Saturday, April 30, 2016

Vick Fam Japan Earthquake Relief

Please help my family piece our lives back together after the back-to-back devastating Japan quakes and chip in if you can. Any amount helps.

Friday, April 29, 2016

7.4 magnitude Earthquake shatters Kumamoto (We survive)

If you follow me on social media, FB, Twitter, that sort of thing... you know that I am extremely active. You may have also noticed that for the past two weeks I've been entirely absent. Dead silent, you might say. There's a reason for this.

As you may well know, Kumamoto, the city I live in, was struck by two back-to-back devastating earthquakes. Both a level 6.5 magnitude quake, which happened on April 15th, and a 7.4 magnitude quake, April 16th, rocked the Mashiki area of Kumamoto city. That's a mere 3 km from where we (my family and I) live. Meanwhile, downtown the quake measured a whopping 7.1. That's about 5 km from the epicenter.

After the 7.4 quake we were forced to evacuate our home, where we fled outside to the middle of the street with all of the stunned neighbors. The local schools in our area were all turned into emergency shelters and the gymnasiums quickly filled up with the elderly and those who had lost their homes due to the quake.

We opted to camp out of our cars instead of go to one of the shelters, and for the past two weeks my family has been living out of our car. Not easy for a family of four, two grandparents, and a couple of dogs. But we managed. We were just glad to be alive. 

Granted, it wasn't the ideal living arrangements, but we made due. My kids thought of it as a kind of camping trips. Mom and dad were just terribly stressed. The ground hasn't stopped rumbling for two weeks. As of now, there have been over 1,000 sizable tremors and aftershocks. 

That's right. There have been over 1,000 earthquakes in just two weeks! 

I felt that it was worth repeating because it's such a large number to even attempt to grasp. Living through it has been... well... educational, to say the least.

The first few days after the big shake there was an aftershock every 15 to 20 minutes. The first few aftershocks register as level 6 magnitude quakes. There were seven of those intermixed with a series of high level 5 quakes. 

Now, the level 6.5 quake was enough to knock down all our bookshelves, cupboards, cabinets, and picture frames. All our dishes, the toaster, and anything else that could fall onto the floor and break into a gazzillion pieces did so.

But the 7.4 was the real trouble maker. 

I describe the difference of a 6.5 quake and a 7.5 five magnitude quake as the difference between Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk.

The reason that 1 point is so much more devastating is that it's a 10% increase in magnitude. Remember, earthquakes are measured exponentially. So it's an exponential growth. 

Additionally, the level 7.4 quake was powerful enough to send out tsunami warnings. 

Luckily (if luck had anything to do with it) the vibrations headed north inland instead of out to sea. So the tsunami warning abated, but it was still terrifying to have to worry about an 800 ft. tidal wave traveling faster than a Boeing 747 headed your way to wipe you off the map. Luckily that didn't happen. But the threat was very real.

And while you worry about trying not to die, you worry ten fold about keeping your children safe. And that seems like a daunting task when you're up against Mother Nature.

If you want to know what it's like to be in the thick of an earthquake, please read this excellent blog post regarding How Does an Earthquake Really Feel?

By the end of the first week the aftershocks had died down to a few every 30 minutes or so. At the end of the second week, where we're at now, we're down to a few high level 3s and 4s every few hours.

Now that I have the Internet back... and I'm sorry to say this... the JAPAN earthquakes here in Kumamoto and the Kyushu region left our house in terrible disarray... and it looks like I'm left little choice but to set up a crowd sourcing campaign and start groveling.

It's not something I really ever wanted to have to do. Ask for handouts. But as my friend Brad pointed out, it's not begging for money so much as it's a genuine plea for help when there's a more than valid need for a humanitarian relief effort.

Our water boiler bit the big one. We haven't had hot water in two weeks. And after spending 5 days living out of a car, the first thing you want is a hot bath.

A portion of our roof tiles fell off the roof, and now we're using a blue tarp to keep the rain out.

We lost the east facing glass windows to our house. The neighbor's stupid cat keeps coming into our house because -- hey -- new hole to explore.

Every wall inside the house needs to be replaced due to the amount of damage done to the dry wall. Although they broke mainly along the seems, because our walls use wallpaper (not paint) the wallpaper has been shredded and so the whole thing must come down. (Major pain in the ass -- but this is labor we can do, we just need to be able to afford enough materials for replacing the bulk of our home's walls).

90% of our dishes will need replacing. It's not a huge priority. We still have a lot of bowls that survived because they were protected on the inside of the fridge.

Family portraits lost some glass from the frames, meaning we'll need to replace those. Although it's not a huge priority. A simple glass frame from the dollar store is all we'll need.

Many other small and trivial items need replacing. We lost our toaster oven. Our automatic tea kettle. Things you really take for granted when you want some tea or toast and realize you can't make any.

There are, of course, things I won't ask to replace such as trivial items like my Sideshow Collectibles Premium Format Wonder Woman statue. She's busted up, but I'll probably have a lot of fun gluing the pieces back together and repainting her.

Our house isn't earthquake insured, and it didn't sustain enough damage for regular insurance to kick in (which, I suppose is a good thing considering the house would need to be toppled over for the insurance to kick in), meaning we are getting stuck with the full financial burden of the repairs.

And since it's my wife's family home, we can't just up and move. Which means we will need to do some major fixing. Which costs money.

As such, it seems I have little in the way of options and am currently looking for the best crowd sourcing platform to begin my groveling and begging for money. I post the details of that later this week.

Until then, here's a video showing the startling amount of destruction done to Mashiki:

Reflections #1: From Nightmare School to Dream School

After JET Programme finished for me, and I moved from Hiroshima to Kumamoto, I was lucky enough to find a teaching job just two weeks after the move.

It was in a town about an hour and a half from where I lived, but an easy enough commute on the train. A little longer by car.

Needless to say I was just happy I could continue to pay the bills, put food on the table, and provide for my family. I really didn't care how far I had to go to do that.

And everything seems alright. After all, I had taught at 14 different junior high schools and elementary schools in Japan. I thought this one would be like all the others. I couldn't have been further from the truth if I'd tried.

I had a nightmare first year at the new JHS I taught at.

The kids were a nightmare. Every day there was some strange or dangerous incident. Just off the top of my head...

A teen once threw his desk through a window.

A girl student stabbed a teacher with a pair of scissors.

A couple of parents were suing the school because the school counselor found out their daughter wasn't taking her anti-psychotic meds, and the teacher was obligated by the law to inform the school and, supposedly, this embarrassment caused the family to feel as though they lost face with the community -- thus the lawsuit.

And this same girl kicked a underclassman down a flight of stairs because the underclassman wouldn't agree with her as to what the best K-pop band was.

I dad a boy student with ADHD who kept jumping out of the 3rd floor window and scaling the wall to the 2nd story window then running around like a wild-thing.

It was insane to say the least.

And those are the good stories of the year. Everything just got worse from there on in. That school took me to my breaking point as a teacher.

Luckily, once those kids graduated, it was, you might say... a miraculous change. The dynamics of the whole school changed.

Once the Children of the Corn graduated, that school became my all time favorite school I've ever had the privilege of working at.

Strange how that works.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Non-alcoholic Beer and Japan as a Social Drinking Culture

Non-alcoholic beer is just soda flavored beer. It's a lot like chocolate soda flavored beer. It exists without reason or purpose simply for the sake of existing.

That said, non alcoholic beers do play a rather big social function here in Japan, where they have a ZERO alcohol policy for drinking and driving. The actual legal limit is BrAC 0.15 mg/L (equivalent to 0.03%). To put this into perspective, a piece of rum cake would set you over that limit.

A one time offense for drinking and driving in Japan (with zero altercations) is the suspension of your license for six month and a 5K $USD fine! The second offense is the permanent suspension of your license and up to a 10K $USD fine (my Japanese driver's education manual says this fine is actually up to the presiding judge). If you kill anyone in a DUI / DWI it's an automatic jail sentence plus anything else the judge wants to throw at you.

Japan has some of the strictest drinking laws I've ever seen.

That's where non-alcoholic beer comes into the equation.

In Japan, social drinking with work employees is ritualistic. There are several mandatory drinking parties a year -- even for public schools like mine!

New Years, is of course the biggest, but then there are PTA, Graduation, and start and end to the semester drinking parties. There's a Christmas drinking party as well. Every December 22nd all teachers receive a pledge form from their school that they must sign promising that they will not drink and drive and will use good judgement throughout the evening, even if they become intoxicated. The form is legally binding, so drinking and driving would result in losing their job!

Corporate companies have even more drinking parties, as they host foreign bosses and work exchange employees and every time there is a visitor or a tour of the factory / company, there will be a drinking party. In Japan, being a good host is vital to the identity of the Japanese people and part of their inbuilt tradition of manners and serving as a sign of respect. So, of course, such parties are mandatory.

With this amount of pressure to drink -- sometimes two or three times a week... non-alcoholic beer becomes the polite way to join these events without actually becoming an alcoholic, or getting slobbering drunk for that matter.

It allows employees to save face, pay the proper respect, be a part of the group, and not loose their driving privileges! It also allows women employees, who feel the same pressures to drink, to switch out to something that won't give them alcohol poisoning as they have to drink for two to three hours at the main party -- only to have to drink more at the ni-ji-kai or after-party.

The more you know!

(Classic Japanese beer ad snagged from Everything Japan)