Tuesday, March 29, 2011

just peachy

Since I got back to Georgia:

  • Tornadoes ripped through neighboring counties, and I had to flee from my friend's trailer when tornadoes were spotted in our area.  (I think tornadoes are better than earthquakes; at least you can see a tornado coming.)
  • My brother-in-law shot at bees with a gun while drinking beer.
  • I have eaten hummus, Mexican food, pizza, wheat bread, Twizzlers, and Easter candy.
  • I applied for a few jobs and haven't heard back from any.
  • I wondered why 95% of the people I saw at Wal-Mart were overweight and my brother-in-law showed me a jar of Baconnaise.  
  • I finally submitted my latest short story for publication.
  • I wore sun dresses and skirts until the freakish cold front set in (and brought with it hail and tornadoes).
  • I drove on the left side of the road for a second.  I never drove in Japan, but I was still confused.
  • I realized how amazing public transportation in Japan is.  I also realized how lovely and wide American roads are.
  • I miss my students and coworkers.
  • I've avidly followed the news and am shocked at how differently the U.S. media and the Japanese media are covering the nuclear situation.  I'm glad that the nuclear plant is more stable now, and I will continue to do what I can to support Japan.
  • I noticed how many cherry blossom trees there are in Georgia.
  • We found out that we will get refunds for our original flights out of Japan, since Zack and I both opted to take earlier flights.
  • I don't regret leaving when I did, but I do regret leaving without properly saying goodbye.
It's like I never left, and it's also like I was never here before.  I really do love the U.S. in all its disjointed madness.  Georgia is one of the weirdest places on the planet, so I am glad to be from there.  I kind of like knowing that I could go to a Turpentine Festival or buy pickled pigs' feet from a gas station if I really wanted to.

I plan on exploring my home state more this year as I apply for grad school.  I want to visit Flannery O'Connor's grave, the Georgia Guidestones, Cumberland Island, and possibly Tiger Ridge (for the Christmas lights).

I have a few more posts about Japan coming, too.  Hope you're doing peachy!

Saturday, March 19, 2011


No planes crashed.  No one tried to smuggle drugs in my checked luggage.  I wasn't quarantined because I had secretly been contaminated with radiation.

None of those things even came close to happening--but I thought about them all. More than once.  I thought about the plane crashing every time there was turbulence. It felt like an earthquake.

But here I am, safe and back in the place that I worked so hard to escape: southeast Georgia.  It has now become my refuge.

This whole experience taught me that I have some issues to work out with myself.  I don't know a single person in Japan who was as terrified as I was.  I realized that my anxiety is really starting to interfere with my life in negative ways.  It used to just be a weird personality quirk that makes it impossible for me to enjoy roller coasters and driving, but this time, I felt physically ill.  No matter what the news was saying, I couldn't relax.  My heart raced for three days straight and I barely ate or slept. I was constantly wired on adrenaline.

Buying a whole new plane ticket to leave Japan a week early might seem rash to some people, but I know that it was the right choice for me.  Even if I wasn't in immediate danger, my mental health demanded that I leave.  

I am grateful that the nuclear situation in Japan is not as horrific as it seemed in my mind.  I am still trying to digest the magnitude of the destruction brought about the earthquake and tsunami.  I am going to help Japan in whatever ways I can, and I will help myself.  That's where change begins.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

shaken, part 3

I am in Seattle. I left Chino yesterday at 6:40 a.m.  The 6-hour bus ride to Osaka went well, except for the numerous signs warning of earthquakes and showing pictures of cars slamming into one another. My teeth chattered when the bus's windows rattled.

I made it to the airport fine, and the plane made it to Seattle safely.  I barely slept because of turbulence and because I wasn't able to check the news.  For a few hours, everything seemed like it always had--like I was just taking a normal flight home after a year away.

A security officer checked out all the passengers with a Geiger scanner.  None of us had detectable amounts of radiation, for which I am very thankful.

I have been praying at least once an hour that the situation in Japan will improve.  The terrible truth is that they don't know how bad a total meltdown could be.  It could mean only localized contamination. It could mean that the Pacific Ocean is contaminated. I don't know what it means, and I can only guess that the truth of the situation is somewhere between what the U.S. media says and what the Japanese government is saying.

Zack is still in Japan.  He leaves on Monday.  I haven't slept in three days.  I don't think that will change any time soon.

Monday, March 14, 2011

shaken, part 2

The earthquake chime sounds like something that might come from a toy magic wand. 

Bliiiiing bliiiing called the speakers in the teachers' office.  I crawled under my desk and started crying.  That was yesterday. 

The Japan Meteorological Society says that there's a 70% chance of a big earthquake in Nagano Ken before Thursday.  Which is where I live.  The one yesterday was so small that we didn't even feel it.  I was at the end of my sanity, thus the crying under my desk. Every tiny tremor could be a harbinger for something much worse.  The other teachers were calm.  They are Japanese, which is synonymous with resilient and stubborn.  They don't let fear overtake them.

The vibe here is very post-September 11, without the fear.  So much tragedy that it's hard to believe. 

But, for now, we are still safe.  We are far from all of the malfunctioning nuclear power plants. 

I feel a lot better today. I turned off the news for a while last night and watched a funny movie.  (I've been watching the news live online; the network has earthquake alerts which give you about 30 seconds to prepare.)  It's hard to concentrate on anything except the mounting destruction. 

I have never been more ready to come home.  All I could think about yesterday was how much I wanted to hug the people I love.  When that chime dinged through the loudspeakers, I thought about their faces.  Catastrophe makes you realize how fragile we humans are, and how precious the people in our lives are.

I will try to post a map soon showing where we are in relation to the destruction.  Far enough away that we aren't living in an apocalyptic nightmare.  But there is a gas shortage here.  My main concern is getting to the airport on March 25, the day that we are scheduled to fly out of Japan.

We have stocked Zack's military backpack with emergency supplies.  I keep a few supplies in my purse at all times.  Maybe it's paranoia, but I feel better being a little prepared.  And I could use any peace of mind that I can find.

So tell your family that you love them, and please keep praying.  Some people think that praying doesn't work, but I know it does.   And please consider donating to the Red Cross or another relief organization of your choice.  I will do some research and post some links soon. 

I love you all.  Please stay safe.

Friday, March 11, 2011


I am trying not to freak out.  I am trying to tell myself that the earth is not moving. It is the still, solid rock that we have built our lives upon.  Steady.

But the truth is that it isn't a motionless rock.  The Earth is made of plates that move and slide and kill people.  Lots of people.

I was on the third floor of Eimei Junior High School yesterday when the wind started blowing really hard. It sounded like hail was tinkling across the roof.  Then the windows rattled like they would when we lived near Fort Stewart.  Then the building vibrated, like being inside a cell phone. That's when I realized.  It's an earthquake.

I felt an earthquake tremor the year I first came to Japan--2009--and it rattled me.  We were on the eighth floor of an earthquake-resistant hotel.  The hotel swayed like a hula dancer.  It started out the same as this one: a sound like things crackling in the wind, thunderous window rattling, and then shaking.  The ground feels like it is made of water.  It sways and rocks.  I was freaked out by the tremor, but it only lasted a few seconds.  Zack didn't even get out of bed.  The epicenter of the quake was Tokyo--far enough away to barely affect us.  It was maybe a magnitude 5.  Just a minor inconvenience to the Japanese, who are used to the way tectonic plates creak and groan.

Once I realized it was an earthquake yesterday, I ran downstairs.  It was perhaps not the smartest thing to do.  But I remembered the way the tremor progressed, how there were a few seconds of calm shaking before the harsh movement began.  I knew I had a little bit of time and that the first floor is safer than the third floor.  I sprinted down the staircase, barely feeling the movement beneath me because I was going so fast.  I ran to the teacher's room and prepared to crawl under my desk, clutching my water bottle.

The lights, suspended from the ceiling for some reason, were swinging back and forth.  The quake stopped shortly after I made it to the office.   It was longer than the tremor I felt so long ago.  The principal turned on the news.  The teachers slowly trickled in and stared at the TV.  We saw buildings cracking and ceilings collapsing.  A shattered glass bus stop.  Then they showed the coast of Sendai, the prefecture on the northeast edge of Honshu, Japan's main island.  The tsunami crashed onto the beach and flowed through towns.  It was black.  The flood carried cars and houses that were broken like matchsticks.  We saw cars trying to drive away from it. The teachers kept saying Sugoi, which can mean anything from "great" to "large."  I took it to be the same as Wow.

There were a couple aftershocks, but nothing as bad as the first wave.  No one was injured in Nagano Ken as far as I know.  I  woke up to a few aftershocks in the night.  I had to convince myself that they were real.

I'm trying to be calm, but I must admit that I'm a little shaken.  We're making an emergency kit just in case.  I don't think that we are in serious danger, but please send a prayer or two our way.  And let's all pray for the people along the coast.  They need it much more than I do.

Monday, March 7, 2011

paper-thin walls

I have decided to postpone my Facebook Lent. In case you didn`t realize, we are moving from Japan to the USA in a little over two weeks.  TWO WEEKS.  I need Facebook for coordinating events and such, and moving internationally is the worst time to abstain from it.  I still plan on having a Facebook-free month though, maybe in April or May, when my life is a little more settled and I don`t need it to get in contact with people.

In other news, I slept for multiple hours last night. This is a huge accomplishment for my overactive-overly-anxious brain.  I feel calm about moving back and have even applied for a job, but maybe my brain knows something that I don`t.  It wasn`t so bad at the beginning of the week, just waking up a few times throughout the night, but by the end, rest was nonexistent. I couldn`t make myself fall asleep, no matter how tired I was.  It was like the opposite of a Freddy Kruger movie.  I feared being awake.

Last night, I blessedly slept enough to have a dream. An actual dream that had a plot!  A dream means that I experienced REM, which is what people need to feel well-rested.  I am learning to calm my mind enough so that I forget to be anxious and trick myself into going to sleep like a normal person.

All was going well until our upstairs neighbor decided that their tatami mats needed to be swept at 6:00 in the morning.  I try not to hate anyone, but sometimes I want to throw a rock through their window.  It isn`t their fault for having children and for having to keep their home clean.  It isn`t their fault that Japanese apartment buildings are flimsy and sound carries like the walls are made of paper--because some of them are literally made of paper. 

I try to be fair, but sometimes I beat the ceiling with a broom handle.  I wish I knew morse code so I could beat out "Please make your children stop jumping" or "Please stop bowling with your children" or "Please stop scraping the floor over and over again and slamming doors for the love of all that is peaceful in the world."  But a few good taps will usually do the trick.

The whole world has paper-thin walls when you are as light a sleeper as I am. 

This is the kind of thing that occupies your waking hours when you feel old: resting and eating and trying not to comtemplate your own mortality.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


I just had to say goodbye to one of my classes.  Not just "Goodbye, see you next time," either.  Like "Goodbye, I`ll probably never see you again after March 25.  Ever."  Last English class of the year.  Last English class that I`ll ever teach to Class 3-3.  And I have to say it 13 more times.

It was sadder than I thought it would be.  I cried a little and wrote my email address on the board. 

The saddest part of the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima was the tattered school uniforms on display.  I thought of my students, in their goofy blue-and-white track suits, and I bawled.  Those kids mean something to me.

I wasn`t as involved with them as I could have been.  I wasn`t the super, above-and-beyond ALT that I thought I could be.  But I did get to know them a little. I taught them some things, and they taught me a lot.

I`ll miss you, Eimei Junior High School.  Most of all, I will miss those silly middle school students, laughing and chasing me in the hallways like I was a Beatle.  Making fun of how I pronounce their names.  The way they bust out with phrases like "Come on baby, cheese-u" and "I like women and money" out of nowhere. 

A life of traveling is a life of saying goodbye.  I always think of this song from The Muppets Take Manhattan when I say goodbye.  I feel that the Muppets can say it better than I ever could.