October 24, 2013

Expecting that quake...

Shaken, not stirred – any time soon? 

or: 921, the museum - and the date Taiwan won't forget

A friend of mine who lived in Taiwan in the middle of the 1990:ies once said to me, after he learnt that I was moving to Taiwan: "Ann-Katrin, never live in a high-rise in a high-rise there." I didn't understand what he meant, but thought maybe he was talking about potential power cuts, that would disable the lifts, another friend who was working in Ghana for a special project a few years ago had exactly that problem, the frequent power cuts in the afternoon made taking the lift a not so clever idea. When the power was cut the lift would stop, and you don't want to get stuck in a lift (elevator) without air condition on a hot summer day in Africa - so my friend and his colleagues would take the stairs.  But potential power cuts was not at all what my friend who used to live here had in mind...

What my dear friend was referring to was instead the risk of a major earthquake. Taiwan IS after all on the edge of the so called Ring of Fire - there is a lot of movement going on here. Earthquakes happen, they happen all the time, even if they most of the time are very small. I came here September 1 and I have lost count of the number of earthquakes we have had, even if I only know them through the Earthquake Report website (see link). I haven't felt a single shake myself, not yet, but at a recent event in town someone said to me "After you have been here for one year, you will have experienced an earthquake". 

Not a word mentioned about earthquakes where I am studying, but I learnt from my Taiwanese friends that every school normally has earthquake awareness training. As it isn't offered where I study (at least not yet) I decided to find out more myself...  The best place to do so? The Taiwan Earthquake museum, of course! 

921 – the Taiwan Earthquake Museum

One of the preserved school buildings
In the middle of the night September 21 1999 the citizens of Taiwan woke up to the world shaking around them. A big earthquake had hit the island. Earthquakes are not uncommon, all Taiwanese are aware that earthquakes happens from time to time, but this one was far stronger than what Taiwan normally sees. Taiwanese acquaintances tell me that they rushed outside and didn't dare to go back home in many hours, in some cases many days, as the earth kept trembling, as if there was a big and angry animal inside the earth, a big animal that wanted to get out.

The Earthquake museum (see link), which by the way got the name from the date when the quake happened, was built up around one of the sites that got severely damaged by the quake – a school and the school yard. Visiting the earthquake museum I got the first REAL insight to how powerful and earthquake really is; The school building which still stands illustrates well enough what happens – to make sure it is stable acrylic see-through pillars have been raised around the existing pillars, and you are not allowed inside, but looking from the outside you see how the house more or less folded like a deck of cards; Scary to see! Furthermore the running tracks serves as an excellent reminder; The rubbery material that covered the track kept them together but the earth cracked right underneath and all of a sudden the lanes where broken and placed on different levels. Now THAT is powerful – and you can still see it.

Create your own earthquake

I learnt a lot from the museum and can really recommend a visit; It is also great together with children, there are plenty of opportunities to experiment and try and create your own "mini-quake" to see what happens. The demonstrations of how vibrations spread through different types of buildings also made an impression on me. Combined with the earthquake simulation where we got to sit through an earthquake measuring 6 or more on the scale used for earthquakes.

The museum aim at raising the awareness and teach people how to react in the event of a major quake - and they do it well. 

The first thing I did when I got back again was to secure my room, move some heavy things from on top of the cupboard to the floor level, and move my bed away from underneath the (rarely used) air condition unit. I really don't want an Air Condition unit on my head if the next big earthquake happens to happen while I am here in Taiwan...


It's fairly easy to get to the earthquake museum, you don't need a car – although if you have one, that will of course make it even easier. The museum is not in central Taichung but in the outskirts, but there is public transportation. Get down to Taichung Train station and find bus 50 – it will take you straight to the museum. Or do what I did and find one of the busses that stop in the nearby but not quite at the museum: I took bus 107 but bus 100 goes there too, and so does bus 6873, and line 6876 and 6877. You will have to walk from the road up to the museum but it's really not far. The bus stop is Kenkou if you ask the museum (and Google Maps) but on the bus it's called something else. The Chinese characters are 坑口 - unless they changed but the chinese tends to remain the same. 

Word of advice with every bus trip you take, and this is important: FIND the Chinese characters before you go, and show them to the bus driver. NEVER trust the pinyin in Taiwan; At least not unless you are up for an adventure. Because – and I will write more about that later – the pinyin is not consistent; You may see the name written in one way first and then all of a sudden, because someone else made the sign, the pinyin all of a sudden change. ALWAYS make sure you know the name in Chinese characters, unless you are very good at hearing the tones in Chinese - and equally good at saying them. Practice pronouncing it before you board; The bus driver may not understand what you are saying if you don't use the right tones (especially second tone and forth tone are important to keep apart it seems, if you get THESE mixed up the poor Taiwanese won't be able to guess what you are saying - I speak from experience...)

Where to find it? Try here:

View Spots in Taichung and in Taiwan in a larger map

More details on the Museum website, one of the few that is well done also in English. 

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