Monday, 11 March 2013

Thinking of Japan, two years on

There are world events that cause one to remember where they were and what they were doing when news broke. Man walking on the moon. Devastating floods, fires, hurricanes etc. The deaths of Prince's Diana, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse. The day the Berlin Wall came down, or Obama won the US election.

For us, March 11, 2011 will forever be a date like that for us, but for other reasons.

I was in Sydney getting ready to celebrate my cousins Barmitzvah. MissM and G had a daddy daughter weekend planned.

G took MissM to school, and opted to work from home (ah! the good ol' days), and was in the line up of cars at pick up time when the earthquake struck Japan that results in the tsunami that wrecked thousands of lives. MissM said they did what they were taught to do in an earthquake, tho she didn't expect to feel like 'jelly on a plate' when the ground started to shake.

My phone rang and I can't remember who it was asking me 'have you heard about the quake? Are G and MissM alright?

What quake?

My heart was pounding so hard I now know what it means to feel like it's going to burst out of your chest.

Of course the mobile phone networks weren't working and it took a few hours to get in touch with them. They were fine, shaken but fine. I  knew MissM would be OK cos school conducted numerous quake drills; I had also gone onto Google and saw the epicentre and worked out Yokohama was too far south to have been badly effected.

G's parents and sister were calling and I had no answers. 
Friends were calling and I had no answers.
There were emails to reply to, but I had no answers.

I wanted to go home and get the answers.

School implemented all the right protocols, tho no one had ever thought 'what happens if a quake occurs during the hours the kids are heading to school, or in the afternoon?' There were many lessons learned and new protocols introduced as a result. Thank goodness no one was hurt, and the buildings were safe.

Leyton House, our apartment block suffered damage. The indoor pool at the gym in our building burst it's walls and flooded the lift well and car park. Other buildings in Chinatown were not so lucky with huge cracks in the walls. 

Friends living on higher floors in the building lost ornaments and prints off their walls, furniture fell. A friend in Tokyo posted pics of her apartment on Facebook - it looked like it had been seriously burguled!

G and MissM hugged each other tightly that night; G made sure the earthquake kits were packed appropriately and was of course, on the phone and emails with work as reestablishing communication was vital to emergency services and the general public.

The quake created a tsunami and Tohoku was devastated. The images coming thru the media networks was shocking to say the least. People trying to outrun the water; buildings crumbling like matchsticks, boats on top of buildings, cars acting more like leaves in a river than metal weighing tonnes. 

All I wanted to do was go home.

All the airports were closed, one or two completely ruined by the tsunami.

I went to the Barmitzvah. Everyone was so kind in their concern, but it was the last thing I wanted to talk about. I had no idea what G, MissM, our friends, our community were going thru and all I wanted to do was go home. How could I say that to family and friends in Sydney when Sydney's home? 

On the Sunday afternoon, I was on Manly Beach watching my nephew surfing, when my phone rang. G said no to panic, but work had instructed e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e (as in expat) was to get to Osaka by 9pm that night. He and MissM were packed and about to go by train, and then Shinkansen to Osaka.

I wanted to go home and be there.

Stay and have fun he said (as if), MissM will be with other families from school, and be fine while he worked. The school holidays were a week away, so enjoy my time.

I wanted to go home and be there to look after our daughter and support G in his work.

That night, I was at BFF's for dinner, and my phone rang. G was buying tickets to fly with MissM to Sydney, and he was returning to Osaka as there was lots of work to do. Work had decided to wind down the Tokyo and Yokohama offices in light of the expected power outtages, and they were ramp up Osaka to cope. While that sounded fine, I suggested that it would make more sense for me to fly to Osaka so we could all be together, we could tour Osaka during the day and be together at night.

G knew he wasn't going to keep me away, so agreed that I would fly to Osaka asap.

Virgin was great as soon as they knew I needed to return to Japan but to Osaka and not Yokohama to be with family who had been evacuated. No questions asked. No addition cost.  I flew out Monday morning at 6am. Sydney International Airport isn't open at 4am (you know how you have to arrive two hours prior to an international flight) Who knew they actually LOCK the doors to the airport - well they do.

I was going home.

While on the coach between Osaka airport and the city, a friend/colleague rang to say his wife and kids were on a flight home to Israel and he might also be gone when I arrive at the hotel, so take care and see you soon.

What the?????????? 

When I got off the coach it felt like we were in a movie, running into each others arms, hugging and kissing. It ended abruptly with me saying 'why are the P Family flying to Israel? and who's been with MissM while you've been working?' G started to explain the past 72 hours and was angry that someone else had got to me first with half the explanation of what was going on.

Once at the hotel, I met, and have stayed in touch with several great ladies, all company wives,. Mr and Mrs V are awesome people and it's such a shame it took the quake for us to meet (husbands are not as good social networking as us girls); MrsS and I enjoyed being members of Chicken and Chablis in Toyko.

The other news G had for me was that the next day or so we were all bring evacuated to HK before being sent home. Everyone but him. He was one of the clever cookies needed to stay and help rebuild the networks and offer assistance to the emergency services. While we were very proud of him and his skills, at that point in time i questioned why he has to be so frickin' good at his job.

Nearly 400 expats - employees and their families were put onto several coaches and bused to Osaka airport that night. I will never forget hugging G so tightly, and holding back the tears as MissM was crying enough for both of us. Waving 'see ya' as the coach pulled out has to be one of the hardest things we've ever gone thru as a couple.

The company had chartered a jumbo to take us to HK - we were so spread out across the plane, it was one of the best flights ever! I had no idea there were so many families in Japan! I made a few new friends that night, several of which are still friends today.

We arrived in HK in the wee hours of the morning, and bussed to the most magnificent hotel I have ever stayed in (aside from the one in Abu Dhabi). The company were taking care of ALL the bills while we were there. We had a meeting at 10am to talk us thru the plans for the next few days.

A friend who's husband was with another company was also in HK (apparently between the Rugby 7's and evacuees from Japan there was not one hotel room left in HK) joined us for afternoon tea which was fun and weird all at the same time.

The meeting at 10am told us that we were all going to be sent to our home country, and that we were not to venture far from the hotel because as soon as flights were confirmed we were expected to leave. Their plan was to have everyone gone within 48 hours.

We were on the list to go to Dublin! WOW I thought, a company expense paid trip to Dublin - brilliant. Then MrsC said you twit, it's a one way ticket, why are you going to Dublin!?


I can't go to Dublin with a one way ticket! I need to go to Sydney. I need to go home.

After explaining to HR the mistake, and then waiting for their approval to go to Sydney and not Dublin, we were the second last family to leave HK.

We arrived in Sydney, got into the hire car, went to the apartments in Coogee where we stayed when G was unwell; booked MissM back into Coogee Public School and waited for phone calls from G.

Meanwhile the news from Japan wasn't great - the tsunami knocked out a nuclear plant, there was major concern over contamination.

G was checking Japanese news, company updates, information from the Australian, Swedish, French and American embassies.

Facebook was crazy mad with people letting others know where they were.

Slowly, over a period of weeks people started returning. Others never went back. Some went back only to pack up houses and leave again.

G came to Sydney for a visit. We stayed a few weeks longer.

We eventually went home.

We experienced hundreds more quakes, tho for some reason tehy are called after shocks. 

We helped fundraisers for the victims of the tsunami, we donated unwanted blankets, sheets, towels, toys and clothes, we organised events at school and learnt how to shop for food as news of contamination continued to circulate.

Friends started going to Tohoku and helping with cleaning up, or working with animal agencies (gosh that's a chat in itself). Our school adopted two schools in the area that were raped by the wave, and continues to work closely with the teachers and students.

Heros', angels all of them.

By May we knew we were leaving Japan and heading to the UK for our next adventure.

Every time there's a quake and friends mention it on FB, all this comes rushing back to me. And I wasn't there for the big one!

So today, on the second anniversary all I can do is hold in the tears, and not dwell too much on what the 3 of us went thru, or the images that don't leave my memory. Instead I pray for Japan, my home for 3 years and all the victims of the tsunami and wish that their lives are improving daily.

With friendship

1 comment:

  1. I cant believe it has already been 2 years ago today. I hope that Japan continues to recover and heal. Take care, BAM