When the Ground Shakes

November 1, 2013

The Chinese describe it as “地牛翻身“,alluding to a mythical ox living underground turning its massive body.

Really we know it is the friction movement of tectonic plates. Depending on the type of movement and your location, one experiences the earthquake differently. Sometimes it feels like a gentle roll, as if the ground beneath us is turned into ocean waves. Other times it shakes straight up and down rather rhythmically. Mostly, they last mere seconds. Last night, it was a long, eternal minute.

What happens when the ground shakes? An entire population of the island stop in our tracks, jolted with the reminder the earth we inhabit is alive and dynamic.

Social media lights up, Facebook news feed refresh with Earthquake! announcements, sharing, commiserating, bonding.

Sensible people pause and wait it out. This would not be me. Here’s what happens:

First, my eyes dart to my predetermined indication of an actual earthquake. I have chronic vertigo, you see, sometimes my world spins when the earth sits perfectly still. Like the totem used to test reality in the movie Inception, I check the cords on my window blinds: if it swings, the building is actually shaking. The cord swings to and fro, I shout Earthquake! involuntarily, announcing to the rest of the members in my family. My heart starts racing and my nerves tingle for 10 seconds, 20 seconds, the earthquake does not end.

I get up and start pacing, trying to not let the fear show to keep my children calm, but failing. 5 more seconds, the world continues to move. I consider evacuation but do not act upon it because:

1) I’m in my pajamas already, not the kind that is appropriate in public spaces. True, vanity should not precede life saving, but we are not thinking rationally at this point.

2) We live on the 33rd floor, if the earthquake causes the building to fall, we would likely be caught in the staircases mid-evac. Basically sitting duck, folks.

10 seconds, the cord continues to swing. My son starts to feel dizzy and gets up for a drink of water. My daughter and I crouch down in the triangle of life, next to furniture instead of underneath it (apparently, the triangle of life is controversial advice, but again, we are not thinking, we are doing SOMEthing), hugging each other as I imagine us being found amid rubble like those incredibly tragic but profound images from National Geographics.


10 more seconds, the earthquake is winding down, but my pulse is not. The long minute ends, kids go back to their game, and I am designated to find out the details of the earthquake and banter with fellow survivors online.

6.3 magnitude on the northeastern coast of the island, lasting one minute long. No casualties. (Thank God!) The long, terrifying minute is over, a blip in our history of yesterday, a moment pregnant with our loss of control as the ground shakes beneath us, our fates tied by gravity to the overturning ox.

Aftershocks of 5.0 and above to be expected within the coming month. Check your cords, and stay safe everyone.