March 4, 2010

Okay, so here it is about 12:30 (lunchtime in Taiwan).  Most little kiddies (and adulties) have had their noodles and watered down cabbage soup and are now taking their little nap until 2:00 or so.  So basically, I have the country to myself (insert evil maniacal laughter!)

I didn’t write a blog this morning at my usual time because, well, I think I was still a little groggy at my computer.  Also, I was having a difficult time thinking about what I wanted to write about.  It’s kind of good thing, because what I’m about to write below, may induce a bit of controversy.  I sometimes like causing controversy, because it means that people are actually reading my blog!

This morning, as with every morning, I have two classes at a Junior High School.  I had just gotten into class, settling in for the morning, around 8:15 or so.  Some kids were still coming into class.  Class does begin at 8:2o.  Just as one boy was opening the door, I could hear a strange sound.  Then all the kids got out of their seats, started running around like the proverbial ‘chicken with it’s head cut off’, screaming like little banshees.  Not that I’ve ever heard a banshee scream, but you get the point.  Yes ladies and gentlemen, we were having an earthquake.

The way these kids reacted, if this had been my first time in Taiwan to experience an earthquake and saw this, I would have thought Taiwan had never experienced an earthquake before.  I had to literally scream at the top of my BOOMING voice several times to get them to calm down and sit down.  I mean, it only lasted for about 30 seconds.  Okay, maybe 40.

Now, in Canada, growing up in schools and working in various buildings, we go through practice after practice after practice of what to do in an emergency, and in particular, a fire.  How do we get out of the building quickly and safely.  Fire departments do ad hoc fire drills to see what the reaction time is of the employees or students.  They recommend how things can be done differently to enhance the evacuation process.  Businesses are not permitted to open unless there is a sound evacuation system in place – THAT WORKS to the satisfaction of these safety personnel.

But, when the real thing does happen, how many times do we hear about how people panicked, screamed, ran around, and ended up dying in a fire, where probably, they could have survived?  The thing is, we hear about this type of thing.  We go through the drills.  And yet, for some reason, when the emergency is real, we suddenly forget all that training and practice, and turn into little ‘chickens with our heads cut off’.


I finally got the kids to sit their butts back at their desks.  Suddenly, message after message is blaring over the PA system.  I can’t hear myself think, let alone talk, messages are garbled, kids are chattering…  Then a few start pretending to pull their hair out.  Whatever the hell that was about, surprised the shit out of me!  Finally, one of the better students told me that, amongst all the PA messages, someone had mentioned that the kids had to go the track area.  I don’t know why, no one could explain.  So after a bit of exasperation, I told them to go.

About 20 minutes later, my supervisor came to my class, shut off my lights, opened the doors and windows, and said I had to go find my class.  In a sea of 3,000 students, you think I’d be able to find 20 little boys and girls?  You’re mad.  Besides, I’ve been through earthquakes in Taiwan before, it was over, the building was still erect, and I had work to do.  But, my supervisor wanted me to go to find the students, and although my opinion was it was an effort in futility, I did was asked – or at least tried.

As I’m walking with my coffee and cellphone in hand, I see students walking slower than me, still coming out of the building.  They’re talking, munching on breakfast, giggling, not a care in the world.  Oh the life of a student!  I met up with the other foreign teacher and another of the English (local) teachers, and sat with them and chatted.  They had given up trying to find their students as well.

As I said, I’ve been through earthquakes in Taiwan before.  The first year I was here, I waited patiently for my first experience.  I was living on the 14th floor of an apartment building.  It was around 12:30 or so.  I had class at 2:00, so I was taking my shower.  Suddenly, the bathroom started shaking.  On the slippery bottom of the tub, I crouched down, turned the water off, and waited.  About 30 or 40 seconds went by, things seemed to be okay, I finished my shower, and went to the bedroom to change.

In my bedroom at that time, I had fish tanks.  The water was still rockin’ and a-rollin’ in the tanks.  I looked behind, and there on the floor, were about a dozen fish flopping on the little space behind the shelves holding the tanks.  There was no way I was going to be able to save their lives.  They ended up dying back there.  Sorry fish.

That was my first earthquake.  I thought it was rather awesome.  Coming from Canada, we don’t really get good earthquakes.  Apparently we experience them, especially on the west coast, but not to this extent!  I later found out that the earthquake was a 6.8, and what Tainan had registered was in the neighbourhood of a 4.0…  Cool.  I can almost imagine what 6.8 IN TAINAN would feel like.

It was around that time, 2003, that I found out about a website, The Central Weather Bureau of Taiwan (  It is obviously in Chinese, but you can also tap a link to the English site.  Ever since then, I go on this site almost as much as I check my email, just to see what the weather will be like, or where a typhoon is heading, or how strong the earthquakes are.  There is also an American site that gathers information about earthquakes around the world, set up by the United State Geological Survey  (  I kind of like this one better, because I feel that their information, collected from around the world, is likely to more accurate, and the fact that this is ALL this agency does.  My own opinion.  But I do check both websites when an earthquake happens.  Also, I usually report the earthquake on the US site, because you cannot do this on the Taiwan site.  I like giving my two cents worth.

At last check on the USGS site, I noticed that 160 people have responded to this earthquake.  It has been classified as a 6.4 with light damage.  Sounds about right.  A few of the decorative tile work fell of the walls, and that is the main reason why I wanted the kids to stay in the class until things calmed down.  Why have them running around the halls when loose masonry is falling from 10 feet above them.

I heard, through Yahoo! site, that Chile had had an 8.8 earthquake.  I asked the second class if any of them had heard about it.  No.  I described it as best I could, I searched on the iPhone, but no one knew anything about it.  Taiwan, sometimes you surprise me.  I guess kids don’t care about anything unless it is about video games.  Whatever.

Back to being downstairs with the other teachers.  While we were waiting for the ‘okay’ that it was safe to go back to class, I heard the sound of a song being sung.  I asked the local teacher what song they were singing.  She was surprised.  She wondered why I didn’t know it.  Well, let’s start with the language??  Also, this school is not just a private school, but a private Christian school.  Every Monday morning the kids are supposed to pray to God or something.  Most tell me they just sleep.  Of course.

Anyway, she said the song was a song of thanks to God for keeping them alive.  Now, this is where I become religious.  OMG!  You’ve got to be kidding me.  A song to God about keeping them alive during an earthquake.  I wonder if they do this every day?

To give you an idea.  During the month of JANUARY 2010, Taiwan had 8 earthquakes.  There were also 20 ‘local’ (aftershocks) quakes.  Some of the ‘local’ quakes are stronger than the actual earthquake itself.  Nonetheless, that is, for the sake of argument, approximately 1 earthquake a day.  Given the fact that today alone, since 8:18 this morning to 13:15 (present time), there have been 5 earthquakes, and 17 ‘local’ quakes.  So, have the students sung this song 22 times today?  Give me a break.  Okay, so it is a Christian school.  Since less than 10% of the population of Tainan locals are actual Christian, I would wager that most of these students have no idea who God or Jesus is.

One of my second class students told me that the reason some students get so scared is because of the big earthquake on September 21, 1999.  This was three years before I even came to Taiwan.  Most of my students were born in 1996 or 1997, so all they really know, is what they’ve heard from people or read about.  Since stories like to be told more than they are, I can imagine some of the stories.

Yes, people were killed.  Yes, it broke down roads and buildings.  Yes, it was felt all over the country.  Yes, it happened early in the morning, so chances are, most of these students were little babies sleeping in their cribs.  Would they remember it?  Not too likely.

I may be a freak of nature, but I admire anything that Mother Nature throws at us.  I feel that the things we as humans cannot create or change or alter, but is done by nature, is a marvel.  No, I do not like snow and ice, but you must admit, that a blizzard in the middle of winter, or a freezing rain storm in the early spring, is a site to marvel at.  Seeing fog so thick that you literally cannot see 2 meters in front of you in New Westminster, BC, is awe-inspiring.  Seeing a volcano in the distance erupt, is incredible.  Yes, I saw that in British Columbia.  Well, not the actual explosion, but I could see the after of the volcano eruption in Washington state.  Mount Rainier, I believe.

Seeing the damage and destruction that wind, and water, and snow, and as far as the earth is concerned, a little shake here and there can do to what we, as humans have created, makes you stop and realize that, we are merely little creatures roaming around the universe.

Now, when is typhoon season again…?

earthquake report


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