Wife of Chinese passenger 'can't bear to go back yet'

Wife of Chinese passenger 'can't bear to go back yet'
Relatives preparing to leave the hotel where they had been staying in Beijing last Friday. MAS has told family members of the missing passengers to wait for news at home.

Most of the Chinese relatives of the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) plane have packed their bags, but Ms Yang Rong stubbornly soldiers on.

Resisting efforts to have the loved ones of passengers of Flight MH370 return home, she has found herself a hotel room for a little more than 100 yuan (S$20) a night, about two hours outside of Beijing's city centre.

Last Friday, low-level Chinese officials from her home town in northern Hebei province arrived to try to persuade her to return to her little village of Majiazhuang and wait there for news about her husband, one of the passengers. She convinced them to let her stay.

"I can't bear to go back yet. I want to stay in Beijing for a little longer," she told The Sunday Times. "If there is any new information, at least I can respond immediately."

Ms Yang, 27, and hundreds of other relatives had been staying at the Metropark Lido Hotel, paid for by MAS, since March 8, when 227 passengers and 12 crew members on board Flight MH370 vanished enroute from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

For nearly two months, the hotel has been ground zero for Chinese rage against Malaysia over its handling of the missing flight.

But it was unusually quiet yesterday. MAS had told the family members to leave by Friday and wait for news at home instead. The heavy police presence on Friday was also no longer in sight.

Hotel staff told The Sunday Times that the last of the rooms paid for by the airline had been vacated by early afternoon.

The once-bustling meeting room on the second floor of the hotel, where relatives had left messages and lit candles for their loved ones, was quiet too, its lights switched off and its wooden doors shuttered.

The silence was also reflected in the Chinese media, which has dialled down its coverage of the families significantly, possibly a sign that Beijing wants to prevent further unhappiness over the crisis ahead of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's visit later this month. Jinan University Sino-ASEAN expert Zhang Mingliang said it is possible the government might not want to play up sensitivities.

But families are still keeping in touch through China's group messaging app WeChat and through e-mail, said Mr Jiang Hui, a representative of the relatives.

They are also hoping the Chinese authorities provide them with some legal help with regard to the US$50,000 (S$62,000) advance compensation offered by MAS to the next-of-kin of each passenger.

"We were informed through a notice pasted on the wall of the hotel, so we are not sure what it means. We hope to get some legal help before making a decision about what to do," Mr Jiang said.

But Ms Yang is hoping that the money might come in handy for the hotel bill that she is now paying out of her own pocket, even as she perseveres with her stay in Beijing.

"I want to stay for as long as I can, but I will probably have to see what the situation is again in a day or two," she said.

This article was published on May 4 in The Straits Times.

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