Posts Tagged ‘sichuan earthquake’

Made in China

December 30, 2012

There was a hillarious news story during the week, where a huge aquarium in a Shanghai shopping centre promptly exploded. The few shoppers watching the tank had to leap into the clear as a torrent of water and glass burst into the shopping centre. Something like 16 people recieved minor injuries from the glass shards, while several small sharks and a bunch of turtles met their end. In true Chinese fashion, people were back in the scene mere seconds later, standing amongst the glass to take those all important mobile phone photos of the poor sharks as they flapped around and gasped for air.

The tank had been installed in the shopping centre for two years, and its failure was blamed on cold conditions and poor materials – key word being poor materials.

It is an unfortunately common trend in China, that things are simply not made very well. There are constantly stories reported in the news where bridges or similar large structures have collapsed as they are not only built as fast as possible, but with the cheapest materials possible. I was thinking of many of these stories as I stood in line to ride a chair lift to the top of a small mountain in Xi Hui park, Wuxi. I was specifically looking into the control room, where a giant, dusty old wheel powered the chairlift, and looked like it hadn’t’ been maintained since the Qing dynasty. Likewise, outside the park, as i stood on the wide bridge that leads over the Grand Canal – the bridge that bumps and moves every time a large truck (and there are considerable large trucks) crosses over it – I wondered if I might soon be getting a firsthand view of this famous old canal.

China is advancing alright, but they simply don’t have the same level of care that many other countries employ when building things. Face is often only a facade, and as long as it looks good, it passes the test. In Australia, the utterly stringent rules for rules policies that affects practically everything, tends to avoid problems like this. Of course, even the most prudent countries will still not be beyond the odd disaster occurring, but in China, you can practically lay somewhat safe bets on this happening.

As a point of interest, the main reason so many school students died in the Sichuan Earthquake disaster was due to the poor quality of the classrooms in which they were studying. The buildings, that are often five stories high with at least 5 classrooms across – each with 50+ kids inside, simply collapsed like a deck of cards on top of themselves. I was in China when the Sichuan earthquake occurred. I remember standing on the fifth and top level of a building that would have been very similar and just imagining what might happen should an earthquake of such magnitude hit Wuxi. Thankfully, it didn’t.


The Qinghai earthquake tragedy

April 22, 2010

Earthquakes can be a terrible thing – and thankfully do not occur in my part of the world – at least not  of a large magnitude. Over the past few years there have been several monstrous natural disasters affecting various parts of the planet, though despite the tragedy of one particularly nasty tsunami, earthquakes have easily been the most prominent.

From the 2008 Sichuan earthquake which claimed thousands upon thousands of lives, to the 2010 Haiti disaster, the most recent earthquake tore apart the high altitude region of Qinghai in eastern China. While the death toll is expected to rise from the current 2064, a further 175 people are still missing, and 12,000 others remain injured.

The problem with earthquakes is not simply the deaths caused by the initial violent upheavals – where people are crushed beneath buildings – but the aftermath. As thousands of people are suddenly homeless; often with little food, water or shelter, diseases and chaos run rampant. Of the 12,000 reported injured, how many of them now will fall prey to the effects of insufficient relief efforts or environmental conditions.

 The Qinghai region is cold and mountainous. Mostly devoid of large earth-moving equipment which is crucial for clearing away the post-quake rubble. With narrow winding roads leading into it, it’s no small feat responding to a problem of this size in any acceptable timeframe. Already, it was reported that several trucks carrying much needed relief supplies had overturned as they tried to get into the area. Others are reluctant to enter the city themselves; fearful of being mobbed by the thousands of cold, hungry and injured people needing assistance.

China called a nationwide 3 minutes of silence, where sporting events were cancelled, karaoke bars closed down – even online games, sports and tv shows were cancelled, all in honour of the lost. A nationwide television charity show raised 2.175 billion ($350 million Australian approx) which is solely to help the surviving quake victims.

One can only hope that anything and everything is being done to return the lives of the affected to some degree of order, though I can’t imagine how long it will take to actually move on.

Crushed beneath my friends

December 14, 2009

There was a story floating around the other day about a school in Hunan province where students were killed in a stampede. The official line is that 400 students in Yucaj High School in the city of Xiangiang were rushing towards a staircase leading to their dormitory to avoid being rained on. As the crush entered the staircase, seven boys and one girl were killed – suffocated beneath the pack, while a further 26 were seriously injured.

It’s not really clear what caused the stampede, but blame has been placed on the narrowness of the hall (around 1.5 metres), the fact is was slippery from all those wet feet, and poor lighting.

This is not the kind of problem that you would expect to encounter in most western countries though wherever there are large crowds of people, I guess if you introduce a small element of panic or anxiety, this kind of problem can and will happen. In China it is amplified by the fact that in every situation, there are considerably more people, and in much closer proximity.

In Australia, people value their personal space and actually become irritated if you encroach on it. Unlike countries like China and India, we’re not so heavily populated that we’re used to having other people touching us – even harmless shoulders rubbing together etc. The only place you’ll likely find this kind of thing is in music concerts, and even then, people get irritated by the touch of strangers.

In China, there are so many people it’s almost impossible to enjoy this kind of personal space. Everywhere you go, from getting on and off buses to standing in queues at train stations – there are considerably more people. The schools are absolutely no exception. At Tianyi where I taught, you could walk around the grounds during classes and the place was deserted. You would be hard pressed to even guess that somewhere on the campus, some three thousand students were all hard at work.

At Tianyi, the students would start at around 6:30am and not finish until 9pm – a joke by western standards. For most of the day you would see nobody – though when that bell went, it was comparable to an African wildebeest migration. When the bell went for lunch, suddenly thousands of kids would appear from the multi-story blocks of classrooms and move towards the direction of the canteen. Many of these students would move with haste as they were given very limited time for a break. If they wanted to do something back in their dorm room or buy some snacks or stationary from the schools tiny shops, they would  need to effectively run there in order to still have time to eat.

On many occasions I walked up and down the five story flights, completely submerged in a sea of bodies. I often thought to what would happen on those stairs should another earthquake occur like in Sichuan a year earlier. Those hundreds of students in Sichuan really didn’t stand a chance – the level of panic and hysteria that would have been experienced as they all tried to flee down those stairwells as their buildings collapsed would have been absolutely terrifying. Due to the sheer number of students, it would have been simply impossible to get out of those buildings rapidly – and so it comes as no surprise that eight kids were crushed. Hopefully someone, somewhere in China sees this as a wake-up call to improve the safety standards in what one would normally assume to be a non-issue.

Don’t cry.

May 6, 2009

Parents of children killed in the Sichuan Earthquake have been complaining of being harassed by the Chinese government. Barred from displaying grieving in public, they have even been removed around sensitive times in a crack down that completely boggles the mind. Is there any element to average Chinese life the government does not feel threatened by?

It is unknown how many actual children died in the disaster that claimed over 90,000 lives. At least 14,000 schools were damaged – many of them of shoddy and unsafe design. It used to cross my mind from time to time when I was on the top floor of our teaching building how if an earthquake of that magnitude had hit Wuxi, the building while looking somewhat solid would likely have collapsed in on itself like a deck of cards.

The teaching building we taught in had around 15 classrooms, each with over 50 students in them. That alone is over 750 students, not counting the offices of teachers on the ground level. Apply that to the 14,000 schools that were damaged in the earthquake, some completely destroyed and you begin to comprehend just how many students died that day.

In China they do not build structures for longevity. They are built for the purpose of providing a much shorter term purpose – be it classroom or housing. With a country of so many people with an inconcievable amount of construction going on, they do not have the luxury of quality.  When an earthquake of 8.0 on the scale hits in China’s most populated city, Chongching, Sichuan province, disaster is inevitable.

In China? You’d be shot!

February 4, 2009

That’s right, if you dared to throw a shoe at a government official; particularly one as important as the PM, Wen Jiabao, you’d be hauled away and never heard from again. We always liked the look of Wen Jiabao, he always had this genuinely happy, smiling face. He looked like a nice man. You know how sometimes you can just tell whether someone looks nice or nasty? Well we got good vibes from Wen, despite not knowing much about him at all! He was heavily involved with the recovery efforts after the Sichuan earthquake disaster – and whether or not it was propaganda images is unclear, but he was out there and did appear to be genuinely helping. Most of the country did actually. It was heavilly covered by Chinese TV at the time.

It is good though that some Chinese saw the funny side of the incident. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said that state leaders should be respected, however to laughter, added, “Next time I should watch out for not only [those] who are raising their hands, but also [those] who are untying their shoelaces.”

I guess it’s just lucky for the thrower, that the shoes missed!

My baby! My baby!

January 15, 2009

In the news today, Chinese police have busted open a child kidnapping gang:

Police crack China baby sale gang:

They were sold for between 860 yuan ($125, £86) and 26,000 yuan ($3,800), the Beijing News said.

The children, mostly toddlers aged two or three years old, were snatched in Hunan province’s Yueyang city while they were playing or sleeping.

Police in southern China have broken up a gang that abducted migrant workers’ children to sell in distant provinces, state media reports.


If it’s not children being kidnapped, it’s cat’s and dogs being stolen, or something else. There are so many deep-rooted issues in China. Sure, it’s a developing country, but the road to being first world is a long one. Particularly when you’re managing a population the size of China – over 1.3 billion.

So why do the kids get kidnapped and sold? It’s easy really – a side-effect of the one child policy. Families in most cases are limited to one child. Some of the richer folk can fork out money and pay for a second – or some of the poorer just have a second anyway and are fined by the government. Kids in China are a crucial part of the cultural make-up. You work your fingers to the bone making peanuts, all the while supporting your parents who in return supported you when you were young. When you grow older and start making money, your kids then support you – and life repeats itself; over and over and over.

The massive earthquake in Sichuan province killed thousands, many of them children.

The massive earthquake in Sichuan province killed thousands, many of them children.

Imagine the grief of the parents who lost their children in the Sichuan earthquakes. I am willing to bet a large portion of that grief directly related to the family effectively coming to a hold. It’s a serious deal in China. And worse – hundreds of kids had limbs amputated to free them from the rubble. I believe families affected in these ways were granted special privileges to have an extra child. It’s just that important.

So families live off their children. It’s the common consensus that males are far more valuable(from an employment point of view) so families were known to ‘get rid of’ or take steps again, having female children. In the kidnapping story, it was reported one child was outright abandoned when it was revealed she was in fact female. Already there are massive female shortages in China. Thousands of females are immigrating overseas where they can get a far better lifestyle by marrying foreigners. Luckily there seems to be no shortage of, heh, foreign men looking precisely for some easy asian bride action.

No female, no family, no children – serious trouble for a Chinese male. That combination can immediately lead to a life of lonely poverty. The sad part is this is common in China, the division between rich and very poor is easy to see wherever you go.

Troubling times – that are only going to get worse as these deep-seeded problems grow into even bigger issues. One thing that did surprise me while in China was the sheer number of children. There were todders and babies absolutely everywhere. With the one child policy in effect, this surprised me. Here’s hoping China is the first to colonise the moon. They are sure as hell going to need extra landspace at some point in time. Already I can’t understand how they can feed all those mouths. Particularly if you are familiar with Chinese meals – there is an absolute over-abundance of food. Time will tell.

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