Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Shaky Isles

It is a week since Christchurch shook its fatal shake. Not being in NZ as something so big happens is hard. I wanted to know everything: The Herald with its videos were my breakfast. By the time I'd got on the metro, I was reading it in the Chinese media: Chinese too died in the quake. The day after it was front page news for that reason. A picture of a father watching forlornly at the TV broadcasts. His daughter, a Guangzhou native, was in the quake, she was trapped in a fallen building but had managed to text him saying she was struggling; she texted again for him to take care of himself and then her messages fell silent. She almost certainly perished. The news of the quake reverberated around the school. A large number of students could raise the name of the CTV building, which is a temporary tomb for a large number of the victims. A language school inside made it even more relevant and poignant. That tragedy made the comment that this was not just New Zealand's disaster all the more apt.
Though I'm far away from home, the inundation of news about it became a compulsion. I sometimes hear people repeating the sentiment that it is sick to be so interested in the images of disater. But there is something very human about this. It is rooted in many emotions: sympathy, grief, astonishment, curiosity and fear. Disasters are when again the veil of routine life is pulled violently from before our eyes and brutal realities strike us again. One cannot appreciate normality until they accept the true normalness of this tragic event.
The scale of it is hard to really interpret. Any shock happening or development can be hard to really grasp, and only with time can we really know. The Erebus disaster (which occurred during my lifetime) will likely still stand as New Zealand's worst disaster. But its impact on the New Zealand, beyond the lives lost, was mainly psychological. The Napier earthquake at number two can only be imagined. 256 lives disappeared in 1931 in that tremor. It is almost frightening to think that in that in what was a small town, everyone must have known people who died. With 80 years to accept the tragedy it is remembered for the positive effect of Art Deco rebuilding and land for an airport. Beyond the immediate carnage and death, one can only think about the fear after the quake. One clip was taken at Christchurch airport where people were fleeing the city. People were vowing that they would never return. But there is no place of earth where the earthquakes didn't stop shaking. Let's hope that this last series is the last and the true rebuilding can begin.
In Guangzhou the spring festival feeling has gone and the spring weather has come. About the time of the quake, the Guangzhou temperature became warmer than Auckland for the first time in the year. It is a world away in feeling, and creates almost a contradiction in my head.


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