where there’s smoke

November 13th, 2007

Class this afternoon was interrupted by a fire. It was largely my fault: When I heard the sirens of the fire engines making their way up Xidawang Lu (the classroom I was in overlooks the street), I instinctively turned to see if I could see where the fire was. Well, I want to know- mostly I want to know it’s not my apartment burning, but there are other reasons, too. Maybe I’m strange, but I always look to see if I can see where the fire is every time I here fire engines.

I suppose I should state for those who are not in China that each of China’s emergency services has its own unique siren, and the Fire Department’s siren is quite a distinctive, mournful wail, something like a World War 2 air raid siren.

Anyway, on hearing the fire engines I looked out the window, as did all of the students. Grey smoke was rising from somewhere not far north of Teaching Building One. Well, that’s far enough from our apartment for me to not worry, but I had to be going to Teaching Building One in only half an hour. It wasn’t a lot of smoke, and it looked to be far enough away to not affect my last class, but still…

I kept an eye on the smoke, and only a few moments after the fire engines had passed us, the grey smoke was replaced with billows of something white- steam, I presume, from the fire being put out.

Seems I was right. Half an hour later, as I was cycling up to Teaching Building 1, one of the fire engines was already on its way home. So I guess it was a really small fire then. But then I suddenly realised what it was about the fire engines that had struck me as a bit odd, and it wasn’t the addition of blue flashing lights to complement the red: All of the engines were modern, all new ones. None of the old converted Jiefang trucks that seem to form the backbone of the Chinese Fire Department.

I never figured out where the fire was, exactly. My best guess is it was in the market on the other side of the formerly stinky canal just north of our campus.

Actually, that’s an oddity in its own right: It used to be a really stinky canal, at least in the summer time. Then a few years back they decided to cover the section west of Xidawang Lu. When we moved back to this area in July, I noticed that the still uncovered section east of Xidawang Lu was dry, and not at all stinky, and on the western side of the road, directly over the covered section of the canal, a hotel was being built. It doesn’t strike me as being a particularly good place to build a hotel, but whatever.

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