Thursday, 31 March 2011

Speed in!

There may not be any bottled water in the stores, but why would you want plain old water when you could have Vitamin Water - with SPEED!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Long weekend

We've spent a good part of the last two days new-home shopping: couch, rug, dining set, kitchen unit, bed, dressers, desk, and a bunch of bookcases too for good measure - all the things that two academically minded people need when they move from a dorm room and a tiny apartment into an actual home. Not being glued to the TV (which is no longer all chanels all disaster reports 24/7) and facebook has done wonders for my mental state but I can't help but feel guilty - here we are setting up our new home when so many up north have lost theirs. So we order the special donation dish at the restaurant, put money in the collection boxes that adorn every cash register, and look into other ways to help.

Day-to-day life seems to be returning to normal in Tokyo. There are still lines round the block at the pumps and many of the flashy neon signs have been turned off to conserve energy, but most stores have toilet paper and bottled water in stock and U has to go back to work again tomorrow. Mentally, however, we're not recovered yet. The other day at the furniture store a window suddenly opened with a bang and a gust of wind rattled a display. We all jumped. A little girl looking at desks with her father grabbed his hand and cried "EARTHQUAKE!" U grabbed my hand tightly. The suave store employee helping us looked around wildly in fear while two others dashed about trying to figure out what was going on. It only lasted a few seconds and then we realized what had caused the sounds. We laughed nervously and swapped 3/11 stories. The 5th floor of the store shook wildly, U's lab had a large light fixture crash to the ground... We laughed nervously again and then gathered ourselves and moved on. The little girl became engrossed in picking a decorated desk top sticker - which of her favourite characters should she choose?

And so it goes. One day at a time.

While I know that many have lost everything reports are showing doctors visiting the emergency shelters. New homes are being planned, and existing housing being opened up. I have hope that things keep improving, one day at a time.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011


It is bizarre how some things are completely normal, some facets of life are continuing without any appearance of disruptance, and others are still a complete mess. Electrical shortages and rolling blackouts mean that the trains aren't running or are running fewer trains. The museum is closed this week and we have been told to stay home - working from home if we can.

I have been torn between the Japanese coverage of the Fukushima nuclear plant and international coverage. My father has asked me to leave Tokyo and go to my host family in Kagoshima or, even better, head to Canada for a visit. But with our move in the process (yes, we were able to sign our rental agreement and pick up our keys last weekend!) I just don't feel like I can leave right now. So for the time being U has decided to also work from home and we are heading to Kanagawa prefecture. The new place isn't fully set up yet, but at least we are together and I feel much better with U (and his CAR) close at hand.

And yes, I promise photos soon!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Checking in

I'm sitting in my apartment watching the news and the destruction in northern Japan is horrific. The aerial shots of a wall of water engulfing farmers fields, the night shots of the fires and huge swathes of orange ablaze against the dark night, the huge numbers of people seeking refuge in temporary shelter...

I just can't wrap my mind around it all.

Yesterday when the quake hit I was at work. One of my coworkers freaked out as the quaking kept going and going and going and then got worse and so the three of us in the office went under our desks. The curators jumped up and ran upstairs to the exhibit space to make sure that the exhibits were safe - and found a few items had fallen over so they got out the camera and began taking pictures and documenting what had happened. The archival department checked on the archives and watched as an aftershock started sending the movable shelves up and down their tracks. Meanwhile the director of the museum went from room to room in the "backyard" to check on everybody and the reception staff went around the exhibit space and other public areas to check on all the visitors.

With aftershocks continuing to happen even today, the rest of the afternoon was a washout workwise, but most of us stuck around until 5pm. The train lines were all stopped, and many of my coworkers were thus stranded at the museum (they apparently made a run to a nearby convenience store and spend the evening munching on snacks, drinking, and chatting). I live close enough to walk, however, and it is a very straightforward route by road, so I set out. There were more people walking on the sidewalks than I have ever seen before. Salary men with briefcases, office ladies in their heels, harried looking moms holding tight to the hands of the kids beside them... everybody trying to make it home.

I kept walking. Buses were running but the roads were clogged and the lines at bus stops snaked half way down the block in many spots so despite the fact that I could have caught a bus for the last 2/3 of my walk, I decided to keep walking. That turned out to be the best choice because not one single bus on my route went by me. I actually caught up to and passed two of them - figuring I was moving faster than the traffic I might as well try for the next stop, and then just kept going. One of those buses ended up catching up to me, but by the time it did I would have been getting off two stops later anyways and I could walk a more direct route home than the bus route and avoid the somewhat lengthy walk from the bus stop...

So I kept walking. 2 1/2 hours after leaving the museum (with a few convenience store stops for snacks to keep me going) I reached home. A stuffed penguin had decided it could fly and jumped off the top of my bookcase, and a few other things on high shelves had fallen off, but they had landed on the soft pile of laundry waiting to be sorted and missing my laptop, so there was almost no damage in my apartment. Electricity and water were running normally and my landlord came round and showed me how to restart my gas. Eerily normal.

U lives in Tsukuba, north of Tokyo, and he experienced stronger quakes. His dorm room was a mess but beyond a desk lamp, nothing broken (one rather ugly less thing to move, and one more thing for me to "help" him pick out... he he!). His lab at work lost one of their machines but none of the scary scenarios my imagination was making up for why he hadn't yet texted me came true.

So we are both well. The highway between us, however, is still closed, so he is stuck there and I here. The real estate office is business as usual today so we are hoping to still be able to get out there and sign our contract and pick up our keys. If it doesn't happen, however, it doesn't happen.

Right from the first quake I've been on Facebook, posting updates to relieve my family and friends in Canada and elsewhere, and check in with friends in Japan. It was such a relief to be able to make those instant connections - to know that Umebossy and little O were fine, to check in with Achan and her kids... and it has been overwhelming to read all the comments and messages from my friends around the world expressing their worry and relief. Thank you.

My thoughts and prayers go to Sendai and the rest of northern Japan.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Things I love Thursday

- getting the apartment!!!!
- daydreaming about furniture shopping
- crossing things off my 'to do list'
- skyping my dad on my lunch hour
- my sempai smiling and chatting about a boy
- yogurt berry pancakes

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Picture-less Wednesday

I went for lunch to a nearby Korean restaurant with a few coworkers today. Two of U's helped ourselves to a stick of the ubiquitous pink-wrapped stick of gum by the register. The same gum that is found in pretty much every Korean restaurant I've ever been to in Japan. My coworker popped his piece in his mouth right away. I put it in my pocket with my wallet and didn't remember about it until we were almost back to the museum.

I unwrapped the gum and asked my co-worker "does this gum normally have green breath freshened specks?" He sound surprised and confused, and replied in the negative.

My gum was full of mold. Not furry white mold on the surface from sitting somewhere damp but green dots of mold growing from within.

You learn something new everyday. I never knew gum could go moldy like that. I'm rather disappointed didn't think to take a picture until long after I had thrown it out. And my coworker? He gave himself a stomach ache worrying whether his gum had been moldy or not too... (a self-inflicted psychosis I had absolutely no part in creating... absolutely none... heh heh!)


What happened to all the commuters?! My regular morning train is half empty! I actually have open space around me and no random salaryman's shoulder digging into my boobs or a briefcase hitting my shins.

It is like the twilight zone. It feels very very wrong.

Saturday, 5 March 2011


I was all set to write my TILT post on Thursday when I opened my email inbox to find an email that started:
Dear Sarah, your father is fine but"
(which of course means he is quite anything but fine!!!)
"he is in the hospital."
(fine?! fine?! They don't just randomly hospitalize people who are FINE!")

With the time difference it was about 12 hours before I could actually try and call my dad, and in the end nearly a fullday before I got a hold of him. While I knew he had injured his knee in "a fall" I didn't know what had happened so my over-active imagination made off with my over-achieving worry gene and the two had some sort of picnic where they feasted on a whole lot of far-away-from-home-only-child guilt. I know my father is surrounded by family (especially his wonderful elder sister!) and plenty of friends too, but he lives alone and the guilt for not being there myself was pretty strong.

U snuck out of the lab to call me as soon as he got my text message. He was ready to throw me on a plane immediately and then follow me as soon as he could himself. (have I mentioned that I love the boy? No wonder my dad does too!)

Once I did get through to my dad, once I heard his voice and got the story behind the "fall" (suffice to say that while I appear to be the only one in the family with the ability to consistently walk into doorframes and trip over my own feet, at least I tend to notice huge holes in the pavement in front of me) I felt a lot better. Yes, I am still worried about my dad, and yes, he has 6 weeks of not bending his leg (making all the stairs at his place just a tad tricky to manage), but he truly is fine. He won't be galavanting off around the globe for the research trips he had planned, and will surely drive his big sis batty as she has so kindly agreed to have him spend a few weeks with her at her (stairless) home. But once he can walk again hopefully he'll be coming to Japan for a nice long visit with his very far away only child.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Great Expectations 2

Having fallen in love with an apartment listing last Sunday, U and I went back on Saturday to actually look at apartments in our proposed new neighbourhood. We had been worried all week that the apartment would have been already snatched up, but to our delight it was still available. The agent took us to see a total of five places - all the same neighbourhood, same number of rooms, and roughly the same amount per month but still the variation was surprising. The low light was the place up a flight of stairs stinking of alcohol above a 24 hour convenience store... and the highlight was the listing we had fallen in love with. It was even better than we had hoped and we fell even further in love.

We decided, therefore, to declare our love for the apartment and propose. This being Japan nothing could be straightforward and reams of paperwork must be submitted. The first step requires us to apply for the apartment. Before we could do so, however, our young and very bouncy real estate agent got serious all of a sudden.

"What is your relationship?" she asked with a bland smile. I looked at U and he just looked at his hands, so the agent repeated her question "Are you married?"

"Umm, not yet." stammers U.

"Do you have a date set? A specific date and location?" Suddenly her perkiness is gone as she examines us closely. I stick with saying nothing and U mumbles a negative. Real estate woman gives us a last searching look, as if expecting U to propose to me right then and there. When that doesn't seem forthcoming she gives a long drawn-out sigh and announces that if we aren't married and have no immediate and concrete plans to be so, we'll each have to submit separate paperwork.

Then we had the fun of announcing to U's parents that we plan to live in sin. His father took the announcement stoically, simply nodding and then making positive sounds to my comment that this was the norm in Canada. U's mother, however, was less easily convinced. Her immediate reaction was to propose to me. Urmmmm...

And so the expectations mount. Any wonder my stomach isn't happy with me?!