Last Monday, 19th May 2008, was the eighth day since the Sichuan earthquake devastated the whole of China. The entire country observed three minutes of silence on that day to remember the tens of thousands of innocent lives harshly taken by the ravaging disaster. The observance came on the first of three days of national mourning.

The blast horn began to wail across China at 2:48 pm, the exact time one week ago when the 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck. Car alarms were set off and joined by a chorus of air raid sirens and blaring horns from vehicles, ships and trains, rising from a city of 1.3 billion people. Traffic stopped for the moment and basically the whole of China’s people stopped and mourned in silence. Every citizen simply dropped what they were doing, stood still, bowed their heads low and prayed for the victims and their country. Even rescuers on the front line in the Sichuan province sifting through the rubble observed the moment of silence by putting down their tools. In crowded refugee centers close to the quake’s epicenter, the silence was observed by survivors who have lost everything but their lives. Anyone who had seen the footage of the scene would be mesmerized by the spectacular and touching sight, and would probably never forget it. Afterall such an official mourning period is normally reserved for the death of a national leader and a very rare sight.

In the big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, traffic stopped, and stock trading was suspended for three minutes out of respect for the victims. For the three days, flags were also at half-staff and the Olympic torch relay for the Summer Games in Beijing was paused. Public entertainment was all cancelled. Even all the entertainment websites on the Internet such as Tudou closed voluntarily for the three days. It’s remarkable how patrotic and united the Chinese people can be. They are certainly a rising force not to be reckoned.

For the past three days, I stopped posting on my blog as well, out of respect for all the victims of the 12th May earthquake and in concordance with China’s mourning. Today is the 11th day since the unfortunate event occurred and yet every single day as I plough through the many pages of the newspapers providing updates on the aftermath of the disaster, I continue to feel shakened at the extent of damage, the lives lost, the families broken, the victims still trapped and the injured who lost limbs in this ordeal. As if the damage done by the earthquake wasn’t enough, the people still have to suffer the hundreds of aftershocks which rip through the ground every now and then, with many more killed in these aftershocks by falling boulders and rocks. People have to run and abandon their homeland or what is left of it because of the alarming threats of flooding from the choked lakes and rivers. I cannot imagine how it would be like to be forced to leave the bodies of your loved ones behind and, worse still, to leave the relatively few who could still be alive under the debris.

Every day, I read touching tales of noble people who sacrificed their own lives to save others – teachers who used their own bodies to shield their students from the collapsing school buildings, parents who died protecting their only children, children who got crushed to death trying to help their classmates or teachers. I read, I weep and I ask myself if I could have done the same. I know I would like to do so very much but the thing is, when the time comes, can I really put aside my own safety and help others who are not my own family? The basic instinct of animals in times of danger is the fight or flight situation, so naturally we would all make the run for our lives. But this is where Homo Sapiens are different from other animals, why we are the most intelligent and why we rule this planet – we would have other feelings that could override our basic instinct. We have morals. Ethnics. Empathy and sympathy. If not, we would be like other animals – just to survive to procreate and propagate.   

So, if I am fleeing for my life out of a building that’s about to collapse and just barely ten metres away from the door to safety, I spot an elderly lady moving too slow for her own good but already with all her might, will I turn back and help her move faster which in turn undoubtedly makes me slower and at a higher risk of dying?

The truth is: I won’t know. I think we all won’t know until we are put in that kind of situation because you won’t know what your body and brain will make you do. I may become so overwhelmed with shock and fear that my brain blanks out everything else around me except for the door and I will dash to the door, failing to notice anything else around me. This is not a selfish act. This is what we call survival instinct and whether you like it or not, the brain will take over in crucial times and act on something like auto-pilot. After that, you may not remember much. I suspect many people will fall into this category. Only those who can manage to be calm under extreme stress can have thoughts other than “RUN!!!” and that’s when even though you know you can die trying to save others, you will, thus overriding the natural instinct to survive.

Yes, it will be a tough decision and I pray that no one should have to make this kind of decision. The lives of the survivors in the affected provinces of China will doubtlessly be hard for the months or even years to come but I’ve faith that they will make it through. Time will heal all wounds. For fellow Singaporeans who have never known how to appreciate our tiny sunny island, I hope that this Sichuan earthquake has shakened your senses up. This is in a way wrong because we should not learn how to appreciate only after seeing others’ misfortune. We should learn how to appreciate by seeing the good in things and not just focusing on the bad. Happiness is not having what we want but wanting what we have. We are truly very blessed to be living in this country free of natural disasters with a stable clean government, enviable social security and well-developed infrastructure.

Ok, enough of this preaching and mourning for the time being though. After a three-day absence in blogging, now it’s the time to make up for it. Are you ready?