Erik Nilsson. [Photo/CICC] On May 12, 2008, our planet ripped itself apart, and a portal to hell opened on Earth in Sichuan province. I don't just mean hell as a metaphor. The quake zone literally assumed a vast geography inhabited by tens of millions of people, wailing and gnashing their teeth, and nearly 90,000 dead or missing. I start my new book, Closer to Heaven: A Global Nomad's Journey Through China's Poverty Alleviation, there because I was supposed to be there. But because of a scheduling change, I wasn't. I later spent a total of eight months making 15 trips through the quake zone, and spent my birthdays, which often overlap with China's Tomb Sweeping Day, at a mass grave. What I saw over the years was a miracle, as the rescue and recovery lifted the survivors in Sichuan further and further from hell, and closer and closer to heaven. It seemed unfathomable－until it became reality.