Sunday morning after 1 a.m. had me emailing when another 45-second aftershock of 5.7 shook the building. As it grew in intensity, sounds of doors opening and people talking filled my stairwell. Our courtyard once again crowded with people, those in their tents quite smug in not having to race outside from their homes so early in the morning.
I considered waiting at the computer, but I found myself joining the group in the courtyard. I stood barefoot on the pavement, cradling Little Ghost while Little Flower pranced quite happily at my feet.
I would not have been worried had there not been a burning, foul-smelling smoke that filled the air from somewhere. A stormy wind lashed out, striking our faces with bits of dirt. The rumbling and crashing thunder that came immediately after the dash outside made me wonder if those were buildings collapsing. And ambulance sirens that immediately followed gave me an uneasy feeling.
I watched two private car owners quickly jump into their vehicles and ease them carefully outside our narrow gate, onto the sidestreet. I guess damage to your car is more important than damage to yourself
Most of my neighbors laughed off this wee hour awakening and immediately put up their umbrellas, which they had wisely carried with them, as the rain began pelting down. Only a few of us stood with frightened expressions, thinking the worst had happened.
I am usually one of bravado, not frightened too easily and pooh-poohing those who are, but last night was not at all to my liking.
It seems this earthquake disaster, in a relatively untouched Chengdu, has sunk in deeper than I expected.
Meanwhile, the weekend in the city has brought full-scale operations of encouraging public relief efforts.
Chengdu is now filled with majestic red banners of solidarity and support for the earthquake survivors. Now when the dog and I go for our campus stroll, we find ourselves passing under “A Strong-willed Many Become a City; Fight the earthquake, Save (those in the) Disaster!”. These Chinese characters grandly ripple over the entrance to the West Gate of Sichuan University and are seen throughout the capital. At banks, they are displayed across computerized announcement boards. Stores and chain businesses, such as Kodak photo shops, line their windows in professional, laminated posters with the same earthquake slogan. In front of the Trust-mart grocery store entrance, a countdown board to the Olympic Games announces “82 Days” while parallel to it another urges people to band together and remember the earthquake survivors.
Both Saturday and Sunday, groups, individuals and companies were out in full force collecting money or requesting supplies.
A stroll through the university campus had me accosted by clusters of student volunteers (university, middle school and high school) selling special edition newspapers with donations given to help survivors. Headlines such as “Wenchuan: We have arrived!” from the Daily Government Morning News and full coverage of President Hu Jintao’s visit in the Chengdu Business Newspaper were just some of the offerings students were pressing people to buy.
Walking down our side alleyway, I was greeted by a large pile of neatly bagged clothes brought from the surrounding area by residents. They were stacked carefully one on top of the other and neatly packed in plastic or paper shopping bags, folded into handled-and-zippered carrying totes or merely bound tightly together with string. I was about ready to go sifting through my clothes again for more donations when I read the cardboard box sign someone had positioned on top of the pile: “Don’t want clothes. Need food products, water, medicines, kitchen supplies. Thanks, Everybody!”
The weekend also moved our apartment office into action. An official typewritten announcement asked us for donations. Blankets, clothes, food stuffs, tents, rain gear, and water would be collected at the gate and sent off at 8 p.m. Saturday evening.
But along with this call to unite has come an interesting development.
In China, a majority of us drink bottled water since water from the tap is still unsanitary. Those who do not have access to bottled water, or wish to save on drinking water costs, will boil the tap water, even though rust and chemical contamination might still be present.
With the push for water to be sent to the hard-hit areas, I assumed that people would be buying the sanitary bottled version just for that reason.
I entered the Trust-mart grocery on Saturday and was astonished as a huge center-aisle stacked with bottled water cases began disappearing. I saw three individuals pushing heavy cartloads of water toward the check-out lines. A couple was struggling to lift two boxes of water, 24 bottles each, into their carts. A few people were piling individual bottles into their hand baskets.
I thought to myself, “These Chengdu people are really rising to the occasion! How great that they are helping in this way.”
I wanted to praise them so I approached one couple with their 48- count water supply
“Are you sending these to the earthquake survivors?” I asked eagerly.
The woman looked at me rather strangely for a second and then replied, “No. We drink ourselves.”
Disappointed, I went on to another individual.
“Are you sending these to the earthquake survivors?” I asked yet again.
A similar odd expression crossed her face and she answered “no.”
Eavesdroppers standing nearby eyed me curiously as I asked 2 more people about their water purchases: nothing for the relief efforts, just water for themselves.
Finally, in desperation, I approached someone with two overflowing loads of H2O. Surely this person, I thought, was buying for the disaster areas.
I helped her push her second weighted cart further into the check-out line before asking, “Are you sending this water to the earthquake survivors?”
She hesitated long enough for me to guess her answer.
“No,” she said. “This is for my business company, for guests and staff.”
While I’m sure someone must be buying for the relief efforts, I personally didn’t find anyone during my hour of questioning at the Trust-mart yesterday.
Sunday evening brings the weekend to a close. The government has just announced there will be a 3-day period of mourning for earthquake victims, although at this time I’m not sure what that entails. I do know we are to have a 3-minute period of silence at 2:28 p.m. when the quake struck. All Chengdu students (K-12) have been out of school since last Monday until their buildings could be properly inspected. Whether they will return to classes tomorrow or not is unclear, and the same goes for my course as well.
Our tent communities still remain outside, including the thousands at the university who are still wary after our 5.7 trembler this morning. Hard to believe that a week ago today, we were all gearing up for yet another average Monday after a restful weekend.
How little did we in Sichuan know what that “average” Monday would bring.
From Chengdu, I send you all a “Ping An!” (peace)