Saturday, March 19, 2011

One Hundredth Post: Taiwan Temple Time!

First, Justin and I have arrived safe and and sound in Taiwan, and are now hopelessly frunk (adj: drunk on food) from street vendor food. Some quick highlights of our day from the hotel internet:

We didn't plan to go to Longshan (Dragon Mountain) Temple because we've seen a LOT of Asian temples, but I'm so glad we did. This was a completely different experience. First, it was much more of an active worship site than we're used to. The crowds were as dense as the incense smoke. Second, the decorations were just incredible. The detailed pillar carvings, the illuminated displays (several with motion!), the gold lettering - it was just like no temple we'd seen before.

Temple exterior:

Goddess lantern, approximately 15-20 feet high:

Justin loves fish lanterns:

Crowds and incense. You can see the offering tables in the second picture. Piled high with everything from fruit to tea to two packs of Oreos. For your modern monk!

Justin with his homeboy, the god of literature (we think):

Temple band:

Temple service chant:

And for some reason, an illuminated rabbit on a motorcycle:

Please note that this was an animatronic display.

We went back to see the temple after dark on our way back to the subway to get the full effect of the lighting. It was nearly impossible on our little camera to capture it, but here are a couple of attempts. The first one, I think, shows pretty well the amazing glowing effect of the gold decorations:

And then the lanterns, plus this happy little guy!
Longshan Temple definitely shook us out of our temple doldrums, and we recommend it. More posts to come later: several Weird Things Drunk For Your Entertainment, a Night Market, and Snake Alley.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Spend Our Money!

Justin and I learned from a coworker today (thanks, Lani!) that ANA, All Nippon Airways, has a refund policy that would be unthinkable in the US: a 50% refund of any ticket (including those labeled "nonrefundable") at any time, for any reason. Justin called today and they were willing to refund half the value of our Sapporo tickets, or approximately $180.

We had already checked our budget and decided to write off the plane tickets as we shifted our plans to Taiwan. This $180, therefore, is money we can spare. So we decided that it would be most appropriate to donate the money to a charity active in the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

Which charity? Well, we thought that would be neat to turn over to you! I've chosen a few charities that Justin and I would feel comfortable supporting and placed a poll on the right hand side of the page on the blog (click through to for email subscribers) You can vote through next Saturday, when we come home from Taiwan. Alternately, you could leave a comment or send an email

Search Dog Foundation:
They have at least twelve teams working in Japan right now. Not only do they train dogs for search and rescue, they rescue the dogs! If you were around for our Korea blog, you know how we feel about animal homelessness. What's cooler than rescued animals rescuing people? Charity Navigator rating - 4 stars.

Samaritan's Purse: A Christian organization with a pre-existing presence in Japan, now focused on delivering basic necessities like food, water, and blankets people in shelters around the affected area. Have delivered four tons of supplies already and are preparing to follow up with a 90-ton airlift sometime today. Charity Navigator rating - 3 stars.

Architecture for Humanity: As we've seen in so many other disasters, the destruction of buildings and infrastructure is going to haunt Japan long after the headlines move on to something else. Architecture for Humanity is raising money now to dedicate to reconstruction efforts in cities which have been essentially reduced to scrap. These guys are in it for the long haul. Charity Navigator rating - 4 stars.

Brother's Brother Foundation: Our "homer" pick, this Pittsburgh-based charity is partnered with the Japan-America Society of Pennsylvania to collect money and then use it in response to local request. In the 1995 Kobe quake, they supported an orphanage. I secretly love their vintage web site- shows the money is going into programs instead of themselves. Charity Navigator rating - 4 stars.

We reserve the right to choose a charity ourselves should the poll be trolled or hijacked by internet bots, not that I think The Senseitions is really that high on anybody's list.

So please vote! We look forward to seeing the results!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tai-what? Tai-wan!

Justin and I had been planning to spend next week's spring break holiday skiing in Sapporo, Hokkaido, where we went from Korea and had a glorious time. In light of recent events, however, it seems most prudent not to go up north. Sapporo was not affected by the earthquake and tsunami, and it also is not within prevailing wind patterns for any potential radiation. I can see it being possible, however, for Hokkaido to be hard to get back from if something goes wrong in central Japan.

We decided it was just plain reasonable to go south instead of north, and this afternoon we bailed on our ski tickets (fortunately not that expensive, not that money is the priority in these situations) and replaced them with a last-minute week in Taiwan. So we will be out of Japan from the 19th to the 26th, hopefully enough time for this whole nuclear situation to get sorted. It's a disappointment not to ski, but we have wanted to see Taiwan, so we're not at shortchanged in our alternative. And let's face it, considering what Japan is going through, the fact that our biggest problem is "Ski holiday or Taiwan vacation?" is sort of embarrassing.

I want to reiterate that Fukuoka is just about the safest city in Japan at this point. In fact, people are coming here from other places, including Tokyo. We see that at the school because relocating expat families with kids may end up with us. Our head of school has been in coordination with international schools up north, and we are prepared to enroll up to 100 extra students should they come. This is at the same time that we've lost a few families, not generally because the families have chosen to leave, but because their companies have pulled them (insert your own joke about retreating French here). So everybody is on the move in Japan.

EVA Airlines, which we're flying to Taiwan, has cancelled flights to Tokyo, Sendai, and actually to Sapporo (our original ski destination) so we're hoping all goes smoothly to get us there. Thanks for keeping us and Japan in your thoughts, and don't be worried if we go incommunicado for a while.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Some good news

From my uncle via my mother, this web site has some links to charities which are collecting directly for Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief: Each has a little blurb about what the organization's services are, from front-line responders to long-term reconstruction, from children's groups to services for the disabled. It's a great list, and money is always the most efficient way to help in a disaster (it gets here fastest and is the most flexible form of response). I am not familiar with all the charities; if you want to do due diligence on anybody in particular I suggest Charity Navigator. Charity Navigator has a page of top-rated Japan charities here, as well as guidance on how to go about donating effectively in a disaster.

In some rare cheerful news - a four-month old baby was found three days after the tsunami and reunited with her parents, who both survived. A young woman from Minamisanriku studying in California found out that her family was OK when TV crews filmed them on their balcony, the only surviving house in the area. And this picture, of a survivor reunited with his dog, made me cry. Maybe it's not the same as finding your baby, but the look on that man's face really moved me. (I know the dog doesn't look so good in the picture, but I had a student double-check the caption. The dog is fine and that is the owner.)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fukuoka Marches On

I wrote an email to my mom a few minutes ago and thought I'd repost. It has some extra details about what it's like to be here in Fukuoka in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Hey Mom,

Life as normal in Fukuoka, weirdly. It is so strange to see Japan in the news everywhere but for none of it to be true about us. No tsunami here, no earthquake, and now, based on the prevailing winds, we are less likely to see nuclear fallout should something happen than the US and Canadian west coasts. This is a colossal blessing of course, but still very, very strange. They're telling people on Honshu to perhaps expect some rolling blackouts as they divert power to the affected areas, but on Kyushu we just sort of sit and want to do something. I read a lot of news coverage because I feel like if I can't help, at least I can know. I don't know if that's something or not. Then I keep reading about people sleeping in concrete shelters and high school gymnasiums and here I am with a spare room and a futon and a full stomach, not to mention my toasty heated blanket and my windows open out of choice for the nice fresh air. What did we do today? Grading, and a bike ride to the park. Grocery shopping in full stores. Used the functional internet. Load of laundry. For hours at a time - or at least for significant periods - I didn't even remember to think about the earthquake.

Our head of school said they got a call from EARCOS, the East Asian Council of Overseas Schools, frantically asking all the Japan schools to check in. Most of the schools even in the area are trying to open tomorrow for regular days. There's an international school in Sendai which from a rudimentary check of Google Maps appears far enough inland to be okay from the water, although I don't know for sure that that's the case - just that our boss said he reported in ok. I would happily have kids from that school come down here for a bit, but I doubt that's the best solution. I just feel so weird not being able to think of something to do.

I gave money to some schoolgirls today outside of a department store - they had a banner that said they were from the Rotary Club, and although I couldn't understand what they were saying, I could deduce from the open newspaper pictures that they were fundraising for the earthquake. A coworker reports that he went downtown for blood donation and the turnout was so big that they are asking people to hold off on coming in. All the teachers want to go up and do something, the way you can go wash ducks after an oil spill, but at this point the last thing they need is more people to try to sustain on the food, power, and infrastructure they have left.

When this whole thing started, of course I had no idea how big it was, so it never occurred to me that Fukuoka would be affected. It reminds me of September 11 that way. My Chinese teacher came to class and said she heard a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, and I had visions of a little four-person Cessna smacking into a wall. Then Saturday we woke up to so many messages from around the world wondering if Fukuoka was okay, and things were so completely okay that it felt sort of funny to have to respond - it felt as disconnected from our daily lives as the Pakistan floods. Now it's Sunday and to be frank, I feel kind of guilty that our lives are so normal.* I look back at the post I did on the blog about the tiny earthquake we had in January and just think, man, how arbitrary is it that our earthquake was a funny bed bobble, and theirs took whole houses out to sea?

I did buy bottled water today and made a little stash in a backpack, along with some granola bars, as an emergency kit. We should have done that when we first got here but didn't. And it's woefully inadequate - it should have more food, some first aid supplies, a heat-reflecting blanket, and more - but it's a start.

Surreal. Just so surreal.


* 0f course by that I mean during the times when I stop to think, since it's true that a long time can go by here without me thinking about it. And then I feel guilty that I don't think about it all the time. Not that it helps anybody for me to think about it, I suppose.

News Coverage of the Tohoku Quake & Aftermath

Nana and I don't know Japanese (yet!), so we've been getting most of our news from the same sources you are. That said, it's been interesting hopping from site to site the last couple days--it really gives a vivid picture of the different reporting styles that are driven by different business models.

First, all the major news outlets, when accessed from a Japanese IP, have earthquake news prominently displayed "above the fold." This is no surprise: it's a disaster of incredible magnitude, and we're only just now starting to realize how devastating the quake and tsunami were.

Where the news reports differ is in tone. (I'm going to try to do this off-the-cuff now; I'll attempt to link to cached versions of these pages later.)

The reports from the American outlets are by far the most dire: driven by advertising revenue, they're designed to maximize click-throughs. The MSNBC and Fox News stores are packed with loaded language and imagery: MSNBC, for instance, sports a huge photo of a survivor surrounded by wreckage, while the Fox News story, marked "URGENT," uses the verb "flee" to describe what has elsewhere been depicted as an orderly evacuation of the areas around the Fukushima nuclear plants. Even CNN, who's supposed to be the boring old spinster of American infotainment, is kicking around terms like "meltdown," "nuclear," and "explosion," words apparently calculated to conjure images of a mushroom cloud (which is physically impossible with the materials found in these reactors).

Contrast this with the publicly-funded BBC, which accurately describes the "second reactor blast" as a only a possibility, not a certainty. BBC stories have also been generally good about pointing out that the first explosion, as would also be true of any others to follow, was actually caused by vented hydrogen gas, and didn't damage the containment structure or the reactor itself. Furthermore, other than BoingBoing, the BBC seems to be one of the only major English-language news outlets explicitly admitting that there's almost no chance of a major nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima. Coincidence? Or does the BBC's independence from advertising revenue allow it to forego the hysteria?

(The British ad-supported Daily Mail, on the other hand, is running a ghoulish above-the-fold feature on one of the north-eastern towns that was completely destroyed.)

Finally, the Japanese media outlets--or their English-language branches, at least--seem to be trying their best to keep calm. For example, the teaser for NHK World's top story specifically mentions that there are fears of a hydrogen explosion (not a nuclear explosion) and that the health effects of such an explosion should be negligible.

Anyway--all of this seems kind of insignificant given the scale of the disaster . . . but still an interesting little media study. Could also explain why we barely realized it was necessary to let folks know we were safe here in Fukuoka: sure, it's Old-Testament bad up north, but the American media makes it look like the whole country has been knocked back to the stone age.

Tohoku Earthquake - Translated Live Feed

Via BoingBoing, here's a live feed of translated news on Friday's Japan quake. This guy usually translates Japanese cultural programs for his English-speaking audience, but for obvious reasons, he's sticking to news this weekend.

I've embedded the feed below. No way to tell how long he'll be online.

This service is offered by I've been watching for a couple minutes now--not great quality, but occasionally he gives a glimpse of the more sedate style of news broadcasting more common here in Japan.

He also repeatedly notes that western Japan has been untouched by the catastrophe.