Tuesday, March 15, 2011

the wait

A little like knowing a holiday is coming, but not knowing when, they have promised a magnitude 7 earthquake sometime this week in Tokyo. Combined with the waves of planned power outages, the continued aftershocks, and the almost collapse of the train system, and it is a bit of a mess in Town these days.

So I was told work was open. So I woke up as usual, headed to the office out in the countryside. The first sign of foreboding, was when my normal line wasn't running. I switched to a different line, and got to my transfer point. And then when I usually only wait 5 minutes for my next train, I waited for over an hour for a train towards work. But that train didn't even make it that far. Because of aftershocks or overloading or whatever reason, they stopped the train shortly before the correct station and unloaded us all. We were funneled out of the station. I was so close, but not there. I asked the local subway if they could get me near my work, and they suggested a stop. I waited again for a subway, and then used the GPS on my cellphone to find work, which was about a 10 minute walk away from the subway I rode on. I got to work and... no one was there. No students, and only one head staff. Empty. The others hadn't made it. I sat there for awhile wondering why I was there. A local unemployed student came by for a lesson, and it was surreal. Just the two of us pretending that I was working in a fully functioning machine.

After the student went home, the head staff got permission from his boss to close the school. I went back to the main station. But it was shuttered. Completely closed, with signs on it. I felt so weird. Exit blocked. I walked to another train line. Closed. This was like Escape From New York, or something. I walked with the head staff even further, and we found a running subway (bless the subways!) and I got back to somewhere that I had a running train to Tokyo.

The trains were PACKED, and it was surly not rush hour. It was so bad, that they actually had to have staff tie ropes to hold back people so they didnt clog the up and down flow on the stairs. The trains themselves were elbow to elbow, grumpy tired people.

Most of the food has been picked off the shelves of the local supermarkets, like we were visited by locus. Oddly things like instant noodles seem the first to go, but if an earthquake comes again I don't think we will be able to cook noodles. I didn't have a lot of supplies in my house before the earthquake, so I don't have a lot of food to make. I am eating up my emergency canned food, it was supposed to be for if a massive earthquake hit. But a hungry stomach tells me I can get new cans tomorrow. I have water filled up in my bathtub, just in case water goes out. A candle ready, for a power outage. I just don't want to experience that earthquake that they say is coming. Not really a fun thing to look forward to.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

thus spoke the earth

It started out as a fairly usual day, as the majority of days do. I woke up, showered, grabbed a bite to eat and rushed out the door to work. At work I exchanged the same typical banter with my coworkers and went to class. In my class there was a grumpy student, and I remember thinking about how I could try to change that. When suddenly the earth started to roll, like the deck of a boat. I have been in a lot of earthquakes in Japan, but this one felt different. I stood up, and said maybe we should do something. Some of the students looked scared. A very pessimistic coworker across the way laughed and said "It's only an earthquake." But the rolling continued, the walls began to undulate, and the pessimistic coworker kind of nodded and said maybe "Yeah, maybe we should get out." So we stood the students up and with the help of the staff up at the front desk, we evacuated with the neighborhood to a small park near the buildings.

There we were huddled in the park, shaking, most of us without coats. The fitness gym people only in towels, a small group of nurses behind them, and a group of apparent hostesses from a club behind them, a quite random group of strangers standing around in the park nervous. We didn't know if we could go back into the building, and there were already several strong aftershocks. Some of my students from the class I had been teaching had their books with them, so I sat on the steps of the park and taught half of the lesson in the open air. We decided to go back to the school, and tried to teach more but the aftershocks scared everyone. And the news of the tsunami wave warnings and what not began to filter in. The students found ways to get home to check on loved ones but the teachers and staff hung around the branch not sure if they could go. Some of the teachers decided to just go, since there was no point in staying in an empty school. But at that point we found out that the trains had been stopped all over Japan. One of my coworkers had TV in her electronic dictionary (what an age we live in!), and we started to see the destruction. A walk home would have taken me 6 hours or so, it wasn't an option. We got word that the company would pay for a taxi ride if we took one, so I went out and tried to find a taxi. The line for a taxi was hideously long, wrapped fully around the building and only slowly moving. The night was bitter cold. I decided to make my way back to my school where it was warm at least. I stretched out some chairs and tried to sleep. A few other coworkers did the same. In the morning, I got up early and tried to take the first moving train. I waited on the platform with a clog of other people, the golden rays of the sun seeming to offer symbolic hope.

The group of people (in the above picture the sun highlights the man's newspaper, and a headline that reads "What will happen to the water and electricity?") waited silently for quite awhile until a local train inched slowly into the station and dragged us in our direction at a snail's pace. I thought the platform at my first station was crowded, but when I got into downtown Tokyo it was mayhem. There was wall to wall people trying to get on trains. It was like a fireworks festival or new years in times square, but without the laughter, smiles and happiness. I got home finally, at about 10:30AM... a few hours short of 24 hours after the earthquake.

As I am sure you know from the news, this was an insane 8.9 magnitude earthquake that resulted in tsunamis and sadly loss of life. I suppose it should be said here that many of the buildings in Japan are designed so well to withstand earthquakes that this greatly helped to reduce casualties. The biggest destruction seemed to be from the aftermath; tsunami and fire. It is quite surreal watching such wild destruction live in places only hours from you, and I suppose my little experience of it was nothing compared to what others felt firsthand. (The above collection of pictures are from net streamed TV coverage I was watching live.) There have been many aftershocks, just had two while writing this. I am nervous but still very much alive. Life is a fragile thing.
All original content CC 2002-2012 BY NC SA - first design from dilarangmelarang altered by neonvirus and thunderbunny.