A relative of a Chinese passenger onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 stands near the venue where relatives have gathered to hear the latest investigation report. (Photo: IC)
As summer temperatures in Beijing soar to 38 degrees Celsius, more than 100 families traveled across the country by train for more than 10 hours to Beijing, for a meeting with the head of the investigation team of Malaysia Airline's missing flight MH370.
From the very early morning, Jiang Hui's mobile phone was ringing off the hook, mostly from journalists, asking him for a response to the "final report" released by the investigation team.
Flight MH370, which was carrying 239 passengers, most of whom were Chinese, disappeared on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014. It triggered the largest search in aviation history.
In a T-shirt bearing the name MH370, this representative of victims' families answered repeatedly in the sweltering weather, "It is not a 'final report' but rather a 'safety investigation report.'"
During the meeting, the head of the investigation team once again clarified that it is not a "final report," which brought immediate applause from all the families present.
This is a very crucial point for all Chinese families. "As long as it is not the final report, the search may continue and cannot be abandoned," said Jiang.
Chinese families spent nearly one year, relying on the Convention on International Civil Aviation, appealing to the Malaysian government through various channels to get it to abandon the term of "final report" on this document.
"Behind every change in their attitude is the painstaking efforts of the families," Jiang told the Global Times.
Packed into a small office at the Beijing Shunyi Airport Logistics Park, which handles MH370 issues, family members lodged a protest against the long-awaited report into the disappearance of the flight, saying that it did not provide anything new, and they demanded the search be resumed.
The emotional families carried signs asking Malaysian officials not to abandon the investigation and search. An angry chant was raised by the distressed families: "This report is not enough at all! It's fooling everyone here. We need to keep investigating. Keep searching!"
Searching for evidence
"The thing I'm most afraid of now is that they will stop searching. I am afraid I will not be able to see the result that I've been waiting my whole life for. I do not want to leave this earth with regret and doubt, so I will spend the rest of my life promoting the search for MH370 and the incident investigation," said Jiang, whose mother was on the plane.
This former sales director of a State-owned enterprise quit his lucrative job and centers his life on the search for the missing flight MH370. Supported by his telecommunications background, he taught himself technical information surrounding the plane crash and read the English safety manual of the Boeing aircraft.
After the report was released to Malaysian families four days earlier on July 30, Jiang downloaded the English version of the report and read it carefully all night. Due to the language barrier, he often stayed up until 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, struggling to get through a few pages.
"It's hard to understand, but I need to, because there has been too little official information available to families over the past four years," he told the Global Times.
On December 3, 2016, he and several families from China, France and Malaysia scoured the east African coast for possible wreckage when they heard wreckage was showing up in the area from the news. Five days later, they found what appeared to be a piece of debris from MH370 on a beach in Madagascar, which gives them hope they will unlock the mystery.
His actions were denounced by some other families, because it was an act of "hurt and betrayal that acknowledged their loved ones have died."
"Many families believe that no news is good news, because their beloved ones may still be alive," said Jiang.
The piece of debris was later dismissed by the authorities as "suspected debris."
In the endless waiting and chaos, Jiang suffered auditory hallucinations, insomnia, low appetite, and was diagnosed with "traumatic stress disorder." He had sometimes fallen into hallucinations, such as hearing his mother calling him home for dinner.
This 45-year-old father hid his sadness and vulnerability when his daughter asked where her grandmother was.
"As long as the concrete evidence is given, I can accept any result," he said. He has been to Malaysia more than a dozen times, either to attend private commemorations, or more often to ask the authorities for updates and responses. "It has happened, and you can't escape your fate. But you can fight against it. Never give up," he said.
Jiang, like many other Chinese families, sees more hope in Malaysia's new administration's emphasis on resolving the MH370 incident. "[The ruling] Pakatan Harapan [political party] often sends officials to our memorial events to give family members some comfort."
He can never deny the financial pressure on his family after leaving his job and choosing to be a full-time researcher and advocate. "But it is more cruel if you imagine how arduous it is for those from rural areas who lost their only child," said Jiang.
He felt deeply bitter after seeing that two relatives huddled in one bed to save money in a hostel after attending the meeting with Malaysia representatives in Beijing.
In 2015, most Chinese families of the victims declined settlement offers of 2.50 million yuan ($366,000) per victim, feeling that accepting the money would surrender their rights to hold those responsible for the accident accountable.
"The financially stressed families never hesitate to pay thousands of yuan to fly to Malaysia to 'ask for clarification' about the status of their next-of-kin. They may never be able to make 2.5 million yuan in their whole lives, but why did they refuse it?" Jiang asked. The answer is that the families want the search to continue more than they want the money.
Some families who were struggling on the edge of poverty could not afford to keep fighting for a definitive answer. Many chose to accept compensation and started a new life. Those families were often slammed by others for being "coldblooded" or "seeing only money."
Along with Jiang Hui, Li Eryou, 62, from rural Handan, Hebei Province, also traveled to Malaysia in search of his son. On his first long flight, he seemed uneasy and panicked, perhaps because of his deep fear of airplanes. After all, when MH370 disappeared, Li lost his only son.
Li's son was one of the few college students in his village. In 2013, he joined ZTE's Asia-Pacific network services department stationed in Malaysia for a short time.
After hearing the news that MH370 was missing, Li, a farmer who had never been outside the county, was confused about the meaning of the term "missing."
With a determination to set out with other families to find their next-to-kin, he bought a globe for finding clues in Malaysia, learned route planning using online tools, and even taught himself simple Malay. For four years, he has written more than a thousand poems on social media in memory of his lost son.
He spends more than 10 hours every month traveling from his hometown to Beijing for meetings with Malaysia representatives. After the meeting ended on the evening of August 3, Li and his wife slept overnight at the Beijing West Railway Station waiting for the earliest return train the next day. His wife put the thick investigation report under her head as a pillow, as if she rested on hope.
For a man who has spent all his savings over the past four years searching for a plane, a hotel room that charges 300 yuan for one night is indeed a luxury for the family.
During the year after the accident, Li's wife had to take Valium every day. She often cried in her sleep or smashed her mobile phone for no reason. In the summer of 2015, his wife was diagnosed with major depression after she broke three of her mobile phones.
Li said he had never dreamed of his son. "My child is a telecommunication worker who has to travel all year around. Though he is missing now, I still feel that he is working far away. It's the same as before."
He continues to telephone to his son every Sunday morning as before, turning a deaf ear to the reminder saying, "The phone you dialed is power off." He still talks to him about domestic trivia as if nothing had happened, and urges him to find a girlfriend over the phone.
The happiest moment he could remember with his son was talking about the novel Robinson Crusoe. "I think it's amazing, it's like a destiny. I guess he should be on a beautiful island like Robinson now, and I am sure he will live there very well."
"This is my hope, still a glimmer of hope," he said.
"I know it can be fantasy or comfort, but I still wish to hypnotize myself."
Tiring protests, repeated inquiries and indefinite waiting have made up the lives of more than 100 families of the missing Chinese passengers for four years and six months.
This Global Times reporter asked Li, "If there is not any result 10 years from now, would you consider taking compensation and giving up the search?"
"Never. Definitely never. If I can't search anymore, there will be my next generation to take up the cause, generation by generation. I want my son to know that his father never gave up on him," Li said calmly.