Philippines - Being British, by David Hogg (1969)

It was at the Manila Club that I first experienced a real earthquake. The club was, in effect, a British club and was housed in a substantial colonial building; white walls, polished wooden floors, overhead fans, no air conditioning but always shady and cool inside. I was having lunch with another British manager, and the dining room was not full. Three or four tables were also occupied by expatriates. The white-uniformed waiters were quietly serving lunch, while an occasional laugh drifted through from the nearby bar.

Suddenly our table started moving, at first a gentle tremor, which could have been mistaken for somebody knocking the table. “Earthquake” said Malcolm, my lunch companion. But we didn’t move, waiting for the tremor to subside. We just held on to the table. Soon the whole building was swaying and waltzing so much that staying put seemed to be the only option. After what seemed an age but was probably only a couple of minutes, the motion stopped and there was an empty silence. Only the picture of Winston Churchill, still swinging on the wall, proved that the ‘quake had really happened. Looking round, I saw that the other diners were still there, still holding their tables, shocked and a bit pale.

Then, of course, what we needed was a drink. At that point I realised that there wasn’t a Filipino in the building. They were all outside in a white-clad cluster on the lawn. It had not been a very big earthquake, 5 to 6 on the Richter scale, causing one building collapse and some casualties in the city. But the club servants had done the sensible thing. As for the British diners, still seated in the dining room, I suppose ours had been a typically British reaction. Not so much ‘stiff upper lip’ as ‘rather die than make a fool of yourself.’

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