Friday, April 08, 2011

First Earthquake Post

Ok, so once upon a time (uh, like three weeks ago) I had this grand idea to go to Morioka for my old junior high school’s graduation. I would take the night bus down, stay at my friend Kenta’s place for a night, we would all go to the onsen on Saturday night, party it up, and I would go to the ceremony on Sunday morning and then get back to Yokohama. Perfect plan! I had my tickets, we had a reservation at the onsen with a guest list, I had a suit, great. So, I left school a little early, grabbed my stuff, met Ryan on the way to give him money/get his computer Kenta was buying, and went to Tokyo to catch the bus, got on the bus, went to sleep, woke up in Morioka, went to Kenta’s house at 6 AM, said hi, and went back to sleep, since sleeping on the night bus is not relaxing in the least. At 10, Kenta woke me up, he was going to a meeting, so I hung out at his apartment for a while since everyone else was going to go to work. At about 1 I decided to take another nap because I’m lazy and I had nothing better to do. All you people at work, suckers! At 2:42 my phone started to make frantic dying noises that sounded like somebody was torturing an anthropomorphized fire alarm, and then the apartment started shaking. Whoah, earthquake! It didn’t stop, so I got up, heard a crash, saw a dish had fallen, thought about going outside for safety but decided that required pants, and decided against it. I looked out the window and saw the electric gadgets bix box store’s windows were buffeting in and out and the stoplights were swinging. Cool! But standing up was difficult so I sat in the doorway and sent off an email. Hrm, I had plans tonight, I wonder how that was going to happen? Laleeladeedoo. This earthquake is still going on? Geez. Oh, it stopped! Yay-no, wait. Darn. That went off and on for about half an hour. My phone battery was dying because I hadn’t charged it in a while, and wait, why don’t I have signal?? This is bull! So I decided to go to the Japanese Best Buy across the street to ask at their cell phone counter. Also, I needed something to do; the lights were off and it was getting dark and I couldn’t vacuum up the dish shards without electricity. The breaker wasn’t doing anything. Stupid broken breaker. Kenta needs a better apartment. But I went outside, and the walk signals and stoplights were out, and there was a sign saying the electrical store was closed, and so now I had nothing to do. Ok, maybe I’ll walk downtown and see what’s up. First I stopped off at the library. There were so many families and old people sitting around on blankets! Geez, it was just an earthquake! But there were people, so I hung around for a bit so see if I could listen to any announcements. I saw some people on phones, but didn’t ask if they had signal. I wanted to use the computer, but they said that they were all shut down for the day, and there were cops and official looking people everywhere, and then they announced the shinkansen weren’t running for a while, and everyone gave a big groan. So I decided to continue downtown. My cell phone provider shop was closed, and there was still no electricity. Ok, must be Kenta’s whole neighborhood. I tried a few pay phones but couldn’t get through to anyone, and kept on walking. I thought I would go to my friend Yuka’s work at the dentist’s and see what she and the other dental techs were up to. But as I was on my way my phone rang! Yay!!! It was my friend Laura, and she said she and her boyfriend were coming to get me and they’d be there in 20 minutes. Yay, I have friends again!! So I went back to Kenta’s, but on the way there was a bar that had a gas stove outside and was giving away free rice porridge, which made me super happy, and got all my stuff just in case using my cell phone as a flashlight and waited downstairs. First I waited outside, and it got cold, then I waited in the entryway of the apartment building, and it got dark, so I played solitaire on my phone, which was the only light around me. After an hour, they came, and said that traffic was unbelievable because there were no stoplights. I was surprised that even Laura’s neighborhood was out. Darn. Japan's supposed to be good at this.

So we drove around looking for a convenience store, and they were all closed, except for one, which was doing operations with candles and a cell phone calculator. We had gotten so many cans of beer and snacks (everyone else was getting basics, like instant noodles) that it took them three times to get our bill right. So we went to Laura and Yohei’s, which is a Japanese style house, and pigged out on chips and beer, wondering what was going on. Laura said she didn’t think there would be an onsen trip the next day. I didn’t believe her, because I was determined to go. I never go to onsens in Yokohama.

My cell phone finally died because I couldn’t charge it and I had used it too much as a flashlight and playing games, so I used theirs to call my dad. It was 7:30 AM their time, I think, but they already knew about it. I was surprised again.

Then there was nothing else to do so we went to bed. Luckily they still had water and gas so we didn’t go to bed too dirty. Well, I went to bed. Laura would wake up with every aftershock and tell us to run outside and Yohei and I would tell her to go back to sleep. Granted, they were quite loud in that house. Every aftershock would shake the wine glasses, windows, and sliding doors. It was also pretty cold, even with three people in bed and six blankets. This is Iwate without heat. Yohei and I were cold, Laura was hot in the middle. >.>

The next morning was weird. I put on my makeup and contacts, but none of us knew what to do, since we couldn’t take hot showers (the hot water was electric), and nobody had reliable cell phones, and we didn’t want to use up the gasoline. So, we walked downtown. On the way we saw the newspapers up in display next to the newspaper company headquarters, and I got kinda nervous looking at them. There were some scary pictures. The fourth public pay phone I tried worked, and I called my company and told them where I was, and had to calm them down and tell them that yes, I was alive and safe and had food and water and friends. Ok, that over, I felt better. We went to my friend Krysta’s place, and hung out with some people that were sitting around under blankets playing Monopoly, and had some of their chips, and Rylan came by, said oh hey Kim! great timing for a vacation!, and left. Later on we went to Yohei’s friend’s house. I didn’t know whose house it was walking up to it, but then a middle aged man I knew from the taco shack downtown appeared and it was Mamoru and Sasaki and their families hanging out! Yay! Yohei bought beer off of them, which I found hilarious, and we went to the store. They told us there was a 4 hour wait to get in to get groceries, but it actually only took about an hour and a half. We had to get in soon, because once the sun went down they would close. They brought out only some of their stock and had it in baskets in the front so that it wouldn’t be hoarded by the first people who got there, and did their calculations with paper and pencil. This time I bought lots of instant noodles and apples. And, hey, are those my old students?! No way!

“How are you?”
“Yes, I do!”

So glad to see their English skills have improved since I’d left. Although, they were the worst behaved, most entertaining students of the bunch. I had chanced to run into the students that would draw penises in class instead of taking notes. Thanks to them, I found out the graduation had been postponed until that Tuesday. I really hoped that I would be still there then.

That night, Yohei made some grilled chicken, since the fridge was turned off so we had to eat all the food before it went bad. We played cards by candlelight, and when it got too cold they brought in a barbeque and we put it on the table and warmed our hands over it. At one point we heard a loudspeaker on a truck go by, and Yohei said the dam was opening back up. After about an hour Yohei went outside for something, came back in, and turned on the hallway light. Apparently, 'the dam is opening' is Japanese for 'the electricity is back on.' We felt pretty stupid. But yay, now we can charge our phones!! Still no signal, though.

But that’s when we turned on the TV to see what had been happening while we were in the electrical/media black hole, and realized what people back home had been seeing on TV the whole time we were taking walks and playing cards. Oh, dear, is that were we had our cabin party? And that town that was destroyed is where I went swimming with Rylan and James and Emily last summer, and that town that was destroyed is where I went to the fish market with my host family…and the news just kept on coming in. We switched to CNN for a few minutes (yay, cable!) so that Laura and I could get info that we really understood, but the newscasters were just yelling at the camera and talking about doom and gloom and we decided it after five minutes it was trash and not real journalism and went back to the Japanese news. (How significant this dichotomy would prove to be later.) There was still a big flashing graphic at the bottom of the screen for tsunami warnings, and that didn’t go away for a few days. Also, now that our phones were on, they started going off with those tortured fire alarms every few minutes, even if we didn’t feel an aftershock. At first we ran outside every time, but then realized that they were just starting to stress us out, and if we didn’t have the alarms before and were fine, they probably weren’t doing much good now.

Laura checked facebook and made sure everyone we knew was ok. A few people on the coast hadn’t been heard from, and that worried people, but I assumed that everyone would have made it to the shelters.

Oh, and electricity is out in all of Tohoku?? First it was Kenta’s apartment, then Kenta’s neighborhood, then downtown, then Morioka, then Iwate, and wow I seriously underestimated the situation. Oh, and it was a magnitude 9. That’s a big number. Oh, and something’s going on with a nuclear power plant. Whatever.

Some timing to come to Iwate.

More later.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good post Kimbo! Glad you are back home. Looking forward to reading more...