Saturday, 16 April 2011

The quake ate my homework ...



Knew it. Lovely sunny morning. Prior to getting started on my uni lecturer stuff, at 11.19am I was relaxing on my sofa with my morning tea and In Style magazine (thanks so much for that, M in Buckingham) when I felt the vibrations coming up through the sofa. I grabbed my camera and recorded the Mag 5.9, although in my neighbourhood it was only a Mag 3. They`re getting closer though. What you don`t see is my cup of tea go flying all over my papers including my uni lecturer stuff. My papers are now drying outside ...


Back in 1995, when I was an assistant high school teacher in central Japan, I was woken early by a fairly sizeable quake. No damage, just a Mag 2-3 level shake. I went to school and at the morning teachers` meeting the quake was mentioned. Then I taught the first class at 9am. Walking back to the teacher`s room later I was passed in the corridor by the science teacher. She was crying into the sleeve of her white lab coat and when I asked her if she was OK, she said, "This is the worst ever earthquake in my lifetime". Blimey, I thought, she`s a bit sensitive. It was only a 3 tops. When I got back to the teachers` room the TV was on. As it was usually only allowed on for the national high school baseball finals, I knew something was up. I joined the other teachers round the set and saw lots of buildings on fire. Back then there was very little in English and no internet or mobile phones, so I had to rely on the Japanese English-language teachers to tell me anything I needed to know. But there were no English-speaking teachers around. I was able, in my beginner`s Japanese, to ask where the fires were and a P.E. teacher just said, Kobe. (P.E. teachers tend to speak simply and clearly and slowly so I often went to them or to the cleaning lady - the other teachers tended to tie themeslves in knots trying to simplify their Japanese enough for me to understand and they tended to speed up the more embarrassed they became.) Well, well, I said, this morning we had a quake here and now there are fires in Kobe. It`s all go today, isn`t it ... or something equally as dumb. It had to be explained to me later by my supervisor that a quake did not have the same seismic intensity ALL OVER, that it was at its strongest at the epicentre - in this case Kobe - and weaker several hundred miles away where we were. The quake and the fires were connected. Duh. Now, nearly 20 years and a PhD later, whenever we have a quake I always go immediately to the Japan Meteorological Agency website to find the epicentre (jma.go.jp/en/quake). So when you hear that Japan has been hit with a 6 or a 7 or (the one we have been told to expect within the next three months) an 8, don`t assume that`s everywhere. Or was that just me? Duh.

Back to my tea-stained magazine ...


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