Smelling smoke when you don’t expect it is scary. Hearing a fire alarm gets your heart racing and you hope it is a false alarm. When I lived in the condo we had the alarms go off all the time. Someone would pull it, something would set it off because it was so sensitive… but once there was a real call late one night just after I curled up in bed. Thinking it was another false alarm until there was a loud banging on my door. That was not a good feeling. I raced out of bed, grabbed the cat and put her in a carrier, grabbed a makeup case, my purse and keys. Funny what you grab and think is important when you think you have seconds to leave. It was a very cold winter night and we had to wait outdoors as the fire department investigated. Turned out someone had a small grease fire, so no real damage. Once they blew out the smoke we were allowed to return to our apartments. That was scary… not knowing at first was scary, but imagine this in a country where you can’t speak or understand enough of the language.
Today as I watched TV I started to smell smoke. Thinking someone was burning things outside I ignored it. Soon it got stronger and I started to worry. I opened the patio door, but it wasn’t outside. A quick run through the apartment turned up nothing. I went out into the main hall where you could see a slight haze and smell it very strong. What do I do? The lady downstairs, another teacher from school also came out to investigate. She ran up a few levels of stairs to explore. She saw her neighbours who also said they could smell smoke, but they went into their apartments. That should have been a clue I guess. She suggested we call the guards for help. Each apartment has 2 or 3 red buttons which turns out are emergency call buttons. We pushed it and waited.
Again I am in my PJs, in the middle of laundry and cleaning the apartment. I wonder should I grab a few things and leave? Grab the cat? Where would I go? All this races through your mind and fear of the unknown sets in.
It seemed forever for anyone to come. We couldn’t tell where the smoke was coming from and it was hard to pinpoint a direction. It was strange how the smell was stronger and a few steps away there was not much. Finally the guard came and with actions and sniffing the air he knew what we were concerned about. He went off. He came back and tried to tell us or ask us something to which we both went “I don’t know what he is saying”. She decided to ask her neighbours and the guard explained something to them and with limited English they in turn explained that someone was burning paper. Was it an accident, kids playing around, under control? All things you want to ask, but cannot because you will not be understood. We tried to ask was it OK, no danger and they seemed to think it was OK. Do they really know what we mean? Did they pick the wrong words to explain, so there really is a different meaning? Finally the guard motioned for us to follow and we went with him 2 floors down to see an older woman with a small pile of burnt papers.
Stupid foreigners don’t understand our custom must have been what they said next… from our limited understanding we figure they were burning the papers as a funerary offering or ritual. All was OK. With limited English and Chinese between us the guard lucky decided to show us what was happening and put our fears to rest. We were relieved, a little embarrassed, but also glad we had each other to figure this out. Maybe we over reacted, but how did we know? It is also nice to know if needed the guards are there and will come to you in an emergency. They probably arrived quickly, but with worry and slight panic setting in, the time probably seemed much longer than it was.
So that is how I spent part of my Saturday. What did you do for yours?
Stay tuned for more. I have a few ideas brewing for my next few posts.