My feet pedal furiously to the beat as I try to sweat the fever out of my body.
Six more songs. Only six more until I’m done and can go home, shower and take medicine, then pass out.
Except, sometime during the chorus, I feel my body begin to sway on my spin bike. Rocking, slowly, steadily, back and forth.
Holy shit. I’m super sick. I need to stop pedaling immediately.
I look up at the instructor, trying to will my legs to echo his kwa, sai (left, right) instructions.
His face, topped in a backward hat, looks concerned.
People around me begin to stop pedaling.
And my body continues to shake. Only, so does everyone else’s.
Screams rise in the air as the building sways. We’re on the eight floor of a center in a building probably as old as me.
We’re going through an earthquake in Chiang Mai.
“Wait,” our instructor tells us, still perched on the bike as the building continues to move side-to-side. I look at him like my life depends on it, having never been through a quake.
Sure, I’ve lived in places where quakes can happen, but none ever did. Same with tornadoes. (And thank god I never had to witness one of those in my existence thus far.)
The trembling seems to go on forever, lifting me into another world. A surreal world where I sit and think to myself that any second the entire building could just collapse on itself and this could be it … my life, crashing eight floors to the ground … because I thought it would be a good idea to go and take a spin class to help me get over whatever sickness in my body.
Of course, as soon as the instructor tells everyone to stay put, people jump off their bikes, running and screaming out of the room.
I don’t move. I’m paralyzed … not with fear … but just knowing there is no safe place for me to be until the building stops shaking. I’m not close enough to a real door frame to seek cover, and really? Eight floors up, if the building comes down, there’s no making it outside before that happens.
Finally, after about 20 seconds, the shaking stops. The instructor gets off of his bike and stands in front of the stage, looking bewildered. It’s just me and another member left in the spin room.
In a daze, I walk up to him and put my hand on his shoulder. “I guess spin class is canceled?”
He looks at me incredulously. I thought I was being funny.
I walk out to the gym and talk to my trainer.
“I think we all need to leave,” I say, after checking to make sure she is OK.
“I have to wait until everyone leaves,” she says.
So, I head out of the gym, stopping to look out one of the large, glass-less windows at the city below me.
Everything looks fine.
People line the streets, but the structures are still standing. No car alarms pierce the air. It’s relative calm below me.
Outside, I wave down a songthaew and make my way to Chiang Mai Gate, calling my friends in the city to make sure they are OK, letting my mom know I’m safe and (of course) posting on Facebook. The only thing I can think of is getting home to my little Thai house and checking to make sure my cats were OK, and running through the events of the day to see if they were acting weird (because I always read that animals know about a quake hitting before it hits.)
At the gate, the calm continues. It seems like I am the only one with adrenaline running wild through my veins (which, since spin was canceled, am going to pretend it is just a good of a calorie burn). I start to hit the internet, checking to find out more about the quake.
It’s a 6.3 (not bad for my first quake, eh?), shallow and centered just outside of Chiang Rai, not too far from Chiang Mai. My heart still racing, I head back to my house, prepared for aftershocks.
As I walk, I see minimal damage. Smith, where I used to live, has evacuated everyone, and Papa’s, the makeshift bar, is packed with people. Those who cannot fit (or don’t want to fit) are lining the road, waiting to go back in.
Then, there’s me, who decides to head home, eat some dinner, drink some calming tea, and work through my latest experience via writing.
What you need to know about earthquakes in Northern Thailand
Quakes in Northern Thailand are not as common as in other parts of the world (Ring of Fire, I’m looking at you). In the almost two years I have lived here, I have never felt so much as a tremor. That being said, according to the Chula International Communication Center of Chulalongkorn University, which issued the report “Likelihood of Earthquakes in Thailand” the region is on the Mae Chan fault which runs through both Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and it isn’t exactly a fault that stays quiet.
“The fault is seen as the most potentially damaging one in the country in the event of an earthquake, and it may have been affected by major quakes in China’s Yunnan province back in 2009 … Mae Chan fault remains quiet as stress continues to build up …” the report reads.
There are 15 active fault zones, according to the Department of Mineral Resources, eight of which run through the northern part of the country. The Mae Chan fault last made international news when it delivered a 6.8 in 2012 that caused death and destruction in Myanmar.
Am I safe in Northern Thailand?
Again, according to the CICC, buildings constructed after 2007 are earthquake resistant. The building I was in when the May 5, 2014 quake hit was built before then and I did not see any major damage. In fact, I saw no major structural damage at all from the 6.3 quake. But, I’m no scientist, no building expert … I’m just writing about what I saw.
Fears, however, are justified, especially in structures that are not prepared for earthquakes. Does this mean to live in fear? Absolutely not. Until tonight, I had never experienced a quake. And, after tonight, I don’t expect to really experience one again anytime in the near future (barring aftershocks). It took me 34 years to feel the earth move under my feet … and I’m not going to let a quake stop me from enjoying the beautiful place I call home.