Chinese instructions on staying safe and sound

A few weeks ago, our company had the ‘honor’ to receive a lecture from the local official organ about fire hazards and safety. My anarchistic side always resurfaces during these kinds of occasions. Nonetheless I happily complied to listen, if only to reach the necessary number of attendants.

My fire safety knowledge is limited to knowing you should not put oil out with water and a thick woolen blanket should provide some protection if wet enough. Encountering my neighbors burning something in the hallway during the Tombe Festival, I reckon their notion of safety is even lower.

So during these kinds of lectures, the beginning is always with big accidents that ideally happened in your own neighborhood, relatively recently. Of course that’s awful, but the human mind is a funny thing. I’d say the main thought that remains in our heads after watching or hearing these things is: “Well it will not happen to me though.”

And of course the lecture continued with showing very graphic depictions of burned bodies (slightly disrespectful to the victims I would add), for which I gladly let my glasses slide down so as not to see it. Most colleagues, especially those who have spouses, were on the edge of their chair. I can understand it of course, but let us face the hard truth: nothing is going to change.

Sure, the Chinese government reminds us constantly of everything, whenever they can. There is posters downstairs in my building depicting fires that happened recently and how to prevent it. Whenever you go watch a movie, there is a safety video on fire hazards played to ensure everyone is up to date.

It is the same as taking the plane and seeing those safety videos. Unless they make it fun, no one will pay attention. And incorporating that kind of fun in their messages is not something the Chinese government takes seriously.

Sound the fire alarm

Having just watched a film in a cinema today, made me realize a thing I already knew before. The world is filled with hypocrisy.

In this case, I am referring to the fire safety clips they always show in Chinese cinemas before the actual film. It might be a strong and trustworthy fireman, an animated helpful robot or your average guy turned fire superhero, all of them urge you what to do in case of a fire. It is just as rote as most of the flight safety reminders when taking an airplane.

Of course, in almost all other cases there is much less, hardly or even no attention paid to fire safety. I remember when I went to China for the first time more than 15 years ago and eating in a hotpot restaurant. These were the times when the soup was still being heated by gas bottles whose tubes basically crossed the entire restaurant floor. And of course there were enough open fires with people happily smoking inside. Nonetheless, we lived to now tell on this tale luckily.

Another instance that comes to mind is in my own apartment building. Living in one these old, traditional 6-story flats already means that fire safety norms are non-existent. There are no emergency exits and stairs, and I doubt there are even smoke detectors installed.

Actually, I am quite positive there are none, because I saw my neighbors burning some money in the hallway a few days ago. Burning money in itself is not that strange, most Chinese do it when someone passes away or for other ceremonial purposes. However, it was quite windy and there was a cloth hanging over the door which seemed to come awfully close to catching on fire by the flames below it.

So naturally, I just headed out quickly and prayed nothing would catch on fire. I do not know if the burning of the money helped with that, but so far everything is still standing.