For two days, my 20-minute walk across campus to attend my language classes has been somewhat astonishing.
After classes resumed on Thursday, I expected the thousands of university students and faculty living on campus to return to their buildings. Instead, the number of store-bought and makeshift tents, staked-out bedding areas, and chairs and tables has increased.
I asked several I passed if they were still afraid.
Some of the girls said they live on the higher floors. Although there haven’t been any tremors for 24 hours, they’re still a little worried.
“Some people on our floor are back,” one girl said. “But the weather is nice now. We’ll stay outside.”
“If it rains?” I asked.
“Go in!” she said without hesitation.
I approached one group of boys sitting in their makeshift tent.
“Are you afraid?” I asked them, peeking into their dwelling’s open flap.
They laughed with bravado and threw their arms around each other’s shoulders.
“No!” one shouted enthusiastically. “We are not afraid. We are roommates. We are together!”
It seems the reasons for staying outside are somewhat mixed, with those who are worried and others who are joining their classmates so as not to be left out of the experience.
Attendance in my own courses has been oddly slim, probably due to the fact that no one wants to get up early in the morning after having an unexpected 2-day holiday. In my 8:30 a.m. class this morning, only 6 of us attended out of the 21 that are usually there. As I was pulling out my books at the beginning of class, one of the Korean girls came to talk to our instructor.
“Teacher Guo,” she said, somewhat tearfully, “I must return to my country. My mother and father are very worried about the earthquake. They want me to come home. I leave tomorrow. I’m so sorry.”
Four other Korean students likewise are leaving our class. Since a majority of the 360 registered students in our department are Korean, I’m wondering how many more won’t be in class come Monday morning.
My Japanese classmates found this very difficult to understand. The Japanese experience tremors quite often on their island nation. This is nothing new to them. The rest of us (Thai, Africans, Europeans, Americans, British) are likewise quite blasé about our personal encounter with the quake. It is hard for us to understand the Chinese reaction to all this, especially when nothing terrible happened in our city.
But I am trying my best not to be too judgmental. Each culture and individual has a different way of dealing with frightening events. Here, I see there has been so little, if no, damage at all from the quake, yet the city is still dotted with camping communities set up in public parks, campuses, and apartment complexes throughout the provincial capital. It may seem odd and extreme to me, but it is the only way some people can cope. These are things I just have to accept when living in another country.
This morning, however, I did feel the end was near.
City and college leaders for two days had been encouraging residents and students to return to their buildings, if properly inspected for safety. And in my mind, with our 32-hour lull from any major shaking, Friday was going to give us all some peace that this was basically over. I optimistically expected this weekend to send all outdoor squatters packing up their belongings for home.
But around 1:30 p.m. this afternoon, a strong 5.9 aftershock gave us an unexpected, surprising jolt. News from the north tells of landslides and more shifting buildings.
Now I doubt very much if anyone’s leaving their outdoor space tonight.
Those T.V. images of our northern neighbors, a shattered Dujiangyan and flattened Wenchuan, are too deeply embedded in everyone’s minds.
After all, better to be overly cautious than overly sorry.