The Harbin Blog Post

In my coverage of the The Water Crisis in Harbin, there is a short section in which I may have expressed some mild dissatisfaction about how the western media did not tell me enough about the common people of Harbin.  That was an expression of personal preference.  My upbringing was very much affected by the sentiments expressed in the song Guantanamera, with these lyrics from a poem by Josι Martν:

Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crecen las palmas
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma

Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar
El arroyo de la sierra
Me complace mas que el mar

I am a truthful man
From the land of the palm trees
And before dying, I want 
to share the poems of my soul

With the poor people of this earth
I want to share my fate
The streams of the mountain
Pleases me more than the sea

That is, I have much less interest in the pronouncements from very important persons than in the experiences of common people.  Those are my personal preferences and I am sorry to inflict that on everybody else.

Just to show you what I want to read about, here is a translation from a post by Chinese blogger Rainbow Sister (彩虹姐姐) via ChineseNewsNet.

If you like, you can also take this as an example of the raw emotional power of personal blogging over the dispassionate and reasoned approach of mainstream media.  Let me put it another way: in the face of hundreds or thousands of blogs like this one, mainstream media agenda-setting will be tossed aside completely.  Mind you, the Rainbow Sister blog is totally non-subversive and there is no justification to delete it; yet the substance of the experience of the blogger makes all the official lies totally unsustainable.  

Rainhow Sister really did not care about that infamous "well-intentioned lie" from the government or not -- she only wanted to know about what she need to do!  Is that so hard to understand!?

November 21, 2005, 11:00pm

Today was a rest day.

At some time around  10am this morning, my son came home and secretively told me, "Mom, store some water.  Harbin is going to have a city-wide water stoppage."  I said, "Is this a quick hygiene clean-up?"  My son said: "My guess is that it is the Jilin benzene factory explosion leading to pollution of the water upstream coming from Jilin."  My son also said: "In order to prevent citizen panic, this is still a secret at this time."

"Don't believe in rumors!" I said, even as I systematically went through all the hygienic procedures while talking to my son.  Before I knew it, it was 2pm and the phone rang: "This is the building maintenance department.  Water will be stopped at midnight all across the city.  Please make preparations to store water ..."  The voice was light, as if it was afraid to scare me.  It would seem that what my son told me was true!

Hmmm ... I just called my elder brother to inform him of the water stoppage.  He hurriedly said: "Yes, yes.  I know about it.  I was just buying water from the outside.  The supermarkets are sold out!"  Heavens!  It is that serious!!!  I immediately called the trainer at the recreational club.  Before I even finish talking, he told me: "Hey, sister!  Everyone at the club has gone out to purchase water, so you better get prepared.  Don't come here!  I am going home right now!"  This is getting serious!!  My husband then called to say: "I really didn't expect that the water at the supermarket is selling out."

So I started to collect water.  I used all the pots and buckets.  When my husband and son came back from work in the evening, I told them that they will have to eat instant noodles and western food the next few days in order to conserve water and not wash dishes!  The two men agreed.  I told them to take baths immediately, so that I can fill up the bathtub with water immediately afterwards.  It had been a hurried and tense day, and I have no idea what is going to happen tomorrow.

Novmeber 22, 2005, Tuesday

I opened my eyes and the sky was quite blue.  I yawned and I went into the bathroom.  There were water receptables everywhere, and then I recalled the traces of terror from last night.  The water has stopped coming to the recreational club, so I can take a break because there is no water.  The telephone rings.  It is the cosmetoligist Xiao Xue.  She tells me that since the water is stopped, the skincare program cannot function.  So their boss has given them a long vacation.

My husband sent me an SMS: "The water may be contaminated, so it must not be consumed.  I will buy some water and bring it home tonight!!!  Please remember!!!"  Heavens!  So many exclamation marks!

My mobile phone received a message from 86133: "According to the Harbin municipal government spokesperson: at the moment, there has been nothing unusual about the Songhua river water according to testing, and the water supply meets national drinking water standards.  Therefore, citizens should store as much as possible.  All building management units should supply water to the residents to ensure that the largest amount of water can be stored."

I immediately forwarded the message to my husband.  In order to lighten up the tense atmospehre, I called and joked: "No matter what the water is, the most important thing is the resistance that the body can put up!"  My husband laughed over the telephone.  My husband said that the demand exceeded the supply at the supermarkets, but his unit has purchased water from the outside as benefits to the workers.

My son said that a certain boss has put out all the water in storage on sale in the street.  12 yuans' worth was being offered for 30 yuan!!  There was a rush on rice, noodles, oil, salt, sauce and vinegar.  Bread, sausages and biscuits were sold out at the supermarkets!   But it is said that the other cities are rushing water over to support Harbin continuously, and that is good!

Netizens are sending in consolations in various forms -- Ah Ning (阿寧) called.  Kanyao18 (看妖十八) who usually only wishes to see chaos called to ask about the situation in Harbin, perhaps being afraid of seeing me dead.  The tone was gentle, and I was moved to tears.

At around 8pm in the evening, my son received a call from a classmate who said that there was going to be an earthquake tonight centered in Harbin at Richter scale seven!  I started to lecture my son: "What kind of classmates do you have!  They only know how to create terror!"  I was getting mad at my son; I was also getting mad at myself.  I was getting really terrified.  I have just barely withstood the water stoppage, and now there is the earthquake!

My husband wanted to go to sleep.  I said: "You better sleep in your clothes."  He said: "Impossible.  I can't sleep that way!"  I got mad!  "How can you sleep?"  So he said: "How about you keep sentry the first half of the night!  If there is a real earthquake, please remember to duck underneath the table!"

At 11:53pm, my mobile phone received this message: "The formal notice from the Harbin people's government concerning the water stoppage:  according to the test reports from the environmental protection bureau, the explosion at the PetroChina's Jilin benzene factory has polluted the Songhua river.  In order to guarantee that safety of the water for production and consumption in our city, the city government has decided to shut down the intaking of water from the Songhua river as of midnight November 23."

Yesterday, all the water stopped.  Today there is no water in the whole city.  Dear netizen friends, please wish me good luck!

November 23, 2005, Wednesday

The recreational club has formally notified me that they have stopped operations.  We can all go home to rest.  I woke up in the morning and I can't find my mobile phone.  I looked everywhere for it.  I was perplexed.  The phone was still there last night.  How come it vanished when I went to sleep?  There was not even a hint of the earthquake!  Even as I cursed my son, I looked for my mobile telephone.  Then I glanced at the bag for the camera and videocamera on the floor!  Heavens!!! I remembered!  Before I went to sleep, I was afraid of the earthquake and I put everything related to telecommunications into my traveling kit bag!

I turned on the mobile phone.  I tested the connection.  Everything was normal.

The heating was working.  It was warm inside the home.  Nothing has changed.

I turned on the computer.  It was running normally.

My life was no different than before.  Ha ha ...

The amount of stored water is rapidly going down.  One bucket after another was used up; one pot after after another was used up.  How will we last until the fourth day, the fifth day or even longer after that?  The door bell rings.  "I am from the building management.  The water will be turned on at one o'clock.  Please have someone at home to store water, and please make sure that there is no water leak."  The voice was extra-gentle.

I asked: "Is this temporary, or has the alert been removed altogether?"

Answer: "It is temporary.  From now on, the water may be supplied regularly.  It can only be used to flush the toilet, but not for consumption."

Oh, that's not too bad.  I am so easy to please!

My husband called me again to tell me that his unit has given him another two cases of mineral water and a case of milk.  Hmm hmm ... that's not bad.  The water came -- ten minutes early.  I turned on the water.  I will continue my live report later.

The water came slowly.  It continued for one hour.  All the water receptables are filled.  There was much more saved this time than before.  The bathtub was filled to the brim.  This time, the chaffeur from the unit called to say that water is being distributed in the courtyard.  Oh, the water at home can be sold too, thanks to the government!

GO! GO! GO!  Go to the supermarket!

When I got to Carrefour -- the largest supermarket in Harbin -- it was like a weekend when the place was mobbed.  Every shopping cart was filled with beverages.  Vegetables, fruits, biscuits, candies and snacks were in sight, as well as orange juice and everything else.  I saw the clerks continuing to refill the shelves.  According to the Internet, the government is using every water supply source to help the citizens.  I know this, because the motherland will not abandon us!

Since I could not find shelf for the mineral water, I went around and around.  Finally, I had to ask a worker.  He said that it was on the first floor, next to the beverage section.  I pushed the cart back there.  Oh!  I understand why I could not find the water.  There was no water left.  Many customers were asking when water will be available again.  I saw many properly dressed workers and security staff there, and I carefully and quickly took some photographs for the blog.

But in front of the shelf without the water, I was caught.  A young man with a big scar on his face rushed up to me and frightened me!  He yelled: "No photographs are allowed!"  Then he glared at me and said: "Give me the film!"  I was stupefied and I didn't react.  He jumped in front of me and said: "Film!"  I was stunned: "Film?"  Then I realized immediately that this man did not even understand the concept of a digital camera.  I patiently explained to him: "This is a digital camera."  I did not expect him to yell at me: "I don't know what a digital camera is!  Just take the film out!"

But he did not harrass me afterwards.  Ah Ning from Hangzhou called me later to say that he read about my blog in the Metropolic Daily.  Oh, I told her about my experience just then.  Over the phone, Ah Ning said: "Rainbow Sister, you have the potential to become a reporter."

When I arrived at the checkout counter, I saw people pushing cartons and cartons of water.  I asked and I found out that the water has arrived, with a limit of two cartons per person.  I examined the cartons carefully and saw that they were produced in Beijing.  My almight national capital, I love you to death!

I returned home and I began to make dinner.  It turned out that the water came back from 1pm without stoppage, even though it cannot be consumed.  I used the mineral water to wash a white tulip, I opened up a can of beef and I made a dish of beef with tulip.  After a while, it turned into a fragrant-smelling dish.  Then I used the water saved from a few days ago to rinse the rice, and I used the mineral water to boil the rice in the electric cooker.  It wass simple.  When the men came back from work, they said: "This tastes good.  Water stoppage is really good.  As soon as we come through the door, we get to eat!"

That is really nice.  The water stoppage has turned me into a full-time housewife.

(  博客:彩虹姐姐在停水的日子里