Please excuse any typos; I’m typing on an Indonesian computer, and it is slow going, to say the least!
It’s been a rough week in Asia, I’m sad to say. From what I have read, the death toll in Japan is expected to exceed 1000, and there are still many people unaccounted for. I opened my email program last night and was truly blown away and humbled by the number of messages I had received, literally from around the globe: Singapore, the US, Canada, Europe, China, and even from Japan. Close to 100 emails, too many to answer individually at one sitting, so I copied and pasted a quick note to each reply, saying that both Saki and I were fine, and so were our friends and relatives, but offering little more detail than that. So here, with more specifics, is our story of the past several days:
As Saki had to be back in Japan for work, she left Bali on the 8th of March, arriving in Tokyo early in the morning on the 9th. For my part, I caught a ferry back to the tiny island of Nusa Lembongan, where we had spent several tranquil days shortly before her departure. There was a sympatico crowd at the hotel: Phil and Iris, from NZ and Taiwan, respectively; Marie and Sasha, from Denmark; Christine from the UK; Jeni from the Netherlands; Meng, also from NZ; as well as a crowd of affable locals.
The news feed from Japan hit the poolside TV, interrupting the regularly scheduled programming, and of course putting me on high alert immediately. When I heard that the epicenter was in Sendai, quite a ways from my Tokyo home, I was slightly relieved, but as you might imagine, I was unable to peel myself away from the unfolding story. By now you’ve all seen the footage, but we had to watch it repeatedly to catch the small snippets of English on offer in between the Indonesian-language coverage. There were messages of support and sympathy from UK and US leaders, but little hard news from ground zero.
And then, as I was en route on foot to the nearby village with my Danish acquaintance Marie, a French tourist on a motorbike, quite agitated, asked if we had heard of the tsunami warning. Until then, we had not known of the devastating 10-meter wave that had already hit the northeast coast of Honshu, and was reportedly en route to the Phillipines, Taiwan and Indonesia. According to her, the ETA was about an hour and a half hence. Marie was quite concerned, and pulled out her mobile phone to get in touch with Sasha back at the hotel. She was greeted with several text messages from family and friends in Denmark, warning her to get out if possible, or at least to seek higher ground. We hastened back to the hotel to retrieve our passports and money, and then made a beeline for the main road once again, in hopes of finding a ride up the mountain.
I should point out here that there was an element of “the sky is falling” in all this, as several of our hotel mates chose to stay at the ocean’s edge, largely unfazed by the tsunami warning. By then, it had passed Taiwan with no damage reported whatsoever; however, the warning for Bali had not been lifted. All in all, though, I thought I’d prefer to climb to higher ground and take some good-natured ribbing later on, as opposed to staying at the hotel and possibly realizing that I had made the wrong decision. Also, there were power outages at beachside, and I thought I might have a better chance of trading text messages with Saki from the hillside resort, which offered high-speed internet (sort of), powered by generator. There was also a verandah bar, from which we could watch the beach from 100 feet above. As it turned out, I was able to text Saki, and to receive a quick message as well, in which she assured me that although Tokyo had taken a pretty good jolt, all of her family and our friends had made it through with a minimum of fuss.
She was actually aboard a city bus when the initial shock struck, the only passenger on the forty-minute ride from her mom’s house to my apartment. Traffic stopped briefly in anticipation of aftershocks, then tentatively started once again. When she got to the apartment, she found that several dishes, pottery pieces, and so on had fallen and smashed, creating a fair bit of mess, but no irreplaceable losses.
I logged off the resort internet, and went back to join my friends at the bar. We stayed until well after dark, watching the whitecaps until we could no longer see them. As we left, we heard on CNN that the warning had been lifted, so we made our way down to the beach, and back to our hotel, where we indeed received the aforementioned good-natured ribbing from those who had elected to stay behind.
There was a bit of the smugness and relief of having dodged a bullet, I suppose, but it was tempered by the relentless footage of the immense havoc wreaked in Sendai, and by the heartache visited upon the denizens therein. And it seems, what with the distressing news about the Fukushima reactor, that Japan’s troubles are not over yet. I don’t have the words to say how strongly my wishes and hopes go out to all of the folks who have been affected and who remain at risk.
Also, to everyone who sent emails of concern, please know that I was literally overwhelmed both by the sentiments expressed within, and by the sheer volume of messages. I’ll be home on the 18th, home to Japan that is, after which I will do my level best to answer each one personally. You are the best family and friends a person could hope to have.