It had been rainy in Dalian for several days, and on
Monday morning, there was a torrential downpour. By Monday afternoon, our
school cancelled classes for the rest of the day and Tuesday because Typhoon
Matsa was supposed to reach the northeastern coast of China. But seemingly
from the time school was cancelled, the rain and wind ceased.
Our friend Patrick, who was a teacher in the Peace
Corps with us in Namibia, has been here teaching for the summer. Determined
to make the most of the day off school, he called all the Chinese and
foreign teachers he knew of to go out and have a good time. Nearly every
Chinese teacher declined, citing the typhoon (which had by this time been
downgraded to a tropical storm). It wasn’t even raining. Zac and Pat went
out with some of the other western teachers who were undeterred by the
impending typhoon, but I stayed home because I had a bad cold and was well
on my way to losing my voice.
Right after they left, one of the Chinese teachers,
Felicia, called to say she wasn’t going to go out with them after all
because the worst of the typhoon was supposed to hit around midnight, and
she wouldn’t be able to get home. She tried calling Pat’s cell phone, but
it was out of credit. I said I’d pass on the message if I heard from them.
Later that night, I was in bed, Zac was still out, and
the neighbors suddenly started getting really noisy. There were all sorts
of shouting and banging going on. Out of curiosity I got up and looked out
the window to see what all the commotion was about. Nothing much seemed to
be happening, so I went back to bed. The noise abated for a few minutes,
then grew louder. I noted that it was midnight, about the time for the
typhoon to strike us, according to Felicia. But still there was no rain or
wind. I didn’t know what was going on, but something was certainly going
on. Zac and I often joked about this sort of thing, like the building would
be burning down or something, but we wouldn’t know it because no one would
tell us and if they did, we wouldn’t understand.
I watched out the window for a while, trying to
surmise what was happening. I saw everyone walking out of the building,
carrying just a small bag and an umbrella. I shouted, “Hello? Hello? Does
anyone speak English?” a few times from my 3rd story window and
didn’t get any response. But everyone was definitely leaving. I thought,
maybe the typhoon is coming and we are supposed to evacuate, since our
neighborhood is only about two kilometers from the sea.
I tried to contact Zac by calling Pat’s cell phone,
but there was no answer. I put on a pair of jeans, grabbed my umbrella,
passport, some money, water, and our little book of phone numbers and put
them in a small bag. I went to the window again, and this time I turned on
the light and managed to attract the attention of two older men (almost
everyone in our neighborhood is retired). They definitely didn’t speak any
English, and didn’t understand my attempts at Chinese, but kept gesturing
for me to come down. While I scribbled a note for Zac, someone started
pounding on my door. I opened it to discover a plump Chinese woman, who
gestured for me to come out and lightly pulled my arm to indicate the
urgency. I grabbed my bag and left with her.
Once outside, I noticed many policeman, flashing
lights, and a yellow “caution” ribbon drawn between our building and the
next one. My chubby friend pointed to our building and held her arms up
vertically, then rotated them horizontally, like an imitation of windshield
wipers. I quickly realized that she was telling me our building was going
to fall over. She pulled me over to the yellow ribbon and pointed to where
part of the retaining wall below our building had collapsed. Our
neighborhood is made up of apartments built up on a hill in a terraced
style. All the rain had caused the soil to lose strength and part of the
wall to collapse.
Someone who spoke English told me that busses were
taking everyone to a school to spend the night, since if it rained more, the
building wouldn’t be safe. I couldn’t leave without Zac, so I commandeered
someone’s cell phone and called another friend who I thought might be out
with them. It was strange that such a big event should happen on this
night. Zac and I are almost never separated from each other. Justin
answered his cell phone and handed it to Zac joking, “Uh-oh, Zac, you’re in
trouble. It’s the wife.” Once Zac was on the phone, I said, “Zac, our
apartment building might collapse. They’ve evacuated to building.” Zac,
instantly sobered, replied, “What? Our building collapsed?” “No,” I
shouted over the bar noise, “It MIGHT. The police won’t let anyone back
inside. Where are you?” He said everyone was at JD’s, a club near Olympic
Square. I thanked the cell phone owner, politely escaped my portly friend
who wanted me to get on a bus and go to the school, and took a taxi to
All of this happened quite fast. From the time I woke
from the noise to the time I got in the taxi was only about ten minutes.
Once in the taxi, I had some time to think and here is what I thought: All
of our money is in the apartment along with our laptop. The computer was
insured, but our school pays us with large piles of cash and we never
bothered to open a bank account. What if the building does collapse? What
if the typhoon does come, with more rain and high winds and our building
We stayed at the bar for a while, and the other
teachers, though drunk, were sympathetic to our plight and offered us places
to stay for the night. We ended up staying at Pat’s. I didn’t sleep very
well that night, wondering if our building had collapsed and if looters had
found our money and computer. But the typhoon never came.
On Tuesday morning, we took a taxi along with Pat back
to our apartment. To our infinite relief, the building was still standing.
The police had the area cordoned off, with little effectiveness, since
people were everywhere. We called Felicia and explained the situation to
her, then handed the phone to a policeman so she could ask him in Chinese if
we were allowed to go back in. They talked for a while and the policeman
handed the phone back to me. Felicia reported that he said it wasn’t
guaranteed totally safe, but they were allowing people to go back in since
it hadn’t rained any more. We went and surveyed the collapsed wall. We
determined that it was far enough away from our building and, barring any
more rain, would probably not cave in anymore.
All day today, and into the night, they’ve been
working on the wall with a track hoe. The Chinese authorities are very
efficient and seem to have the situation well under control. Looking back
on last night, I can appreciate how quickly they responded to the situation
and sent police and rescue workers to the scene, and had a place for the
evacuated residents to go. We went out to check the progress several times
today. The whole neighborhood is on the street, watching the work. With
the absence of any more rain, everyone is staying in the buildings tonight.
In the beginning, I was interested in the possibility of a typhoon, but in
the end, I’m quite glad it never really made it all the way up to Dalian.
This link has some pictures of the flooding in Dalian
on Monday morning.