It was in the my office on the 28th floor of Finance Square in Shanghai, where I sat with a concept test brief in my hand, in deep contemplation on how to add value to the research design, when my cogitation was interrupted by the tinkling of the blinds against the windows. Before I could get time to puzzle about why the blinds were moving inside the building with all the windows tightly sealed, I realized that it was not just the blinds but the whole building which seem to have broken into a gentle dance. If my colleagues were frightened at the realization that we were experiencing an earthquake, they did a great job of disguising their fear and with great aplomb and composure we started shuffling down the stairs to evacuate the building (including me, with the research brief still in my hand). The tremors were persistent and I kept on feeling the building’s sway right till our dreadfully slow descent to the 20th floor. After that, while the earth seemed to have steadied itself, the legs had acquired a momentum of their own and I kept feeling the sway for quite some time to come.
Finally out of the building, we were puzzled at the strange occurrence – Shanghai has almost never had an earthquake and it was the first time that most of us experienced the trembling of the building and having to evacuate it under the fear that it will collapse on top of us. While engaged in animated discussion, some irritated and some relieved with the unexpected break in the office monotony, little did we realize the tragedy that had taken place more than a thousand kilometers away in Sichuan province. While the Finance Square kept standing and did not bury us in its steel and mortar blocks, 900 school children in Dujiangyan city near the provincial capital Chengdu, were not as fortunate. Nor were thousands of other children and adults, who could not escape their schools, factories and homes in time and were trapped under plies of rubble. Gradually the magnitude of the disaster unfolded in front of us, numbing us with grief and stupefaction.
While natural disasters are inescapable and we have little choice but to stoically and philosophically accept their tragic consequences, the subsequent human ineptitude and neglect which often compounds the misery is definitely preventable. Fortunately, China’s response was in sharp contrast to the apathy of the Generals of Myanmar when faced with the devastating cyclone which struck the country a few weeks ago. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was in Sichuan within hours of the earthquake. With a megaphone in hand and moist eyes, the nation saw him addressing the victims in a tremulous voice, offering condolences, reassurance and hope. It was clear in the days to come that the country mobilized every possible resource to rescue those who were still alive under the rubble and offer relief and succour to those who suffered the most.
It was a tragedy that touched the hearts of the people throughout the country. In an overwhelming wave of sympathy, the people are reaching for their wallets, donating blood, volunteering to work in the affected areas, even offering to adopt the children who lost their parents.
It will be a while before China can forget the tragedy that struck it out of the blue and traumatised the nation. Those who lost their loved ones, their homes or livelihoods will possibly live the rest of their lives with indelible physical and emotional scars. However, it will also be a while before China and the world can forget the efficiency, promptitude and compassion with which China dealt with the tragedy. It is reassuring to see that it is not only the Chinese mind which has transformed the country into an economic powerhouse, which deserves praise, but that its heart is also in the right place.