Coming from Nicaragua, a country known as the “Land of lakes and volcanoes”, earthquakes were not new to me. In my country, earthquakes are as common as in Taiwan; however, that doesn’t mean they are less scary. Whether or not I get scared and run under the table depends on the magnitude and length of the shake. Fortunately, that moment hasn`t come yet, and I really hope it never will. I do wish, though, that somehow I am prepared for it and will have the best possible reaction.

Since I have experienced many earthquakes before coming to Taiwan the first ones I felt here were not too scary as they were small. But living on the 5th floor for the first time, it was a bit surprising to feel the whole building swinging with the shake. I would describe it as similar to being at sea when waves move your boat from side to side. The first strong earthquake I felt in Taiwan caught me off guard one morning during a Chinese class. I was in the class with other 4 classmates when, unannounced as it is by nature, we felt that our chairs started to swing. We looked at each other and noticed that the curtains, the doors and everything else that was hanging were swinging too. At that moment we realized that it was a strong and long earthquake. We said out loud “It’s shaking!” and looked at our teacher – hoping for a reaction or instructions for leaving the room or for doing something, but he remained totally calm and just kept on. We told him to stop because “it is shaking so strong!” but, still calm, he just said “This is normal in Taiwan”.

We all got uneasy and he ended up stopping the class until the shake was finally over, leaving us perplexed not only of the strong shake but also of his extreme ease. Luckily for us, the classroom is located on the first floor of a building which has only three stories, so when it shakes I feel a bit relieved that there are some limits to what will fall on our heads (…)

In my country we are taught that whenever you feel an earthquake you should calmly find your way out of the place where you are and go to an open and safe place. This doesn’t seem to be case in this country. Later, after that shake, I chatted with my boyfriend who was at work, also in Taipei. He was also shocked by the lack of reaction among his colleagues, noting “Nobody seems to care. They just keep on working.” Later that day, I talked with our landlady later about it, and again I got the same response: “That is normal in Taiwan…” A video of a group of tourists at the Taipei 101 (one of the world’s tallest buildings at more than 500m) was released on social media later, showing how the whole building was swinging strongly from side to side. The tourists were standing at the 87th floor, where it is possible to observe the big mass damper that makes this building one of the safest in the world – able to withstand typhoon strength winds and earthquakes of high magnitude. The tourists seemed to be enjoying the shake as they could see the tuned mass damper in action, and kept taking photos and videos of their unexpected adventure while trying not to fall or lose balance. It was only then that I realized that there is a reason why Taiwanese people don’t get concerned about these shakes: it’s because they are prepared for it. Buildings are strong, and people remain calm all the time, which are two important factors during an earthquake.

After that, whenever it shakes in Taipei or anywhere else in Taiwan (I also felt a shake in the city of Hualien once, and we had another two strong shakes in one morning another day in Taipei) I don’t feel so concerned anymore, I just sit and wait until it is over. So, if you ever come to Taiwan and feel an earthquake; don’t be afraid. Most likely it’s just one of the hundreds of earthquakes that the country experiences during the year ;)