Quake victims don't sleep alone

"I'd try my best to console relatives. But I'm not a psychiatrist, I'm a villager. All I have are some simple words: 'Don't be so sad'."

That, too, was all he could say to persuade a group of mourners, who had spent the day at the graveyard, to go home when the cemetery was about to close, he recalled.

Ma and Hu received an additional monthly government subsidy of 550 yuan (S$106.04) -- besides the monthly 550-yuan subsidy each person from the quake-hit area gets from the government before their resettlement -- for their 8 am to 6 pm shifts maintaining the graveyard.

The two retired last September.

"These days, fewer people cry so hard. With the passing of time, it's hard to stay so sad," said Ma, who still lives with his five other family members in a shack built over two tents in a mountainside shantytown, about 10 minutes' walk from the tomb.

The government has built new 90-square-meter houses in town for his family and other households in the quake-hit area.

For the construction of the houses, the government paid the majority of the building cost, which amounts to nearly 50,000 yuan per household. Each family has to pay the rest -- about 10,000 yuan -- before they can move in.

"We don't have that money yet. So we don't have the key," Ma says, pointing at his new house in the town.

But Ma doesn't complain. With the government's monthly subsidy of 550 yuan per person, the family is now living on 3,300 yuan a month and might be able to save enough money for their new house.

After they move into their new houses, Ma and Hu will not get the monthly subsidy anymore, but they will be entitled to the town's social insurance, which in Ma's case, stands at 660 yuan a month.

Over the past year, Ma said, he still visits the graveyard from time to time, mostly when he is on his way to the town to buy vegetables.

"I don't miss my job. But because I worked there for so long, I have a special attachment to the graveyard," Ma said.

-China Daily/Asia News Network

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