When an earthquake hits

Since I describe this place as a cesspool, people wonder what I like about it. To be honest, it challenges me every single day. Each day something nutty or crazy happens.

This will not be the last time you hear me say those words. Every day, the city of Angeles tries to break me, challenge me, provoke me and fuck me up. It’s why I love it so much.

One thing I didn’t expect was an earthquake.

The Shake

I have lived in New Zealand and felt very mild earthquakes. I’ve seen the aftermath of earthquakes in Newcastle and Napier. But today was my first proper earthquake. And whether because of the dodgy concrete that everything seems to be constructed from, or because it was a big one, it felt truly shocking.

I had met up with friends for a chat about a business venture. We had a drink in Envy Bar, one of the nicer skeezy old white man bars. It plays a lot of Australian and American sports, and the girls there wear actual clothing.

The ground under our feet started to shake and I have to admit that at first I thought it was just a really fat guy walking past. Don’t judge me. It happens.

But then the rippling of the earth kept going. It’s odd where your mind goes in those seconds where you’re parsing the situation. A subway? A train? A big truck? I don’t need to tell you that Angeles has no subway, no trains, and we were on a pedestrian street.

“Earthquake!” yelled one of my companions, seeing sense before the rest of us. “Quick, outside!”

Like I said, of all the crazy things I was expecting, a natural disaster wasn’t one of them. There are too many human-made ones here. I didn’t think there was room for natural ones.

Luckily, it was hardly catastrophic. We all stood outside, some people holding their beers, everyone’s hearts racing, mobile phones out to message loved ones or take photos. We could see some of the buildings shaking still, but it was over really in less than a minute.

Inside out

We’d actually already finished our meeting and paid our bill, and I was anxious to get home, so we said our goodbyes, promising to text when the network came back online.

Walking home along Fields Avenue and the infamous Walking Street was completely different to usual. Normally, even at 5pm (which it was), there would be white and black guys, and Korean guys, walking up and down the street, some already quite inebriated (especially the Americans and Australians). They walk with a purpose, which is to get drunk and get laid. And usually most of the girls are safely inside the seedy bars dancing listlessly to uninteresting music, both hoping and not hoping that tonight is their lucky night.

But because of the shaking of the earth, everyone had been compelled to dash outside. The dudes weren’t patrolling – they were standing still, looking at the buildings in awe. Those places of refuge, and here they were out on their arses, wondering what to do next.

And there they were, poor things, all those girls, standing out in the daylight in their girly bar outfits, skimpy, not much on at all. It’s one thing to do it as your job, inside, surrounded by other scantily clad girls. It’s another to be standing there in the street, outside, in the early evening.

They had their hands clasped around their waists.

Concrete jail

Further down the street there is a new hotel being constructed. The Euphoria it’s called (they all have names like this) and most of the construction workers were standing outside, looking up at the building.

But there were those who were trapped up there, looking forlornly down from the open cavities of the 8th and 9th floor windows. I wish I had taken a photo, but I can’t take photos of private moments like this. It hurts me in some ways.

Just imagine it – the concrete skeleton of what will one day be a luxury hotel, but which is now just concrete blocks and steel. And up there, all the way up there, so lonely, two or three guys on each floor, wearing their hard hats, sitting in the window gaps. Why there? I wondered. Was it safer to sit there in the window cavities? Or did they want to look out? Or did they want to know they could jump if the whole thing came tumbling down?

The neighbourhood

Back at home, everything was busy in Balibago. The neighbours were all out in the lanes, their game of Bingo abandoned. Right now, everyone is sitting outside. The older kids are practising the latest dance moves out of K-Pop and the younger ones are playing some ball game I have yet to decipher. The adults sit and chat, wandering inside their homes for something, but always coming back out.

My neighbours spend a lot of time outside anyway, but this is different. Usually at this time it’s just the kids running up and down. But now we’re all out.

One thing I did expect was that there would be no electricity. I’m lucky. I’m stupidly prepared. I have a charging rotation which means that all of my devices are on full charge, plus I have three power banks. Yeah. So anyway…

I have mosquito coils, I have a fridge full of cold beers (slowly getting warmer), and I have internet via my newly purchased pocket wifi.

The kids gleefully tell me there’ll be no power until 10pm because a transformer has blown.

“Yeah, they just announced it,” they say, having some source of information I don’t know about.

Four hours away. I’m totally ready.

However, I wasn’t expecting no water.

I’m not a huge water drinker, but I do find myself washing my hands several times a day. It’s not obsessive or anything, but there is a lot of dust around. Also, my feet. I like to have clean feet. I would also like to have my third shower of the day (totally normal) and maybe also cook something.

Oh, except my cooker is electric.

Oh well, beer it is again for dinner.

Love, anyway

If this is all, if there are no aftershocks, then it has been nothing more than an interesting experience. You know when there’s a blackout in your neighbourhood and everyone comes out on to the street and talks together, sometimes for the first time ever? It’s just like that.

Except it’s not just happening here in the neighbourhoods. It’s happening up there in that weird place known as Walking Street too. With no power and no water, I wonder what’s going on up there? Have the girls gone home? Are the boys angry? Or has it all gone back to normal? I’ll probably pop out soon to find out.

In any case, for now, I’m safe. I’m surrounded by candles that are shaking as I vigorously tap my bluetooth keyboard – possibly dangerous.

Kuya Mel, my closest neighbour, is explaining football strategy to a group of fascinated boys who are gathered around him by my patio. He is using a bit of old board and some coins. Except for one phrase – “the most famous football player in the universe is Maradonna”, which he says in English for emphasis – I have no idea what he’s saying. But they are listening to him like he’s telling ghost tales and I love all of them for it.

It’s another day to fall in love. Every day, with this crazy city.

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Nat Newman

Nat Newman is an award-winning writer of short stories, content, podcasts, feature articles, drunk text messages and, soon, a novella.

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