This week was the week of my freshman classes’ one normal test for the semester. Last week each group designed what they felt was a fair test for another group (under my supervision); this week, they graded another group’s performance on the test they wrote (again, with me grading too). It’s a great chance for some metacognition and extra listening practice.
Monday I had just finished sorting the tests, explaining the procedure of being student, then teacher, for each part of the test, and handing out books and magazines to read while they waited for their turn, and was walking back to my desk. As I stepped up onto the raised platform at the front of the room, my legs felt unsteady, and I grabbed the desk as calmly as I could and waited for what seemed to be my worst dizzy spell ever to pass. It didn’t immediately, so I bowed my head and closed my eyes, trying to decide if that was close enough to putting your head down between your knees and hoping I wasn’t going to pass out in class. Then one of the students said, “Miss Anderson!” I looked up, and several of them pointed up at the lights, which were swinging from the ceiling. Oh! It wasn’t me after all. The ground really was moving.
We didn’t move for a few moments, looking at each other in shock while I (and presumably they) tried to remember what to do. All I could think of was standing in doorways – no chance of us all fitting there – and the position out in the hallway from hurricane/tornado drills of my own childhood – but was that what one did for earthquake drills, too? It had been too long since second and third grade in Tokyo for me to remember.
The pounding of feet on the stairs decided us, and reminded me of the riot in “Freedom Writers” in its effect. It wasn’t at all violent, it just caused a chain reaction that I, as a teacher, felt I had no control over, especially since I don’t speak their heart language well enough to communicate much in such a stressful time. Thankfully, leaving the building was probably the best thing anyway, unless the quake had gotten worse and collapsed the stairs. We were on the fourth floor, so it was a long walk down to get out. The chandeliers in the lobby were still swinging when we reached ground level, but by that time the earth had stopped moving.
We milled around with the rest of the evacuees outside for a while, and I wished I’d been quick-thinking enough to use the moments of pause before the rush outside to tell them to meet me somewhere. I knew there was no chance of finding them all in the sea of students. After a while I located a few and we went back up to the classroom to collect my books and magazines. They agreed with me that there wasn’t really any chance of re-starting class that day, so they left and I sat down to get some work done in the silent, still room. After all, I now had half a class period free before the bus.
When I went to the department office in another building to copy the fruits of my labors, I heard from the secretary that, no, Henan doesn’t usually have quakes, but apparently half of China felt this one. It originated in Sichuan, but there was no information available yet. (Aside from what she’d just told me, anyway.) Back home, the neighborhood was noisier than usual. Schools had cancelled afternoon classes after the quake, and everyone seemed to be outside talking about what had happened.
And then… life went on. I was too busy to use the internet much, so I only saw a couple articles all week. I can’t read the local papers, and I don’t have a TV signal to watch the news. For me, it almost went back to being a normal week. Thursday my junior classes played a game on the football field, and I asked a couple of students afterwards if they’re excited about the Olympics. The reply was, “No, we’re thinking about the earthquake.” Oh. Of course. I’m realizing how disconnected I am from the culture here. This event was probably like 9-11 without the malicious intent of being caused by terrorists. Of course they’re thinking about it! Indeed, I’m surprised they’ve been able to pay such good attention in class. But then, I was a junior myself in September 2001, and I suppose after the shock of that first day (and classes weren’t even canceled then), we did mostly get on with life as usual. There were blood drives for the survivors that were never found, prAr meetings between and after classes, collections of money and supplies, and lots of footage of the smoke rising from across the city on TV. Here, too, they’re raising money, donating blood, turning on the news on the classroom computer during the breaks, and (not at school) organizing nation-wide prAr. But somehow they continue with their day-to-day activities, and I can forget sometimes that I’m living in a country in shock and sorrow.
I wonder how their Olympics will be now. I remember the flag from Ground Zero at Salt Lake, and I wonder how this nation will mourn. G bl’ss the people of the PRC. Please remember them in your thoughts as they continue dealing with the horrible aftermath of this terrible tragedy.