Nothing like trying to get to work to help open the door for reality.
Today I woke up early, determined to make it to school. Today was the graduation ceremony for the 3rd years (15 years old). If I didn't make it to school today, it was possible I would never be able to see these kids again and say good bye. Times like this make you value being able to say good-bye.
So I dressed nicely (aka not practically, which is not fun when there is a high probability of train complications...) and made my way to the station early. Yesterday the station had been packed. I was expecting something similar.
I arrived to the station, to find... very few people. Kinda creepy actually. But the trains were scheduled to run. The line I needed was actually scheduled to start at the very time that I usually leave. I was about 30 mins early, so I stopped by the convenience store to see if I could find some things I forgot and might need for the day. I was surprised to find food available. It was fully stocked with rice balls and sandwiches. I purchase my supplies and head to the nearly empty platform and wait.
The train was on time, and I was surprised. I guess you just expect them to be late. Well, there had also been two earthquakes this morning, so I hadn't been sure the trains were going to be running still. So I got on, even got a seat, and it felt almost like a normal morning commute.
Until it's time to transfer.
At the transfer station everyone is being made to leave from a selected two wickets only. On the other side, there is a large herd of people waiting to be let in. They want us out as fast as possible it seems. (I'm guessing they were enforcing one way traffic here.) Only when we get to the front, they are telling us something about not being able to use our pass cards or our tickets. So I have to just walk out without the machines registering my electronic card.
I go to transfer lines, only to find no trains are running. Of course. I mail my company to let them know, and wonder what to do next. I don't think I want to try to join the herd going back in the direction of my house. And I'd really like to make it to school today. But I'm definitely NOT wearing walking shoes. I knew I was going to regret that... Sad.
I go to try to talk to a station attendant, since I have some difficulty understanding what they are saying over the speakers, and usually they can use simpler explanations if I ask them directly. I am told that if I walk one station over, there are trains leaving in the direction I want to go.
YES! I can still make it.
This station is not so far away, so it's only a 15-20 min walk. Find a map, easy enough to find, and I begin my trek. Outside the station, the line waiting to get on the train goes on and on and on. Japanese people are VERY good at making lines (except for school children, who don't seem to think they need to follow rules for some reason... or perhaps it's the teachers who feel they don't need to enforce the rules...)
Make it past the enormous line, which was beginning to move forward at this point, and I make my way to the next station. Only to find...
You guessed it.
Of course there are no trains actually running there. I'm not sure if there were never any trains running from there, or if I had missed the last one or what. In any case, the next station is over 3kms away, and that's definitely impossible to walk in the shoes I had.
Stop and cover my options. My company said it can't be helped and I could go home. Only problem is I'm pretty sure there's no way home at this point. The trains are only running in the morning, and I don't think I'll make it back in time to join the herd. I'm stuck. But I really want to make it to school. I really want to make it to school. What can I do?
Well, for now, let's send an e-mail to Sing. He has a car and lives in the same city as my school. Maybe he can come pick me up and take me to school and I can make it in time. Problem being is that he's a night person and often sleeps late into the day. I wonder if my e-mail on his phone will be enough to wake him up... Probably not, but here goes anyway.
E-mail sent. Let's find a place to sit. Oh look, McDonalds is open. Buy some breakfast and sit down outside because all the seats are taken inside. Not wearing as much as normal because I was trying to look "nice" for the graduation. Slightly cold.
One hour passes. No e-mail from Sing. I don't think that's going to work. One last try. I'll e-mail him saying sorry for bothering him, and hope this one wakes him up.
Another hour passes. Spend some time contemplating if I am asking God with enough passion for the things I want. Not sure where the line between waiting patiently for God's grace and the widow's persistence is. Have a little talk with God about this problem.
It's cold. I've probably been camping out at McDonalds a little too long. Besides, the cigarette smoke is getting to me. Walking will warm me up. Lets find an ATM and maybe search for batteries or see if the book store is open. It's gonna be a long time until the trains start running again.
Halfway back to the other station, Sing wakes up. :-D God is funny. Sing tells me he'll come pick me up. Rescue! Get money from the ATM and make my way back to the station to wait. Found a place that sold AA batteries on the way! (all sold out in all the convenience stores. Drug store had a few left.)
Sing drives up and takes me to school. He tells me to send him an e-mail later when I find out more about the trains.
The day is suddenly better.
I make it to school just before 11AM (Left the house just after 6AM). I was stranded for a grand total of 3 hours. Makes for a good story. ;-)
I rush into the gym in the middle of the last song. And the graduation ceremony is over. But at least I get to see the kids. It's good enough for me.
After the graduation, there's a final "send off" for the graduating students. We all mill around outside for a while, saying good-bye, taking pictures etc. I can say good-bye. This is enough.
This is from the stragglers who just didn't want to go home. The kids were free to go after the send off, but many stayed behind for last minute pictures, book signings, etc.
The boys were exceptionally fired up. When they noticed me taking the picture, they decided to pose for me. I was happy, because many of these boys weren't so happy with me when I tried to make them behave in class. But in the end, they were shouting at me to not delete the picture. I promised I would put it up on my blog and treasure it. They are my cute students. I'm gonna miss them.
The festivities being over, I go back to the teachers room to eat my lunch. There's basically nothing to do for the rest of the day. I search the internet and find out the trains will start running at 6:30 in the evening, so I'm stuck until then. School decides to be finished at 3.
I e-mail Sing.
He offers to meet me for coffee and wait with me until the trains start running. One of the teachers drives me to his station, and then we go off in search of a coffee shop.
There is a Starbucks in front of a home center (type of shopping center, where you can find things for your home... Japanese stores are strange.) so we decide to walk through the home center to see what they have. They have a lofted bed which might be better than the other one I've found for my new room, but not quite sure yet.
After the home center coffee. But Starbucks is closing at 5 today because of the earthquake and energy problems.
I still have an hour and a half.
So Sing suggests we go look at plum blossoms. He knows a good place. So off we go. Not such great weather for looking at flowers, overcast and close to dark, but it was still nice.
Tons and tons of flowers, with their sweet smell filling the air. We were the only one's there. It was very peaceful. And all too soon, it was time to go.
As we make our way back, the power for that area goes off. Driving in darkness is something I haven't done in a really long time. I'm from the country side, so I'm used to driving in dark nights. I miss that sometimes. As we get closer to the station, he realizes it's his area that is having the black out. He hadn't figured out his block yet. :-D It's always funny when I know more than actual Japanese people.
He takes me to the station and makes sure the trains are running and checks some info for me. We fix my pass so I can use it again, and I finally make my way home. Exactly 12 hours from when I stepped on my first train of the day. (I just now realized that!)
This time I make a painless transfer.
On my way home. All in all not a bad day. Grab dinner for me and my roommate (my week to cook) and get home. But tomorrow I have to get up, check to see what trains are running, and see if I can't make it to school on time. Hopefully I won't get stuck. Only 9 more days of school.
Check the news, and find out two nuclear reactors have exploded and my city has now been exposed to 40 times the normal levels of radiation. (we aren't so close to the reactors, but the wind was strong I guess. Tokyo to the south got a bit less) Nothing to panic about yet, but still... disturbing.
Hmmm... not sure the visit to the plum trees was the best choice ever...
And then you realize the magnitude of what is happening, and it dawns on you. Life is never going to be the same. Not really. I'm writing this blog and there have been at least two earthquakes large enough to rattle our dishes. This is one of those events that you mark your life with. Our parents ask each other "where were you when JFK was shot?" We asked ourselves "Where were you when the planes hit?" And now I have another one... "Where were you when The Quake hit? When The Tsunami hit? When the reactors blew?"
It's funny, because I recently noticed this all started on March 11th. It reminds me of another 11th not so long ago. I was in college and an RA for my dorm. My friend's (then) boyfriend came to my room, opened my door (before guy hours) and told me the news. Classes were canceled. I remember it was a different friend's birthday. His birthday always to be remembered as the day the Twin Towers fell.
This also happened at school. Hours before we had just sang "Happy Birthday" to a newly turned 13 year old girl. Her smiles were tears the next time I saw her; her birthday never the same again.
But life goes on post 9-11.
Life will also go on post March 11.
But it will never be quite like it was before.
Father, have mercy on us.