A week after the earthquake on the 12th, China recognized the beginning of a 3-day period of mourning beginning with three minutes of silence at 2:28pm. I had heard conflicting rumors about what would actually happen – one source said there would be silence, another said that everyone across the country would simultaneously be honking car, boat, and train horns while sounding ambulance and police sirens. My plan was to go to the center of Chengdu, Tianfu Square, to witness whatever would happen. Leaving my house at 1:45 we nearly made it, but not quite.
As soon as we hail a taxi headed for the city center, it’s clear that this won’t be a short trip. The roads are gridlocked but for no apparent reason – up until now I haven’t seen the streets anything but empty; with schools and businesses closed, much of the city had already fled for safer ground. We’re stuck in a taxi on a hot day surrounded by hundreds of stationary cars.
As we sit on the main North-South artery of Chengdu, the clock approaches 2:28 and people start honking. One person honks and another honks in response, and two more in response to the second. After 5 seconds of this it’s clear that it has begun – everyone is parked in the street, honking simultaneously and the sound and sight of this is surreal and stunning. We exit the car and take a look around. Watch the video I took:
The feeling for those three minutes was very tense. Part of me felt that by filming it I was distracted and slightly detached from the holy moment, as it were. No one spoke and most people didn’t move. Buses were filled with passengers who stood up for free minutes on the bus, quietly looking in front of them. Taxi drivers stood outside their cars, reaching an arm in through the window to sound the horn. A few people quietly rode bicycles through the motionless crowds on the street, others stopped and stood.
During those three minutes part of me was on Ren Min Nan Lu – another was envisioning the incomprehensible terror of thousands of buildings falling without warning, innocent children being effortlessly crushed and pinned under debris, and tourists on the same mountain as I being entombed by landslides and swallowed by merging mountains. I felt incredible grief.