Yes, I’m starting off the New Year with a rather tragic tale, this one posted from my home along the Yangtze. However, this last day of 2013 will allow me to begin 2014 on a happy high note, hopefully with photos of all the fun I’ve been having these past 10 days.
A WHIRLWIND WEEK OF HOLIDAY CHEER
As you know, I returned to Luzhou (loo-joe) to enjoy the Christmas holiday for a week. I expected to have more time to write and post my stories but it’s been so busy!
There was cleaning the school apartment after 2 months away, putting up some favorite sparkly decorations and lights (couldn’t be without them), baking my delicious holiday cookies to give away, attending the PC (Peace Corp) party for the Chinese teachers, Christmas Eve at church, gatherings with Chinese friends and then a potluck hosted here by Geoff and Angela, our PC teachers, who invited several other foreigners to attend with their Chinese guests.
AN EXPLOSION OF GREAT PROPORTIONS
That last event, the potluck, was to be held on the Friday after Christmas. The day before, I prepared the only thing I can really cook well ( a humongous pot of homemade vegetable soup) to allow the many herbs to sit for a day. I had debated doing it the day-of but something nudged me into remembering why that old, wise adage, “Don’t put off today what you can do tomorrow,” has been going around for centuries.
Because it is so true.
Sure enough, Friday morning I awoke to find the electricity was off and no gas. The electricity came back on within 30 minutes, which was fine, but not the other.
In my apartment, as in most in China, the gas is used to both heat water (I have an electric gas water heater for my shower) and the range. No gas, no hot water for showers and no ability to cook.
Often times, we receive notices posted on our apartment buildings of times when any of our utilities will be off for awhile due to repairs or safety checks. Those are planned. But we sometimes get unannounced cut-offs due to unforeseen problems or difficulties.
Doesn’t happen very often but this last Friday, it was obviously so.
It wasn’t until later in the day that I found out why, when I picked up on all the news buzzing around the campus.
“Did you hear about the big explosion downtown?”
“I heard it was terrorists!”
“So many people died, hundreds! The hospitals were overflowing!”
THE FACTS EMERGE
Obviously, our gas lines were affected due to this explosion. It did come back on at 4:30 p.m., allowing me to shower and heat up the soup, but all the important details of what exactly happened weren’t revealed until Saturday newspaper articles appeared. Even we foreigners, sitting around our table of plenty that Friday evening, had all sorts of semi-accurate, gossipy stories to share about what had happened.
Here is the best article so far that I came across, putting this smaller river city, Luzhou, on the national map.
THE ARTICLE POSTED ONLINE
China Daily/Asia News Network
Saturday, Dec 28, 2013
A fire caused by a blast of natural gas at a shopping mall in the busiest commercial street in Luzhou, Sichuan province, on Thursday night, killed four and injured 40 people as of press time on Friday.
The dead included three men aged 22, 45 and 55, and a 25-year-oled woman. One of the men was a security guard at the shopping mall. The woman had been watching a movie an d died after inhaling toxic gas in the aftermath of the fire.
Xiao Zhe, another moviegoer, said many in the theatre thought the sound of the blast came from a 3-D film and did not get up to leave.
The fire, which broke out at about 10:40 pm, disrupted the natural gas supply in the city of more than 5 million people for 14 hours.
The cause of the blast was under investigation, although some believed it happened when workers were repairing natural gas pipelines, according to Wang Tianquan, an information officer in the city.
According to Huang Cheng, an employee of the Huitong Department Store opposite the Mo’erma Shopping Mall: “I was preparing New Year’s gifts for VIP clients of our store when I heard the deafening sound of a blast. Somebody shouted, ‘Mo’erma Shopping Mall had a blast, and it caught fire,’ I fled and saw flames and black smoke coming from the first three floors of Mo’erma.”
Liu Kunfu, a resident of the city, was passing by the shopping mall with his 4-year-old grandson. Shattered glass from the six-story mall buried him up to his waist. He was rescued about a half-hour later when firefighters and ambulances arrived.
“My grandson was unscathed, as I covered and protected him with my body,” said the 49-year-old, who received treatment for bruises and lacerations in the lobby of the Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital attached to Luzhou Medical College.
As of late Friday, smoke was still coming from the shopping mall, whose windows were gone. Onlookers gawked outside caution tape around the darkened mall. Fire engines surrounded the centre.
“After the blast, firefighters arrived at the scene and used water blast guns to extinguish the flames. The water from the guns shattered all the glass,” said Wu Jie, 27, a cleaner.
Dozens of cleaners were sleepless Thursday night waiting for the order to clean up the glass, he said.
The injured were being treated in four hospitals in Luzhou.
Tan Zhiping, 28, was one of 12 injured people taken to the Hospital Attached to Luzhou Medical College. She suffered a fracture on her right hand.
OUR NOSTALGIC MOU’ER: THE FIRST MODERN SHOPPING PLAZA IN THE CITY
It is a sad thing when the first big shopping plaza in the city is destroyed. The Mou’er used to be the place for Chinese to go to do their fancy shopping. When I first came here over 10 years ago, no place else boasted such a one-stop shopping spree as Mou’er. There was the basement grand grocery, Western style with gleaming floors, wide aisles and carts to haul your goods around in. Then all the departments to follow on the next 3 floors: kitchenware, electronics, bedding, small furnishings, jewelry . . . not to mention very elegant clothes that could only be found in the bigger cities.
Over the years, the Mou’er became out-classed by the newly built, city central 6-story shopping malls and well-known cheaper chain stores, similar to our Walmart, like Ren Ren Le (Everybody’s Happy). But despite that, Mou’er held fast to its clientele who didn’t want to wander 6 floors for what was needed or bother getting lost in an expansive shopping area. Whizzing directly from the main street sidewalk into downtown Mou’er for a 10-minute purchase or a 2-hour wander was as convenient as it gets.
Also to be mentioned is the fact that this was one of the only stores in town that had butter consistently. For us foreigners, that made it all the more special since a trip to Chengdu (3 ½ hours away) was usually needed to purchase such a treasured item.
Saying farewell to our nostalgic Mou’er is, indeed, very sad, at least for me, anyway.
A 1-DAY HOLIDAY NEARLY UPON US: 2014 ARRIVING!
Now that New Year’s is almost upon us, the shock of last week’s explosion is fading. Everyone is getting ready for their 1-day off tomorrow before the true countdown begins to the Year of the Horse, Jan. 31st. Stores and shopping malls across the country are already highlighting huge sales, some being open to midnight or later, to welcome in 2014. Should be a very busy night in the downtown districts.
As for me, I have no immediate plans other than to meet up with friends and enjoy a pleasant evening in the rivercity, Luzhou.
Here’s hoping your 2014 arrives with great hope and joy for the new year, and here’s sending you blessings and Ping An (peace) from China this last day of 2013!