Monday, May 12, 2008
I was in Athens during the last Olympics. One mid-afternoon, I was sitting on a balcony with a Greek friend when, literally, the earth moved.
I have to admit to squealing like a girl. We were on the fourth floor of a somewhat shoddy apartment block, after all. And when the ground beneath your feet jerks and trembles like shook cloth, it is disconcerting to say the least.
Afterwards, my friend took me out into the street and pointed out the red X marks on some adjoining derelict buildings. Those, he explained, were signs of condemnation - buildings that were no longer safe after the last large quake. What we had just experienced, he said, was just a little shudder.
Well, what they've experienced in Szechuan today is no little shudder. At 7.8 on the Richter scale, it is only marginally less powerful than that which sparked the tsunami on 26th December 2004.
This is a breaking news story and we will hear more as time progresses. But I've been to Chengdu. It's a very large city of very recently built concrete structures of high density, poor quality housing.
And I've been to the smaller towns in Szechuan too. They're even worse.
We're hearing that six schools have collapsed trapping the pupils inside. We're hearing that tens of thousands of people have been killed. I don't doubt these stories. They tally with what I know of the infrastructure of the region.
Hopefully, unlike their puppets in Burma, The Chinese Communist Party will acknowledge the need for external help in the face of a horrific natural disaster.
Hopefully, the world will not turn their face away from the innocent victims of both these tragedies, purely because their governments are incompetent, totalitarian regimes.
Hopefully, these tragedies will shake our preconceptions of the peoples of South East Asia, and our response to their tragedies will shake their preconceptions of us.