Sunday, 20 March 2011

Japan earthquake - personal thoughts

It has been just over a week since the Japan earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant disaster struck. Finally, the flow of bad news coming out of northeastern Japan is slowing down from a pour to a trickle.

Perhaps it's the precious family and friends I have in Japan, or the wonderful time I spent as a graduate student there, or having been sent there to report on the quake for five days, that has made me an emotional wreck. After coming back, the adrenaline wearing off, and not having to worry about my family who has traveled to Taiwan for the time being, I was constantly nearly breaking into tears. Whenever I talk about what I saw, the stories I heard, or when I interview people or write my reports, I almost lose control of myself. My handkerchief is always in my hand, just in case. Imagine friends and family dead or missing. Imagine your home, school, workplace and city destroyed. Imagine your past and all that you had taken from you. Imagine a future that you can't see... The pain and suffering that is going on for the victims is unfathomable, and it hurts me so much, still.

Just like most other people, I've been praying and doing what I can to help. Though much of the reports out of Taiwan has been heavily criticized for being overly sensationalistic and pessimistic, I've tried to make mine less so, a little more hopeful, and a little more helpful. Sometimes I feel that it doesn't make me popular with the people who are responsible for ratings, but sometimes I feel this is what I have to do for myself to keep from quitting altogether. Fortunately, FTV hasn't fired me, and I thank them for that. But to be fair, the media has not been all that terrible. In the last three days, major TV networks have put together two telethons that have collected more than JPY 23 billion in donations from individuals, government officials and corporations for the victims. In Chiba, a man told me, "because we Japanese are a very well-mannered people, there has been no rioting and looting after the disaster, and it makes me very proud to be Japanese." Well, to me the astronomical figure of JPY 23 bn represents incredible compassion and generosity of the Taiwanese people, and this makes me very proud to be Taiwanese. More than 400 entertainers participated in the telethons, some having flown in from abroad and attending as many fundraisers as possible to raise as much money as possible. Watching my godmother move from one event to the next, singing and encouraging people to donate was touching and heart wrenching at the same time. At 61 years old, having had no rest since the quake - cleaning the apartment, trying to get disaster-related charity events rolling, convincing Grandpa & Grandma to come back to Taiwan for a while, taking care of employees, worrying about me reporting in Japan - she is still pushing herself to do more and more to help the victims. I know because I was with her starting the day after the quake. I flew in on assignment on the second day, and I camped out in the living room the whole time I was there (instead of staying at the hotel for peace of mind), and every night in the middle of the night when the ground would start shaking violently again, she'd grab me by my pajamas on the way to huddling in the bathroom until it was safe to come out again. I truly believe that the heavens have given her power to do this. I suppose with great influence also comes great responsibility. And she certainly is very responsible and just overflowing with compassion. I am proud to be her goddaughter.

Messages of thank you from Japan are starting to flood the internet. People are saying, "thank you Taiwan from the bottom of our hearts!" "I've never been to Taiwan, but one day I will travel there and thank you in person." The actions and prayers of people in Taiwan are being felt by people in Japan. It is so comforting to know.

I think I am starting to climb my way out of the trauma. There's still more work to be done and more help to give. A Japanese woman from Aomori told me that after the 1995 Kobe earthquake, many people committed suicide despite rebuilding efforts. She said that after many of the victims lost everything, including their network of support and social bonds that they had in their old community, and even after having a new place to live, could not piece their life back together. She is afraid that some people in her homeland will have the same fate as the suicide victims in Kobe, so she would like Taiwan to share advice on how it helped victims of the 921 Jiji earthquake and 88 Typhoon Morakot to successfully get back on their feet again. There is still more help that Taiwan and the world can give Japan. Let's continue to keep Japan in our prayers and let's continue doing what we can for Japan.