Earthquake

Mudan - China's national flower

The earth­quake: I was run­ning back to my apart­ment from the class­room for some­thing, and didn’t feel a thing. The other for­eign teacher here stag­gered out of her apart­ment and said she thought she was dying. I told her to put her head between her legs and I’d get a doc­tor. While I was rac­ing back to the admin­is­tra­tion build­ing all these peo­ple started pour­ing out of build­ings. We had to sit in the sports ground in the sun for a cou­ple of hours. Miss Uni­verse turned up after a few min­utes look­ing sheep­ish.

For the out­side world, the Sichuan earth­quake is news at a dis­tance. Here the hor­ror is very real of course. But for the flip of a coin there went us. The gov­ern­ment has been quick off its arse this time, and there has been wall to wall cov­er­age, so they have learned some­thing from the mis­takes of past stonewalling. Peo­ple are begin­ning to notice though that the schools and hos­pi­tals col­lapsed in piles of jagged con­crete and hor­ri­bly squashed bod­ies while the gov­ern­ment admin­is­tra­tion offices stood firm. That story is all too famil­iar. It seems rem­i­nis­cent of the huge energy black­outs in South­ern China ear­lier this year when tens of thou­sands of con­crete elec­tric­ity poles snapped like match­sticks under the snow. It turned out that since the early 1990s cor­rupt con­trac­tors hadn’t both­ered to put steel rein­force­ment into the poles. The earth­quake death toll might even­tu­ally run into many tens of thou­sands.

I sus­pect that the Chi­nese mood might turn rather darker after the Olympics since there are so many com­pet­ing forces tend­ing to blow this place apart. How­ever, in a per­verse way, the earth­quake has prob­a­bly helped many Chi­nese see a com­mon inter­est with the old men in Bei­jing. On the other hand that could quickly sour as com­mu­ni­ties are faced with the loss of 4 mil­lion destroyed or unsafe apart­ments and pub­lic build­ings. As always, a prophet in these lat­i­tudes has to be either a fool or have a book con­tract.

Mys­te­ri­ous text mes­sages (in Chi­nese) keep ding­ing into my mobile, say­ing not to panic. Ostenibly they come from the tele­phone com­pany. A cou­ple of weeks ago the same source was advis­ing me that it wasn’t really wise to demon­strate my patri­otic out­rage over for­eign Olympic insults by pick­et­ing Car­refour (French hyper­mar­ket chain) and Mac­Don­alds. Big brother is watch­ing over us.

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  1. Pingback: Thor’s New China Diary » The Earthquake

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