29 May 2008
The past few months have brought unimaginable natural disaster around the World, particularly in Asia. First it was the cyclone in Burma that has killed at least 100,000 people and displaced millions more, though no one can be entirely sure because of the oppressive military junta that has done everything in its power to restrict the flow of international aid and assistance.
Then, just days later, a massive earthquake struck Sichuan Province in central China. The death toll is now reaching 100,000 thousand there, with millions injured and millions more displaced. Having arrived in Shanghai just weeks after the first quake, I’ve been in the thick of things in terms of national reaction, which has been nothing short of incredible.
Every bar, restaurant, hotel, corner shop has played host to some type of fundraiser, whether it’s all tips to door cover to portions of your purchase. Chinese and foreigners alike have given graciously when it comes to giving money.
It is rather amazing how tragedy can bring a nation together. I have been reminded of how I felt in the days following September 11 back in the United States, nationalist pride more pronounced than ever before. The entire country observed three consecutive days of three-minute silences at 2:28pm, the exact moment the first tremor hit. In a moment uniquely Chinese, every car in site from Lianne’s 15th floor balcony stopped in its tracks and blared its horn. From what I hear, that happened through the nation. Just imagine the stillness of 1.4 billion people all doing the same thing at the same time. That energy could seemingly move mountains.
One odd incident has arisen in the midst of so much unity. I went with Lianne to co-teach one of her lessons last week. After granting an additional three minutes of silence per one student’s request, we spent the next hour playing English games to review for their exam. With 10 minutes left Lianne opened the floor for any questions about Western culture, as there was an Aussie, a Brit and an American all present at the time. The same student that requested the earlier moment of silence raised his hand and asked for one more minute. While Kylie (the Aussie) asked the class if they wanted to partake, he rephrased his quesetion. “No no. Not everyone. Just you. The foreigners. You should stand shoulder to shoulder in the front of the class and observe one minute of silence to show your respect for China and the victims.” This came after being asked by multiple students how much money we had donated (to which we were told, you should give more) and what our countries were doing to help (to which we were told, they should give more).
I’ll be the first to tell you that this incident was utterly catastrophic, and I know for a fact that the whole World shares in the grief and sadness of losing 100,000 human beings. Still, if there is anything to be learned from our own experiences following 9/11, it is quite simply that the wake of tragedy is no place to start waging conflict. It is a time for unity and positive action. We will give what we can give. Our nations will give what they can give. We will show our respect the way we find appropriate and at the same time, we’ll allow you to show your respect however you see fit. This is a time for reflection, not reaction.