March 30, 2011

Hints of Happiness

Today is major league baseball's opening day, traditionally a jubilant day for me. It is especially true this year amid all the tragedy and anxiety over the past few weeks since the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan. So I thought I would focus on some of the small pleasures of being alive rather than take on the more disheartening reality.

Baseball is a light in an otherwise gloomy time
Credit: ESPN

I’m no Roger Angell. I didn’t grow up playing organized baseball but instead fell under the thrall of the game around junior high school age, on my own terms. Once under the spell, for me the game morphed into leisurely relaxation in an increasingly busy life: the warm sun on my skin, slow afternoons watching Bob Costas and the NBC Game of the Week, listening to the Blue Jays on the radio on summer nights, and Strat-O-Matic baseball with the boys here in Hiroshima. Baseball appears to be regular men doing extraordinary things with fast reflexes, speed and agility. And right now, I think that idea of ordinary people doing extraordinary things is apropos as we see more stories of tragedy and triumph against the odds since the disasters of the last few weeks. In the near future, I anticipate we’ll be hearing dramatic tales of heroism about the TEPCO workers toiling away at the Fukushima nuclear power complex to keep the reactor cores from melting down, and aid workers doing amazing things to help the victims of the tsunami.

Japanese pro baseball had been scheduled to open its season on March 25, but that has been pushed back to April 12 due to the effects of the earthquake and natural disasters, power shortages and so on. But once it does start, I’m sure the ballgames will help lift peoples’ spirits. Japanese people love baseball as much as anyone around the globe. And for whatever reason, the baseball season signals that life is resuming a semblance of normalcy—at least for me it does.

Direct from the Disaster Zone
My co-worker S.C. introduced me to a blog created by Ms. Anne Kaneko, a British lady who lives in Fukushima, who has been writing detailed reports on what daily life has been like near the disaster zone over the past few weeks. Her personal account of the damage from the quake and its aftermath, including the nuclear crisis and fears of a radiation leak, is a great read. It’s a very personal and lucid accounting which contrasts nicely with the more sensationalist tenor to the larger news organizations’ reporting. Please have a look:

Humor is still allowed amid tragedy
On March 12, the day after the earthquake and tsunami, Lady E’s school festival went on as scheduled even though at that point no one really knew the extent of the catastrophe. The kids had been practicing for this event for months. Prior to starting the show, the school principal came out on stage in front of the assembled parents and the room grew hushed. She called for a minute of silent prayer for the victims up north and everyone respectfully went quiet, which only magnified the volume of the background music which the staff could not shut off in time. Specifically, we all said our prayers for the repose of the dead with hyper-cheerful Disney theme music in the background:
There was a farmer who had a dog,
And Bingo was his name-o.
B-I-N-G-O , B-I-N-G-O, B-I-N-G-O.
And Bingo was his name-o.

It was poignant and comical, and I was not afraid to enjoy the random element afforded by this ill-timed AV problem. Humor heals.

In any case, Elena’s class performed Cinderella, and it was a great show! She was one of the nasty stepsisters and I was once again very proud of her performance.

Perigree Supermoon
To you and me, Supermoon means that on March 19 the full moon appeared much brighter and larger than an average full moon. This is because the moon was at its closest distance to the Earth since 1992 due its slightly elliptical orbit around our planet. The storyline of natural forces that dwarf our individual lives ties in here if you think the periodic appearance of a Supermoon correlates with increased incidences of earthquakes and volcanic activity due to the moon’s more powerful gravitational force.
I just consider the photo below awesome!
Credit: CNN/NASA

Sunday afternoons babysitting Marina
It’s still chilly so we either bundle up our budding cosmonaut and take her out with us
or I sometimes am placed in charge while Naomi and Elena head out for some female bonding time. It is during this time with our toddler that I discovered that, by some miracle, she has very similar tastes in music to me. So we have been spending hours on Sundays listening to Otis Redding,

The Supremes, John Mellencamp, Van Morrison and The White Stripes. We grow bored easily, so I devised a way to further entertain Marina and myself: kiddie toy surfboard races.

Flinging Food Fiesta
And every time we feed Marina these days it is quite the show for the eyes and ears as she screeches her delight while eating solid foods and pitching the food around with sheer glee.

So, despite the challenges of late, time keeps rolling along and so do we.

March 18, 2011

Earthquake Existentialism

Credit: CNN
Since the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan, I have been astonished and touched by the global outpouring of concern and compassion for Japan. On a personal level, that has trickled down in the form of numerous emails and Facebook messages from my family, friends and acquaintances back home and elsewhere around the globe. Thanks for reaching out to us—we are most grateful.

Here’s how it all began for me. Last Friday, March 11, I got a call at my desk from Mr. H., a manager working at my company’s office in Tokyo:
 “Hi, we’re experiencing a major earthquake right now, and I’m calling from underneath my desk. Please tell everyone to watch TV and monitor the situation, because the power may go out, but tell them we are OK so far,” he said in a very calm, measured tone. Just the facts.  Needless to say, I passed the message on, but my workplace was already consumed by activity, with half the people raptly watching the bank of TVs that are affixed to a wall, while the other half were on the telephone.

Hardest-hit areas are in northeastern Japan. Map credit: Google maps
That first encounter with the earthquake has set the tone for the Rising Family’s response over the last seven days: levelheaded and careful. We have that luxury because we live about 1,000 kilometers from the areas which were devastated by the terrible triad of the earthquake, tsunami and potential nuclear disaster.

Certainly the initial scenes of shaking buildings, falling glass and panicked office workers filing out onto city streets were disturbing. These were soon followed by more videos of the tsunami wiping out a number of towns or small cities, taken by bystanders and soon posted on YouTube, which showed that we are all still very much at the mercy of nature. Then the ante was raised again, with a slow, collective churning of the stomach all week long caused by the specter of nuclear contamination which was relentlessly covered – some might call it scaremongering – by some of the world’s media. Through it all, my main source of information (with which I might have had to make some serious decisions) and communicate was the Internet: Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and even LinkedIn. Not the TV news, not the telephone. I daresay this is now the norm for many other people, too.
My experience has been that most people in Hiroshima, spared the catastrophe of up north and not directly threatened by any impending radioactive plumes, have been coping through a mixture of self-discipline, resilience, patience, and guilty relief that we were not directly affected. But the last week has certainly caused some introspection and “what if?” thoughts. It has been humbling, but just today I felt that we are moving forward again.

March 7, 2011

One Midnight Sandwich=Spiral of Disaster

It’s 2330. Kids and wife are down for the night. You’re working in a separate room--stomach grumbles. Despite the mantra of “no snacking after 2000” you devise your plan.
Quietly navigating the hallway, avoiding the floorboards that project loud creaks and give away your skulking, you slowly approach the kitchen. So far, so good.

Once in the kitchen, you carefully pry open the refrigerator door in the dark. This loyal appliance only utters a quiet, authoritative thwup sound as the door's seal opens. In slow motion, you take out the ham, margarine, cheese, placing them with care on the cutting board next to the sink.

You stop. It’s dark, quiet. No movement, no noise except the loud thrushing of your own heart as you listen intently for any sounds coming from the nearby bedroom that contains your sleeping family. Nothing, nary a peep. Almost there—Snackville ahead.

Deliberately, you pull out of the loaf of bread, opening the plastic bag to draw out a slice, when the loud crackling sound of the cellophane jars you into acute hyper-vigilance. You immediately cease all motion, even breathing.

Seconds pass. Maybe, could be OK…
Then a low sob of indignation comes from the bedroom:
Wa? waaaaaaaaaaa….

You hear the rustle of blankets when your diligent wife rolls over and utters soothing sounds in an effort to tamp out this spreading brush fire of consciousness. Amid this distraction, you abandon all the sandwich fixings, shut the fridge, and scuttle back down the hall. You sit, hoping, praying the Little One will forgive this nighttime transgression.

The baby’s retort: WwwwaaaaaAAAAAH!

Oh s--t. No no no no no no! But the cries grow louder, gaining force as a midnight crying tsunami.

Ten minutes later, your ashen-faced, groggy – yet visibly angry – spouse tramps down the hall and deposits your red-faced and non-soothed infant in your lap.

“You did it. You deal with it,” she rightfully spits out at you, and you manfully scoop the proffered child into your arms.

“Not a problem,” you say, confidently. “I’ll be back shortly with the sleeping tot.”

An exhausting 90 minutes later, you recall the howling, the lull of the dwindling whimpers, then the din of resurgent, amplified screaming, followed by the second bottle of the milk at 0100 which finally gets your ten-month-old back to sleep.

No sandwich ever created is worth this. It’s not quite Dante’s nine circles of hell, but you have learned your lesson: snacking after 2000 is bad for your (mental) health.

- Fin -