British Sum…meh

It’s common knowledge that when referring to summer in the UK, one should always use air quotes. ‘Summer’ in the UK is ordinary at best, so for the few days the mercury dares to venture above 25 degrees, it’s taken pretty seriously by all. The country awakens from its slumber and residents go above and beyond to savour their brief British sum…meh.

Growing up in Australia, a county known for its sunshine and outdoor lifestyle, I was instilled with a healthy respect for the great ball of fire in the sky. ‘Slip, Slop, Slap‘ was the mantra of my childhood and later on avoided the sun like an ex you spot standing across the room at a friend’s party.

Apparently people in the UK were not given these same sun sense lectures throughout their formative years. Every time temperatures rise, the locals shed their clothes (taps aff!) and every spare inch of sunlight is occupied by a lily-white Brit…sans sunscreen. You can always tell if there’s been a summer’s day in the UK by the myriad of sunburnt flesh patterns seen in the office the following day.

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For the remaining 360 days of the year when the sun doesn’t shine, the UK population appears to keep fake tanning companies in business with their desire to look sun kissed. Not a day goes by when I don’t see the tell tale signs of a botched fake tan job…an orange face here…brown elbows there…hands looking like they’ve been dipped in wood stain…everywhere. Some Brits would literally rather look like an Oompa Loompa than bear any resemblance to someone from the cast of Interview With a Vampire

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When I think about a quintessentially British summer, images of beer gardens and pints of cider on the footpath spring to mind. For most of the year, drinking is an indoor sport for those living in the UK, but when the sun is out, so is this beloved British pastime. With the daylight hours extending to 9 or 10pm during the ‘summer’ months, a walk past any pub in the evening might have you thinking there’s been a fire evacuation…

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For the upper echelons of society (or those willing to camp in a field overnight), summer in the UK is all about Wimbledon. Regardless of whether you are a tennis fan (Roger who?), the grand slam as a great opportunity to combine all of Britain’s favourite summer hobbies in one fell swoop…drinking, skiving off work and catching a ‘suntan’. With a Pimm’s in one hand and strawberries in the other, British summer doesn’t get much better.

On the rare occasion when temperatures spike above 30 degrees, the UK literally bakes. The London Underground becomes an oven of unbearable magnitude, buildings melt cars, store freezers look like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie and people actually need medical attention…

The number one question I get asked here is ‘Why on earth did you leave the sunshine in Australia to come to rainy old Blighty?!’ Err, well…predominantly because my husband lives here and I like to be near him? But aside from that, and on a purely weather related note, because I hate the heat and I’m a miserable cow for a large portion of the year in Australia. Whereas in the UK, it’s socially acceptable to moan about the heat as soon as it hits 23 degrees. And there’s snow sometimes.

In this country, I don’t have to suffer summer all year round…the season politely shares the calendar with the other three seasons, just as it should. As a resident in England, I can safely step outside the front door 97% of the time without feeling like I might self combust. But most importantly, because a summer’s day is so rare here, that when it does come about, the country comes to life…and people actually smile. To quote Lilly Allen’s thoughts on London in summer, ‘Sun is in the sky, oh why oh why, would I want to be anywhere else?’

 

Grinchmas

Recently, there has been speculation that I might be a (the?) Christmas Grinch. Around this time each year, I sound more like a grumpy old man than a 35 year old woman, so I can see how this might be general public opinion. I would argue that there are only so many times you can listen to Mariah screech ‘All I want for Christmas’ at the top of her lungs before anyone’s Christmas spirit breaks. For me, that threshold just happens to be 0.3 seconds into the opening chord. So you can imagine my joy now that she has been on repeat in our office for two weeks straight.

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I partially blame growing up in Australia for my lack of Christmas spirit. When you spend your youth watching Christmas movies like Home Alone, you can’t help but feel jibbed when the festive season rolls around each year. Pop culture promised me ugly woolly jumpers, sled rides in the snow and stockings hung by the fire for Christmas. Instead I’ve had years of roasting in the sweltering heat, standing in front of a fan on Christmas Day…too hot to put on pants, let alone conjure my inner festive spirit.

Don’t get me wrong, once upon a time I loved Christmas. As a kid, my Christmases were spent with my siblings and cousins…clad in swimmers, eating watermelon and hurling ourselves down the Slip ‘N Slide for hours on end. Even the inevitable yearly gift of Val’s Towels from our great aunt couldn’t deter me from the enjoyment of the festive season. A beloved yearly tradition of new board games and epic rollerblading sessions punctuated the Christmases of my childhood…but then we all grew up and rollerblading became seriously uncool.

I’ve come to the conclusion that adult Christmases a pretty ordinary, unless alcohol or inappropriate gift giving is involved. The most memorable Christmases I’ve experienced in recent history are those spent with fellow sans-family-nomadic-friends, pooling together our resources to survive the day (see previous note regarding alcohol). Nothing gets me in the Christmas spirit like a group of 20-something year olds willing to lose a limb over a Lego Yoda, gifted in the Dirty Secret Santa exchange.

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I’m not all doom and gloom when it comes to the festive season. Where my Christmas spirit rockets off the Rudolph scale is in the gift giving/wrapping and general decoration department. Unsurprising really, given my love of *coughobsessionwith* all things paper. While I’m not bothered about the receiving of gifts, I love giving to others…and nothing brings me more happiness than the words ‘Oh, but it’s too pretty to unwrap!’

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The arrival of my nephew two years ago has reinforced my theory that children are the secret ingredient to enjoying Christmas. Kids love all things Christmas with unbridled enthusiasm and the true spirit of the season…it’s enough to infect even the most severe of Grinches. I mean, how could I not laugh when my nephew excitedly chewed a hole right through the Christmas ornament he made during our last Skype chat?! He’s made my Christmas already, even from the other side of the world.

So what if I detest carols, Christmas pudding or the swarms of frenzied shoppers at this time of year? I enjoy Christmas in my own Grinch-like way. I still watch Home Alone every year (I’m told Die Hard will be added to the viewing list this year), adore gift giving and dedicating hours to the design of a Christmas tree. As this Christmas is being spent back in the northern hemisphere, I also have the promise of snow to look forward to. Who knows, maybe one Grinchmas soon I’ll even take up rollerblading again?

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The Good, The Bad and The Aussie…

In case you didn’t hear me shouting the news from the rooftops, I finally got off that island (Japan). I escaped from the bubble. I jumped ship. I got the truck out of dodge. After three years of life as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), I hitched a flight home to Australia and those people who had begun to forget they’re my family. Some of you might be wondering what will happen to paperdoll now that I’m back? Surely without 400+ junior high school kids and the perils of culture shock to contend with every day, I mustn’t have much to write about now? I beg to differ…

I’ve only been back in Australia a month, but I’m already experiencing reverse culture shock after living abroad for six years (yes, there were another three years in the UK too…my addition skills aren’t that bad). So you see I’m home…but I feel like a foreigner in my own country. Even my family can’t believe I’m back for good and I swear my mother keeps pinching herself every time she sees me (which is a lot…since I’m living with my parents again…but that’ll be a whole other blog entry).

Right now, Japan and the UK are my most recent reference points for home and Australia is this strange land I am getting reacquainted with. As I get resettled, I will continue to write about my aventures in Japan (I still have so much to say about it all) and these new experiences of reverse culture shock…or as I’m now calling it…the good, the bad and the Aussie

The Good…

My family.

It’s the end of April…mid Autumn, with winter coming…and it’s around 25°C every day. Forget hellish Japanese winters!

NO MORE SQUAT TOILETS.

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The Bad…

Green tea in Australia sucks. Period.

Red lights actually mean stop, not three-more-people-can-make-it-through-the-intersection-still.

No road cones to feed my weird addiction…

The Aussie…

People wave acknowledgements of kindness from their cars instead of bowing or flashing their hazard lights.

I can say spesh, noice, netty, chook, suss, arvo, sanga, Maccas, cuppa and all other manner of Aussie slang and be understood.

Meat pies.

The Good…

The earth doesn’t shake every day…or…well…ever.

I don’t have to eat rice.

I now work for myself and I love it (WARNING: imminent, shameless self promotion: threefold.com.au)

The Bad…

Australia stinks…literally. After living in Japan I can’t handle strong fragrances anymore.

The speed limit is actually the speed limit.

NO ORIGAMI PAPER.

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The Aussie…

Everyone is up for a chat…the postman, the checkout chick and the pizza guy…

Men. With the ability to grow facial hair. With muscles. With height. With masculinity. Enough said.

Tim Tams, Vegemite, Caramello Koalas…nomnomnom…

The Good…

Anonymity. Sweet anonymity.

One word…organic.

I keep reaching for XL size clothing in stores…only to remember I’m not a giant in this country.

The Bad…

I can feel my Japanese ability leaching out of my brain with every English conversation I have.

Small showers.

No fan club of adoring teenage kids to stroke my ego every day.

The Aussie…

Competitive sport.

Fresh, un(less?)polluted air.

Thongs are things people wear on their feet and there aren’t many Kiwis, Americans or Brits around to refute the point.

The Good…

I can enjoy a restaurant meal without having cigarette smoke billowing in my face.

I don’t have to carry a wad of cash around in my wallet (though the card charges from my first night out in Australia might make this a moot point…).

I sleep on a bed…not the ground.

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The Bad…

No rainbow of KitKat flavours…though this might in fact be a good thing…

My Converse addiction will cost me double than what it did in Japan.

No amusing Engrish.

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The Aussie…

Triple J music.

The Hills Hoist in the back yard…which virtually snap dries my clothing immediately.

This…

Love Blossoms…

Well, spring is in the air and against all the odds (somehow surviving The Cold War), I have fallen in love. Yes, that’s right…love. But before you get too excited, the revelations of The L Word still ring true…I’ve not fallen in love with a man, but rather with the beauty of the Japanese sakura (cherry blossoms).

Last week was that one glorious week in the year when the sakura come out to play and bestow their beauty on us all. I was intoxicated…drunk on the perfection of their pale pink petals and caught up in a whirlwind love affair. It was all so heady…but now with every petal being torn from their branches, I feel my heart being ripped apart too. I have been chewed up and spat out by these lovely creatures…now left to nurse my bruised heart.

I’m not the only one to become a casualty of these fair maidens either.  Facebook tells me with pictures and status updates that others have been seduced by the sakura’s cunning ways too. All of us were swept up in the magic of the sakura…only to find ourselves now left broken pining for them. They are cruel mistresses, so what is it about the sakura that has us all under their spell? Why are we powerless to resist their charm? Why is it that when the sakura are in bloom, Love Blossoms?

Playing hard to get…

Clearly devout followers of The Rules, the sakura know how to play hard to get and they play the game well. In fact, they are so skilled at it, that for 51 weeks in every year they allude us, hiding away, teasing us into a frenzy while we wait impatiently for their arrival.

We are tortured, left hanging with unmirrored affection, sifting through mixed signals…wondering when they will grace us with their presence. Then when they finally arrive, they allow us a mere glimpse of their beauty before disappearing again, leaving us only with the memories…

But despite the sakura playing hard to get, we fall prey to their games anyway. So why do we allow these beauties to taunt us and meddle with our hearts? With all this playing hard to get, are we hooked on the thrill of the chase?

Catch me if you can…

Certainly, Japanese people are known for their appreciation of the rare…would you like some borderline endangered sea giant for lunch? Sure, sounds good. Oh, would you mind picking me up one of those $100 square watermelons when you pop to the grocery store later? Yeah, no problem. Want to try some fish that if filleted incorrectly might kill you or leave you paralyzed for life? Hell yes!

With this kind of cultural psyche, it’s no surprise that the sakura enjoy so much attention from the Japanese population, year in, year out. As the sakura blooms sweep their way across the country from south west to north east between late March and mid May, the entire country becomes captivated with the chase. Have you seen the sakura yet? When is the sakura blooming here? Are you going to see the sakura?

Enjoying the kind of fame Johnny Depp does, the sakura are the talk of Japan, their name on everyone’s lips as they tour the country. Spring brings with it the chase, as we search for them in every town, hoping to catch a sighting of these ladies in full bloom. When the sakura finally do make a public appearance and the chase stops momentarily, we are truly defenseless against them. When they arrive, we succumb to their beauty and become enslaved during their brief time with us.

The dating game…

When the sakura come to bloom, all their sins are forgotten and the pain and heartache everyone suffered over the last 51 weeks of absence quickly disappears. Life is paused and everyone prioritises seeing these visions at the height of their loveliness. The dating game begins…

Knowing that time is precious and we only have a short while to enjoy the company of the sakura, one’s calendar is suddenly full with a frenzy of events and meetings with these fair maidens. After all that chasing, when they are within in grasp, one has to make the most of it. Life becomes a string of long romantic walks, picnics in the park and night time rendezvous under lantern light.

But don’t be fooled…these devilish minxes get around…never seeing anyone exclusively and never committing to anyone in particular. The sakura will always have you guessing…wondering if today is the last time you might see them for another year…

Love hurts…

Just as everyone is enjoying the wondrous attention of the sakura, these charming goddesses leave us. Every year we know it will happen, every year hoping it will last a little longer…wanting to delay the inevitable.

We try to hold on to the memory of the sakura, long after they’ve been whisked away with the wind…and Japan provides ample substitutions all year round. You can try and fill the void of the absent sakura with all kinds of pseudo replacements…sakura motif yukatas, prints and ceramics, or cute sakura print stationery and stickers…all in the name of trying to retain some semblance of the real thing.

But these doppelgangers can never truly replace the original experience of dating the sakura for that one special week in spring each year. It is an experience that just cannot be replicated with fake impostors. So after all the hype, the chase and finally capturing our prize…the pain when they leave is unbearable, but inevitable. But as much as love hurts, it could be worse…

Comfort eating after the loss of the sakura might seem like a good idea. You could indulge sakura flavoured icecream or KitKat delights to try and console yourself with the loss of the real sakura for the 51 weeks of the year they aren’t in your life. But be cautious…these cruel maidens will have the last laugh…the blossoms and leaves of the sakura actually contain poison…and anything made from them (and eaten in large quantities) can be lethal.

So remember, love may blossom…but it hurts too…

Caught Between an Earthquake and a Tsunami (and a Potential Nuclear Disaster)

Today is March 22nd, 2011, exactly one year since my arrival in Japan to start my life as an ALT in Hitachiomiya. 11 days ago, that Japanese life was shaken up…literally. On Friday, March 11th, the east coast of Japan experienced the fifth largest earthquake ever to go on record and shortly after a tsunami, which ripped through Miyage prefecture…closest to the epicentre of the quake. As I now sit in the comfort and relative safety (has to be said…there were floods here only a few short weeks ago…) of my parents house in Australia, I feel the urge to document my experience of the earthquake and the week that followed…
Friday March 11th Now, looking back, I can’t tell you what happened on this day before 2:46pm, when the earthquake hit. I know I had classes that day, but I can’t tell you how many or what grade and I can’t even tell you what I was doing when the earthquake started…other than to say I was sitting at my desk in the teachers’ room. While my 1st and 2nd year kids had to suffer the earthquake in their 2nd floor classrooms, I was at ground level when the first tremors shook through the school. One of only a few teachers in the teachers’ room, I didn’t really pay much attention when my desk began to move a little. I just assumed it was one of our regular shakes…but then it kept going…and going…and seemed to be getting a little bigger.

Before I could look up from what I was doing, Isono Sensei was at my desk, grabbing my arm and telling me we had to get outside. Having never had earthquake training, I followed her lead and ran with her and the other teachers out to the car park between our two school buildings. JJ informed me afterward this kind of move is not recommended as there can be falling debris from the exterior of buildings…whoops. We stood there and watched as the cars began to rock back and forward, cracks formed in the buildings and a water tank burst, spilling water into the car park with us.

Isono Sensei clung to me as she lost the ability to stand…her legs failing her as the reality of what was happening sunk in. We were experiencing an earthquake. A serious earthquake (we later heard it was somewhere between a level 6.0 and 7.0 magnitude in our area). While I stood with a handful of teachers outside, we could here the screams of the kids still in their classrooms as the earthquake got bigger still.
After what seemed like the longest few minutes of my life, the earth started to shake less and the buildings became still again. We all yelled for the kids and remaining teachers to get out (not that they would have been able to understand my English…but I am sure they got the urgency in my voice!) and everyone ran for the soccer fields.

Head counts of the students were carried out and the teachers hovered over them like protective mother hens. Having said that, many of the kids were distraught…crying and screaming with every aftershock we felt…but very few teachers offered them sympathy. In true Japanese style, the kids were told to toughen up…no talking or even toilet breaks were permitted. I could do little to help them as Isono Sensei and now one of our lunch ladies clung to me for dear life, exclaiming over and over how shocked they were and how scary it was. I couldn’t move an inch as my clearly stronger and taller gaijin body was being used to give these women a sense of stability. I’m pretty sure the kids thought it was me who was the complete wreck though, with the Japanese women having to comfort me…
Somehow, amidst this human knot, I was able to free a hand and send a quick message to Mum and my sister, letting them know what happened and that I was OK. No one can ever judge me for my attachment to my iPhone again, after that thing saved my family and friends from three days of worry as soon after I sent the message and posted on facebook, all phone coverage was lost and so was power and water.
After about 45 minutes of waiting around with the kids, the teachers had a conference and agreed to get the kids home safe and call off school for the rest of the day. Best thing I had heard all day, as we were freezing on the field as the sun went down…and I had just started to wonder how my apartment had fared in the rumble.
I was promptly sent home and after a 20 minute walk with my bike (no way was I getting on two wheels with those aftershocks), I got back to my apartment to survey the damage. it was pretty bad. It looked like someone had ransacked my place in search of drugs and it was the first time (but definitely not the last) through the ordeal I was brought to tears.


The rest of the afternoon was spent checking in on the other ALT’s…everyone was safe, but reported about the same amount of apartment damage…and none of us had power or water. Hana was fairing a little better in Yamagata though with a battery powered heater and running water to keep her going.

Ben, Lara, Giles, Jay and I camped out in my apartment for the evening, sharing our stories of the day by candlelight. We ate rations of potato chips and chocolate, kindly gathered by Giles and Jay at one of the local convenience stores, then went our separate ways to catch a little bit of sleep between frequent and sizable aftershocks that carried on throughout the night.

Saturday March 12th

We woke up to find that things hadn’t changed terribly much overnight…still no water or power and therefore no contact with the outside world. Realising that this might be the case for many mornings to come, Lara, Jay and I decided to scout for food and water at the grocery stores in town to increase our ration supply. An hour in line at the front of ‘The Bird Store’ with other locals gave us a few bags of apples, water and cup noodle to tide us over for a little while. We reconvened as a group and the sight of a hand written message from Mieko on my door saying ‘Are you OK? Please come to my house. I have food.’ prompted us to quickly pay our adopted Japanese mother a visit. We spent a couple of hours chopping bamboo, making a fire and cooking up a hot feast of rice, ramen and sweet potatoes for lunch.

With hot food in our bellies, JJ, Lara, Jay, our new addition Genna (from Hitachiota) and I decided to grab some more rations (i.e. alcohol) and head to Hana’s house with the promise of a heater and water for the evening. At least we would have each other for company and entertainment, right?! A night likened to that of a teenager’s sleepover ensued…the only differences being alcohol, our ages and the continuing aftershocks. Some big enough to make us sit up in bed and wonder if we should bolt for the door.
Sunday March 13th

Still without power, our technology dependent group were edgy on Sunday morning. A walk down to the river was suggested and we indulged as Japan graced us with a warm 17 degree day in which to enjoy it. Our troop headed to the water with books in hand and while the others read, I found myself snoozing in the sunshine in an attempt to make up for lost sleep. My nap was rudely interrupted by JJ…announcing that power had come back on. I have never seen six people move so fast in all my life. Before we knew it, we were back at Hana’s apartment and lamenting at the fact she didn’t seem to be one of those fortunate enough to be reconnected.Inspired though, us Omiyans and Genna headed back home in the hope that power had been restored there…which it had! We were connected to the world again and quickly contacted our families as top priority. On the flip side, being connected to power again meant that we could see the news and reports of the damage in Miyage…and even more horrifying, the nuclear power plants in Fukushima. Just when we thought the worst was over, a potential nuclear threat faced Japan. Not ready to deal with that reality just yet, or blindly hoping for the best, Jay and I decided to escape our situation for a while and watch a movie. Giles joined us part way through and for a few short hours things seemed normal again.

Monday March 14th

Jay and I woke to find we were without water again…and now it was starting to bother me. As a person who showers at least twice a day, I was well and truly feeling unhygienic at this point…three days after my last shower. We finally caught a break though when our wonderful neighbour next door tapped into some magical supply of water in his yard (we still don’t know if it was a well/bore or the mains), hooked up a hose and told us to help ourselves. While the water wasn’t drinkable it was good enough to wash in and that was all I needed just then.
So with the kettle boiling, another pot of water on the stove and Jay making a few trips downstairs to refill our water bottles, I had a makeshift shower from my itty bitty bathroom basin. I even managed to wash my hair and shave my legs…I felt like a new woman.
Giles added to this happiness by announcing that evening that a ramen shop had reopened in town. With the promise of another hot meal and a beer, we all walked to the said ramen shop for refuelling. Nuclear disaster? What nuclear disaster? Things seemed to be returning to normality.


Tuesday March 15th
Having heard that Mito was fairing better than Omiya in the power/water stakes, Lara, Jay and I decided to make the 40 minute drive there to continue the process of renewing our visas…and hopefully get another good meal. Mito did not disappoint and while we marvelled at the damage in town (far worse than Omiya), we were treated to MOS Burger lunch, flushing toilets and for me…another year on my visa.
Back to Omiya and back to reality though…still no water. With the authorities still no closer to giving us an answer on when water would be restored, I felt the need to stock up on bottled water. If we had to survive on cup ramen for the next few weeks, we had to be prepared right?! I had the brilliant idea to raid the vending machines in our local area for supplies. Supermarkets were only rationing out one or two bottles per household which wasn’t nearly enough for my liking.
Someone had thought of my brilliant plan beforeme though and after hitting up two vending machines nearby and finding them pillaged of all water, I began to despair. But in a moment of fortune, I discovered that the three vending machines near my local book store hadn’t been hit! So I stood there with my small change, taking as many bottles as I could fit into the basket of my bike. Feeling relieved, I relayed my success story to Lara and JJ and they went back to finish what I started and bled those vending machines dry…Later that day, more good news…JJ had water again! In a very gracious move, he offered his shower to all who needed it…and we all accepted. JJ had decided to fly back to America the next day so we knew it was our last chance to make the most of his plumbing (so to speak).

Before we headed over to JJ’s place though, I skyped with Mum and and my sister in Brisbane. They had been hearing the continued and somewhat sensationalised news about the nuclear reactors in Fukushima and were worried about my safety. In a very tearful conversation, Mum begged me to think about coming home, if only for a short while. Seeing my family so worried and upset really hit a chord. Jay was feeling a little pressure from his family too and with JJ, Lara, Ben and Nick all deciding to leave, we started to entertain the idea too.

Wednesday March 16th
The day started at 7:30am with a two hour line up for gas. Lara, Jay and I bunked down in the centre of Omiya behind 72 other cars (I counted) debating what would be our next move. Jay and I were still undecided if we would leave Japan while Lara struggled to decide on when to leave. Hana called Lara saying she was driving to Mito that morning. Lara was offered a seat in the car which would allow her to get to Narita airport by lunch. Given that her other transport option to Mito (Jay & I) wasn’t really a sure thing, Lara made the emotional, but sensible option to go with Hana.

Five minutes after Lara got out of the car, Jay and I made an unsaid pact: we both go, or we both stay. We agreed that if it was just us, we would stay, but it was for our families we felt we should go home…for their peace of mind. So after many tears (from me) and reassurances (from Jay) we decided we would leave Japan and the life and people we love so dearly. But, the only way we could both bring ourselves to do that was to agree to buying return tickets…we needed a date we would be back in Japan.
After we got gas, Jay dropped me home to pack and he went to pack his bags in Daigo. A few hours later he was back, we were telling our families and we were booking fights…me for Australia, Jay for Canada.
While Jay was in Daigo, I went up to my school to grab some books and see the teachers. It was really hard to go there, but I’m so glad I did. My principal and about 10 other teachers were there. They pounced on me when I rode up, ‘Are you ok, are you ok?’. After I reassured them I was fine, I told them that I had made the decision to go home because my family were worried. In the typical Japanese way of understanding and compassion, my principle nodded and said ‘I think it’s best for you to go home’.
I explained in the best Japanese I could muster, that I didn’t want to leave and that I would definitely be back. My favourite English teacher, Omori Sensei was there and we shared a few tears together about my departure. Rather cheekily, I asked her in English if it was too dangerous to go in the buildings. ‘Oh yes, we can’t go in, it’s too dangerous’. To which I replied, ‘Oh that’s a shame. This might seem silly, but I was hoping to get my Japanese books to study at home…if I can’t be in Japan, I want to keep studying’. Omori Sensei…’Oh no, that’s fine…let’s go in quickly together!’ Bless her…now I have kanji and grammar to tide over my need for Japanese at least for a little while…
When Jay and I left Omiya around 4pm that afternoon, we were the last ALTs left. Ben and Nick had fled to Nagoya the day before, now Hana, JJ and Lara were gone. I had also been contacted by both Giles and Jeff earlier to say that they were headed to Mito together…Giles to meet with his girlfriend Nozomi and Jeff was taking his wife and little boy further south in Japan.
After around a 4 hour drive, with a pit stop for a greasy dinner at the Golden Arches (we saw three up and running in Mito) we made it to Narita Airport and rendezvoused with JJ and Lara. We spent the night camped out on the floor of Terminal 1…yet another restless night of sleep despite only one aftershock. Note: sharing one blanket between two people does not make for a good bed!

 
Thursday March 17th
We waited for our flights to leave Narita after a sandwich breakfast…Jay first at 3pm, JJ next at 4pm, then Lara and I flying out around 8pm that night. It was then that I really started to think about being home and having to say goodbye to my friends who I had shared the last week and this experience with. It had been a rough five days, but safety was now only 24 hours away. Every bone and muscle in my body hurt and I was emotionally drained.
The boys were of course typically calm and unemotional in their goodbyes…leaving Lara and I a mess after their departure. We made a move over to Terminal 2 and spent the day messaging our families, eating our last Japanese meals and keeping an eye on the queues for check in and customs.

By 7.30pm when Lara was boarding, I was spent. I tried to hold it together as I bid her farewell…knowing it would be quite some time before I would see her again. Lara had decided she would not return to Japan and that knowledge hit me after she left me at the boarding gate and I melted into a puddle of tears. Half an hour later I was sitting on the plane and all I could think about was hugs from my family, a hot shower and a bed.
Friday March 18th
Jetstar delivered me into the Gold Coast airport around 9am after an unscheduled stop in Osaka. Usually such a delay would have irritated me, but I was pleased to hear that the detour was for the sake of the cabin crew…the airline insisted that no cabin crew would be staying in Tokyo while the east coast was unstable. Instead opting to change cabin crew in Osaka.
I was greeted from the plane by a balmy Queensland morning and a tearful, but very happy mother. Oh and a nosey ABC reporter who requested an interview…which I politely declined. She had Buckley’s chance with tears running down my face after an 11 hour flight, seven days with little sleep and three days without a shower!
Now
Having been back in Australia for almost a week now, I am still processing what happened. On the whole I am OK, but I’m not sleeping well and having a lot of nightmares. I miss Japan and it is hard sometimes to be with people who didn’t experience the earthquake. Many people don’t understand why plan to return early April, but I don’t expect them to.
Japan is my home at the moment and all the friends I have made in the last year are experiencing one of the hardest times of their lives. I am anxious to get back, to help them rebuild, to try and bring a sense of normality back, but most of all to mourn with them as they grieve the loss of so many lives and the destruction of their peaceful existence.