8.9 | Memosne


I wish I wrote well. I consider myself a pretty articulate person, but I don't think that my writing sentiments could ever equal my speaking ones. Being in Tokyo during the big earthquake has basically topped the chart of scary things I've lived through. I didn't want to post this immediately, but instead I wanted to allow myself to introspect and figure out what to say. 

I think it all started out very innocently, with my dad calling me and coyly asking me if I would mind missing a few classes to hang out with my mother and him in Tokyo. Of course like any sane person would, I jumped at the chance and was whisked off later that week to Taoyuan airport. I packed my stuff haphazardly, grabbed my passport, and went over the checklist I had in my head. I got to the airport and went through the motions of traveling: checking in, going through security, taking off shoes, taking out laptop, putting everything back, and waiting at the gate. Everything was so innocent. I was so excited to meet my mom and dad again. I hadn't seen them for a couple of months and I was beginning to feel terribly homesick. Getting my dad's call and ensuing email containing a plane ticket was the best thing that happened to me all semester.

We had agreed to meet at 4:30 pm around the Citibank atm machine and my plane had arrived ahead of schedule at 1:10 at terminal one. My dad had given me very clear and strict information to head over to terminal two as quickly as possible and burn time until their arrival, and with my penchant for getting lost in impossibly easy situations, I made it my priority to make it over to terminal two immediately. Without my dad by my side, our family's Japan expert, I was feeling a little scared and sheepish. Even so, I still managed to make it to a restaurant and order something delicious, all the while checking facebook, email and updating twitter. 

Honestly, I was really excited to go downstairs and shop at Uniqlo. I was going to pick up some shirts for my dad, tops for my mother, and some summer dresses for me and my sister. I was trundling my luggage down the escalator and clumsily making my way to Uniqlo when the floor started to shake. I thought I was going crazy, but looking around and seeing that all the natives weren't scared by one of their frequent earthquakes, I figured I shouldn't be either. I continued walking to Uniqlo unfazed and noticed it was getting harder and harder to roll my luggage, the shaking was getting more violent and the windows and walls started to rattle. Dust started coming down from the ceiling and I was still slow to react. Everyone was. 

It was almost comical, when the young girl working in the store and I made eye contact and simultaneously we both started screaming. At this point, everyone was running and rushing towards the door at the front of the terminal. Everyone just had to get out away from falling things and danger. After growing up and living in California for 19 years of my life, all the earthquake safety and drills that I'd gone through as a child flew out of my head. I didn't see any tables, the door frames were made of glass, and the support beams I saw were creaking and moving violently. The cars were bouncing back and forth from wheel to wheel, almost like a coin does when it falls to the ground on its final rotations after being spun, and the noise...the noise was so terrifying. It was like a train was rushing through the airport, without stopping. The ground ...wasn't even ground anymore. It was moving so much that standing outside was much like standing on the dock of a boat during a bad storm.

Honestly, the earthquake was bad, but I didn't realize how bad it was until much, much later. After two very serious aftershocks, everyone in terminal one was evacuated outside onto solid ground where we were told to wait. The entire time I just couldn't help feeling very...alone. My parents hadn't landed and I didn't know what was going to happen to their plane, I didn't have a phone that worked and I couldn't call anyone, I couldn't connect to the internet, and no one was allowed to go inside for fear of structural damage. Sitting there on the freeway I quickly managed to attach myself to the first foreigners I saw for company, and the two men were absolutely sure this was going to blow over quickly. It's a little funny thinking back and remembering how nonchalant there were about the earthquake. One of the guys there was kind enough to let me use his phone to text my dad, and for the first time in a couple of hours I felt a shred relief.

As we were waiting and waiting the weather was getting colder and colder, many people were shivering and wondering if or when we could go back inside. However, they hadn't checked the building for any structural damage and they were still dealing with the people stranded on planes. Everyone was antsy to be home or on their way and every time it appeared to be safe enough to go back inside, we were hit by aftershocks that made the metal roofing shake and chatter. In order to combat the cold, the airport officials made the decision to evacuate us all out to buses and turn their heaters on. The long line of stranded travelers making their way to buses made me feel like we were in some alien invasion movie, where everyone is just trying to find one safe haven.

I managed to connect onto the mobile wifi there and quickly emailed my parents and used facebook to contact my friends. BBC news reports were pouring in of wild fires, casualties and people being stranded in work and unable to go home. My facebook wallpost had generated quite a few comments in just a couple of moments, people asking if I was alright, offering help, comforting me, but the most important one was a close friend of mine, Yuna, who was also stuck at the airport. That day she was on her way to Hong Kong to meet with a couple of friends and arrived early at the airport when the earthquake struck. We were communicating on and off and managed to figure out that we were stranded in the same terminal. Desperate for company, I got off the bus and made the long trek to the airport.

Like a lost child, I didn't know how to ask anyone where she was, or where our supposed meeting spot was. I was just wandering from place to place, grabbing things from officials passing rations out: a blanket here, ritz crackers there, and water for the night. I heard my name broad casted from the loud speaker and I jumped. She was waiting for me by the information desk and it made me realize that since I had left the bus I was extremely tense and scared. Seeing her, the first familiar face in what seemed like hours, made me feel safe and relaxed. She, an elderly woman who was also traveling alone, and I made up our motley crew for the night.

Without Yuna I would've probably never made it out of Narita. She helped me with everything from getting food, getting blankets, figuring out where to go, helping me rent a telephone, to playing Uno with me. With her there, I was fine. We tried to make the best of things and talked of what we were going to do, where we were going to go, and who were were going to see. What kept drawing out attention was the big screen in the middle of the departure area, it was broadcasting live domestic news of massive fires, the tsunami rushing over towns, the nuclear reactor explosions, and thousands of people in shelters: without food, water, or electricity. The death count kept going up and up. It was easy to not understand the quickly spoken Japanese, but still be moved by the images and stories of people in the wake of the earthquake's destruction.

It was hard to sleep that night, because the of the aftershocks and the general fear that we all had of another "Big One." Any vibration I felt, whether it was real or just my own heartbeat, made me jump up and ready to run. When the morning came I didn't know what to do. Yuna listened to the broadcasts and discerned that some trains and emergency buses were leaving. Yuna and I made it together out of Narita to Tokyo. Like I said before, without her I would still be at Narita. We met with her boyfriend and they were kind enough to bring me to my hotel all the way in Shinjuku. Even though they were tired and scared themselves. I can't thank them enough for their kindness.

At the hotel I managed to contact my parents, friends and cousins and made sure everyone is alright. My cousins invited my friend and I to stay at their home and we were finally able to forget about the disaster in revel in the joy that was family. Everything fell into place after that. I'm sitting here in Taipei, safe and sound, watching and worrying what will happen to Japan in the future. Worrying about my friends and family.

What struck me most about the whole disaster was that the Japanese people were perfectly calm and polite. When rations were being handed out, even though they had the opportunity to cut the line, they didn't. Instead they ran all the way to the back before it got any longer. Only the foreigners there were rude, loud, brash and cut in line. When disaster struck the sadness and despair were palpable in the air. Only Japanese officials, civilians and rescue people worked with frightening efficiency in trying to combat all the bad things happening to their country at once.

Because of the earthquake Japan's coastline has shifted 13 ft, the world has been thrown of it's axis by 6.5 inches, and our days have become 1.8 milliseconds shorter. Japan has survived the world's fifth largest earthquake in 100 years.

I realize how lucky and blessed I am to escape unscathed, while other people are much worse off. Please join me in donating. Everyone pray for Japan.

Red Cross: https://american.redcross.org/site/Donation2?idb=0&5052.donation=form1&df_id=5052
Japan's Coast: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12732335
Time: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2011/03/quake-shifted-japan-coast-about-13-feet-knocked-earth-65-inches-off-axis/1

Thank you for coming.

Thank you to Yuna and Alex, for being so kind and understanding.

Thank you Ami! Ami, the friend I met with later, is the sweetest and most wonderful person you could ever meet. She was alone during the earthquake and came from Yokohama to see me. We spent two days together keeping each other company and making the best out of the situation. Even after the earthquake she was excited to show me Tokyo and what fun, cool stuff there is to do there. 

Thank you Chris and Ming =). They were so lovely and wonderful to host us. We ate the most wonderful sukiyaki and played with their adorable lovely daughter. They were so comforting and reassuring in that time of crisis and when I didn't know what to do and I wanted to shrink away and be alone, they gave me the family reassurance that I needed. 

I love you all. 



  1. I did not know you were in Tokyo at that time!!
    I just feel like apologizing for not asking how you were, instead I was still giving you a silly blog award when you've just been through that. It seems so trivial now. I'm sorry for my insensitivity.
    Reading your post made me tear. Every where I've read, people talk about how strong and calm the Japanese people were and it just makes me so ashamed that I can't overcome what little obstacles I have in my life.
    I cannot imagine how lonely you must have felt and how scary the whole thing was. I truly am glad that you're okay.
    On a side note, I really appreciate Twitter and Facebook so much more. Facebook allowed me to check up on every single one of my Japanese friends and when one by one they reported back to be safe, only then I allowed myself to relax.
    Thoughts are definitely with Japan.

  2. Don't worry silly! >__< I already responded to your comment on your blog, but I was really happy to receive the award you gave me. =)

    The way that I saw people working together to combat all the numerous tragedies really sort of motivated me to be more serious about school and my life. Thank you for the well wishes Joey. ^__^

    I have to say I love social media. If I didn't have facebook I wouldn't have found my friend or my cousin.

    As you say thoughts and prayers with Japan. <3 Ganbatte Nippon.