In Beijing, anger has given way to acceptance

A family member cries as she and other relatives pray during a candlelight vigil for passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the early morning at Lido Hotel in Beijing on April 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A family member cries as she and other relatives pray during a candlelight vigil for passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the early morning at Lido Hotel in Beijing on April 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Family members cry as they light candles on a cake to mark the 21st birthday of a passenger onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at the Lido Hotel in Beijing on April 8, 2014. - PHOTO: REUTERS
Family members cry as they light candles on a cake to mark the 21st birthday of a passenger onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at the Lido Hotel in Beijing on April 8, 2014. - PHOTO: REUTERS
Mr Wen Wancheng (L), whose son was on missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, speaks to the media after relatives met again with airline officials at the Metro Park Lido Hotel in Beijing on March 23, 2014. Mr Wen and his wife have gone home to their&
Mr Wen Wancheng (L), whose son was on missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, speaks to the media after relatives met again with airline officials at the Metro Park Lido Hotel in Beijing on March 23, 2014. Mr Wen and his wife have gone home to their hometown of eastern Shandong province. -- PHOTO: AFP 

IT WAS mostly resignation when it came down to the end of their hotel vigil for the loved ones of Chinese passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370.

There were flashes of anger after the beleaguered airline announced on Thursday it would stop providing accommodation for relatives who had holed up at several hotels in Beijing for some seven weeks since the Boeing 777 went missing. They complained about the short notice and the way they seemed to have been unceremoniously eased out - their keycards mercilessly disabled soon after the Friday, 6pm deadline passed.

But by the end of the day, most of the 500 relatives in the Chinese capital seemed to have accepted the fact that it was time to take what has so far been a fruitless wait home.

Emotions were still running high for some who had cried as they were driven away - as if physically leaving the hotel meant giving up hope that their loved ones could still be alive. To these families, The hotel was more than just brick and mortar or a place to rest their tired bodies at the end of every long day. It was a refuge for the families to find strength in numbers.

Still, many handled their eviction with grace, not wanting their actions to hurt the business of the hotels.

“I guess it’s time for us to face reality,” said Mr Jiang Hui, a representative of the relatives’ self-appointed committee, even though he felt that MAS’ decision to ask families to move out within a day’s notice was “very unreasonable”. 

“But this has nothing to do with the hotel and we can’t let our actions affect them negatively as well,” he added.

Mr Jiang has since moved back to his apartment in Beijing to await news of his 71-year-old mother. She had gone on a group tour to Malaysia and was one of the 153 Chinese nationals who disappeared with the Beijing-bound plane.  

On Friday evening, under heavy police presence, many other families also checked out from Metropark Lido Hotel without much fuss. 

Mr Wen Wancheng, whose 34-year-old son was on the plane and who was often the relatives’ spokesman at their daily briefings with the Malaysians, had cried when he left. 

He was accompanied by provincial officials to a railway station where a high-speed train brought him back to his hometown of eastern Shandong province.

“Watching Mr Wen and his wife crying bitterly as they got into the car to leave, my bleeding heart was shattered again. It was their son’s birthday yesterday,” said one Chinese relative posting in a group chat on China’s WeChat messaging app. 

Madam Nan Kaifen, who was similarly headed back to Shandong province to await news of her husband, told me that she felt more sadness than anger at being evicted from the hotel.

MAS has been housing the family members - two hotel rooms per passenger - in four-star hotels in Beijing since March 8, and has also been covering all their meal and travel expenses. 

Only on Thursday evening, it said it would pull the plug, and advised families “to receive information updates on the progress of the search and investigation and other support by Malaysia Airlines within the comfort of their own homes”. 

But while it is heartbreaking watching tears being shed as families left the support group they had found strength in for almost two months, it is hopefully a move that will be for the best.

In fact, some might have already given up hope and were considering moving back home but did not want to be seen as abandoning the cause. Being asked to leave instead might have assuaged some of that guilt. 

And so even as bags were packed and goodbyes were said,  many remained composed.

The next few days and weeks might be incredibly difficult for them as they face the reality that life as they know it will never be the same again.

I cannot pretend to know the depth of their grief or the frustration that comes with the uncertainties surrounding the plane’s disappearance, but I do hope that with time - whether the plane is found or not - they will find a way to pick up the pieces.

esthert@sph.com.sg