Latest craze for ghouls: holidays in hell
Bill Savadove in Chengdu
They might call themselves 'volunteers'. But the earthquake in Sichuan province has created a new breed of mainland traveller: the danger tourist.
Although some might be motivated by the desire to help, others are flocking to the disaster zone out of morbid curiosity or for thrill-seeking. At least a million domestic volunteers have gone to Sichuan, mainland media estimates.
'We saw the earthquake on television, so we wanted to take a look,' said an employee of a Chongqing city-based construction company as he stumbled through the rubble of Yingxiu town , where access is still restricted.
His companion, dressed in an orange polo shirt and cream-coloured trousers, stopped to pose for a photo and then approached an excavator digging for bodies, causing a worker to shout at him to get out of the way.
Another group of four men, who made the treacherous journey into Yingxiu from another part of Sichuan, peered at a body, oblivious of grieving family members a few metres away. 'They're crying,' one suddenly said, then turned to a relief worker and asked if he had an extra surgical mask.
Although volunteers worked alongside rescue workers in the early days after the earthquake, the presence of the military and professionals in the area make the contributions of untrained citizens less necessary. The Hong Kong government has urged inexperienced volunteers to stay away.
Now, some volunteers seem content to gawk: clogging roads with their vehicles and sapping resources intended for survivors. Some wear army uniforms, while others act as a fashion plate for the latest in outdoor gear.
At a school in Juyuan town that collapsed and killed more than 260 students, a man with a group of people wearing matching 'I love China' T-shirts posed for a photo in front of the ruined buildings. 'Press the button,' he shouted to his wife, who held the camera.
In Dujiangyan city , two hospital workers toured the area around the South Bridge, part of a United Nations' World Heritage site, though most of the attractions are closed. 'I just happened to have a holiday,' a nurse from Hubei province said, adding she hadn't had a chance to do medical work.
Mainland tourists have traditionally travelled in groups arranged through their work units or companies. Only recently have individual and adventure travel taken root.