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".


  1. I love this post a whole lot.

  2. Reminded me of:

    Haikus are easy.
    Sometimes they do not make sense.

    Miss and love you x x x

  3. Great to read this. What's the mood like now where you are?