Monday, October 02, 2006

Typhoons of My Past

I have just gotten off the phone with my agency. They don’t have any specific information to give to me, except to say that they had correspondence from their staff in Vietnam overnight (while it was Monday during business hours in Vietnam) and that none of that correspondence was “out of the ordinary”. I was told if they heard anything regarding the children in Danang they would let me know immediately.

In that I cannot think about anything OTHER than typhoons, I thought I would share my experience regarding TYPHOONS I HAVE PERSONALLY WEATHERED.

(This has you on the edge of your seats, doesn’t it? You’re thinking “Top of the NY Times Bestseller List” potential, aren’t you? :-P)

Since typhoons occur in Asia, the two typhoons I experienced were, of course, in Asia, during the time I lived in Japan.

In September of 1995, I boarded a Northwest Airlines flight from Detroit to Osaka. It was a direct flight and scheduled to take 13 hours. As you may recall from earlier posts, my husband had left for Tokyo a few weeks earlier, and had, by this point, completed his AEON Corporation training in Tokyo, and had moved into an AEON Corporation apartment in Hitachi, Ibaraki Prefecture, where he was awaiting my arrival. I was scheduled to spend a week in Okayama and then join him in Hitachi.

Unbeknownst to any passengers on the flight, a typhoon began pummeling Osaka overnight. My father and my husband were calling back and forth to each other and to Northwest Airlines. At one point, Northwest told my father that our flight could not land in Japan and was being re-routed to land in Seoul, South Korea because the weather was “better there” and still too bad for us to land in Osaka. My father called my husband and told him that I was being sent to Seoul. At that point, my husband walked across the street in what he described as a “torrential, pouring rain that felt like someone had turned a fire hose” on him, and walked into the liquor store across from our apartment building where he bought a some rum, which he proceeded to drink while watching the news coverage of the typhoon in Japanese, certain that my plane would crash and leave him widowed in a foreign country after only 3 months of marriage.

An hour past the time we were supposed to land, and we were still in the air, and starting to wonder what was going on. The pilot came on, and said that there were “weather related issues” and that “we now have a window to land” – and he put the seatbelt light on. It still didn’t occur to me to think much of anything except that we were late and that I hoped AEON’s representatives would be there to meet me at the airport. (As it turned out, there were three AEON teachers on that flight.) The plane began its descent and I was shocked at the amount of rain hitting the wing (I had a window seat just in front of the wing.) Then, I became increasingly worried as the rain seemed to hitting the plane harder, and I could see the ocean coming toward the plane, what seemed at the time like miles of angry whitecaps on the ocean, and NO LAND to speak of. I actually didn’t see ANY land until I felt the plane’s wheels smack down against the ground, in one of the bumpiest landings I have ever experienced. Evidently, the runway at Osaka juts out into the ocean…not a fun way to land in a typhoon, let me tell you.

It was not until we got off the flight that we learned about the typhoon. We were the last plane to land in Osaka that night, but, we were the last three teachers that AEON was scheduled to pick up at the airport that evening, anyway. We took a train from Osaka to Okayama that night, and could see nothing out the window during to the unrelenting rain. In retrospect, I think it is impressive that the trains were running at all.

Months later, my husband and I sat in our little apartment, watching the Japanese news, and the bright red warning scrolling across the bottom of the screen, with the kanji that we recognized meant “Hitachi” (our city).

There was a knock on our door, and Keiko, one of our neighbors, was standing on our stoop, soaking wet, holding a broken umbrella. (It had broken in the wind just walking down the block.) Keiko was endlessly upbeat and happy, so, we were surprised to see her looking worried. “Hello!” she said. “It’s very very dangerous weather right now. Do you see the television? It is saying, ‘typhoon is coming to Hitachi’. Please, do not try to leave the apartment. Most especially, do not try to go to watch the typhoon on the beach.” (What I find astonishing is that she was actually worried that we MIGHT get it into our heads to walk down to the beach. In the typhoon. Which would have involved climbing down a steep bluff on a narrow trail.) We assured Keiko that we would not leave the apartment, and certainly would not walk down to the ocean. We then had a long conversation that involved several checks of the dictionary in both languages, from which we finally agreed that in the unlikely event of an evacuation order (this is the phrase that confounded translation), Keiko would come get us in her husband’s car.

Keiko headed back out into the driving, sideways rain. Husband and I sat in our living room/dining room/kitchen with our feet warming under the kotatsu table, and watched more news. At some point, I got up and stood staring out the sliding glass doors that made up the back wall of our apartment, unable to see anything but the gray gray howling rain. At another point, I put in a tape of popular music from the US that had been sent to me by my aunt, I remember listening to the Macarena while I wondered if the roof would blow off. (We had no idea how popular the Macarena was in the US. My aunt had just taped an afternoon of random radio and sent it to us for the comforts of home. I liked the song a lot – I didn’t know that by that time it had become a joke.) At some point I wrote a letter to my mother, which I found years later in a drawer in my mom’s living room. “Dear Family, There’s a typhoon happening right now. That’s like a hurricane but only in the eastern hemisphere. Don’t worry though, if I manage to get this to the post office, everything turned out fine in the end.” I remember making miso soup and rice for us to eat, and being thankful that, despite everything, we hadn’t lost power. Night came and we dragged our futons out of the closet and stretched them out on the tatami mats in our bedroom and slept. The wind was loud and scary. In the morning, the rain had stopped, and our neighborhood was a mess of strewn garbage and debris. But, everything was still standing.

When we left Japan I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about earthquakes or typhoons ever again. How wrong I was – and how scary it is, now, to worry not for my own safety, but for the safety of a child I am waiting to bring home…


Blogger Nicki said...

I do so love reading your stories! That's just crazy!!! Man, you have LIVED! I'm so sorry about the typohoon, hang in there. I know it will be ok.

Monday, October 02, 2006 3:32:00 PM  
Blogger Space Mom said...

Sending calming thoughts to you and safe thoughts to Lana

Tuesday, October 03, 2006 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger Ryan and Heather said...

Thanks for your message!
It is Ellie UH
(that's how we are saying it anyway!) lol
It means "my god has answered me"
We thought it was fitting :)
still haven't found a middle name that goes with it though!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006 5:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Duchess said...

My fingers are crossed for you and your family.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006 5:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Christina/Mrs. Broccoli Guy said...

Somehow it does help to remember the storms we have lived through... and it helped me to hear about you weathering typhoons. Just think, you can swap stories with your daughter someday.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006 1:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Thursday, October 05, 2006 1:45:00 AM  

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