Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Air Raid Asshole

I was walking to the subway by myself, thinking about work. I approached the giant roundabout before the station and a police officer motioned for me to come sit under an awning where a couple raggedy-looking men were already seated.

Why? I asked in Chinese, thinking he thought I did something wrong. Jaywalking? But I had the green when I crossed the road. He answered with something I didn't understand. Whatever it was, it sounded more like a suggestion. Why? I repeated, a bit indignant this time. Again I didn't understand his reply. So I shrugged and kept walking, wondering what gave cops the idea they could ask anyone to sit down in the middle of the day.

Halfway across the street I realized there wasn't a single car moving in the normally busy roundabout. Everything was eerily quiet. The subway wasn't running. In fact, the entrance was partially closed. And there was a cop on every corner, surrounded by people waiting patiently in the shade.


So I asked another cop on the next street what was up. He gave me a three-syllable answer. I told him I didn't understand the word. Then he said "feiji" (airplane) and made a downward dive motion with his hand and then an explosion motion.

"ZHENDE MA?!" I cried, horrified, thinking there was some kind of jumbo jet crash in the city.

Then I thought he said no one could go anywhere for two hours.


"No, no. Not in two hours. At 2 o'clock." He corrected me. It was 1:54 p.m.

I retreated into the shade with everyone else. Minutes later a lone ambulance blew through the roundabout. Besides that, it was the quietest I've ever heard Taipei.

At 2 p.m. a giant horn sounded and we were allowed to cross the street. When I got on the subway, I started having doubts that I correctly understood the officer. No one was talking about what just happened. Everyone was acting very normal.

At home, I checked the news. No plane crashes that I could tell.

When James got off work he told me it was an air raid drill. They have them yearly here (can't forget, I live in contested territory). No vehicles are allowed to drive for thirty minutes. People in drill zones must turn their lights off and not use electric appliances. Pedestrians, like me, are supposed to stay out of the street and take cover.

So now I feel like a jerk. Moreover, James' coworkers said you can be fined heavily for non-compliance.


Guess my Chinese isn't there quite yet


MitMoi said...

How do you say "oppsies" in Chinese?

Thank goodness it was just a practice.

How many people do you think mumbled "stupid American" under their breath?

I'm sure I'd have done worse. And would be writing this from the ignorance jail.

Leslie said...

Yep, it was definitely my 'ugly American' moment.