Sunday, May 22, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The aftermath final part

Well, I think that I will finish my Japan disaster experience story with this post. I think I wrote pretty much everything worth telling. I wish to have the ability to explain myself better because there are so many feelings and reactions surrounding me that I don't know how to write, but well, I hope I keep up with the blog and some day I will be able to write everything down. Right now I'm re-writing this sentence for the 3rd time, since I was planning to upload it since long time now, but well... there is always something else to do... I think that is one of the reasons why I stopped writing before. Anyway, let's continue.

I woke up pretty early the next day (Friday 18), and I found out that there was no light. Apparently there was a scheduled black out, but I didn't know. So I got up, changed, brush my teeth, and went to my city's ward office to update my baby's documents. I was a little scared that maybe the ward office was closed because of the black out, but when I arrived I found out that despite no electricity (and the whole building being super dark) they were open and working! Of course they were only giving and doing documents that they could do by hand, the old way. I asked the lady about my document and with a big smile she did it right away. I was amazed, again, by the Japanese. I got my documents and went to pay the bills and the rent in case we decided to travel. After finishing all the things I parked my car and went to get my baby's passport in Tokyo.

The Costa Rican embassy in Tokyo is in a place called Nishi-Azabu that is in a very famous area (Roppongi) for it's night life (I used to go a lot in my first year here). The subway station is under a very nice place called Roppongi Hills, where you can find a lot of cool places. One of these cool places is the Mori Tower. It is a 54-story building that has a hotel, cinema, mall, restaurants, etc. Not only the building is cool, but all the design around it is very nice (at least for me). Anyway, that day I thought that this area was going to be deserted (normally is a very active area), but I felt as if it was like any other day.
Mori Tower, I like it soooo much! (It was the first place I visited in Tokyo actually!)
Around 10am in Roppongi

While walking I realized that as part of the energy saving strategy, all the vending machines were turned off! I was very impressed, because Japan is very famous for having an enormous amount of vending machines all over the place. Sometimes they have 10 vending machines one next to the other, with the same types of drinks! They have vending machines for cigarettes, beer and sake, and even panties, yes woman panties!!! There are so many that I can even write a book about it and still don't cover all of them.  I started to think how much energy are they saving just by turning off this vending machines that basically no one use ( a friend of mine told me that the energy consumption of the vending machines all over Japan is about 42 Trillion kW-h!!!! ) So I think this is one of the reasons why, at the end, they didn't do that many black outs. I arrived to the embassy, did all the documents very fast, drank Costa Rican coffee, and talk for a while with the consul. Then went back and stopped to take some pictures.

I wanted to eat in this restaurant, but was closed for the afternoon... :( but I like the signs they had!
The Hair Designers Salons in Japan are funny
In roppongi HIlls

In the Mori Tower there is a sky deck in the 54th floor (It is very nice, specially at night) and I got curious if it was open or not - with all the after shocks happening-. I thought it was closed, but no, It was opened! :o I thought who would like to go up there with all this earthquakes happening, but many people were going up! wow, I still cannot believe it.

It was really opened!! :O

After having a late lunch I got in the train to Tokyo station, but decided to go out in Ginza to walk from there. I was on a mission to see if Tokyo's Pachinko ( were opened (like the ones in Chiba). I was sure that the infamous Pachinko places were open, despite the energy savings. --- Money, Gambling, Addiction --- bad combination. It had being very long time for me to walk around this area, so I was very amazed by the view. I found many interesting things along the way, I re-discovered many other places I used to come see, it was like going back in time, just now there was less noise than before. It's amazing how different Tokyo is when not all the signs and lights are turned on, I hope they keep it like this after all this mess finishes... is waaaaaayyyyy better I think.

A monk walking, very, very slowly, the streets of Ginza
Strange Building in Ginza
This is how I looked like that they. Funny thing is my bags were full of Pampers!

Finally I found one Pachinko, and it looked closed, so I was surprised, but as I got closer a guy entered the place and all the noise and smoke came out the opened doors... I was sad and annoyed, how come this places were opened in this emergency times!!! I guess it has something to do with the Mafias... but well. A friend of mine told me that when the big earthquake happened, she was near one this places and the people didn't even blink and kept playing as if nothing had happened!

Pachinko near Yurakucho Station.

I saw many other interesting things along my way, it was quite refreshing to walk again in Tokyo. It took me back 5 years when I didn't know any Japanese at all, and couldn't read any sign in the street. I was happy, because despite of all the mess that had happened things were going back to normal little by little. This way we can think more about the real victims of this earthquake up in the north and the people working to keep the Nuclear Plant from making a bigger mess.

I reached Tokyo station and got in the bullet train headed to Osaka, where my wife and daughter were expecting me. In the following days, we decided to go to Egypt because Noran didn't want to go back to Chiba with all the aftershocks happening. So I made the final arrangements for my baby's visa and left for holidays. I was thnking not to go, but well is the first time for Noran to travel with a baby, she was 2 months old, and the trip was of 21 hours! So of course there was no discussion about it I was going as well, but for less time than them. I was very happy because I was going to Egypt again (I love that country it's very interesting in many ways and I will talk about later here), but somehow I felt guilty to leave Japan and not doing something to help the people in trouble. I thought when I go back I will surely do something to help, but somehow I got trapped in this crazy Ph.D. (write a paper here, send a paper there, review this paper, finish the data analysis program, make a new socket for the robot hand, etc... the list is very long and I have just 6 months left!). I wanted to go as a volunteer to the affected areas in the north, but that means I will have to leave for a week, which right now is not possible for me. Anyway, I will continue to search for some spare time to help a little maybe in this Golden Week, at least asking for money in the stations! :)

On My way back I got lucky and managed to see Mount Fuji! :) I love Mount Fuji! I love Japan!

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

The aftermath part 2

I just realized that I felt around 400 earthquakes in 4 days! Wow, and I thought I was used to earthquakes. Now I'm in Doha airport in Qatar, waiting for our flight to Cairo. Yes, we decided to go to Cairo after all. I will continue with my story then, maybe I can catch up to this day soon.

Right after arriving to Osaka we saw on the TV that there was a very strong earthquake in a place called Shizuoka. Shizuoka is between Tokyo and Osaka, very near mount Fuji. The earthquake was magnitude 6 and the epicenter was in the main land. We didn't feel it and, luckily for us, we were not in the Shinkansen at that time since all trains stopped immediately.  Our friends started calling us to make sure we were not in train at that time. If we had taken the train after ours we would have been inside when the earthquake hit. I don't want to imagine what would have happen to Noran if that had been the case. Anyway, when we found out about it Noran was so relieved that she got her skin color back!  We had dinner and went right to sleep. The next day we woke up around noon. long time I didn't feel this relaxed after sleeping, but right after I had to go back to reality. There were still a lot of things to be done and decisions to be made, but at least Noran was relaxed and the baby was OK.

The Shinkansen in our way to Osaka. It was very crowded.

Our host Javier called to tell me that according to one guy in his work the radiation was very dangerous and that it was going to reach even Osaka. Also, Noran's family was worried from all the news they were watching on TV and was telling her to better go to Egypt until the situation was more under control. My family was offering me a paid ticket to Costa Rica as well.  Everyone wanted us to go abroad, anywhere, but abroad just in case. The thing was, as I mentioned before, that our Japanese visa was going to be expired in April 4 and Nadia didn't even had a passport or a Japanese visa. Also, Nadia didn't have any vaccines yet because in Japan you have to wait until the kid is 3 months, so I was worried that in a long flight or while being in another country she might get sick or something (I'm new to parenting so I don't know anything); plus for me she is still very small to be doing this kind of long flights. Moreover, I have a lot of work to do in the lab, after all, is my last year of Ph.D and I should have at least one more journal paper published by July, which is not an easy task. Since I believe that being prepared is very important, I called the Costa Rican embassy and arranged an appointment to get Nadia's passport on Friday morning. I woke up on Thursday at 4am, ate a banana, and went to get the Shinkansen back to Tokyo and then Chiba to pick up our new Japanese visas. The trains were not crowded at that time in Tokyo and Chiba, and everything seemed like a very normal day, except for the occasional earthquakes of course. I rode the monorail (I was a little scared actually) to the immigration office to get the number and luckily no earthquake happened while on the train. The place was super crowded and well, I told what happened to me there in a post before: .

At the end I was able to get the visas and for Noran, Nadia, and me. The only thing left was the reentry permit for Nadia, but I needed a passport for that. Anyway, at that time I wasn't considering that much traveling; I was thinking that staying in Osaka for a couple of days will be enough, and once the earthquakes stopped we will go back to our home.

This monorail is a hanging train, so when there is a lot of wind it swings... Imagine how will it move in an earthquake! :0

I went back home in my bicycle and the area near the university didn't have any electricity because of the schedule blackouts. It was very strange not to see a single light on the way. That day the moon was almost full and it light up the street lightly. It was so peaceful, but at the same time scary. It reminded me the many blackouts we had in Costa Rica and how we used to go outside to have a drink, sing, or just stay there looking at the stars. I took the opportunity to take some pictures of the darkness because it was the first time to see this city like this. I didn't have time to go back and take pictures of the street with lights so you will have to imagine the difference. The black out didn't reach my home, so I turned on the TV and started to prepare my bag and some papers for the next day. After a while another Costa Rican (David), who is with me in my lab, came home and we ate pizza and talk about the situation. Yet another earthquake hit at that moment. It was quite strong and was near the coast of Chiba, but no tsunami warning was activated. Since i was planning to go back to Osaka to with my family and didn't know when I was coming back, I gave David some vegetables we had in the fridge. Later I took the rest of the vegetables to my Mexican friend Rigo (who has a very nice blog, but in Spanish ). We talk a little and he told me that they were going in 2 days as volunteers to help cleaning a city called Asahi that was affected also by the tsunami. I felt bad because I wasn't going to help also, but I have other priorities now. When I go back I will try to help for sure somehow, I just hope is not going to be too late. That night I fell asleep around 3am again getting things ready; My bags were full of pampers and baby things! Who would have think I will be doing this kind of things 2 years ago?

Ok I'm about to board the plane now, so I'll continue later.

This street is full of houses. This picture has a 20s exposure! (but I realized after that the aperture was very small F10, so less light :S)

This road takes to Nishi Chiba station, is just next to university. This picture has a  shutter speed of 5s and an aperture of F2.8

This is the same street but the other side, this takes to Sakusabe station near our house. The picture has the same settings as the one before 5s F2.8

After crossing the monorail track there was light. you can see the darkness on the other side.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The aftermath part 1

Taking advantage that Rocio just came back to Japan, and was staying at our house, I went to the lab early Monday to see what was happening there. I arrived around 9am to campus. There were a lot of people walking around, specially very young people with their parents (the entrance exam was programmed for that weekend, then extended to Thursday, then canceled). Also, the new library construction didn't stop, they were working pretty hard actually. Also, the people in the offices of university were there like if it was any other day, the only difference was that all the lights were off to help saving energy. Since the power plant situation, the electricity company was afraid that the demand of electricity wasn't going to be enough, so they decided to make scheduled blackouts in the Kanto area (this includes also Tokyo and Chiba). The interesting thing was that most (if not all) the residents made a great effort to save as much energy as possible to reduce the demand of electricity and they succeeded because that day the blackout was canceled. The problem is that the company didn't say they were going to cancel the blackouts and everyone was super confused, so most of the Japanese were complaining and angry because they didn't do the blackout... hehe.

I had to use the stairs to go to my lab in the 5th floor and it was like a ghost town, there was absolutely no one there that day. Maybe it was the time, but normally there are a least 2 or 3 persons or at least my professor. I did the paper work I left on Friday when the earthquake hit and then by 11am I was finished. I was waiting for my professor to come, but he came in the afternoon. Since our friend Rocio had to do some things in the afternoon, I went back early to be with Noran and the baby. The situation didn't improved at all. The aftershocks were hitting hard and the nuclear plant was getting worst. I stayed home the rest of the day and some friends came at night. Although there were many people in the house and we were all quite relax, Noran was still in shock and from time to time she got super worried again. That night we slept a little bit better since the aftershocks were less frequent.

The next day I was woken up by a call from a good friend of ours. He told me that he saw in the news that the situation in the power plant was getting out of hand and that we should go to his place in Osaka. By that time the 2nd reactor had just blown up and people were very, very scared. I told him that we didn't think was going to affect Tokyo at all, so that in any case we will consider the option. I told Noran and she told me that it was a good idea to go, I told her that for me it wasn't necessary yet. I called my professor and he advised me to take the baby out of the country for a while as a prevention. He told me that the radiation problem wasn't bad and that there was a very small chance for adults to be affected, but that he didn't know about kids. Before this call I was only worried about Noran being in shock, I figured it would pass very soon, but after the call I started to think what should I do. I was convinced that there was no chance for the radiation to affect were we live, but what if I and all the experts were wrong? what will happen to my baby? I started to get more stressed out. The news from abroad were flooding the Internet with the worst cases scenarios (mostly made up), my family in Costa Rica was worried, Noran's family was worried, our friends were telling us to run out of Japan, rumors that the government was hiding information, etc. So I started to get worried as well. The problem was that, my visa and Noran's was going to be expired on April 4 and we just had applied a week ago for the extension. Also, Nadia didn't have a passport yet (the procedures in Costa Rica are very, very slow), neither her Japanese resident visa. So for us to go out of Japan was even a more difficult decision, specially if there was not that much danger in the first place. The invitation from our friends in Osaka was getting more and more appealing. First thing I did was to call the Costa Rican embassy to see if there was a way of getting Nadia a passport fast. The consul told me that we can jump the procedures because it was an emergency case, so that was a little relief for me. At least with her passport we can go to Egypt or Costa Rica  without a problem, the problem was to come back to Japan. To make things worst, Noran got a call from the Egyptian embassy. The guy that called was new (he didn't know were Chiba was!) and told her that they were evacuating Tokyo and the embassy was moving to Osaka. He told her that Tokyo was in the danger zone now and that they asked for airplanes to come to take all Egyptian back home, but from Osaka. Of course Noran freaked out and then the decision was automatically made, no more thinking about it, we were going to Osaka. She started to make her bags and I was checking how was the best way to go: by car, or by Shinkansen (bullet train).

So you get an idea of the distances in Japan. There are around 223Km from where we live (Chiba) to the Power Plant area. Osaka is 432Km from Chiba.

After some time, Noran called the embassy to ask about the baby's passport problem. This time she talked to a more important guy and he told her not to panic, that they were making the arrangements to get the airplane (they didn't even know when the airplanes will even come), but still they didn't know if they were actually coming. Also told her that the embassy wasn't evacuating, that they were just preparing to take the people that wanted to go back. That calm her down a little, but the decision was made and I didn't want Noran to be more worried. We decided to go by Shinkansen to avoid any traffic problems. So we took our bags and went to Chiba Station to buy the tickets, hoping that there were trains at that time. When we were going down the stairs of our apartment I checked our mailbox and found the notification that our visas were ready! We just had to go to the immigration office to get them. It was a relieve, but we didn't know when we will be able to get them. For a second I thought of staying one more day, but we already were on our way. We arrived and all the station was dark, no more annoying sounds everywhere. It was quite peaceful and nice. We bought our tickets and got into the train to Tokyo to get the Shinkansen. After a little bit more than 3 hours of trains we were in Osaka.

Just so you know up to this day I'm talking about 47 earthquakes had happend (4.7 to 5.4 in magnitude!)! and up to today (March 21 of 2011) 660 earthquakes had happend!! :O You can check them out in Now you understand better why Noran was so freaked out and still doesn't want to go back!

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Disaster in Japan part 3

I'm riding the Shinkansen (bullet train) heading to Osaka to join my wife and daughter, who are staying in a friends house. Why did we go to Osaka?... well this post will give you a hint of the answer. So many things happened to me that I will have to write faster before I forget :p

...Any ways lets continue with my story. The story stopped after the big earthquake happend and the we started to watch the news, so...

Aftershocks were hitting like every 10mins. Noran (my wife) was telling me that she was as stressed as when she was having the contractions when delivering: One happens and before you can relax another comes! hehe. They were quite strong, but like the normal tremors we feel from time to time in Japan or Costa Rica, so I was OK. A friend of ours (Fran, the Nuclear Physicist) came to our place, and together we were trying to make Noran feel more at ease, but after we managed to calm her down another after shock came! :s

The baby was happy and laughing from time to time, so that made us take our minds away from the situation. The news of the tsunami were horrible, it looked like as if it was a nightmare (well I guess everyone reading this now have seen the destruction), I was just hoping to wake up from a very bad dream. No one knew what was really happening with the nuclear plant, just that everything had failed after the earthquake and tsunami, and that the coolant system of 3 reactors wasn't working ! In the news they didn't know what to say because they really didn't know what was happening except that the system in 3 reactors had failed. Now, the news at this time were only in Japanese so I understood just like the 80% of what was happening. In 2007 Japan had another nuclear plant accident due to a strong earthquake in Niigata, and even some radioactive material was spilled (same company TEPCO), so I was positive that they will fix it fast.

 <<ohh I'm almost there, I should have started writing before... hehe>>

----- some pictures of the effects of the earthquake in the city of Makuhari, thanks to Diana for the pictures.

Pictures of Liquefaction phenomenon. This area used to be sea, but they now is a beautiful city. All around this reclaimed land you can observe pots of this sand. This picture was taken 2 days after the earthquake so the sand was already dry.  Thanks to my friend Diana for the pictures.   

 check this link for more information on liquefaction phenomena :

Look at how the level of the ground changed! Thanks Diana for the picture.

The cross of St. Ignatius church near Yotsuya Station (Tokyo). Thanks Diana

<<Ok I'm back and finished other things I had to do and will continue>>

After midnight we decided to start going to bed (when we go to sleep or not is determined by our baby these days( normaly at 2am! :s).  Noran was still super worried of another big earthquake, but she managed to sleep. Of course she didn't sleep well at all because every time an aftershock happened, she woke up and was ready to run! I tried to calm her down until she slept again, but soon after another tremor came. So of course almost no sleep. Next morning, Saturday 12, I saw that the situation in the Nuclear Plant had escalated a little, but there wasn't much information about it. They were saying that the pressure was building up inside the reactor in unit 1 due to the heat. Since the cooling system failed because got flooded by the tsunami, the reactor core was heating up. They will start releasing pressure little by little. Suddenly, an explosion was reported in Unit 1. Internet got flooded with messages about radioactive contamination in all Japan and people start saying that it was a situation like Chernobyl. News all over the world started shifting completely from the tsunami to the nuclear emergency (I guess that a possible nuclear meltdown sells more). At the end they found out that the explosion was cause by hydrogen formed in the outer building. I started to think about possible outcomes and what I should do accordingly. I was reading as much information I could get.

The aftershocks were still coming hard and Noran was still nervous. We stayed home all day watching the news and answering mails from family and friends. The day passed quite slow and by night we started noticing that Noran's shock to the big earthquake was affecting her production of breast milk. I tried to comfort her and she was trying to calm down on her own, but the after shocks were not helping, and from time to time she told me that there was a strange feeling inside of her and wasn't able to control it. Sunday was a similar day, but our friend Rocio arrived to Japan after a holiday trip. Her plane was almost landing when the earthquake started, so they were circling Narita airport for long time until they had to go to Nagoya airport (they ended up in Korea for some strange reason). Her story is very interesting, she should write it for sure. That night was also very difficult for Noran, although the frequency of the tremors was less than before.

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March 17 2011... <a pause from my other story>.

March 17 of 2011... I'm sitting in the immigration office waiting for my number to be called. I arrived from Osaka around 10 am to get the number and got number 122... they were attending number 27! I was expecting less people for the visa application, but I thought it would be crowded, so I took the number and went to do some other things in my lab and house (I printed my daughter's passport picture, she looks super cute!). In Tokyo and Chiba life looks pretty much the same, Japanese people are going to work, kids are going to school, trains are running almost normal. On the other hand, from MY perspective foreigners are noticeable scared or worried. It showed from the amount of people today in the immigration office and their conversations (yes I know that is not polite to listen to other conversations, but well... :p).

To give you an idea of the amount of people waiting... this is right outside the waiting room! and there were people all over the building!

I went to my house, prepared some documents, went to the lab, and tried to print my baby's pictures for her passport (but failed), then, at 3pm went back to the immigration office to see if my number was up, but they were attending 72! :0 So I went to search a store to print the pictures better and had lunch. Came back after an hour or so, and it was 85... mmm... so I decided to wait there. I'm here to get my visa extension (since the one I have is soon to be expired) and maybe my re-entry pass in case we decide to go out of the country, but not sure I will be able to get it.

While waiting I found a friend (let's call her N because I didn't ask her permission to put her name here) of mine from Ukraine. We started discussing about the situation and she told me that she was 7 years old when the Chernobyl's accident happened (and she is from Kiev that is around 110Km from the plant []*) and then worked with some sort of association to help the people affected. So we were discussing how difficult is for something to happen in Tokyo in the worst case scenario, and that is amazing how foreigners are panicking now. I found this reaction very normal because of the amount of miss information around. Like really, what would you do if something like this was happening relatively near you if: you don't know much about how a Nuclear reactor works, media coverage is showing a lot of numbers that you have no idea what they mean, or your neighbors, coworkers, and friends tell you that he or she heard from a friend who has a friend with contacts in some important place that the NUCLEAR (they always make emphasis in this word) reactor is about to explode. Of course people will prefer to run as fast as they can, just in case. Personally I don't think is time for me to run, but it never hurts to be prepared (that is why I'm also here... hihihi).

We went to sit with some other people to wait for our turn. One of N friend is completely scared, he is afraid of the earthquakes and the nuclear plant. His dad bought him an air ticket and told him to go back immediately. We chatted for a little while and then he left to do some other paper work he needs. Then another rumor came in from a friend of my friend: The reactors are broken already and leaking radioactive material, but is not yet in the news. It sounded a little strange to me, but well according to N he might be reliable. Also, the Cuban embassy called another friend of mine and tells him that the government has issue an order for all Cubans to go back tomorrow. It's funny because he didn't get scared of the radiation, but of having to go back to Cuba. Then, our friend in Osaka heard another rumor in his Job that the reactors will explode like in 48 hours. Rumors here, rumors there... conspiracy of the government?... people making there own stories?... what to believe, that is the question. No wonder why people are freaking out, I think they believe more rumors than actual scientific data; I guess is human nature or survival instinct. In MY opinion the Japanese government would not dare to cover up a situation that will affect millions (it is estimated that almost 13000 MILLION people are living only in Tokyo... plus Ibaraki, plus Chiba... []* ) of people just to cover up for the electric company and nuclear energy... If so, it will be genocide, but then politics are always very... how to put it.... f#$"ked up.

Data, mathematics, experiments and past experiences show how difficult is for Tokyo to reach dangerous levels of radiation; even less in Osaka. After talking to my friend from Ukraine, I'm even less worried, but I have another factor that is very new to me... I became a dad 2 months and a half ago... So my brain is now in constant deliberation whether I'm making a wrong decision here...  the "...what if..." in most of these people around me is also affecting me somehow, but in a different way. What comes to my mind is: what if all I trust and know turn to be wrong, after all I believe that I can never be 100% sure of anything in this life. What if that 0.0001% of doubt I have becomes a reality and end up affecting my daughter because she is just a baby? What if I go out of the country and expose her to a 14+ hours flight, different temperature changes, recycle air in an aircraft with maybe some sick people and she gets sick? This is the kind of thing that is stressing me now...   <<now attending number 107... almost, almost... they finished with the people of the reentry, they attended 2800 people today just for that, super efficient!>>  ... but yeah it is very difficult to be a dad and I have been a dad for only 2 months and a half! Oh my, oh my what is waiting for me in the future (specially when she starts dating! :s)... but when you see her smile or the funny noises she have started mumbling now is soooooooo worth it!

Amount of people at 3pm  that went to get the reentry permit.  They reached 2800 at the end of the night!

Ok, I'm next. I'll continue soon with the stories.

(--- obviously the information with the * was added later and please check the links for more information about it. ---)

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Disaster in Japan part 2

So I will continue talking about MY situation in Japan. I want to make it very clear for people reading my posts: I'm posting my experience and MY points of view of the situation (in my crappy English, sorry), so this should not be considered as the general public view of this situation in Japan. My opinion is just another opinion in the bunch. I want my family and friends abroad to know what is going on with my family and close friends in Japan. I will post links were you can get scientific information about the situation eventually.

I haven't been paying attention to the news outside Japan for a day now, so I'm not sure what they have been saying, but my dad was telling me that they
 were saying that the Costa Rican embassy was ordered to evacuate... funny because I called them and they know nothing about this evacuation plan. I don't understand why the news like to make such a fuss... ohh wait  we all know! So please stop paying attention to the news. It's important to know what is happening, but you have to remember that sensationalism (not sure if I'm using this word correctly hehe) is a must on the news! Sometimes, if people only reads the headline they make up their own story, so if you are worried please read the whole article and from several sources not only the Headlines!

Basically, up to know, the real problem in Japan is localized in the northern area. The really affected areas are in 
there, the people suffering are in there, the radiation problem is there. In Tokyo area, and near by, there is no danger now. The lack of groceries are due to people panicking, not because the roads are closed and we cannot get any more supplies, like the people up north. So in Tokyo area if the stock in the supermarket finishes, there will be more the next day.

Ok, so now my story. I was in my lab (5th floor), as usual, and suddenly the earthquake started. At first, me and some labmates didn't even  bothered 
with the movement, but then it got stronger and stronger. On top of my desk I have a bookshelf full of books, papers, and boxes,  I saw them almost falling on me, so I moved back a little and then decided to go out. After, we did what you should NOT do in a very strong earthquake: Run. hehe... I guess the first thing that came to my head was: I have to get out of the room. There were many things that could have fallen over me, but after I was out I just kept going. I don't know if it was instinct or just following my labmates, but I went down 5 floors like in a second. In my town we felt the earthquake strong (magnitude ~5.4, 5+ in Japanese scale), but at least we could still walk.  Now that I think about it, if the earthquake would have been stronger I could have fallen or something could have fallen over me, while attempting to escape, making my situation a lot more dangerous.

Once outside, everything was still moving A LOT. For some reason, in Japan, people leave their cars without the side break (maybe because all the cars are automatic and have the parking option), so anyway, all the cars were moving a lot, which made the whole scene more scary. It kept going and going and didn't seem to stop. After, I realized only 5 minutes have passed from the start of the movement, but I felt it was longer. Immediately I tried to call my wife (Noran), who was in our 3rd floor apartment taking care of our little baby. I wasn't able to reach her. I didn't understand why the cell phone line was dead
, but Internet was working fine. Then, I signed in on Skype using my phone (which in theory I'm not allowed to have it installed :p) and managed to call her. She was still in the apartment, she sounded very scared, and didn't know what to do. I told her to go out of the apartment and wait for me, I was going back back. My wife is from Egypt and she is not used to earthquakes at all; every time there is a small earthquake (very normal in Japan) she gets very nervous, so you can imagine how she was feeling at that moment.

It's good that I ride the bicycle to the University, because I was able to go back fast. While I was going back, there was another aftershock, and strong as well. One Japanese lady, that was walking her dogs, started telling me "Jishin, Jishin... ki wo tsukete..." (earthquake, please be careful). I slowed down,  thank her  and asked her to also be careful and continued. After that, I saw the kids from the school near my house going super organized in lines to the baseball field, none of them seem to be panicking at all. I arrived home and Noran was outside with our baby and some  neighbors. We stayed there for a while, talk with people there, and waited for a while. Noran was so scared that didn't want to go up again, it took me a while, but I managed to convince her.

Back in the house, things didn't fall that much. Sadly a precious wedding gift from my best-friend, fell and broke to pieces. A frame, my surfboards, the monitor in our bedroom (that I haven't tested since then :s) and some books also fell.  So the situation wasn't that bad. The cellphone network was still down, but Internet was still super fast! I just love Internet! Then, we called our families to let them know the situation and that we were fine. While talking to them several aftershocks happened, and made Noran's stress worst
. Then we turn on the news and we saw the disaster in Sendai, our happiness faded away from the images we were looking, since then, we were very sad for the people up there. Then the new about the Power Plant started popping up.

Noran was in shock from the experience, and the aftershocks just made it worst
. I was trying to explain to her that aftershocks are very normal and that it is very difficult for another big earthquake to happen, but didn't succeeded to calm her down. She was focusing on what just happened to her and didn't want to go through it again (very normal of course). I'm used to this kind of situation since in Costa Rica we have a lot of earthquakes and I have felted a magnitude 7.3 earthquakes, so I was calm.  I'm just happy and proud of Noran that she didn't panic and run during the earthquake, because it would have been very dangerous for her and our baby.

We continued watching the news and they started focusing on the Nuclear Plant. I don't know a lot about Nuclear Plants, only what I have read and learned in school, so I started to wonder and read about it (not in the news). After I read a lot of papers and talk to a friend of mine that is a Nuclear Physicist I realized that there was no need to panic, but still I was worried about my baby and of course I'm never 100% sure of anything around me (after all I consider myself a science guy). All I read about was about radiation dosages for adults, but I wasn't sure how this would affect a 2 months old baby. So I continued reading. Meanwhile the aftershocks continued and Noran was getting even more scared. I wasn't sure what to do, so I continued researching and tried to comfort her as I could.

to be continued... :p

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Disaster in Japan part 1

Well, I haven't written anything since long time now... I have several reasons for that, but I guess mainly was laziness.  I was thinking on writing about several interesting experiences I had in 2010 here in Japan and some of my trips abroad, but was postponing and postponing... and never wrote anything. Now my situation is quite interesting and strange(at least for me...) so I have decided to start writing about it again.
As some of you might know, I'm currently living in Japan (almost 5years now) and the current situation here, due to a 9(it was 8.8) magnitude earthquake, is quite confusing for people outside and inside the country.
The situation can be summarized as follow: an magnitude 9 earthquake hit the northern part of Japan in the Pacific, it caused a HUGHE tsunami that destroyed everything on its way. One of the affected area was a the Fukushima Nuclear Plant, which was designed to sustain an earthquake of 8.3 (somewhere I read of 7.8)... an tsunamis of 10meters. Anyhow, because of the earthquake, the plant automatically stopped the reactor, but the cooling system failed. Then there was a backup system to cool down the reactor, that because of the tsunami, also failed... the battery powered system also failed. So basically, what should have never happend, happened. The water in 3 of the reactores started to decrease a the core started to melt. The company was trying (and is trying) its best to cool down the cores, but are having a lot of difficulties... for several very strange reasons. Then, there were explosion of the roofs of container from 2 reactors, which seems to have released some (or a  lot) radioactive material in the air. According to sources, the material released is not hazardous (still) to human health in places further than 20Km. In Tokyo and Chiba (where I live) the radiation levels are still under normal conditions and no reason to panic. Anyway, you can read about this in many other places with more detailed and accurate(?) information.
So we have images of the northern cities completely destroyed (very very sad ones), plus a Nuclear emergency (Level 4), plus many strong aftershocks, plus 2 blasts in the reactors and radiation levels increasing (little but increasing... but now are decreasing rapidly), plus a count of 10000+ of missing and dead people... what would someone abroad (or a foreigner living in Japan without Japanese knowledge) think of the situation? specially if they are not familiar with Japan geography and little knowledge of how the nuclear plant operates... well what you can see in news all over the world almost  a total destruction of Japan. Then what do you think happens when people read this news? well PANIC!
News claim that Japan is running out of food and water... but I go to the supermarkets and there is a lot of food and water still in the stands.The only thing that is difficult to find is the instant noodles!! They show a picture of a convenient store's stand without any food, but they don't explain that this stores are very, very small! so people, of course, PANIC... this news also cause people to run to the stores and buy a lot of food that they actually don't need and this makes the situation worst for the really affected areas, that really don't have food or water!
The point of my post is the reaction of our families abroad that don't have any other source of information than news that are exaggerated greatly. THey are watching reports of people that call foreigners and ask them to tell them their "juicy" stories, if they don't have a "good", then they don't care. So, it is just natural that families and friends get super worried about our welfare and start pressuring us to do things that are not yet necessary. It is very difficult to convince them that the situation is not as bad as they portrait it in the news, that things are going back to normal little by little.
Then the question for us living in Japan arises, Do I do what my friends and family want me to do? or Do I continue my life as if I was in the same situation in my country? (that is try to recover and continue with my normal life. )...
Well I will write more in my next post of how I'm dealing with the situation, and the factores that are affecting my decisions. For now I hope for the best, and my heart is with Japan and japanese people!