Sunday, March 27, 2011

Someone else took over writing this blogpost halfway through

We're in the aftermath, now. It involves participating in fundraising events, donating money, paying more attention to the swaying of the light fixtures in the minor quakes that seem to happen daily.

Yesterday, I was wandering around my local supermarket, and decided that now was as good a time as any to stock up on earthquake supplies. I looked for bottled water. And looked. And looked. Not only could I not find any, but there were no empty shelves. Eventually I realised that the shelves where the bottled water used to stand had been removed. Entirely. Clearly, the supermarket had no means of replacing the product, and was mindful of the panic that evidence of the panic of OTHERS might inspire. So they opted for subterfuge. Water? What water? We never sold water. You can get it out of a tap! Stupid, foreign, girl.

I stood blankly for a minute or so, and then bought four litres of green tea. What can water do that green tea can't, anyway?

Life goes on as usual. My Twitter feed has calmed down, and I haven't had a concerned email from my parents in over a week so, for now, natural disasters have ceased their disruption of my life. Which doesn't mean that my thoughts don't remain with those down south. It just means that they occasionally visit other subjects.

Like this:

A fizzy drink that you can spread on toast! Zomg, finally. Total niche market just about passed us all by.

Or this:

It's Vegas... and a metropolis. All housed in the most dismal car park, under the greyest sky. I like the single bowling pin on the roof. It either says, "Welcome to Vegaropolis, we score 9 out of 10!" or "Welcome to Vegaropolis! Come spend some money because at the moment we're really fucking broke".

Or this:

Because who HASN'T been eating pancakes, and thought "Fukkit, forks and plates and whatnot are a WASTE of SPACE and are TAKING AWAY from my PANCAKE EXPERIENCE. My life! If only I could DRINK my pancakes out of a CAN, then I could EAT and WALK and ALL WOULD BE RIGHT WITH THE WORLD".

Face it guys, a good idea is a good idea.

"FURTHERMORE! When I am buying TINY TINY SAUSAGES, I like to be ASSURED that said SAUSAGES are of the highest quality! I am not looking for "good" sausages or "decent" sausages! And how shall I know if they don't write it on the..."

"Oh, I see, alright then, well played, Japan. But wait! I don't only buy sausages! What if I'm buying..."

"Alright, no need to rub it in".

"Just one more thing, though. You've got heaps of vending machines, right? Right. But, these vending machines only ever contain drinks! Sometimes I need more! A girl has needs! Occasionally, I just require something MORE SUSTAINING while I'm on the go!"

Touche. Touche indeed.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nuclear Free

Regular readers will be pleased to discover that in the last week I have neither lost all my hair, nor become infertile, nor grown a third eye.


The particles of radiation in the atmosphere that I am breathing seem to have either drifted South or been safely dispersed in the clouds of hot air being simultaneously expelled from the gaping maws of the myriad international media organizations getting their jollies out of using words like "apocalypse", "Chernobyl" and "melt-down" in the same breath as the name of the country in which I currently reside.

It makes me crabby. Hype is Not Helpful. Hype is scary. Fear stemming from the publicised problems at nuclear plants do not need to be exacerbated by sensationalized scare-mongering. Nor do poisonous editorials pointing the finger at the Japanese tendency to downplay local errors do any good to anyone.

A tsunami, an earthquake and a cooling failure all happening in quick succession is enough alert even the most mild-mannered Japanese person to potential problems. No one turns a blind eye to the spectacle of 2000 dead bodies washing up on beaches. We felt it ok? We watched the lights sway. We get it.

Many of my friends have come under immense pressure from family and friends to evacuate Japan, notwithstanding residency a safe distance from the disaster zone. Many have caved and departed, and to those people, I say, good on you. If you have the means to escape, and are genuinely fearful, then there is no point in cowering in your cupboard until people cease prophesying your death by acid rain. Terror is no fun at all.

For Japanese people, however, escape is not an option. Not only are many people bound by family, and jobs, and finances, and contracts, but the Japanese persona finds strength in perseverance. They're not stupid. They know that their government is capable of evasion and fallacy. They know firsthand the devastating effects of nuclear activity. But they also know that Japan is their country, their homeland and their heart. It's all well and good for a foreigner - this is a stepping stone, a pause, a vacation. If something goes wrong, then there are other avenues, less seismically-active avenues, to pursue. But for those born and raised in Japan, Japan is where they will die. Whether it be at 80 years old in their own beds, or beneath a pile of rubble tomorrow.

Last week I had my first enkai (party) for my school. It was held in a small, authentic, sushi restaurant in Susukino. All members of the English faculty were there, folded up neatly on the tatami mats. It was shameful to witness that I was the least flexible person in a room where the median age must have been upwards of 45. There was no mention of The Big Three, only poignant leaving speeches through mouthfuls of raw fish. There was emphatic drinking and farewells and fondness, but no allusions to death and suffering.

Near the close of the party, one teacher engaged me in conversation, which led inevitably to the earthquake. He asked if my family were worried - I affirmed that they were, though well-informed enough not to be giving into panic. He asked if I wanted to leave Japan - I responded that I did not, though if the situation got worse, I would consider it. He was understanding at the same time as being totally unswayed by my arguments. His English was not as good as some, and he took pains to try and convey to me the way he felt about events further south, his emotions and desires and reactions.

He said - "I feel like my heart is being... pulled".

He said "Japanese people... don't run away. We rebuild. We will... build it again".

He said "I am not scared".

He said "Japanese people don't.. show. Demonstrate? Demonstrate. We don't demonstrate. We do". He nodded his head. "We do". And looked away, ending the conversation, taking another mouthful of beer.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Being There

Well, I just got home for the first time since the big earthquake, having spent all weekend hiding in the mountains with Manfriend. Sapporo is on Hokkaido, the island at the far North of Japan, and therefore had enough distance from Miyagi prefecture to avoid most of the damage and all of the tsunami. Still, it was easily the biggest quake I've ever experienced, and would have been enough to send me cowering beneath my desk at school, were it not for the calm eyes of my students, gripping the desks and waiting for it to end. Which took a good three minutes. In fact, while the first 30 seconds were truly scary, by the end of it I was already on Twitter, seeing how quickly the social networking universe would be alerted to the disaster. By the time I logged on there were already 3 Tweets on my feed from major news websites, and within half an hour it was a trending topic. The rolling, sick motion of the quake in Sapporo was enough to make me aware that somewhere further north had been horrendously hit, but I never thought as high as an 8.9... The aftershock came as I boarded the subway. The train remained at the terminal for some minutes, and I was beginning to wonder if it had broken down, when I saw the grim, fixed faces of fellow commuters, and felt the carriage rock. I guess underground is as safe a place as any, but God, it was foreign and disconcerting and awful, feeling the grind of the earth, and not even possessing the language skills to frame the questions I wanted to ask.

Anyway, getting in the door tonight made me glad that I was at school, at ground level, when the quake hit. I live on the eleventh floor, and feel any quakes far more intensely than those on lower levels. A collection of wine bottles that had accumulated on my bookshelf had fallen and shattered, joined by many of my books, now sadly red wine stained. I know this doesn't even register on the scale of damage in Japan, but I'm still glad those smashes and bangs fell on deaf ears, and I'm extremely glad I wasn't alone.

The internet has made the levels of damage evident, but it's strange how very abstracted from events I feel. I felt much more in touch with the Christchurch earthquake, even though I was in the site of the Chiba destruction only two months ago. I guess it's because I don't understand the chatter around me any more now than I did on Thursday - passersby could still easily be discussing flowers and commutes and workloads, rather than dead friends. And the famously stoic Japanese attitude means that I have seen no raw displays of emotion, with the exception of one student in tears on the floor when I left school on Friday.

I've donated money and I'll continue to watch the news in horror. But it feels far away. It feels like a movie. It feels like an immense practical joke that no one finds funny.

I'd planned this blogpost on Friday. It was going to be about my fantastic students, and the funny things they do. But natural disasters take over. They make everything else unimportant, especially when you try to process a death toll as high as 2000. Especially when people are predicting nuclear meltdowns.

Nonetheless, I think the ability to laugh in the wake of catastrophe is important. So rather than ending this blogpost with a prayer, I'll end it with several haiku, written by my students in a bid to win a Milky Way bar (forgive their syllable count, it took a long time to persuade unwilling ears that "very" was two syllables and "Kaisei" was not four).

Aravin's favourite:

"Scarlett is very cute
So she has a cool boyfriend
We are very very sad".

My cutest students:

"Girls talk is excited
We want to go to a date
We are very romantic". (embellished with many many tiny hearts).

Noisy boys:

"What cold his heart is
There is team leader Tsuchida

Smart girls:

"English is easy
But communication is hard
So we love Scarlett".

And my personal favourite...

"My name is Scarlett
My hair is beautiful red
My eyebrow isn't red".

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Not All Juice boxes are Created Equal

Oh, March.

I remember what you were like in New Zealand. The last hot days of summer slowly giving way to a creeping coolness... The sun still prevailing while the temperature dropped... BBQ's and Keds and ice cream. I do remember this. I remember tan lines, and winter clothes making their way into the shops and the evenings getting shorter. My brain remains in the Southern Hemisphere (it's happy there, it's warm and the cheese is cheap. My body misses it, sometimes, but they email each other lots).

My American friends inform me that a Northern Hemisphere March is a different creature - the snow melting away and freeing up the sidewalks (they don't have pavement in America. How silly! How quaint! How odd a word! It doesn't even sound like a real word and it's tricky to spell (Especially for Americans, whose spelling complications extend past their "U" aversion). Although, I actually like the word sidewalk better. Like, you WALK along the SIDE. Genius! Much the same as powdered sugar! It's just like sugar but its... POWDER. Because, you don't just use it for icing now, do you? You ASO use it for sherbert, which you suck up a straw and blow into the air like a cool person who smokes candy. Oh America. Why must you be the best at everything? Except for politics. And health care. And... other things I don't know about because my friends haven't discussed them on Twitter), green leaves appearing, dead baby birds on the footpath (what? another word for the same gum-spotted stretch of asphalt? Crappit, this is exhausting. When's Newspeak being implemented?)...

If THAT's what a Northern Hemisphere March should be looking like, then I don't know where the fuck I'm living:

Narnia? If Narnia was a car park?

So what to do with an endless winter?

I was warned about this when I first arrived in Sapporo. That if I didn't embrace the snow, then I would spend 5 months locked away in my apartment, eating my eyebrow hairs and learning how to sudoku (which, by the way, I think is some cataclysmic mind-fuck dreamt up by a disillusioned high school maths teacher, who is having the LAST LAUGH NOW because look! you're doing maths! on the weekends! without a calculator! More fool you. Also, "sodoku" sounds like it should be, at the very least, a martial art. A Disappointing Truth (like an inconvenient truth, but more convenient) much like the discovery that internet cafes rarely serve cake).

Lucky I have a new awesome hobby. Snowboarding, dude. This is the view from where I first fell over:

And second fell over:

And third fell over:

You may notice that all of these pictures are of the same panorama. This is because I fell over roughly every five meters. If I had taken a photo every time I was on my bum, this would be a long blog indeed. And I probably already lost most of you at pavement. Or sidewalk. Or footpath.

This weekend was my first snowboarding trip to Niseko. I've been to Niseko many times, but only for the pizza and the coffee. This time I went for the POWDER(ed sugar). It was also my first time on a chairlift.

This was NOT a success.

I had been practicing on the baby slopes for some hours, and was feeling pretty damn cocky about my mean carving skills. I had managed one entire descent on my feet. I decided that I was ready to conquer the peaks of Hirafu. I was on my own, Manfriend having bowed out early due to knee injuries. Which was a pity really, because how pretty is he in aubergine?


The chairlift was HIGH. It went for a LONG LONG time. I hadn't banked on being quite so LIFTED. And it wasn't until I was very nearly at the top that I realised I had no idea how to dismount from a chairlift. I watched the four chairloads in front of me carefully, trying to ascertain technique. I was fairly certain I knew how best to gently glide from a seated to a standing position.

Oh, me. How naive to assume co-ordination.

Friends, I got pinned. PINNED. The chair was making a turn, attempting to go back down the mountain to pick up more snow-fiends, and I was still on it, having no idea how to disengage ,y board from the supports. They had to STOP THE CHAIRLIFT with its HUNDREDS OF PASSENGERS DANGLING ABOVE CREVICES to pry me free from my position, wedged between a ROCK (chair) and a HARD PLACE (concrete pillar).

Thank goodness for goggles and anonymity, because I'm pretty sure I would have earned myself a lifetime Idiot's Ban from Niseko. And that would be a pity. Because I DO like the coffee there.

The rest of the weekend was less athletic (read: positively sedentary). I nursed my bruises. I watched Scrubs. I ate at my first sushi train.

It was delicious. I also observed this:

Wine! In a carton! On the sushi train! Available in both red AND white, complete with straw.

Screw snowboarding. I'm spending the rest of March sipping wine through a straw and doing karate (the Japanese word for Scrabble).