Michelle’s Favorite China Moments (#7- And Don’t Forget About Earthquakes)

This month I am doing a series on my favorite China moments over the past decade.  This particular post is a continuation from the last one.

Earthquake!   My teammate and I, along with our Japanese neighbor (another foreign student), lived on floors directly on top of each other.  We lived in an old, decrepit building that was next in line to be torn down.  It looked nice on the outside, but looks can be deceiving.  We made it up the best we could, but it left much to be desired.  For six weeks I took ice cold showers, and that was on days we had water.  We’re in the middle of the desert (the farthest place…on earth…from any large body of water, one book told us) and it felt like I was constantly sweeping up the inches of dust that would blow in.  But, it was home and we loved our little spot in Kashgar.

One night we were hanging out in one of the apartments having some deep philosophical discussion about life and culture and people and language.  Or some such thing.  Then we felt movement.  A bit of a shake.  Did this whole building move?  We really didn’t think much of it, because like I said, the building left much to be desired.  Maybe it was just a window pane rattling against the wind?  No, no– that bookcase just moved.  And now it’s swaying.  Hmmm…perhaps it’s an earthquake.

So, we did what any person should do.  We made our way down the apartment stairwell and outside.  On the way down and outside my teammate gave me a long lecture about civil engineers and structures and the effect of earthquakes on different structures.   Basically he was saying that if this was a serious earthquake, then standing under the doorframes as we learned in elementary school would be about as effective as holding an umbrella in a hurricane. We could see through the window other people in other apartments heading outside.  After all, it was almost the one-year anniversary of the 2008 devastating earthquake in Sichuan province, southwest China, and tensions were high about this kind of thing.

the kitchen

When we got to the bottom of the stairwell, we tried to open the door to the outside.  Jiggle, jiggle, rattle, bang- the darn door is locked!  You see, in the name of “protecting” the foreigners from would-be nightly intruders the landlord would lock us in our apartments at night with a giant padlock and chain locking the door to the stairwell.  We were each given a small key to open it, especially if we had to leave before 7:30 in the morning or arrive after 10:00 pm at night.  But, when you’re trying to get out quickly due to…oh, I don’t know…an EARTHQUAKE…you’re not thinking about the keys.

Someone had to run back upstairs to get the keys because neither of us thought to grab them.  The building is still visibly swaying and we’re stuck in this darn stairwell. We get the keys, but now we can’t see anything in the pitch black stairwell, so we had to run back up again and grab a flashlight.  Oh for the love!

the bathroom

There was nothing else to do but find the whole situation absolutely hilarious.  We’d already been through a flood.  Man, if a fire came next we’d just tie a sheet to a bed post and shimmy down the side of the building.  Both of us being visual people we laughed at that image for a long time.

We finally got out and breathed in the cool night air.  It was over as quickly as it began.  Friends from afar called and wrote emails later asking if we were okay.

“Oh, do we have a story for you!” we would answer.

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