When you think of China, what do you think of?
What places pop into your head?
You may say Shanghai or Beijing, you may think of the Great Wall of China but very few people would say that they know that place that I am living in.
I live in a city called Tangshan. Tangshan is an industrial city to the south of Beijing. Tangshan is an old city with a long history. Unfortunately when I researched the city to learn more about it before I moved here, there were very few positive aspects that I read about.
The first scary thing that I read about was the air pollution.
I didn’t fully comprehend what was meant by air pollution. I mean in Cape Town, every so often the city will have this haze above it.
Table Mountain, Cape Town
You drive around the spectacular mountain, you stare over it and with your aircon pumping you say superciliously “Eeu, how can we do this to our city?” A day or so later after the wind has picked up, it is gone and we move on.
However, when I first experienced it here, it was like the air had a life form of its own. You walk out of your apartment and you can see it around you, it swirls around you and laughs as it takes hold of you.
You can smell it, you can taste it but you cannot chase it away.
No sir. Since your shadow can’t always be seen because on some days the sun isn’t strong enough to get through, the air becomes your stalker and it follows you as you wonder around.
Luckily, it is not every day. And more often than not, it is relatively clear. It is an amazing feeling waking up and looking out your window and you can see all of the surrounding buildings, the sky is blue and the birds aren’t coughing as they fly past.
A part of living in a new city is to try to get to know a little bit about the city’s history. I haven’t been particularly good at this aspect of being a foreigner in Tangshan.
When I was offered the job in Tangshan, I did a basic Google search and the second scary thing that I read about was the earthquake that hit this city in 1976. It is thought to be the largest earthquake of the 20th century by death toll.
^ Read more on Wikipedia
Now this scared the living daylights out of me. I come from a place where there are no natural disasters that have scared or hurt me in any way. I mean, we have had devastating fires but I was lucky enough to live in an area that wasn’t harmed by it.
The biggest thing that it did to me was change the length of a cycle race that I had entered into. We have drought and we have a whole lot of scary things like crime but no really scary natural disasters.
My first week here I spent worrying about this earthquake business.
I have no idea what to do in a situation like that. The other thing that boggled my mind is the fact that there are so many buildings here that seem to sit on top of each other and are particularly large.
A friend told me that if it happens I should try get out of my apartment as quickly as I can (I live on the 16th floor) and make my way to the nearest open space (umm I still haven’t figured out where that is).
Remnants of the ’76 quake
Locals here have assured me that the likelihood is slim that it will occur but being a human, this fear still sits with me on a regular basis. I have only ever felt one real tremor here, I was being particularly lazy one day and I was lying in bed. It was quick but my bed literally moved and not in the good way! It was scary.
One day I decided to go and look at the museum that is dedicated to the earthquake. Myself and a friend jumped onto our bikes and headed down the road. The outside of the museum acts as a part of the museum.
Structures that were devastated by the earthquake have been preserved. My mind was blown.
We forget quickly that the structures that we build are only temporary.
To see only a glimpse of the destruction that a few seconds of an angry mother nature, moved me too.
However, there is something so beautiful to see new trees and grass prosper around this sort of devastation. These images are reminders that things can be broken down but built up again.
My pictures will tell you a better tale than my clumsy words can and that is saying something because my photography skills remind me of a two year old who found a camera and just pressed the button. However what I would really like to share is my thoughts on the people who live here.
Even though the city has its problems like bad haze, it is still a really cool place. In its own way it has inspired me and intrigued me.
The people here are friendly and welcoming and I have seen and heard many things that will stay with me for a lifetime.
I am grateful to the people who had the strength to rebuild the city because if it was not for this strength I would not have had the opportunity to meet some pretty special people in my life and I would not have been able to have the experience I have had here. Selfish of me, I know.
And like the Phoenix, through the ashes and through its tears, it will be rebuilt and it will heal.
Thanks to one our readers, Megan, for sharing her wonderful story today! She is a writer for hire from South Africa, and feel free to add her Wechat for more stories about China from a South African perspective~
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