ROME/CHENGDU, March 28 (Xinhua) -- Zhang Huaqiong, a farmer from southwest China's Sichuan Province, has never traveled far throughout her 52 years of rural life. But when she heard Italy is being hit hard by the novel coronavirus, she wanted to donate some money to the country.
Italy is distant: neither did she know to whom she send the money, nor could she find the boot-shaped peninsula on a map. "Must be pretty far," said Zhang, a villager of Xiaode township, Mianzhu city. Still, she wanted to help, for a good reason.
"A tall, woman Italian doctor, about 1.7 meter in height," Zhang said, prescribed medication for her back pain and performed an operation on her father -- all free of charge, right after the worst natural disaster in her life 12 years ago.
Following the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, a group of doctors and nurses from Pisa, Italy, were among the first of foreign aid workers to dash in and help.
In Xiaode, the Italians set up a state-of-art field hospital with advanced medical gears they had flown in with them. The operating table and surgical lights, brought from 8,000 kilometers away, remained in use today, said Zuo Xuemei, a doctor in Mianzhu People's Hospital.
"Those state-of-art gears, even if we had money, we wouldn't have known where to source them, and the Italians left the entire field hospital to us," Zuo said.
Twelve years later, the people in the vast inland province also sent their best to Italy, the hardest-hit country in Europe by the novel coronavirus pandemic, where 86,498 infections have been confirmed with 9,134 fatalities by Friday.
Five of the nine experts in the first team that China sent to Italy were from Sichuan. Along with them were over 30 tons of medical supplies including masks and ventilators loaded on a charter flight.
Upon their arrival in a Rome hotel, a note with pictures of both Italian and Chinese national flags on their room desk featured prominently in both Chinese, English and Italian: "Italy, Rome and Trilussa Palace Hotel welcome you and thank you for your support. We stand together, we fight together, we win together."
Among the experts was Liang Zong'an, who, as a team leader of Sichuan's response to the pandemic, is fresh out of his intensive care units before boarding the 13-hour flight.
"Italy has different national conditions and health systems, so some of our playbook may not be totally fitting, but the general principles in treatment and saving lives would be the same," Liang said.
Tang Menglin, head nurse of the children's intensive care unit at West China Hospital, regarded as the best hospital in Sichuan, always put Italy at the top of her aspiring travel destinations in Europe, but "never planned to be here under such a scenario," she said.
What Liang, Tang and their colleagues saw in Rome was almost a ghost town: roads empty, bars closed, shops shut down and squares deserted.
"This is a good thing," said Yang Huichuan, another team member, citing Chinese experience in stopping the spread of the coronavirus, "reducing the flow of people is a way of isolation, of reducing the spread of infections."
Yang, a senior executive of China National Biotech Group and expert in blood products, brought blood plasma of recovered patients of coronavirus, one of the latest Chinese experimental therapeutics in saving lives.
Giampiero Rupolo, President of the Italian Red Cross Padova Committee, was interested. He said "one interesting element they brought from China is a serum with antibody of the people who already recovered from the virus."
The Chinese team not only shared experience in general policies such as social distancing, but also went into the intensive care units of Italian hospitals. Putting oneself into the frontline of danger is not just a Chinese thing. In 2008, when the Italian doctors and nurses arrived deep into the epicenter in rural Sichuan, where to put their field hospital was a difficult decision: powerful after-shocks would shake everything into tremble at any moment.
Residents of Mianzhu to this day retain fond memories of the Italians: riding a broomstick with white handkerchiefs above head to play a funny version of Harry Potter and then singing "Old Macdonald Had A Farm" with local children.
It is with these recollections that the Sichuan medics rushed to Italy, with many more Chinese health professionals on their way.
Luigi D'Angelo, who was the team leader in Sichuan in 2008 and now Director of the Emergency Office of the Civil Protection Department, appreciated the solidarity.
"We are again together face to face, side by side to support Italian citizens and I am grateful to Chinese colleagues. From this common experience to face the coronavirus, the fight to this terrible situation, Italy and China are working now together," he said.
"I think the concept of world community is what we have to look at, because China and Italy are now together again in order to face this situation," he said.