I had a straight razor to my neck when the earthquake hit. The barber asked why I was shaking the table, then we both realised it was a quake. I ran to the entrance of the shop - when I was younger, I lived in Japan, and they taught us there to get under a doorway. The city and I emerged shaken and relatively unscathed: a slight cut below the ear and a few tiles missing from - ironically - the China Engineering Corporation Building on Renmin Road South. Thousands of people rushed out into the streets and congregated in open spaces to wait things out. Men and women enjoying an afternoon nap had to run out in their underwear, and young people carried their grandparents into the streets. Most people seemed shaken, but unafraid. They stopped to take pictures and gathered in circles to talk. It was probably one of the strongest feelings of togetherness I have felt in Chengdu, with everyone exchanging looks of relief and surprise. Most shops closed for the day, and most locals lingered in public places talking and listening to the radio. An ambulance siren could be heard in the distance. In the city centre and within the second ring road there was no major visible damage. But near the south railway station a water main had burst, sending muddy water into the streets. Phone connections were sporadic. The heavy load of calls brought the network down for brief periods. Information about the quake arrived almost immediately via SMS, until phone lines went dead for a few minutes. There was a slight aftershock approximately 20 minutes after the initial earthquake. Many locals had already moved back into their houses, and the aftershock sent them scattering back into the streets. I went to my ninth-floor apartment to grab my camera and computer, and I was waiting with my neighbours for the lift down when the aftershock hit. We flew down the stairs and back to the safety of open space. We experienced another tremor at 7.10pm. Many were trying to drive out of the city, but most of the roads out were jam-packed with cars. Cars were parked near the highways west, south and north out of the city, but they were not moving. Many people took advantage of the situation to play cards and socialise in parks. Although there was still nervous tension in the air, people were trying to enjoy the surprise respite from work. At the downtown Kempinski Hotel, general manager Fritz Schenkel and director of sales and marketing Edward Liao were standing outside, discussing safety measures. Staff and guests gathered around them and joked nervously about the quake. 'I have lived here for 30 years and this is the first time I have ever experienced an earthquake,' Mr Liao said. 'Chengdu is normally a very safe city.' Marco Duits from the Netherlands rushed out of his office at Idrawfast, an architectural design firm, when the earthquake struck, but he managed to take photographs of some damage: the floor in his office was torn up and tiles fell from the ceiling. In the Bookworm, a local restaurant and meeting place, people were on the Web and their phones, letting others know they were all right and checking for more information. The local news reminded people to stay outdoors for the time being and to return home by nightfall.