Dispatches from an earthquake

There is a new flat. It's up at the 19th floor, but considering that there's four parking floors between what they call the ground floor and the first floor, technically, it's up at the 23rd floor. It's a pain in the ass, just thinking about how you'll bring up all the things you need to bring up. Considering you don't immediately buy new things for your new flat, because you won't immediately have the money for it, it's a pain that you'll have to deal with for years, possibly.

There are some things up here now. Shalla's settled in while I go by from time to time. Next month we're looking to finally have an Internet connection set-up, then I can work here. Finally, I can say I live twenty minutes away from work. And that's on foot.

I spent the night here so I could go to work the next day, and also to have a few things checked. She found the bathroom tiles have cracked. One on the floor, it's obvious. Two on the wall, less so. I think a fourth tile will fall victim, too. The building maintenance guys had a check earlier. When was the unit turned over? Last year, I think. It's past the three-month warranty. You'll have to shoulder everything now. Another pain in the ass. More permits.

Since we don't have an Internet connection yet, I have to use my mobile phone's data to do most of my work. Thankfully, right now it means just being online to check any email that comes in while I finish a document up for my colleagues (technically bosses) to ponder, before switching to another document that should, ideally, be released within this week.

I was thinking about the tiles. It can't have been there all this time. Maybe it's all the drilling on the lot next door. Yet another condominium complex, which means the view out of my window will be of people I don't even know. Or, at the very least, white curtains. The rules apparently dictate that we should only have white curtains. It's a rule I've encountered before, and frankly, it's a rule I don't think anybody follows.

Anyway, could it be the drilling? They're digging up a hole, setting up the foundations for another bunch of buildings.

And then it feels weird.

There is always a moment of disbelief when you realize what you're going through is an earthquake. In my case, up on the 23rd floor, it's me going, "this can't be wind sway." I turn to the window and I see a window on another building sway. Well, great. It's a fucking earthquake. But I stupidly look out the window and see, on the construction site below, four men playing basketball, like nothing is happening.

The swaying continues.

It's been half a minute by now. I may have walked around this empty unit. Nothing else is shaking, but the table where my laptop is - not much, but enough to stop you from working. This is also the very table you life now depends on. I crawl underneath the table, flashing back to the last time I find myself in a high-rise building during an earthquake. I didn't fit under my work desk. This time, I am relieved that I fit.

Whether you admit it or not, we all try to escape the earthquake drills. It's so prevalent the government just stops announcing these nationwide drills and just springs it on everyone. But then, you would know a fair bit: take your things and go.

I, stupidly, didn't bring my laptop, where all of my work resides. I only brought a tote bag and my wallet. I even took the elevator down. But this would be ten minutes after the shaking began. I don't know if anybody has properly realized what just happened, if anybody knows what to do now. There certainly weren't signs in the elevators about what to do when this happens. Also, did I tell you that, thirty minutes away from this flat, is a fault line? "The Big One is going to happen soon," the authorities tell you, citing historical records, that it's been four centuries since that rupture snapped, and it's all more imminent than you think.

As I got out of the building, the security folk pointed me to the street. It's not full. The sidewalks are, of course. I'm thinking of that construction site where they're doing all the drilling. That could be an evacuation site, but no. We have to build new condominiums. Traffic is really bad. Everybody will want to live closer to work!

"Ten percent na lang battery ko," this lady says on the phone. I check my tote bag to see if I brought my power bank and my phone cord. I have neither. I left the former with my laptop, and the latter plugged into the electricity.

"Ipapahiram ko sana sa'yo yung power bank ko, pero hindi ko pala dala," I tell her.

Apparently we live on the same floor, in the same building. This is how you meet your neighbors. This is how you act neighborly, not act astonished that someone on your elevator is has a bath towel slung around his shoulder. Like, that happens either if you're going to the pool or having your laundry done.

She's been living here for a year, apparently, so I ask her if the building ever talked about an earthquake drill in the time between her moving in and me starting to. There were seminars, she said, but no drills. We're now both certain there will be drills now.

All this time, Shalla and her colleagues, for some reason, are stuck in their office building, not being evacuated. "Duck and cover," the speakers go constantly, and then, "there is no need to evacuate."

She eventually sends me a photo from outside her building. There is a parking lot across the street. At least they have somewhere else to go to. Me? I am surrounded by tall buildings, and another one is coming up. And I can't help but think of Taipei and how there has to be proper evacuation plans, proper evacuation zones, before the city government greenlights your building plans. I am a smartass, or I am just bored, so I tell my new acquaintance this fact.

"Good for them," she says.

Yep, smartass.

I'm back up on the flat now, waiting for Shalla to come home. We're both scared. "We don't know if this is the major shock," the authorities say, and that certainly hasn't calmed me down, but, for now, the worst is over. I'll wait for her to come back and we'll debrief. To be safe, I've packed my clothes. I'll bring that, and the laptop, if ever I have to go back down again.

I think I'll know what to do if all this happens again. I'll take the stairs. Twenty-three flights of stairs is not fun, but really, it's the best way. The first time this happened to me in a high-rise, I managed to tell everyone at work to take the stairs. They followed me even if they didn't really respect me, in hindsight. But did they really have a choice?

On the queue to the elevators, though, me and my neighbor cringed at the thought of going down all those stairs. No wonder people dodge these drills.

"Did you lock your doors?" she asked me.

"I did."

"I didn't!"

"Nobody has to know!"

Right then, I heard that loud blaring that could only come from an emergency alert on our mobile phones. It's been an hour since the shaking, and now, we're just getting the emergency alerts. As I finished that sentence, my phone just went off.

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