Monday, May 19, 2008


A letter from Beijing

Dear Friends,

I am writing to appeal for help of any kind for the victims of the catastrophic earthquake that hit Southwestern China on May 12th. Initially estimated at 7.9, the quake has now been revised to an 8.0 magnitude, but the devastation it has wrought is fundamentally unmeasurable.

While the Western media has covered this event to an extent, information will surely begin to peter off as other "news," like Paris Hilton's latest hairdo seizes the media's fickle attention. Meanwhile, the human suffering caused by this colossal natural disaster is only just unfolding and the need for aid in the form of money, medical supplies, expertise and assistance, clothing, shelter, clean water, food, baby formula, and other basic life necessities will only increase and become more urgent as time goes by.

I hope that each one of you can reach inside your heart and offer whatever kind of support and assistance you can to help ease this devastating calamity.

A few basic up-to-date facts and info about the current situation.

To date, over 32,000 people have been confirmed dead. This number is expected to reach 50,000 as the 7-day mark passes and the chance of surviving in the rubble declines precipitously. At 150 hours, the soldiers and relief workers are are still digging survivors out of the rubble. People are not giving up hope.

One woman, who escaped being crushed because her husband flung himself on top of her at the last minute, managed to stay alive only by drinking her own blood. In order to get out from under the tons of concrete pressing down on her leg, she had to saw off her own leg with a rusty saw and a pair of scissors that the relief workers were able to pass through a hole in the rubble. Of course she had no anaesthesia. She told reporters that the only thing that kept her alive was the thought that she had a responsibility to raise her teenage daughter into a decent, contributing member of society. There are so many others like her.

A primary school teacher refused to run for safety when she saw that her little charges were paralyzed with fear inside the classroom. She made three rescue trips back into the shaking building before it collapsed on her. She was dug out with children under each arm, over her shoulder and one in each hand. Elsewhere, a mother saved her infant by making a bridge over it with her body. She died in that position, and three days later the child was saved.

Another man, in one of the many regions not readily accessible by rescue teams, tells of trying with his bare hands to dig his 16 year old son out of the rubble, hearing his voice become weaker and weaker over the ensuing 4 days before rescuers were able to get through, by hiking on foot over the mountains. His boy called out one last time, "Ba," he said, "I'm sorry, I'm can't hold on any longer," and perished before the rescuers were able to dig him out. The impossibility of transporting cranes and other heavy-lifting machinery into such areas has led to the loss of an enormous number of lives.

Although there has been a laudable and prompt reaction from the Chinese government, markedly unlike the reaction of the US government during Hurricane Katrina (American soldiers are said to have stood by with their guns and refused to help, while the Chinese soldiers came armed with only shovels and tireless determination to save lives), the earthquake has devastated a huge area of mountain towns, villages and cities, making the rescue effort tortuous and extremely difficult. Dams have cracked or broken, roads and bridges have collapsed or been obstructed by mudslides caused by rainstorms, and falling rock from the sides of mountains that broke loose during the quake, making it almost impossible to airlift or otherwise transport goods and personnel to the innumerable stricken areas. Flooding is another imminent danger that has caused evacuations in a number of areas. Meanwhile, severe aftershocks and new earthquakes--this morning a 7.2 quake hit a nearby area, killing 3 and injuring another 1000 people--continuing to settle the rubble and hinder the rescue effort.

The Chinese people, too, have been admirable and moving in their relief efforts, already donating almost as much money as the government--somewhere in the ballpark of $180 million US dollars. Han Chinese and Tibetans (who form a significant part of the population of Sichuan) have worked together to save each other's lives. From sports stars (Thanks, Yao Ming) to companies, from contemporary artists and arts people holding relief auctions to ordinary citizens sending whatever they can, donating blood and volunteering to go help on the ground, the people here, including the huge expat population, have rallied together to do whatever they can. The victims themselves have also been heroic in their own attempts in the relief effort--turning aside food and help when it is more urgently needed elsewhere, and there is a conspicuous lack of disorder that often comes in situations such as these--no looting, raping, robbery and pillaging, just an incredible upsurge of mutual aid and selfless support.

But there is so much more work to be done before the lives of the victims can come even close to going back to normal.

Today, at 2.28 pm, exactly 1 week after the earthquake struck, a national period of mourning began with the wailing of sirens and honking of horns on streets across the country for three minutes. Here in Beijing, the moment was solemn and sorrowful. I went to the curb, along with everyone else in the area, and stood listening to the cacophony, weeping for those who could not be saved.

32,000+ are dead so far. 50,000 expected.

About 1/3 of this number are school children. The government is investigating corruption in what are called "tofu construction projects" made by greedy contractor with substandard materials and in violation of safety regulations that may have been resulted in the unprecedented number of schools and hospitals that collapsed completely, and has vowed to punish those responsible. It has also been much more open about the crisis than in previous situations, and welcomes assistance and support from all corners of the globe, for there is still so much left to do.

Over 200,000 people are injured, over 15,000 have sustained severe, life-threatening injury or have been maimed. There are huge numbers of orphans, and families whose children have died.

4.8 million people or more are homeless. Their livelihoods have been crushed into oblivioun along with their homes and places of work.

Millions of animals, from livestock to pets, have been rendered homeless or injured. Foreign Animal Protection Societies need to get involved to help these animals, and administer shots to the packs of homeless dogs that are now starving, hurt, disoriented and being shot for fear of rabies and other diseases.

MONEY, tents, blankets, first aid supplies and other medicines: especially: medicines to stop bleeding, antibiotics, pain-relief medicines, disinfectants rain gear (rain coats, umbrellas, boots), baby formula, food stuffs, feminine supplies, clothing, toilet paper, other basic life supplies. People with expertise in PTSD and who can offer basic training in psychological counseling are needed as well.

The threat of disease spreading in places where huge numbers of people are crammed together is enormous. The Chinese government and people has been admirable in its relief efforts, but this is a disaster bigger than any country can manage by itself, especially after the huge, and devastating blizzard that put South China under ice in February, and the enormous output of investment in infrastructure development for the Olympics, this kind of damage isn't going to be fixed quickly or easily.

Possible places to channel relief aid (their news is often quite out of date already, but they can help direct contributions to the right places):

This site has a plethora of good ways to donate and help out.

The RED CROSS CHINA site was hacked into by reprehensible vultures, so I won't offer a link to their site at present.



I have no idea which of these organizations is "best," but I think any kind of help at this point is of great value. Please act now and do or give whatever you can.

Also, see info on the Three Shadows Earthquake Relief Benefit Silent Auction (this info is only partial, as of May 13th, other artists including :
RongRong & inri
Adou (Sichuan native)
Xiong Wenyun (Sichuan native, donating a 1999 photograph from Wenchuan county, the earthquake epicenter)
Zhao Lian
Han Bing,
Huang Lei
Gao Bo (Sichuan native)
He Yunchang
He An
Mo Yi
Jiang Zhi
Yu Bogong
Alberto Garcia-Alix have also donated works to the benefit
Others are welcome to join!).

If you are in Beijing, or elsewhere, I urge you to make donations and come to the Benefit on the 25th.

Other info on the crisis and numerous links:

We have gone through our home and donated an array of things from clothes to cooking utensils, photography art works and signed books (for the benefit auction being held by Three Shadows Photographic Arts Centre in Beijing) and cash. None of this can possibly comes even close to enough, so I hope I can rally some of you to lend a hand.

Times like these are reminders of both the incredible fragility and also indefatigable resilience and tenacity of human life. I am reminded of the last lines of a poem by Marge Pearcy, For Strong Women. She writes, "Until we are all strong together, a strong woman is strongly afraid." I think the sentiment holds for all of us human beings, and is a reminder of the need to overcome the petty, artificial boundaries of nation, gender, age, religion, and even, way of life, and stand together in the face of adversity.

Let's be strong together in supporting those people whose lives have been devastated and yet are standing bravely side by side, struggling to overcome unthinkable obstacles.

Wishing you peace, love and the good fortune to live your lives unobstructed by disaster, disease, war and other catastrophes--humanly created and naturally occurring alike. It's easy to forget just how good we've got it.

With respect,

Maya Kóvskaya
Art Critic, Curator, Writer

People in Dark Times

"Even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and that such illumination may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in theirlives and their works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and shed over the time span that was given them on earth."

Hannah Arendt (From: Men in Dark Times)

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