"The world is falling apart and nowhere is safe."
~ My father, in one of his lighter moments.
Yesterday an earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale hit the southern Taiwanese city of Tainan, bringing damage, death and fear.
The earthquake hit at the start of the Lunar New Year's festivities, meaning that family homes in Tainan are likely filled with people who'd moved to Taipei years ago but returned to spend the holidays with their families, making the disaster all the more pronounced.
I don't have any solid numbers, just pictures of toppled buildings and various posts on Facebook and Twitter from friends (and friends of friends) to let me know what's going on.
So what is going on?
The same thing that happens in Taiwan every time disaster strikes. The people of Taiwan (and here I'm including Taiwan-born and Taiwan-adopted, a category in which I've fit before and plan to rejoin) rushing to relieve the suffering of their fellows and working together mitigate the damage and return the island to it's usual state of chaotic peace and harmony.
When 9-21-99 earthquake (the big one, as those who lived through it recall) struck, I was away.
Feeling helpless, I penned an article titled SEND NO MONEY NOW for a rather unlikely publication (given my own political leanings): The American Spectator, a politically Conservative magazine of the old-school American Conservative movement (i.e., before American Conservatives had gone completely insane - still, disaster makes strange bedfellows).
The article is online somewhere, but my main point was that Taiwan deserves to be recognized as the epitome of what a civil society should be, and that these qualities shined particularly brightly when disaster struck the island.
Since writing that article in 1999 I've returned to Taiwan many times, both as a visitor and long-term resident. I've written three books and a hundred or so articles about Taiwan.
And I've experienced firsthand a few disasters as well, nothing as big as 9-21 or the present quake, but a few typhoons and earthquakes of note. Each of these served to reinforce my position that Taiwan remains the epitome of a civil society.
As I write this, many in Taiwan are heading south to join in rescue efforts, donate blood, and minimize human suffering in general.
Of course I'm not naive - photos from at least one of the collapsed buildings revealed sub-standard building materials that likely led to the collapse. Taiwan, like anywhere else, has it's share of greedy assholes willing to sell out their humanity for a quick buck. But after the worst of the crisis has passed these people will be held accountable by Taiwan's justice system, which works fairly well.
Taiwan will recover from this disaster quickly. The dead will be mourned, their souls chanted into new incarnations, their families cared for.
The areas afflicted will be rebuilt. The fabric of society will remain intact.
Sometime this weekend, my father will call me after watching a report on the news. Predictably, he'll say something along the lines of
"Another earthquake! Do you really want to move back to Taiwan next year?"
My answer will be yes. I wish I were there now, and wish I'd been present yesterday.