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A memory dilemma in face of earthquake ruins
Updated: 2009-05-01 13:26

Another commentator under the name "52zuguo" questioned the purpose of quake ruins protection: "It should be cherishing the memory of the dead and helping disaster prevention and relief, rather than making money."

Xi Hui, 30, who lives in a makeshift home in Beichuan's Leigu Township agrees.

Xi says many tourists to the ruins are merely satisfying their curiosity, which makes the survivors uncomfortable.

"They don't have the experience of losing close family in a massive disaster," says Xi who lost his father and 27-year-old brother. "They don't really understand our sorrow."

His mother is still inconsolable. "She chose to escape from the grief," he says, "We never talk about the past with her. And she didn't return to the county on the Tomb-Sweeping Day in early April."

Xi worries that tourists who pour into the old county town just aggravate her grief.

"She can't control her sadness when she thinks of the disaster."

He hopes the old county will be protected from tourists in order to let the dead rest in peace.

Lin Jizhong, deputy director of Beichuan Culture and Tourism Bureau, refutes suggestions the county is in the business of disaster tourism:  "We, too, oppose visits to the quake zone as entertainment."

He says the government has strengthened controls, banning tourist buses and visitors from entering the old county with an almost 2-meter-high wire fence.

Police guard the locked gate to the old county seat. Visitors, by twos and threes, walk near the gate or climb a nearby hill to look down on it.

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However, for Wang Zhengcai, fewer tourists mean less income.

Wang, 56, a construction worker before the quake, lost his wife in the disaster.

Late last year, inspired by a neighbor selling video discs about the quake, he applied for a license to run the stall closest to the locked gate, selling earthquake picture albums and discs.

"I was there during the quake," he says, turning one album to a page showing a picture of two bodies under huge rocks titled "Xiaohe Street".

Wang earned about 600 yuan (US$90) a month before the ban on tourist buses, barely enough for him and his wife's brother to live on.

He supports opening the ruins to tourists: "People from across the country and the rest of the world have helped us a lot. It's understandable they want to see the quake-hit areas for themselves."

"I only sold one disc till 1 p.m. today," he says.

Although he is unwilling to even glance at the video, Wang feels it is his only way to make a living.

"I can never forget my wife and the quake, but life has to go on. This is reality."

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