Monday, November 14, 2011

You know, one nice thing about being a slacker blogger who doesn't have many--um...any?--readers is that you don't have to apologize for the ridiculous time gaps between posts. Hee.

I don't know what happened. We got back from our extended stay in Okinawa and.... Okay, yeah, it's coming back to me a little bit. I recently read that a lot of kids start acting out around the half-year mark and R was about two and a half when we got back to Tokyo. And boy did she start acting out. I've blocked out most of it and I don't want to try to recall any more. But I do remember not having any desire to blog. Things got better after a few months though, and now, I have to say our relationship is fantastic. She's turning three this month, so--fingers crossed--we should have at least a six-month grace period before everything falls apart all over again: just about the time she starts kindergarten. Yippee.

For me, sharing one's life with a communicative kid is immeasurably better than with a cuddly unreasonable baby. I love the conversations I have with R. She actually points out things I, in my typical dazed way, tend to overlook. She helps me out, like when I'm stuck on the toilet and, too late, realize A used up all the stinkin' toilet paper but didn't put in a new roll. When it's bed time, and she's refusing to put on her PJs, I can actually say, "Fine. Then you put them on when you feel like it. Good night," and then leave the room.

R is being this amazing kid right now and I'm just holding my breath, waiting for everything to blow up in my face, cause that's the way I am. But I'm definitely not taking anything for granted or failing to enjoy the good times while they last. Sure, R has her quirks. She still refuses to really play at the park unless it's after dark--but she's now reluctantly able to share the playground with other children, though not too many. She still asks to be carried, a lot. She hardly walks--again, unless, it's dark (I don't know, I guess she feels safer, somehow, when she's less visible?). She has the appetite of a cow and it's a pain having to hear "I'm hun-gee" 263 times a day, let alone trying to appease that little stomach of hers. And right now, she has this annoying thing where she asks "What xyz saying?" every other second. You know how some kids ask "Why?" constantly? It's kind of like that. So, say we're about to leave the house and have to leave Edward the Dog behind, the ensuing conversation will go something like this:

R: What Eddie saying?
Me: He's saying, "Oh, I wish I could come with you guys."
R: What Ruka say?
Me: Sorry, Eddie, you can't come.
R: What Eddie say?
Me: Why not?
R: What Momma say?
Me: Because dogs aren't allowed into the supermarket.
R: What Eddie say?

Okay, you get the idea. It's hair-tearingly exhaustive conversation and is very, very difficult to put a halt to. Believe me, I've tried all sorts of distractions and commands, but once she's determined to know what everyone's saying, she'll just keep on asking. R used to love hearing me read books to her before bedtime, but now she just can't stop interrupting me, wanting to know what every person, creature, and thing on every page is saying. AND she asks "Why?" all the time, too, but in super-annoying ways:

R: Can we go to the playground?
Me: Sure.
R: Why?

R: I did it, mom. Say, "Good job."
Me: Good job, sweetie.
R: Why?

As I mentioned, R's birthday is coming up and the twinges of stress I feel here and there over getting her the cake she's asked for and trying to decide what present to buy her are huge foreshadowing for all the birthdays to come. Right now, she's little enough that as long as her cake is green (her favorite color), truly nothing else matters. But dear god, what happens when there are teeny, noisy little friends running around? When there is peer pressure to have a fun party, a gorgeous cake, the right presents, etc.? I know some parents enjoy that sort of thing, BUT I AM NOT ONE OF THEM. I'm already caving and deciding not to try to make R's cake myself, since I definitely do not cook pretty. I figure, living in Japan, it should be fairly easy to buy a green matcha cake, add a mountain of raspberries (her favorite fruit) on top, maybe stick in a plastic Santa (she saw a Christmas cake catalogue and was inspired), and--voila--you have R's dream birthday cake.

Well, for it to be totally perfect, there would have to be Jiji somewhere on the cake as well. Jiji is the little black cat in the Ghibli animated movie, Kiki's Delivery Service, currently R's favorite movie. But I...I know R is too young to conceive that a cake could actually be shaped like a cat or even feature a cake somewhere on its surface, so I'm going to be a mean mom and not even go there. Sort of the way, when she asks about a candy she's spotted in a store, a candy she's never tried before, I just shrug and feign ignorance, like, "Wow, I don't know what that is, either. Interesting, huh? Oh, hey, look, Miffy-shaped nori!!!" Is this terrible of me? I figure I've got YEARS of themed birthdays in my future and am in no rush to get there before it's absolutely necessary.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Last week, the news abruptly announced that tsuyu--the rainy season--had come early to Okinawa. I grew up in Vancouver, so really shouldn't complain about a few weeks of merely sporadic rain and mucky skies. But this will be our last week in Okinawa. This Saturday, the remaining four of us, plus the dog and cat (who incidentally still hate each other's guts, despite sharing a roof for over a month), will be returning to Tokyo.

Okinawa is to the rest of Japan what Hawaii is to the US mainland, and no one imagines being here and having to deal with umbrellas, rain slickers, moldy laundry, and dark afternoons. I'd thought we'd have at least one chance to swim in the gorgeous ocean so tantalizingly close by. I packed our swimsuits--which have remained folded inside my suitcase.

We've been making nearly daily trips to the coin laundromat to dry our clothes, since the only option at home is hanging things outside on the balcony. Every afternoon, the dog and I stare longingly out the living room glass door, willing the leaky clouds to clear out and for some color to return to the world. Sunday was all scorching hot blue skies--for which I was grateful, but I'm hoping for at least one more such day, so we can spend it at the beach before our time in Naha is up.

I was rather mournful about coming here, about living with my in-laws. Now I wish we didn't have to leave. It's been an incredible experience, raising R with people--family--around to help out. The luxury of popping out to walk the dog and leaving R at home or cooking dinner while R plays with someone in the other room or, at the end of a long day, having R say she doesn't want me but obachan to give her a bath (oh darn I am so hurt but okay then I guess I have no choice but to lie here on the sofa and read something on my iphone while eating this handful of gummy bears): This is the first real vacation I've had since R was born. I realize what a breathless race life is back in Tokyo, where it's just R and me; there is never enough time to do everything I need to do, from the moment I'm jerked awake by my daughter's cries in the early morning, till I lower her back into the crib that night.

I've had so much more patience for R and she, in turn, is calmer and less prone to tantrums. R is clearly happier for having other people in the home who she can turn to, for love, for laughs, for comfort, for learning. She has really bonded with my mother-in-law and I couldn't be more glad.

Sure, there are things I won't miss about our life here: For one thing, my mother-in-law has unexpectedly revealed herself to be a total TV addict. I swear, if the TV could be programmed to turn on first thing when she wakes up in the morning, like a coffee percolator, she'd do it. She has been understanding of my wish not to have R watch too much TV, but still, every other minute the damn thing is on at high volume and too often R will stumble into the living room and become immobilized before it--mute, deaf, and brain-dead--until my MIL catches on and turns it off.

Second thing I won't miss: Considering what a middle-of-nowhere neighborhood we're living in, it's freakin' noisy as hell. We're practically touching distance from an elementary school and are bombarded all day long with tolling bells, screaming children, blaring brass bands, and bored roosters. Then there are the uncontrolled guard dogs waiting at the front gate of every house, ready to explode into sound at the least provocation; the garbage trucks that play a tinkling tune at high volume, to alert residents to their approach, I suppose; and the stupid black motorcycle parked outside my window that roars to heartstopping life every night at around 2am. Am I the only one who fantasizes about shooting things with a gun--like that damn bird who starts croo-CROOing at 5am every morning?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

and then there were five

Sora-chan and her mom have moved out, and today, my sister-in-law's two friends who'd been staying over the past week returned to Tokyo. Finally, the proportion of people (5) to bathrooms (1) in this house has reduced to a reasonable ratio. I'm also thankful that I'll have less dishes to wash from now onward. My mother-in-law has been so wonderful, doing almost all the cooking; I try to pitch in here and there, but then my recent disastrous attempt at boiling eggs had her firmly reclaiming the kitchen reins. So I've been extra diligent about helping with all the washing and clearing.

The only thing is that Japanese meals always require a million different little plates and bowls--which adds up to a lot of dishes to wash. I used to work for my college's catering company though, so all the time spent at the sink actually brought back a few good memories. Like wearing a bow tie, sitting and chatting with the kitchen ladies with their pouffy hairdos while decorating endless cookies, and singing really loudly and going a little stir-crazy with a coworker in a banquet hall while doing a formal setting for sixty tables.

R's Japanese comprehension is really developing and she's beginning to switch languages correctly--it's "yada" when she's talking to grandma, "no" when she's with me. She adores having grandma, great-grandma, and her aunt around all the time, but she's been extra clingy with me, since we got to Okinawa. I was hoping to leave her with my in-laws and try to get my Japanese driver's license--a lengthy and time-consuming process--but so far, I haven't had much luck going anywhere without her.

Today, my MIL asked me how long I planned to stay in Naha, as my SIL apparently is planning to return to Tokyo at the end of this month. It's been reported that the nuclear plant situation could take as long as nine months to resolve. We laughingly agreed though that after going through the big production of moving down here, we had to at least stay a few more weeks to make it worthwhile.

Monday, April 18, 2011

today's walk

this is why I make her nap

R, after waking up from her nap. A slightly blurry shot. She was running at me pretty fast.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

missing words

I thought tonight as I was getting ready for bed that perhaps I was starting to feel a little lonely. But I'm hardly starved for company, and then realized the problem: I miss speaking English. It's been over a week since my last casual conversation in my native language. Oh well, hopefully, my Japanese will get a little boost from this total-immersion program I'm currently living.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

naha dress code

I'm uneasy about taking pictures of random people on the street, which is why I have no images to back up my recent observation that people in Okinawa dress a lot more warmly than I think is necessary. I don't know if it's because to the locals, 25 degrees Celsius is considered chilly or if it's that common Asian fear of sunshine touching one's skin (I do see a lot more women using umbrellas on sunny days), but so far, everywhere I look, people are well covered up. Everyone is in long pants and sleeves, but many go further, layering it on with cardigans, jackets, scarves, and gloves. I even spotted one fur-lined hooded coat. Today, I felt rather self-conscious, traipsing outside of the house in my knee-length skirt and--gasp!--short-sleeved top. I was, without a doubt, the most scantily clad person on the street and I thought I got checked-out by an old geezer waiting for a bus. Probably called me a hussy, in his head.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

clouds, sky, castle, donuts

When I look up at the sky in Okinawa, the clouds appear startlingly close, as if they'd get tangled in a tall building, if there were any around. Combined with the fact that I'm always standing on a hill, this makes me feel like I'm at an incredibly high altitude...though I don't think I am.

You need strong legs to live in this place! I ventured out with R to Shuri Castle this morning and although the distance I walked wasn't so great, the number of torturous old-style Okinawan steps (I'll post a picture of them some time) I climbed with a toddler strapped to my back, and the steepness of the rolling hills I traversed, had me groaning a bit on that last upward slope toward home.

I bought some malasadas donuts--am not a big sata andagi fan (shhh, don't tell)--at a curry shop situated at the bottom of the steps to the Shuri monorail station. It's on the left side of the road, if you're heading toward the castle. Look for the yellow awning. The donuts were satisfyingly large and had a wonderful texture, pillowy and tender. They also came in a variety of flavors: matcha with azuki beans, cinnamon, chocolate, custard-filled, and plain. They were just a little too sweet, though.

R and I enjoyed the monorail ride. The windows are big and clean and we got a terrific view of the city from an elevated height. The castle grounds have been spruced up a bit and we were even in time for a traditional dance, which was an interesting contrast of gaudy colors, deliberate movements, and somber facial expressions. R took in the performance with an equally serious expression, but I think she enjoyed it, since she declined leaving early, when given the option.

In the evening, after dinner, she and Sora-chan wrestled, tumbled, and chased each other, risking concussions at every turn and resembling exactly a pair of rambunctious puppies. I have to admit it was an adorable sight, even as we all yelled and tensed every time one of them went flying backward toward a sharp table edge. Sora and her mom will be moving out the end of this week and I think R will miss her first real friend--which is what I realize Sora is.

Just as I thought we'd finally get a little extra room in the house though, it turns out my sister-in-law has invited two friends to stay from tomorrow. Can someone please join me in a moment of heartfelt groaning? True, I did say my in-laws are good people...but COME ON. So for at least two days, we'll have nine women sharing one tiny house and one bathroom. I've been doing my best to avoid this, but with the additional visitors, I'm going to have to stay in the same room as R. I'm pretty sure I'll lie awake in bed the whole night, tense, and waiting to hear her little voice telling me she's up and "all done" with sleep. Ungh.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

moving in

This is what our new neighborhood looks like. Maybe I could have picked a sunnier day to take pictures, but I must admit I've never thought of Naha as a pretty town. As you can sort of see, it's a hilly place, and obachan (grandma)'s home is perched on a fairly steep slope, right smack next to an elementary school. From our second floor veranda, you can look right into several of the classrooms and watch--if you don't mind being watched back--the kids during class.

I've been deliriously happy with the weather. Apart from the odd cold evening, it's been shorts-and-t-shirts warm. Everyone in the neighborhood keeps their windows open, to let in the fresh air, and when Edward and I take one last walk before bedtime, the night is filled with the sounds of people talking, dishes clacking, babies crying, and children playing. I like this.
Below is a shot of obachan's ceiling. It's an admittedly older house, with cracked windows, creaky floorboards, and rickety window screens--I've already managed to yank down three of them. And there's one step going up to the second floor that I swear is not going to tolerate a person's weight for much longer. But as I've mentioned before, my in-laws are really nice people and probably the best people to live with if you were to find yourself in my situation. Despite the fact that there are seven women living in a three-bedroom house with only one bathroom, we've been getting along great.

Admittedly, there have been fluctuating tensions between two of our housemates: R and an almost-three-year-old named Sora-chan. It's been extremely interesting living with a child so close in age to R. Sora-chan is A's cousin's child and she is currently experiencing the terrible-twos in a most spectacular and loud fashion. R, who has never been possessive of her belongings before, is suddenly experiencing the frustrations of having her things snatched from her. The two girls have a funny hot-cold relationship--taking turns being the pursuer and the rejecter--and when they do play together, it's sometimes hard to tell whether they're really having fun. There's a lot of competitiveness, taunting, pushing, and whining. It's great, though, watching R running after Sora and laughing, wanting to hold hands with her, and trying to stand up for herself. These are rare sights.

I am starting to get a little cabin fever though because Naha is one of those cities where you really need a car to go anywhere. And we don't have a car. Heck, I don't have a Japanese driver's license.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

first night in naha

This will be a rushed post because I need to get to bed ASAP.

I'm in Okinawa with R, in my own little room, in my in-laws' house. Typical situation with being in a brand-new place: I don't know where any of the light switches are, my clothes are exploding out of my suitcase because I'm not sure where to unpack them, I can't find a single stupid pair of clean underwear, and I'm not sure what R and I are going to do for breakfast tomorrow, since I'm pretty sure we'll be the first ones up but I don't feel comfortable digging around in someone else's kitchen.

The good news is--ta-dah--I managed to set up the wi-fi thingy and so we have Internet connection. The bad news is the rental baby crib we ordered never came, and so R, who has never successfully slept anywhere without a crib, is going to have to sleep on a futon tonight, in an unfamiliar place, with a bronze bust of some man I don't recognize looming above her (there wasn't anywhere else to put her futon and I'm not going to offend anyone by trying to move that admittedly heavy head). She's out cold right now because she got up early this morning, didn't nap on the plane, and ran around this evening like a crazy person with her three-year-old cousin. Whenever she crashes from exhaustion like this, though, she *always* wakes up a couple of hours later, tired and furious but wide awake. This is why I've got to get to bed soon, since there's no telling how much sleep total I'm going to get tonight. Unfortunately, this old house is so dusty--I thought I'd be escaping my seasonal allergies by heading south, but am currently so congested, I feel like my head's about to implode. The summary: not much sleep tonight.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I realize my last few posts have been whiny and annoying, and now feel the need to add something redeeming, if I can. I realize how lucky I am to be able to go to Okinawa--to get away for a while, like a vacation, really. I just dislike the uncertainty of the situation. When will it ever be truly "safe"--how do you define that term?--to return to Tokyo? It's not like we even have to go, in the first it? Is A going to be okay here if something sudden and drastic occurs (sorry, my mom's still sending me daily news predictions of epic disasters to come)? What if something happens to A, while I'm over there gorging on sun, Spam (the porcine type), and goya? It feels so wrong to split our family apart, like this--that's all. I wish, when A had first sprung the idea on me to leave Tokyo with R, that I had stood firm and told him we'd stick this out together, no matter what. Maybe he even hoped I'd say that.

Did this post ended up whiny and annoying as well? Crap.

warm spring evening

The weather has been near-perfect, the sun has been sticking around longer in the late afternoons, the cherry blossoms are reaching peak gorgeousness, my seasonal allergies seem to be weakening, and yet R and I are all set to leave Tokyo this Saturday. I've been scrambling to find a way out of this fix, trying to think of excuses to delay our departure, but somewhere along the way, the ball got rolling, the air tickets got bought, the number of in-laws joining us in Okinawa increased, and the bulk of our belongings have been shipped over. Uhhhhh.

It's rather amusing how the females in my husband's family seem to be on the verge of a mass exodus to Naha, where the maternal side of the family is originally from. Here's who's going, along with R and I: my mother-in-law, my pregnant sister-in-law, my grandmother-in-law who broke her arm yesterday, my cat-in-law, my dog who loathes the cat, and my husband's cousin's wife and daughter. The latter two intend to remain in Okinawa for four years, while the rest of us have vague plans to hang out at least a few weeks, for now. Obachan (grandma) has an old house there and that's where we'll all be bunking. Cozy.

My two biggest concerns are whether I'm going to have to permanently wear a bra my entire stay in that house and if R's going to find out that people eat pancakes with syrup. Oh yeah, then there's the concern that R's crying from being forced to sleep in an unfamiliar place may prevent all seven of our fellow housemates from slumbering peacefully. Groan.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I've always been a terrible photographer: That's my apology for these series of photos, in which I tried, and failed, to get just one closeup shot of the cherry blossom buds about to bloom at any moment. Usually, this is the sight that fills the Japanese with anticipation and seems to accompany a sigh of warmth that spreads through the country. In Japan, the cherry blossom trees are literally everywhere and always seem to bloom together in one quick but extravagant burst of frothy, billowing petals.

I wonder, though, if this year, the sakura season that is almost upon us will pass with only muted and guilty appreciation. How can those of us lucky enough to do so enjoy the traditional picnics under the trees, when hundreds of thousands are still in mourning for loved ones, homes, and towns whose cherry blossom trees will never bloom again?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Dear R,

I'm a little worried about you--is that an embarrassingly gratuitous statement for a mother to make about her child? Although I've been told that a toddler's personality can drastically change as they gain independence and that the worst thing you can do is trap your kid with labels, I secretly cannot help thinking them in my head when you react to things in your distinct and, so far, consistent way: shy (the worst label offender), timid, cautious, sensitive, easily frightened, insecure, unadventurous, and slothlike (confession: I wanted to type "lazy"). I know, so many negatives.

It's just that while I try my best to be sympathetic, it is hard to soothe a frantic child because she is freaking out about a piece of string. Yes, you do this. I don't know, maybe string looks like the antenna of a bug or something? You hate bugs; but then, so do I. You still dislike walking and we have been having some major battles about your refusal to go up and down the stairs in our apartment, despite being perfectly able to do so. "Mama, hug," you say, which means: "Carry me"--even when I've got four bags of groceries hanging from each arm, even if I just want to run down quickly to grab something, but you refuse to wait upstairs alone for even 30 seconds.

I've been frustrated and short-tempered with you lately, R. I'm so sorry about that. I want to blame it on a combination of stress over radiation contamination and the stinkin' Claritin-D, which a quick Google reveals can affect your moods (I took one yesterday, too close to bedtime, and spent the entire night jerking awake, convinced we were having another earthquake). Maybe, too, it's the lack of sleep, since you've been waking like clockwork at 5:45am, ever since we got back from our three-week trip almost three weeks ago, so get back to normal already, please. But I also need to work on my patience, my sympathy, my tolerance for things I don't understand about you (e.g., Why is no one allowed to sleep in your presence? And do you have to attempt to gauge out the offender's eyeballs?). I just want you to know though that some day, if you ever want to get a tattoo, I won't freak out on you (well, as long as the design doesn't include a prancing unicorn or stretch across your face); your dad will, but we'll deal with that when we get to it.

One funny development: You are very into washing dishes right now. Of course you're providing zero actual help, and in fact are doubling the amount of time I have to stand at the kitchen sink. But the seriousness with which you attend to the task is cute. And to be honest, I'd just as soon wash dishes with you as play with some other game that would likely create a mess, a mess that I'd either have to clean up myself or talk myself blue in the face trying to convince you to help put away.

Your latest obsession is goggles. You first learned of their existence when you saw your grandpa wearing a pair while swimming. Next you saw a bunch of kids wearing them in a clothing catalog. You are adamant that you need green ones and even came up with the idea that washing your hair without tears and screaming might actually become a possibility, if only you had some goggles. I'm just not sure where to find a pair that might fit your tiny face.

Lately, you proved that you do have your usefulness. I was sitting on the toilet and realized there wasn't any more toilet paper. I asked, and you actually went and got me some. Awesome.

You're also very good--shall I go so far as to say naggy?--about reminding me not to forget things before going out: my keys, my cell phone, money (to buy you snacks--your words), the bicycle lock.

But I worry about you. Mostly, I hope you'll be okay about getting on an airplane again and moving into your great-grandma's old house in Okinawa. It'll be a totally new place; you still don't like new. You'll be living with people you haven't lived with before and you won't see dad for a while.

It'll be an adjustment for me, too. No more running around the house without my bra on--damn it. No more casual meals slapped together for just the two of us. No more crazy dancing around the living room. No more loud and impromptu singing sessions. Possibly no more Internet--it's an old, uninhabited house.

Oh well, at least we'll be together.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I always wanted to live...

...above a bakery or cafe. I liked the thought of being able to just pop downstairs for freshly baked bread or a good cup of coffee, first thing in the morning. Well, people, my dream is very close to being realized since...da da da da: Domino's Pizza has moved into the empty space on the first floor of our apartment. Well, whatever, it's food and it's just a short elevator ride away.

Yesterday, I actually received a visit from the store manager--a fresh-faced boy who introduced himself, winced and apologized profusely for the noisy construction that had been going on until now, reverently offered me a coupon for a free pizza as well as a prettily wrapped box of Japanese snacks, and then bowed so low I felt tears prick my eyes (who am I but a lowly foreigner, after all) and remained bent over until I closed the door. Only in Japan.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I can't help it. Every time I look at water now, I wonder. Every time I wash my hands and dry it on that same hand towel, is the radiation building up on its surface? My eyes were itching badly from pollen allergies just now and I splashed water over them to cool the burning--have I introduced radiation into my system that way? What about washing R's toothbrush with tap water? What about bathing? What about laundry?

I heard it was yesterday's rain that caused the contamination. It's raining again tonight--was snowing earlier. My rosemary plant is outside on the balcony.

which way to go

I don't know if it's really apparent from my posts, but my emotions have been yo-yoing like crazy, the past week. In my last post, I was feeling calmer, more resolved to stay in Tokyo. Then today, the latest news: radioactive iodine-131 levels detected in Tokyo tap water had risen to 210 becquerels per liter of water. The news was telling us to avoid giving tap water to babies one year old and younger, and also for pregnant and breastfeeding women to be cautious. To quote the linked article above, "For all people over the age of 1, 300 becquerels per liter of water is the standard regulated level, but pregnant and breast-feeding women may want to tighten the standard to 100 becquerels per liter." R is two; she won't be getting tap water any longer.

But A and I agree that maybe it is time for me to consider taking R out of Tokyo--without A. The biggest problem right now is that bottled water was already hard to find before today's latest announcement. Stores have been limiting customers to one bottle per person. I have a feeling that by tomorrow, bottled water will be constantly sold out. And if I am to use bottled water to cook R's food as well, we'll need a lot more than what we have and what's available.

I can't convey how torn I am, how distressed. This contaminated water could be a long-term problem. If R and I leave Japan, we may not see A for months.

But it seems the decision to leave has already been made. It's only a matter of time before we run out of bottled water. The question now is where to go. There are two options: back to Singapore, to stay with my parents, or Okinawa with my in-laws. Can I be totally honest and admit that the prospect of living for months with either my parents or in-laws makes me queasy? My parents are, hands down, more annoying--but at least I can yell at them and tell them I think so. The in-laws are wonderful people, but when I'm with them, there is a certain level of civility and restraint that must be maintained, and the thought of not being able to totally relax ever is distressing. The main reason I'm leaning toward Okinawa, though, is because it's only a two-hour flight from Tokyo and at least A could come visit us once in a while. On the other hand, R is already familiar with my parents' home, since we were just there for almost a month--they have a crib for her, toys, books, a car seat; their apartment complex also has a pool, which R adores. My in-laws' home in Naha is admittedly super-old, completely unfamiliar to R, pretty far from any public transportation.

I just don't know.

Friday, March 18, 2011

lost and found

Four more people I know have left or are planning to leave Japan. Yesterday, I bumped into a neighbor who was on her way to the train station and headed for Osaka. I can't deny the jolt I feel when someone sends me a "By the way, I'm in Canada" email.

But for now, I'm staying (I think someone actually started a Facebook group with a name like that. Seriously!). The reasons, listed in order of importance: I can't leave my Japanese husband behind, I don't want to disrupt R's life when she's so obviously happy to be home again, we *just* got back from being overseas and I'm not eager to board a plane any time soon, and I still don't think we are close enough (240km, to be precise) to the Fukushima nuclear plant be at risk of exposure to dangerous radiation levels.

I do not judge the people who are leaving. If you have the luxury of somewhere to escape to, if you have people you want to protect, if you're starting to go bald from the stress of waiting for something to happen, GO. But I think those of us foreigners who are choosing to stay have ties to this country--or at least spouses who aren't budging. Not only is my husband here, so are R's grandparents and great-grandparents, so is my sister-in-law who is four months pregnant. Heck, my dog is here--am I supposed to put him on a raft with food and water and wish him luck?

Somehow, without me realizing it, Japan has become more of a home to me than anywhere else. Maybe that's not saying much, considering I've never felt strongly about the places I've lived. But this realization is a surprise to me and, despite the circumstances, makes me glad. Now let's just hope the big fat heading on tomorrow's newspaper isn't: Get the Hell Out.

latest stats on post-quake japan

Taken from recent Reuters article:

Supplies of water, heating oil and fuel are low at evacuation centers, where many survivors wait bundled in blankets. Many elderly lack proper medical supplies. Food is often rationed. [I saw on the news what the people at one evacuation center received for lunch: a ball of rice the size of a plum and a quarter of an apple.]

Nearly 320,000 households in the north were still without electricity in near-freezing weather as of Friday afternoon, Tohuku Electric Power Co said, and the government said at least 1.6 million households lacked running water.

The National Police Agency said on Friday it had confirmed 6,539 deaths from the quake and tsunami disaster, exceeding 6,434 who died after the Kobe earthquake in 1995. But 10,354 people are still missing.

naked shaking

You know that thing people always say about not wanting to be caught without undies in the event of an emergency? Well, guess which idiot decided to take a long bath when earthquakes are on everyone's mind and aftershocks are still occurring daily?

I had good intentions. The living room was so cold yesterday because I've been trying my best to conserve energy, by not using the heater. Edward the Dog and I looked at each other, both of us shivering and miserable, and I decided that at least one of us should be given a short reprieve. So I ran myself a bath, got out an old paperback novel, and settled in for a nice soak. Unfortunately, just as the water was approaching that uncomfortably lukewarm point, another quake started.

I'm ashamed to admit that for longer than a moment, I hesitated. Book held aloft, I assessed the shaking--or, rather, the sloshing water--and decided that (a) it was just another mini aftershock and (b) it would be *really* cold getting out of the water. That's really wrong, isn't it? I should have leaped out and at least put some clothes on. I'm worried that I'm getting complacent.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

what's left behind

Almost all the foreigners I know have fled Tokyo or even Japan--probably at the urging of concerned loved ones glued to their tellies. My mom tells me on a daily basis that she fears the situation in Japan is getting worse and sends me frequent little emails of impending doom predicted by CNN. And yet, today I woke up feeling a lot calmer [damn, I think I spoke too soon: we're having another quake...ohhh-kaaay, not as bad as yesterday night].

Yes, the mini quakes that occur daily keep us a little on the edge of our seats. Yes, I'm terrified at the thought that I'll be upstairs and R downstairs if another big earthquake strikes. Yes, we are now having to deal with four overheating nuclear reactors and I can't help thinking "Is that it?" when the big solution seems to be: So we're going to drizzle seawater over 'em.

But I've heard that meat and rice are reappearing on the supermarket shelves. Now I just have to keep my fingers crossed about diapers--Amazon Japan and Babies R Us Japan were sold out the last time I checked--though I have enough for now to last me over a week.

And I just learned that they have started testing the radiation levels in Tokyo on an hourly basis and are even publishing the results online. In this regard, the government is trying to keep on top of the situation and I feel more assured than I did yesterday.
Finally got to watch some news with simultaneous English interpretation on TV and feel so ashamed of my self-absorption with the threat of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant. Although it seems that's the topic on almost everyone's mind, rather than the thousands of people who are currently stranded without water or heat.

It is bitterly cold tonight. Even R didn't want to go outside this afternoon, for which I was supremely grateful. But the conditions over here are nothing compared to what many people farther up north are enduring. The news reveals that those towns destroyed by earthquake and tsunami are now turning white with heavy snowfall. And many of the people over there are without adequate clothes, blankets, heat, food, you name it.

Even worse, there are people around the 30km radius from the nuclear plant who have been all but stranded and deserted. There is no gas to travel out. And truck drivers are too afraid to venture that close to the plant to bring basic supplies, even though that distance is in fact still safe.

The multiple issues over at the nuclear plant are serious, no doubt. But I fear that a lot of people are suffering because the media is focusing so much on the dramatic radiation threat and building up our anxieties to the point that we have forgotten there are people facing far more immediate, critical, and real problems.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Yikes, we just had another quake. Not big (3 where I am, but 6 in another region), but longer than the average mini quakes we regularly get in Japan. They've been happening pretty frequently since the big one on Friday. Deep breath,

Monday, March 14, 2011

I can't shake this constant feeling of dread and anxiety and I don't know if it's because there's a damn nuclear reactor leaking radiation a bit too close to home or because that's how I tend to feel when I'm taking Clarinase. Yeah, that's right, seasonal allergies don't get put on hold just because there are more pressing issues at hand. Apologies in advance if any of my comments seem to have come from a fuzzy brain--they have.

I keep encountering conflicting scenes that are keeping me in a state of unbalance. Yesterday, I was completely taken off guard when a visit to the nearby supermarket revealed a scene of restrained chaos. The first shock was that the shelves that normally hold diapers and toilet paper were completely emptied. And no one knew when new stock would arrive. And I only had two rolls of toilet paper left in the house. As my footsteps unconsciously sped up, I spotted more and more gaping sections of shelves where meat, rice, and bread used to be. It was hard not to panic, not to start snatching up whatever was left, not to take things I ordinarily wouldn't reach for.

Suddenly, I spotted a woman holding the Holy Grail: toilet paper! Trying not to jump on her like a rabid animal, I asked her where she had found hers and quickly followed her directions to a nearby store. I guess I wasn't totally taken aback when I saw the long line of people snaking out the door. The store worker unpacking the toilet paper told us very sweetly to each take just one pack. Despite the feeling of desperation in the air, I noticed everyone around me remained kind and helpful with each other. No rioting for the Japanese, thank god.

While we waited to pay for the precious toilet paper clutched in my arms, R glanced back and forth at all the people ahead of and behind us, and asked in amusement what everyone was doing. Thank god she managed to be distracted by a banana, since our shopping trip had taken twice as long as planned. As we emerged from one supermarket, I noticed the checkout lines had tripled in length.

Later in the afternoon, though, a stroll through a nearby park revealed couples cuddling on benches, people walking their dogs, old men drinking beer and fishing. Today, we saw a man washing his car, two ladies buying flowers, a mother pushing her son on a swing, people tending their gardens: the mundane and the frivolous, everyday life. When all the images being repeatedly displayed on the news show entire towns swallowed up by water, fires at nuclear plants, people lost and crying, it feels wrong to want to buy vanilla essence because you're running out. I look at the man sitting in the real estate office, the construction workers continuing to build that new house across from us, all those thousands of people cramming the train stations to capacity, lining up for miles and waiting for hours to get on a train to get to work: I marvel at their determination and optimism. It's tempting to want to huddle at home and listen to the dire news on the TV and radio all day long, but I think a lot of people around me are doing their best to get on with life. Having a toddler around has forced me to do the same: There are meals to cook, dirty fingers to wash, sand to shovel, naps to enforce. No time to just sit around and brood, though that doesn't mean my mind isn't racing when it's given the chance.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


I'm sorry that it took a major disaster to get me blogging again, but here I am, mostly for my own sake, to get all my fears off my chest, to calm the panic, to share what's going on here in Tokyo.

The funny thing is that A, R, and I were all out of the country when the earthquake struck. A was in the US on a business trip. R and I were overseas, visiting my parents. Unfortunately, we were all scheduled to fly back the following day. A part of me hoped Narita Airport would stay closed, forcing all of us to stay away. It didn't. So here we are, back in Japan, four days later.

We actually arrived Saturday afternoon, our two flights close enough in time for A and I to meet at Narita and attempt to return to our apartment together. As soon as I called A from my cell phone after getting off the plane, and he explained the transportation situation, that's when the doubts started coming. The trains--really, the only decent way to get to and from the airport--had all stopped after the quake and many of them were still not running. Schedules were completely thrown to the wind. The only ones functioning were the local trains, which would stop at every single station. It could take hours--hours of standing, changing trains, waiting for new ones--to get home. And we happened to have a two year old with us, one who hadn't slept a wink on the plane and was already letting me know matter-of-factly that she was well and done with all this traveling business. I've bitched and moaned about it countless times, but never had the distance from Narita to Tokyo seemed so far as it did that night.

It was getting late, R was getting ornerier, and we finally got off the train, caught a taxi to Makuhari--a neighborhood near Disneyland--and checked into a hotel. It turned out to be an interesting stay. Makuhari is one of the newer residential areas, built on a landfill--not the most stable place to be during an earthquake. Although the proof of that wasn't clear until we woke up the next morning and took a walk down the street. Many of the sidewalks had actually buckled and cracked, and huge pools of mud had seeped through the cracks to cover entire sections of walkways and roads. And we were in Tokyo, which had supposedly been spared the full force of the quake.

I also saw, in a nearby neighborhood, people lining up for water.

Luckily, the trains we needed to get home were up and running, and we made it in about two hours. Even luckier, our apartment survived the 5.0 earthquake with only a single casualty: an overturned potted plant.

Unfortunately, the situation at the nuclear plant as well as the threat of additional earthquakes still hang over our heads, making the overall atmosphere tense. Well, I for one am feeling tense. And as selfish as this sounds, a part of me regrets returning to Japan. Yes, my husband is here, my home is here, but all I can think about right now is R. All my protective mom instincts are telling me that I should never have brought her back here. She's only two and doesn't have a clue what's happening, what could still happen. If it were just me, I would have come back to Japan and A without hesitation. But now I'm scared. I wonder, if there's another big earthquake, if everything comes crashing down and the streets are impassable, how am I going to get her to safety? How am I going to keep her safe and warm and clean and dry and not hurt, not hungry, not thirsty, not terrified?

The people in Sendai and the surrounding areas are the ones suffering right now and in desperate need of aid. I know I should be getting my act together and doing all I can to help. I know that.