Life seemed to be a world waiting to be explored for Sun Chenlu at 25 with a master's degree and a promising career in an overseas study agency, when a car accident on the way to the airport for an overseas holiday in 2017 destroyed her world.
Sun underwent five surgeries, but her neck injuries left her paralysed from the shoulders down. She lost control of her body and had to be taken care of by her parents; in everything from cutting her fingernails to using the toilet, she was like a baby. “I was useless and I didn’t know why I should live,” Sun said.
Now 29 and still in a wheelchair, Sun has found a new purpose in life; making short videos on how to dress, apply make-up or simply share her thoughts which inspire hundreds of thousands of people online.
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“I used to cry and think life is so unfair, then I came to terms with myself and accepted the fact that I am handicapped. I embraced the neuralgia pain that still bothers me and my scars from surgeries, which remind me to cherish my new life,” Sun said.
Sun became an inspiration to her followers on social media platforms. Some say their difficulties are nothing compared to Sun’s and they should stop feeling sorry for themselves. Some said they were motivated to be brave in life.
“I once spent six hours in reading the messages and tried to reply to some. They make me feel supported and useful again,” Sun said.
The change started with a quarrel with her mother when was still doing rehabilitation exercises in a hospital in Beijing – she spent an hour putting on make-up and her mother lost patience with her because she thought it was useless as she was not going anywhere.
But Sun told her she could still try to look nice even though she was in a wheelchair and not going anywhere.
“Rehabilitation was boring and painful, especially when you hoped you could get some movement back but that did not happen after a long while of exercise. I cried a lot of times and needed something to distract me. I needed to go back to society,” Sun said.
After moving back to her hometown in Guiyang, Guizhou province, in early 2019, Sun tried to keep herself busy.
Her mother helped her to set up an online store on social media to sell local fruits. She helped an institution specialising in mental health with its social media accounts. She got a translation deal for a book on geography in Britain and finished her translation in three months, by using audio input on the phone to input Chinese and correcting errors on the phone.
In September last year, Sun, with the online name Lu Yingliu, started to make short videos on getting dressed and undressed and putting on make-up. She bought a stand to support her phone and her mother would put all the make-up on the table and leave her alone in her room to spend the whole afternoon shooting her videos.
Physical challenges made simple tasks like unwrapping a mascara cap difficult for Sun, who has to fix the lid with her teeth and use both of her hands to slowly turn the mascara. She has lost the grip in her hands and needs both hands to support the make-up.
“Applying eye shadows can take forever because my hands had no grip and I had to brush slowly and many times. It’s too long for viewers so I will have to change the speed first,” Sun said.
For a short video of five minutes, Sun might record for up to three hours, and spend up to four hours editing.
She would have to wait for her father to be off on weekends to help her change clothes for her dressing videos.
“Other dressing bloggers would put on a dress facing a mirror and turn around. My mother helped me walk around to shoot the video,” Sun said.
Sun kept a busy daily schedule that involves three sessions of exercise to make her bones and muscles strong even though they are not functioning. She bought a ping-pong table to put outside her building and would exercise with her father, by attaching the paddle to her hand with a special glove and swinging her arm to move it.
Sun visited more than 20 countries when she was studying for her master's degree in East Asian Development and Global Economy at the University of Bristol and her love for travel has not been hampered by her physical condition. Last year, unable to travel abroad because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Sun visited many cities in China, including western Qinghai province for a week.
“I am not born handicapped. I have a good degree and I can make a living even with my conditions. The world is still big and beautiful and waits for me to explore it,” Sun said.
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