Beijing, 13th of June
May 12th 2:38pm
I was at my computer checking emails and chatting to friends online, when suddenly the apartment began to shake. Initially I thought nothing of it thinking perhaps it was a large vehicle or crane outside my block. But I live on the 23rd floor and shouldn't have been feeling it so intensely. And it continued - one minute - two minutes. I asked a friend on msn if he could feel it - his work is 15 minutes away from me. He could. Women in his office were screaming. As the shaking seemed to get stronger, I was worried too. 23 storeys is a long way up - or down. But realising it was a tremor I trusted and hoped it would subside. After about three minutes it ended and I was left feeling disorientated and dazed. I suffered a splitting headache and feeling of nausea for the rest of the day but otherwise put the event out of my mind.
It wasn't until the evening of the next day that I heard from friends and reports that the earthquake had flattened buildings, including schools, and killed thousands of people in Si Chuan province. I felt sick. That same tremor I had thought nothing of, had resulted in the death of so many.Soon after hearing the extent of the earthquake I contacted my old Chinese teacher who is from Si Chuan. She told me that fortunately her parents were out of the province. But they had not been able to return home due to the damage and the danger of after-shocks. It's been nearly a month now and they are still unable to go home. She urged me to make a donation for the search and aid of survivors - and also to encourage my foreign friends to do the same. "Every yuan can help" she told me.
Since that day, coverage of the earthquake and the search for survivors have dominated TV and newspapers everywhere. The whole country has been caught up in a wave of grief and also a sense of profound helplessness. All of my Chinese friends have made donations and wish more could be done to help. Another friend of mine, Li Duan, even attempted to fly to Si Chuan to help as a volunteer, but she was turned away at the airport. It was just too dangerous.
An outpouring of emotion
Seven days after the earthquake, there was a vigil at Tiananmen Square for the victims. I went with PPY, my friend from my football days. Thousands of people attended, most bringing Chinese flags and candles. In all my years in China, I have never seen such a public outpouring of emotion. It had the energy of a political rally, yet a real sense of tragedy and loss. With chants of jia1 you2 zhong1 guo2, come on China, and xjia1 you2 si4 chuan1, come on Si Chuan, and the lighting of thousands of candles the evening was electric. Some people came with signs reading wo3 men dou1 shi4 si4 chuan1 ren2, we are all Si Chuan people - others laid candles on the ground in the shape of a heart and there was even a mass singing of the national anthem in front of The Forbidden City. In a strange footnote, about an hour into the vigil, plain clothes officers went around telling people to put out their candles - I'm told for safety reasons but am not really sure why.
Personally I feel this earthquake has dealt a terrible blow to the morale here, especially in this Olympic year - of all years. Traditionally in China, 8 is an auspicious number, the Olympics will be held on 8/8/08. So it is even more tragic that the earthquake occurred exactly 88 days before its start.
Wo3 dui4 zai4 di4 zhen4 zhong1 shou4 zai1 qun2 zhong4 biao3 shi4 tong2 qing2, I would like to offer my deepest condolences and wishes to those affected by this tragedy.
Editor's note: Chris is writing Chinese words in 'Pinyin', Latin script, using numbers that indicate the tone of the word. Find out more with our course Real Chinese.
Sent by: Chris