Excuse Me, Your Conference Room is on Fire

One of the first major things that struck me when I arrived in China from an American city was – believe it or not – public safety. Or the lack thereof, I should say. Whereas I have heard stories in New York City about frantic shopkeepers running outside to pay off people who happened to slip outside their shop door (lest that person get upset and sue), even basically well-ordered Chinese cities like Kunming sometimes have gaping holes in the sidewalk, sparks from open construction sites showering down onto passersby, and avenues designed with what seems like the express purpose of killing pedestrians.

And that’s just if you’re a random member of the public – god help you if you happen to actually work a construction job. No goggles, no gloves, working in the pitch black darkness in the middle of the night 10 stories up in the air so that the project gets done a little bit faster. You may have read the recent New York Times story about the very, very dark side of this lack of regulation: mine collapses that kill thousands of people every year in China.

But today I thought I would augment that with a little story from my day that exemplifies this difference between litigious American society and Chinese society, where the basic attitude seems to be “Oh, your child died in a totally preventable accident? Don’t worry, we’ll reverse your mandatory sterilization procedure for a minimal cost so that you can have another child. What are you complaining about?” Ahem:

Today we had a fire safety lecture at the office. When we had a fire safety lecture at my previous job in New York, it lasted about five minutes and consisted of telling people how to exit the building quickly and call 911 – it was so brief because every American kid gets things like “stop, drop and roll” pounded into their brains all throughout grade school. Here in Kunming, the lecture consisted of telling us very basic things about fire safety for AN HOUR, all the while showing us a powerpoint of hideous fires that have happened in China in the past couple years – including a lively series of photos of mangled and charred bodies.

Then, as the piece de resistance, the fire safety lecturer constructed a homemade blow torch in front of us, balanced it in the middle of the conference room table, and proceeded to extinguish it from different angles, rodeo-style. Then he lit a towel on fire, holding it WITH HIS BARE HANDS, and extinguished the flaming material on the table, spraying fire extinguisher foam all over our conference room chairs.

Before we exited the singed conference room, we were asked to fill out an activity satisfaction survey; my ratings:

Material covered: Satisfactory
Understanding of material covered: Satisfactory
Presentation of material: OUTSTANDING

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