Living in Korea has made me acclimate to a number of weird phenomena. Probably the weirdest thing that I’ve grown gradually comfortable with is semi-regular blastings of air-raid sirens, assemblies of small children into terror formation, full-scale evacuations of which I am no part, accompanied by the sounds of frenzied screaming over intercoms and people fleeing towards local shelters. These are just drills, and really, after the first few times, you barely even notice them. With water on all sides, Japan’s nuclear exhaust and China’s metallic yellow particulates regularly invading our airspace, and some wacky neighbours just north, there’s something to be said for preparedness.
Preparedness is pretty goddamn terrifying the first time around. But it gets easier.
Thursday, April 26th, 2012. The afternoon.
2:00 – The sirens have begun. I rise from my seat, as I usually do by impulse, and then also settle back down just as quickly, also by impulse. I’ve grown so terribly accustomed to the sirens of doom that they are very nearly calming white noise. It’s like whale song, just with the implication of nuclear winter.
2:01 – They certainly are loud today. I have my earphones nearby, and the sirens pulse in the background, making everything I listen to suddenly a dubsteb remix.
2:04 – The sirens continue. Now there is shouting over the intercoms. I remain seated. Maybe I will make some tea.
2:07 – Seven minutes of sirens. I am growing moderately concerned, if only for how likely this is to impede my walk home or that episode of Mad Men I haven’t gotten around to yet.
2:08 – To make these exercises more entertaining, I generally pretend they are preparing the children for the coming zombie apocalypse. I like to think they undergo machete training in the sun-dappled early afternoon.
2:09 – In the field behind our school, the children are assembled in formation. They squat and rise at command of whichever shadowy figure stands atop the school-front podium. There is call and response, the simple guttural noises of a population being prepared for destruction, for disaster, for the future. They will need this discipline in the coming theoretical days of cannibalism and worldwide destruction.
2:10 – Army type shouts are so much less intimidating when the voices haven’t broken yet. I feel relatively confident I could fend off most of the first to third grade if it became a fight for escape vehicles or supplies. The grade sixes may be an obstacle. They are bigger and angrier.
2:12 – I check the office next to me. I am usually abandoned during disaster exercises, as I assume I would be if things went down for real. It’s not anything against me, I know. They just don’t really feel like speaking English during the end of days. The office is empty.
2:18 – Disaster drill ongoing. My coworkers claimed to only be going out to pick up some patbingsu during the drill to escape the noise. They have not returned, and I worry that maybe the ice will melt by the time they get back.
2:21 – The sound of a man frantically shouting has been piped all over the school broadcast system. He is screaming instructions. His last hopes and dreams. Prayers. Curses. The score of Les Miserables. I can’t be too sure. He sounds so sad, and also like wolves are eating his legs.
2:25 – The sirens stopped, but have returned. I am alone in the school, so I pump my music through the class speakers. Currently the children are likely deep within the nearby subway station, which doubles as a bomb shelter. They are being told that when push comes to shove, supplies will probably not last, and the only true method for survival is to band up into gangs of hooligans and paint themselves in the blood of the fallen. Elementary school has essentially prepared them for this, anyway.
2:32 – I start to grow concerned, simply because of the duration. I think of a time when it would have taken less than 30 minutes of constant air raid horns and pre-recorded screaming to rouse me to action. I check Facebook.
2:33 – My compatriots are relatively certain this is just tsunami training. Of course, theywould tell us that, so that we wouldn’t clog up the shelters.
2:34 – This really is taking a very long time. Should I be worried? No. No. I shouldn’t be worried.
2:35 – Where is my passport? I consider the likelihood of catching a boat for China, or swimming to Japan. I feel confident I could do it.
2:36 – I scavenge the office for provisions: a bottle of water. An orange. Rice cake, both food and flotation device. Comically large hand-shaped pointers I could use as weapons. My deadly teacher glare. I will survive.
2:37 – I use pastel crayons to begin fashioning my camouflage. Let the North Koreans come. They will never find me.
2:38 – It is deadly silent outside. The last remaining cherry-blossoms rain down from the boughs in a soft, cool, desolate shower. Humanity seems to be lying in wait. This is the calm before the storm. In moments, I am certain, the horizon will flood with… what? Blood? Water? The dead? Foreign armies? I don’t know. But I know one thing. I will be ready.
2:39 – They will never take me alive.
2:40 – Michael. Signing off. Catch you all on the flipside.
2:45 – The kids are back. And so is the patbingsu! I love disaster training day.