I just wanted to quickly share the reactions of my Chinese co-workers to the earthquake in Japan.
On Friday I spent the entire afternoon trying to learn more about the earthquake, but my co-workers seemed oblivious to it (they weren’t working either). It turned out they had heard about the earthquake, and figured that Japan could handle such a large quake, and went on with their day.
When I showed them a video of the tsunami, their reaction was absolute horror. Watching the water rush over the farmland carrying flaming buildings looked like the end of the world. Grace couldn’t help whispering “Oh my God” a few dozen times as she watched the short clip.
In that moment the reality of the situation hit them.
Later on Friday afternoon when I told her that the tsunami warning was affecting the entire Pacific she questioned whether or not she would ever get a chance to visit Hawaii.
Grace was also surprised when I told her that the people of Tokyo had essentially lined up when bus service stopped, and started to walk home quietly. She said in China if there was this kind of disaster there would be wide-spread panic and chaos. She seemed jealous of the Japanese and their stoic public faces.
This morning the earthquake was the first thing Jasmine asked about. When I was talking with her, I said that it was fortunate that such a large quake had hit Japan because no other country in the world is as well prepared for dealing with such a catastrophic disaster. I think she understood that this was a nice way of saying that in China the death toll would already be hundreds of thousands. She was relieved to hear that the death toll was probably not going to be as high as that of the Sichuan Earthquake.
After our conversation stopped though she turned to Grace and said in Chinese (meaning not for my ears) “In China a dozen people die and nobody even notices.” She was critiquing her own country and how large a disaster has to be for China to even slow its pace.
For more reactions to the quake I suggest this post from Chinasmack.com which translated Chinese comments from internet forums as they reacted to the quake (Warning some bad language and disgusting nationalism), Ministry of Tofu also had an excellent post about the Chinese reaction to the civility shown by the Japanese after the quake (Chinasmack did too), as well as “Schadenfreude and Sympathy in Shanghai” from ForeignPolicy.com