No one likes to think about natural disasters when traveling–it would be rather depressing to consider when you’re trying to enjoy time away from work and stress. But sometimes we have to consider the reality. Recent earthquakes in central Italy and Myanmar, two places I have fond memories of traveling through, got me thinking a little more about what can happen while on vacation.

San Domenico in Perugia, Italy
San Domenico in Perugia

I’m no longer a stranger to earthquakes. I live around the Pacific ring of fire. Fortunately, most of the earthquakes here have been mild–in fact, I don’t notice the majority of them, particularly if I’m asleep.Bagan Pagodas

My second week in Tokyo was my first earthquake. It was early morning before I had to wake up to work online and I felt the shaking. I froze. I didn’t know if I should wait inside or run outside. I was living in a small two-storey apartment building. The earthquake shelter was a school just down the street.

I later discovered that it wasn’t even a strong earthquake. I was approached by Mormons in Shimokitazawa the following weekend and mentioned how it had woken me; neither guy even noticed the quake.Shinjuku

After two months I felt plenty more earthquakes–some stronger than others. The only strong one was when I was out to dinner with a friend. Everyone at the restaurant stopped immediately and waited to see how big it was before returning to their food. Another one that wasn’t as strong struck Tokyo as I was waiting in the United Club at Narita Airport on my way to Hanoi.

Kanto Earthquake Memorial Museum
Kanto Earthquake Memorial Museum

In Taipei as well I’ve felt a few, although at this point I only notice the bigger ones when I’m awake. At the office, some coworkers’ phones give an alert when a stronger earthquake has struck nearby and will probably be felt in Taipei. I’m not sure if a 5-second warning is really enough to be effective, but it might be better for placating concerns from citizens.

View from Myauk Guni
View from Myauk Guni

Of course, now I worry less about earthquake as typhoons are a more pressing matter. Even as I prepare for a trip to Hong Kong next weekend, I have to be aware that a typhoon could throw off my plans (fortunately, Hong Kong and Taipei are well prepared for typhoons).

The earthquakes yesterday brought back memories of two of places that hold great memories–Perugia and Bagan.

Perugia steps
This is my favorite view of Perugia–how I’ll always remember it

The former was where I worked for a couple weeks before getting laid off. Rather than depart, I hung around looking for things to do. I met people–travelers, expats, and locals–who became acquaintances during my month-long stay. I was never bored walking along the winding alleys even if I had been there before. And there was plenty of time to sit in a park and read.

The latter was a shorter stay. I was stuck in Bagan due to my own lack of planning. It was the best travel mishap I could imagine. While most people zip through Bagan on their tours of Myanmar, I had five days to slowly explore the area–the dusty streets and quiet pagodas, the friendly residents, and the amazing food.

Bagan balloons
Balloons over Bagan

As I found out from Reddit, Perugia is in good shape following the earthquake that devastated some Italian towns. Meanwhile in Bagan, about a hundred pagodas were severely damaged, but fortunately only three casualties were reported. I’d like to think that the traditional bamboo houses in Myanmar saved lives–there’s not much that can fall apart during an earthquake and injure people living in those houses.

Both of these are places I’d love to see again, but I’m certain they wouldn’t live up to my memories as so many other places would not either.

I’ve traveled through many places that have been destroyed by earthquakes–most occurred a long time before, like in Chiang Mai and Yogyakarta. I’ve seen the damage nature can inflict on what we build. More devastating, however, is seeing what has been destroyed by war in places like Cambodia and Korea.

As more news about the earthquakes flows in, I’m reminded about the people in these places–those who have lost homes and loved ones. There are things we cannot control, no matter how cautious we are.

1 COMMENT

  1. I’ve never felt an earthquake at home. The only time I can confirm that I’ve kinda felt an earthquake was on vacation in Southern California. We were on the beach and I felt my cell phone vibrate, but I didn’t have a cell phone on me. We went back to our hotel to find that the times lined up. Not very exciting, I know.

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