Sunday, 22 April 2012


I've suffered from vertigo for a few years now, so the sensation of the world shifting beneath my feet isn't unfamiliar to me, but lately my experience hasn't always been due to defective balance organs. We've experienced three minor shocks since coming to Taiwan, so I've been following this thread on Forumosa with interest.

Taiwan lies on the same fault line as Japan, on the eastern Pacific edge of the Ring of Fire. That is not very reassuring when you're living here, though it does make for some interesting experiences otherwise. Northern Taiwan is, for example, famous for its hot springs. There are a number of resorts where you can bathe in sometimes stinky steam in private and public baths. There are also many undeveloped sites which those in the know can relax in, or swim in the warm water downstream.

Another interesting experience is walking the mountain trails of Yangmingshan national park, situated on the northern edge of Taipei. We went there for the first time when we came here on holiday and had our first sight of volcanic vents letting out sulphuric steam which stained the surrounding rocks yellow. Conrad disliked these 'egg sandwich' spots but, coming from the seismically-inactive UK, they were novel and exotic to me.

But experiencing earthquake tremors regularly really brings home to you the threat of dying before your prime (at 47 I still think the best is yet to come) in a foreign land far from home.

Our earthquake sensor is our door chain. If the door chain is still swinging, the earthquake isn't over. Our escape plan isn't very well formed yet, which is why I was following the Forumosa thread, for tips. The big question is, is it better to stay or try to leave? Being newbies at earthquakes we thought it made sense to get as far away as possible from the thing that might collapse on you, but it turns out we were just being naive. If the tremor is strong enough to bring down the building, you aren't going to be able to walk very well and are as much at risk from buildings falling on you outside as you are inside.

The earthquake pros recount tales of the most recent large-scale deadly earthquake in Taiwan, the 921, which occurred on the 21st September 1999. This took nearly 2,500 lives and injured 11,000 people. As you can see, it was centred in the middle of the country and not, thank goodness, near the most highly populated northern end of Taiwan.

For those living here at the time, it must have been terrifying.

So our escape plans have been modified somewhat. We've decided that we need a 'survival' kit of water and non-perishable food in case of emergencies, plus other things like strong plastic bags, disinfectant and so on. We also thought it would be a good idea to open our apartment door if the shakes are bad enough, just in case it gets jammed. The important documents like passports need to be kept in one easily accessible place and we need to not sleep naked! Then if there is a big shock we'll leave so that we aren't caught by an aftershock.

Does that sound like a plan? I hope so.

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