Back in November, the kids and I had just returned from Sunday Mass. I had changed out of my church clothes, which for Beijing in the colder months means heavy layers of thermal underwear and warm pants, and was sitting on my bed, reading.
Minutes before noon, something made the bed feel as though it had suddenly turned to jello. In fact, the whole apartment shook, or rather moved very quickly as though it were riding a sinusoidal curve. The whole thing happened in less than a second, and as we remembered it, noiselessly. I braced myself for more, thinking were were experiencing an earthquake. I gripped the side of the bed, but nothing else happened right then. I was relieved it didn’t appear to be an earthquake, but what was it?
Randy, drawing on his memories from growing up around strip mining, said it reminded him of the shock aves that can still be felt far away from a dynamite blast. Since we didn’t hear anything, we wondered how big of an explosion it had to be for us to feel it, and how far away it had to be for us not to hear anything.
I checked twitter, monitoring it off and on for the next half hour. Often, when something happens, like an earthquake, I can read about it on social media before it hits any official channel. But there was nothing there. This shock wave, or whatever it was, was something it looked like only we felt.
At around 3.20, another shock pulsed through our apartment. It was less intense than the earlier one, but it was still disconcerting. Brigid immediately announced that she didn’t do it. It still was clear to us that it wasn’t an earthquake, but we continued to be unsure the source.
The next day, Myles, Brigid, and I caught a ride with our driver friend, and I saw down the street from us a demolition site that I didn’t realize was happening. For all the time we have lived in Changping an abandoned, gutted structure has stood across the road from our park and near our current apartment building. Such a constant contrast with the shiny newness in other parts of Beijing, even in the Changping area, that I wondered why it continued to stand this long. It was now reduced to a pile of rubble.
I asked our friend to stop so I could take a better look.
"Did this happen, yesterday?" I asked him.
"Yes, didn’t you feel it?" he answered me.
"Oh yes, but I didn’t know what it was. Did they use dynamite? My husband thought it felt like dynamite?"
"No, they drilled many holes all around the bottom floor, and then just pushed it over!" He pantomimed drilling for my benefit.
"They just pushed it over? That’s possible?"
Our friend laughed, "Yes, yes it is."
To review, this is what the building looked like:
And this is what it looked like after they pushed it over.
I have to admit I will miss that old empty eyesore. It stood quite a long time, almost as an act of defiance against the shiny newness that gets all the attention around here.
Jennifer Ambrose hails from Western Pennsylvania and misses it terribly. She still maintains an intense devotion to the Pittsburgh Steelers. She has lived in China since 2006 and is currently an at-home mother. With her husband Randy and children Myles and Brigid, she resides outside the Sixth Ring Road in Changping, northwest of Beijing.
Photos: Jennifer Ambrose