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Friday, March 11, 2011

Cracked Facade

I couldn't hold it together this morning when I heard the description on the radio of the earthquake, landslides and tsunamis affecting Japan. I cried.

I had an e-mail this morning from Tets that he and his parents are fine; I am not even sure if he is in Japan or not, but that some members of his mothers family are yet to be accounted for.

Hannah saw me crying and asked me why I was crying if, as I had told her, Daddy, Baba and Jiji were alright. How could I explain to her that this event had taken me back in time to the major earthquake I had experienced when living in Taiwan- 21, September, 1999. Over 2,000 lives were lost and we lived with aftershocks on a daily basis for about six month afterward.

It was thrilling in a horror movie sort of way, living in Taiwan at the time. You never knew when the ground would move, for how long or how strong the movement would be. Is the shopping centre your in about to collapse? Is this the last latte you'll ever have in Starbucks?

One weekend several months after the earthquake I was staying in a hotel in Taipei. I often traveled to Taipei from the smaller city of Hsin-chu to have a weekend where I could access western civilization; Starbucks, TGIFridays, English bookstores and English signs. That night in a 20 story highrise hotel I felt the gentle sway of the building like the proverbial baby in the tree top. My first thought was that no one knew where I was. I had not told anyone of my plans to go to Taipei that weekend. If the building went down, I would disappear forever. I turned on the TV and tried not to think about it.

In the Taiwan earthquake the epicenter was mid-island, but due to shoddy and prosecution-able construction practices, high rise buildings in Taipei, over 300 km from the epicenter, went down.

On another occasion I was meeting a friend in Taipei at a department store coffee shop/bookstore. As she was coming to meet me on the 10th floor, the lights started to sway and all the Chinese, usually a very loud bunch, became silent. In the midst of that silence I got a phone call; my friend was in the stairwell coming up to meet me and the lights had gone out. I answered the phone, and she said, “Earthquake?” I said, “Earthquake.”

She arrived at my table about 5 minutes later and after the Chinese all vacated the coffee shop in anticipation of more tremors, we decided to stay. It was the quietest place in all of Taiwan.

I guess I never really thought that this experience had an effect on me but today my facade has finally cracked from the stress fractures it sustained during that earthquake almost 12 years ago.

I was going to the hospital today for some blood work and decided that I would ask for a psyche consult while I was there. I got my family doctor, a lady who I really like, and felt better after having someone to talk to about how I was feeling.

During the discussion I also flashed back onto the Asian Tsunami. There are Tsunamis in Japan now too.

I was living in Bangkok at the time, December 26, 2004. It was a horrible time. The news was worse every day. Everybody knew someone affected. It was Christmas break and most foreigners who lived in Thailand, my friends and acquaintances, were taking their holidays in Southern Thailand. I was in Bangkok, at one of the Irish pubs in which my partnered played in a band. I remember watching the news break on the TV screens. There was silence and wonder as the death toll numbers started to come in.

As far as I know, I didn't know anyone directly involved in the disaster. In the days following the Tsunami my school started trying to call all the teachers, 90 plus, that worked at our school, to make sure they were all safe and accounted for. One teacher could not be reached. He was the biggest white man I had ever seen, he was over 6'6, had a shaved head and a gap toothed smile. If you didn't know him you would surely be scared by him but I often rode the skytrain with him after work and we had some nice chats as he ducked down to clear the ceiling of the train. He was a Brit and had come to our school to teach last year.

We, the teachers at Chulalongkorn Go International school, were all worried. Less than a year before another friend of ours had not come back from his beach holiday. That was Paul, I used to go for drinks with him and some of the other teachers from Go at Texas bar, on one of the small sois in Siam Square, Bangkok. Paul, had slipped in the bathroom of his rented beach bungalow, hit his head, and died. He was 28. Kimber, the teacher now missing, was 26.

The first week back at school after the earthquake was a relief. Kimber walked in for his scheduled classes and was surprised to see everyone's relieved faces. Over the holiday he had moved and when you move in such a transient world as Bangkok your phone number does not move with you.

Our school made it through without any losses to the Tsunami; no teachers, no students were lost but that was not the case at most other International Schools in Bangkok and the stories of loss spread through the teaching community. It was a grievous time. And now they will be searching for bodies in Japan, finding unrecognizable remains and living with death for many months to come.

It's been a hard morning, reliving all those terrifying moments, the months of grief and uncertainty and knowing it is all happening again and will continue to happen now and again in different places and different times. I felt bad when the earthquakes hit Haiti and Chile, but Asia is my second home. I have people there, I have lived through these things there and it ties my throat in knots. So I did the only thing I know how to do to fix this feeling; write.


  1. I can perfectly understand your feelings, Lois. It's really amazing whats going on in Japan. Glad and relived to hear Tets and family are fine. Your comments on past bangkokian life gave me flashbacks! wow, I guess Asia is my second home too -never quite see it that way, but of course it is!

  2. What a funny feeling to know that you and I were in Taiwan at the same time during 911 and in Bangkok when Tsunami hit Thailand...