake that devastated several counties in Sichuan province. The earthquake killed at least 69,000 people and more than 370,000 people were injured or missing. For those invited to Russia after the quake, it was a time when sorrow was mixed with generosity and happiness.

Bazilevsky said, "We will never forget history, nor the fun times when we were together."

He said the friendship between Chinese and Russian youths was sealed as they helped each other. Such friendship is so valuable that it lasts until today, and will continue into the future, Bazilevsky said.

Xue Xue, who was among the quake-affected children, said she was happy and excited to return to the children's care center.

Now a graduate student at Sichuan University, Xue visited the dormitory room where she had lived, classrooms where she had studied and the canteen where she had had her meals.

"Although I don't understand Russian, when I heard people here speak the language, it still made me feel like I was home."

Meeting the cooks in the canteen also brought back many memories.

"We had mashed potatoes, sausages and fruit for dinner when we were here. And we often put some fruit in our pockets and took it back to the dormitory," Xue said.

"Also, I remember we ate meals with a spoon, a very big one. And we drank Russian soup, the red soup. I think the soup is named borscht," she said.

The Chinese were surprised to find that the center is virtually unchanged.

"Except the dormitories, which are better now," Xue said. "The dormitory used to be a six-person room, and now it is a four-person room."

Dai Yao was 12 when she arrived at the center in 2008. This year she graduated from the Sichuan Vocational and Technical College, and she hopes to be a teacher.

She said returning to the center is special because the experience in Russia in 2008 influenced her career choice.

"The name of the tutor who taught me was Katya. Her age was almost the same as we are now. She played games with us and taught us every day. I think she made me feel like becoming a teacher."

The Chinese youths were at an impressionable age in which things they saw and experienced could change their lives when they arrived in Vladivostok in 2008, said Xiao Yu, one of the 41 young Chinese, who has become a journalist in Sichuan.

"My tutor was named Masha, and she was a journalist. She worked in the center as a volunteer. She liked telling me interesting stories about her job. These stories pushed me to study hard to be a journalist and a volunteer in some social activities."

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