Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Earthquake in Taiwan

Yesterday, I was cleaning off my desk, and I ran across some souvenirs from my time in Taiwan. These were not the kind of souvenirs that you collects as a tourist, but just things that accumulate in your life when you live in a country for a while. You stock up on stamps, and then you never have occasion to use them all up.

I was in Taichung, Taiwan in 1999, when the terrible earthquake took place. My daughter was two months old at the time. The earthquale itself did not hurt us -- we came out of it completely unscathed  -- but dealing with rationing of electricity and water afterwards was pretty tough.

In my desk while cleaning up yesterday, I found a scrap of paper from an English language newspaper at the time giving details of the rationing plan so that we could know what to expect.

The odd thing about my urge to clean out my desk yesterday and digging out that scrap of newspaper is that it all happened right before there had been another big earthquake, this time further south, that day.

A former student of mine who is now in Kaohsiung reported safe on Facebook. There was no facebook at the time when we were there, and it took a while for my family in the US to learn that we were safe.

If you want to read a fictionalized account of my experiences before, during and after the earthquake, you can read it here:

The Once and Future Nanny

The new earthquake has occurred just in time for Chinese New Year, making it hard for people in Taiwan to travel home for their celebrations. I hope it all turns out better in the aftermath of the quake for the people there right now. An earthquake can be a terrible thing, and fatal to some,  but the real suffering for fortunate survivors happens afterwards when power and water are cut off for hours and days at a time.

Though I have never been through a war or the rationing that it can entail,  I did draw on some of my experiences in the Taiwan earthquake for the feel of my forthcoming novel, Our Lady of Kaifeng: Courtyard of the Happy Way.

In the short term, disasters have a way of making us lose weight and become more fit. I remember how much better I looked after having to haul groceries, including water, up nine flights of stairs to my apartment for a week. Of course, my new-found fitness did not last. As soon as power was restored, I started using the elevator again.

My daughter and I after the earthquake

Here's hoping that all the babies are plump and healthy in Taiwan today, and that if any of the mothers caring for them lose weight, it will all be a temporary improvement in their health, and not a permanent hardship.


  1. I really need to get more into your book. It is just hard reading at the computer.

    1. That's okay, Julia. I will send you a hard copy after this phase of the proofing is done.