Yingxiu rises from the ashes

We arrived in Yingxiu town on a chilly early spring day full of misty rain, when snow still covered the tops of the surrounding mountains.

From the distance, the town looked like it was from a fairy tale, though from close up it appeared to be carefully planned, with new villa-style residences lining the Yuzi River. It certainly didn't look like I expected one of the hardest hit towns in the 2008 quake to appear.

It lost the majority of its population of 12,000. Its traffic and communications were cut off. And dangerous landslides and bad weather initially prevented rescuers from arriving.

Four years after the devastation, locals' hearts appear to have healed, and traces of the quake are hard to find unless local guides show you around.

Several sites that were affected by the earthquake have, however, been preserved as memorial sites, including the ruins of the primary school, where hundreds of students died.

This approach has been duplicated in other seriously damaged towns and counties, like Beichuan and Hanwang, which we visited over the following two days.

The thing is, the source of their pain has turned into a source of income.

At Niumiangou village, for example, villagers who were formerly farmers have turned into tour guides or sell souvenirs related to the quake.

At one site, there is a mass grave on a slope where chrysanthemums and other dedications memorialize the victims.

Picking up a small flower by the wayside, our guide Yang Yunqing placed it on the ground where he believes his wife was buried.

After his wife was killed in the quake, Yang worked ceaselessly on a voluntary basis to help others.

Yang repeatedly says the survivors should carry on as normal. His optimism impressed me.

At the end of 2011, all the town's remaining residents had moved into new three-story houses. The government subsidized two-thrids of the houses' cost.

Her new home has given comfort to 39-year-old Cai Zhongyu. She still remembers the two years she stayed with her husband in a tent and a portable shelter.

After losing her eldest daughter in the quake, Cai gave birth to a son in 2010. She and her husband named their son Qingsheng, which translates as "celebrating rebirth", to signal that life goes on, even after disaster.

I learned that many people who lost their children during the quake have given birth to another child, as the local government encouraged them to.

It's good to see folks have gradually taken back their lives after overcoming the quake and bereavement.