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The Straits Times
March 9, 2019
A Taiwanese woman who has undergone 21 operations in the past three years after she survived the 2015 blaze that ripped through Taipei's Formosa Fun Coast water park has earned the admiration of social media users for her courage.
Many were touched by 31-year-old Jiang Xinyu's story on her recovery since she suffered serious burns on 91 per cent of her body in the fire at the Colour Play Asia festival in June 2015.
Her remarkable journey, where she gradually learnt to be comfortable in her own scarred skin, was featured by Apple Daily in Taiwan on Friday (March 8).
The report comes after a photo of Ms Jiang wearing nothing but a rainbow-coloured, feathered pair of wings was shared on a Facebook group for beauty enthusiasts in December last year.
The photo, which showed Ms Jiang posing with a quiet sense of confidence despite the visible scars covering most of her arms and legs, soon gained the attention of social media users.
Speaking to Apple Daily on Friday, Ms Jiang compared herself to a "mermaid in a sea of fire" and said that what she gone through has, in fact, made her more beautiful.
She was among the 500 people who were injured when the coloured corn starch powder sprayed on partygoers at the water park ignited under the heat of stage lights. Fifteen people were killed.
She told Apple Daily that on the day of the festival she was actually feeling unwell in the morning, but decided to go ahead and attend it.
When she wanted to leave the water park, her friend asked her if they could stay for a little longer and she agreed.
About 10 minutes later, she was hit by the fiery dust.
"I immediately covered my face with my hands as I was afraid the fire would burn my eyes. I felt my entire body was in a sea of fire and I was unable to move," she said.
About 40 seconds later she felt a temporary relief when the fire was put out.
But her ordeal had only just begun, as she ended up waiting over three hours for help.
She pleaded with a bus driver to take her to the hospital, while fighting to stay conscious at the time.
During her recovery, she recalled how the intense pain she felt often gave her nightmares, with the pain the most acute in the first four months whenever she had to change the dressing on her burns.
She has also undergone 21 skin graft operations since the incident.
Ms Jiang said that she struggled with how her burnt skin looked and often felt that others were staring at her.
However, her perspective changed after she met a photographer who asked if she would like to have her photos taken.
She said of the photo shoot in November last year: "I felt brave, like I was being reborn."
After the photo was shared online, netizens have also cheered her on, she added.
She said that accepting the photographer's invitation for the photo shoot forced her to accept her scars.
Eventually, she realised that she could be comfortable in her own skin, without the need to cover her scars up.
She also counts her boyfriend of 10 years as her greatest source of happiness, adding that she was touched to see that he had gotten a tattoo of a mermaid in a sea of fire on his arm.
Ms Jiang is now training to become an eyebrow embroidery artist after seeing how the procedure has helped other survivors who lost some of their facial features because of the burns.
"With the operation I had on my hands after the fire, it is impossible for me to use my hands fully just like before," she said.
"But to be able to enter the beauty industry, which I am passionate about, is enough for me."