In the USA, we sometimes play a game called ‘Chinese Fire Drill’ at stoplights. You get out of the car and run around the outside, switching seats as fast as possible.
Today, I got to experience a real life Chinese Fire Drill.
White smoke billowed past our teacher’s room window. I had been told that a fire drill would be happening at 13:30. I assumed, as one does, that a fire drill meant the alarms would go BEEP BEEP BEEP and we would all walk outside in an orderly fashion for a few minutes.
A guy was wandering around the lobby with a can of gasoline after our training about fifteen minutes earlier. This should have been my first inclination that this was no normal drill.
So yeah. The smoke. It was coming in through the stairway door. I opened it and the whole thing was totally white. Filled to the brim with smoke. To the point that my immediate thought was, ‘Oh shit stack! We are actually on fire. Where is the fire?’ I ran into the stairwell, hoping to find the source of the fire and extinguish it.
Mind you, all the Chinese staff and all the managers had left the building, except the teachers. Me and Eve ran around worried that we might be experiencing a real fire, scarves over our faces, in the stairwell. Insert copious muffled swears here.
The smoke had gotten everywhere. There was no real way to clear it. I spent 20 minutes fanning with flashcards to try to get it out, with the help of a teaching assistant who happened to arrive way early for his shift. My sales team colleagues helpfully closed all the windows and doors I had opened to try to get some of the Very Unhealthy Air (per today’s AQI) into the school to clear the toxic cloud. I was stomping around, two air conditioner controls in hand, opening windows and rolling my eyes.
The security guard thought I was hilarious. ‘Why didn’t someone tell the Laowai?’
What a mess. I currently reek of gasoline smoke, nearly eight hours later. My director was angry at ME when she finally deigned to join us for work today; apparently it is shameful that no foreign teachers signed up for the fire training. We were neither invited nor told what the hell was going on, so I’m less than sympathetic. The person organising the Chinese Fire Drill seemed to bald-face lie to the Director, claiming we had all been invited (nope).
It was useful in a couple ways. I learned:
- Our smoke alarms are fake or don’t work. The school was fucking filled with smoke and not a single one went off.
- If there really is a fire, the majority of folks I work with are unaware and/or useless. It would be carnage.
Weirdest day in China.