Or so we thought….
We were without power on Saturday afternoon in our apartment so after sleeping and reading the day away we decided to get our blood flowing again and take a nice long walk to our dear friends’ house for dinner. As we did not have power we had to take the emergency stairs down twenty-one floors, at which point we realized, if there is any kind of emergency in our apartment building, there is pretty terrible lighting and zero ventilation in those stairs, we would be in a whole bunch of trouble.
Trying not to dwell on it, we began our walk to the eastern part of town. When we came upon this (see right). When we walked closer we discovered a migrant worker building had caught fire. These blue and white buildings are everywhere, near building and road projects, out in the country side and in urban environments. The temporary settlements usually house workers who are from different provinces or the country side who are working on a project nearby. They’re very basic and apparently very flammable. We watched as the people who lived in the complex scrambled to collect fire extinguishers and hoses and run with their goods. At first we actually entered the complex to see what was going on and to see if we could help but I quickly realized that being a foreigner in a tense situation such as this one probably wasn’t wise and we quickly retreated just as they were closing up the gates to the complex, not letting anyone in or out.
We felt awful for those people who lost what little they had. We felt compelled to help, to give something or to console, but we were caught in the growing mass of onlookers, blocking traffic both vehicular and pedestrian and we knew that there wasn’t much we could do. We were pretty shocked though that it took the fire engines about 20 minutes to get to the fire and once they got there they couldn’t enter the complex. Which made us feel even less safe in case of an emergency here in Chengdu.
More than that though, we were amazed at the sense of community as the residents worked together to pick up mid-sized sedans off the sidewalk to move them out of the way of the trucks. To anyone who says the village is dead in China, I think it still exists, and we saw glimpses of it on Saturday.
This by no means made us feel any better about our emergency staircase discovery back in our apartments but it made us feel a little more thankful for having what we do. This weekend I’ve had the same feeling in watching the current natural disaster in Japan, wanting to help but not knowing what to do. Unfortunately that feeling of helplessness is the same whether your watching the event unfold in real life or on TV. I was glad to see that China has offered help (despite their often bitter past with Japan) and that already, there are sites that you can donate to, probably the most popular being the American Red Cross, who has also teamed up with amazon.com to give aid.