We’re on a Road to Nowhere
Day 1 (May 17, 2008)
After two and a half days of traveling and a number of audibles, Jake and I have finally made it to Chengdu. For anyone who is looking to come out here and aid in the relief efforts I would strongly suggest booking a flight and buying a ticket.
While Jake and I would like to think of ourselves as explorers blazing the trail for those who come after us, the truth is we drove for a day and a half and ended up at a highway that was on the map but not on the earth.
Day one went relatively smooth as we drove from Suzhou to Nanjing, pulled a left and headed into Anhui province toward Hefei. The highway was lined with crops and farm houses as far as the eye could see and after realizing that it looked a lot like Nebraska we took to calling it “God’s Country”. We loved the area so much we made a wrong turn and drove an hour and a half north, ending up in a city called Bengbu, before realizing we were deeper into God’s Country than we ever thought possible. After straightening our path we went south through Hefei and arrived in Wuhan just past midnight.
Day 2 (May 18, 2008)
Jake and I had some sketchy maps that were going to take us from Wuhan to Chengdu but we decided it would be best to pose as hotel guests and confirm our plan with the concierge at the classy Ramada down the street. Yes, in Wuhan, the Ramada is classy.
The lovely folks at the Ramada gave us an updated China road map and we all decided that if we took the HuRong Expressway we could be in Chengdu by 10 or 11pm. I called one of our suppliers for Mister Softee who is located in Wuhan and he confirmed that the HuRong Expressway would be the best bet.
We stopped at a local Carrefour to pick up some supplies and then took off for Chengdu. By 3 pm we were approaching a city called Yi Chang, better known as the Three Gorges Dam city, and everything was looking good. We followed the signs towards the HuRong Expressway, made a right turn and stopped at the toll gate entrance.
Me: “Hi, this is the road to Chengdu correct?”
Toll Guy: “Uhh, there is no road here”
Me: “What do you mean? It’s right here on the map”
Toll Guy: “Oh yes that is a very new map. This road is not yet finished.”
Me: “Ok, so what should we do?”
Toll Guy: “Well, you can take regular roads to get there I guess, but you will have to go through the mountains.”
Me: “How long will that take?”
Toll Guy: “At least twenty hours”.
Me: “Uh, Jake, we have some bad news…”
After calling my supplier who told us to take the HuRong Expressway, he confirmed the news that the road wasn’t finished and advised us to go into Yi Chang and see what we could do.
In town the news got worse. The people there told us that many people had left from Yi Chang to go help in Chengdu but were stuck in 2-3 days of standstill traffic on the highways because everyone was trying to do the same thing. We were looking at 20 hours of back roads and then 2-3 days after that of parking lot highways.
At that point we spoke with Bookworm and Heart to Heart to gauge our value to the cause if we were to fly to Chengdu and leave our car and supplies in Wuhan. Heart to Heart said they couldn’t use us without the car but the Bookworm said we would still be helpful if we were to come.
We jumped in the car, drove three hours back to Wuhan, booked a flight and arrived at the Chengdu airport at 11 a.m. Monday morning. We have just spoken with Bookworm and will begin working today (Monday).
Day 3 (May 19, 2008)
We had our first full day of work in Chengdu yesterday (Monday) and through it we got a much better feel for the situation. We are still gathering information on the exact needs and the best ways people can contribute and I promise that information will come as soon as we know.
Bookworm is doing a great job of coordinating and is acting as a central location for foreigners to volunteer in whatever capacity is needed. Monday, Jake and I spent all day unloading trucks of donations at the Bookworm. Our first day’s project was to sort donated clothing into categories of men’s/women’s/kid’s, then to repackage them and send them out to the affected areas.
There seems to be a lot of people offering help here, but contrary to what we heard before coming here there are definitely jobs for people to do if they come here willing to help. The city of Chengdu looks relatively unaffected and hotels are available so it is a great place to base yourself when you come to help out. Again, this goes against many of the rumors that are flying around.
One last thing, as far as donations, the most pressing need is for tents and face masks. I will post more information once I get it.
The following are photos contributed by Vivian Lucia Fluck, who is also helping out in Chengdu. Click the thumbnail for a larger image