>I Had a Hard but Great Day

23 May

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Spent the day cleaning and clearing mud, debris, and materials from Mr. Moto’s home. It was hard work and extremely hot inside the waterproof gear we had to wear. The soil we bagged form the silt and sludge was toxic. It’s full of oil, sewage, chemicals, decay, and things that smelled awful. First all the debris had to be carried away. Then underneath anywhere from 4 to 6 inches of mud had to be shoveled into sandbags and carried to the roadside. The team worked nonstop and were amazing. I’ll post more details later. Too tired to write anymore. Below is just and example of one small section. There were lots more here on site.

BEFORE

AFTER  

I think I’m going to sleep well tonight.

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>Long Day

22 May

>Today I left Tokyo at dawn. Traveled to Sendai in Tohoku and then took a rented 4×4 to go to the disaster area. Filmed and shot a remote makeshift aid station. The desolate neighborhood had lost over 150 local residents. More abandoned homes than inhabited ones. Someone from the relief group walked the streets with a bullhorn to announce the meal distribution. At which point tired and haggard people came to collect portions of rice, pickled Japanese plums, stew, and boil cabbage. They brought their own pots and bowls to bring home. The aid station was in a dilapidated community center. A small tarp served as the clean serving area. The smell here is pungent. It is of spoiled seas, dead fish, mildew, decay, and marshy earth. It’s raining today. It’s chilly and damp. Here there is still no electricity and water. The people here are not refugees but they are stranded in their own homes. Food deliveries here come every other day. Many still miss meals and the ones served are very basic in terms of subsidence. I can’t believe it’s been 2 months. Tomorrow we wake up early again and go assist in clean up. We are to wear rain gear, steel soled boots, masks, leather gloves, head lamps, helmets, and goggles. It will hard and dirty work. Conditions filthy, muddy, and hazardous. It is hard to imagine that people live in this situation. Now more than ever help is needed. The over crowded trend of Golden week volunteers have left. There are less here now. Rainy season comes soon…

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

>Leaving for here

21 May

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Going back in a few hours. Not much to say. Although things at times may seem slightly out of focus the reasons for going are crystal clear.

>Round 3

20 May

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As it’s been 2 months and the time has passed like a blur. Although not as present in the news and world media, the situation remains dire. The situation with the nuclear reactors confirmed that one of the reactors had a full meltdown on the first day. We’ve been given the news but on information regarding what this means and what dangers this poses. With this there’s still the situation of displaced people and refugees in shelters. From conversations I’ve had with people who’ve recently returned, there’s a lot of refugees in shelters still not receiving sufficient support. Even now many shelters are not able to provide hot or properly cooked meals. Most meals served have been limited to rice balls, instant soups, and food brought in by volunteers. Many refugees remain uncertain about their immediate future. It’s important that people here are aware of these things. With this in mind;

I’m departing for Tohoku again Sunday to volunteer in clean up assistance and to work as a photographer. I’ve been asked by a company to go with a team to the area around Ishinomaki in order to document and assess the current situation. Afterwards the report and images gathered will enable them to coordinate aid and address critical needs. Unlike the other trips I’ve made, this time the team will take the Shinkansen to Sendai then rent a 4×4 for the excursion to the disaster area. Instead of a 5 to 7 hour drive, the Shinkansen will get us to Sendai in about 2 hours. We’ll go to the disaster relief command center for the NGO Peace Boat. At which point we attend several briefings and will be given our clean up duty assignments. We are instructed to be prepared with head lamps, rugged clothing, leather gloves, boots, dust masks, rain gear, and safety goggles. Going inside the structures will have hazards that require proper protection. I look forward to this trip as it’s yet another opportunity to make a difference. Whether it’s cleaning a home, a business, or public building; it all contributes to bringing the community back to life. It’s round 3, I look forward to the next.

>Night Sushi

18 May

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I’m going to have to admit that I’ve been slacking a bit on the writing. More discipline needed on my part perhaps, but actually I’ve recently been extremely busy. Since the last post and this one, I took a break from writing for a while. Part of getting back to normal means making up for lost time. Things at work and life have gotten rather busy. With that in mind another aspect of normalization is finding time to slow down. I did that too. During the month after the earthquake despite a lot of things being shut down, no one could say they slowed down. The pace and pressure of life accelerated as days blurred into each other. Now after two months I can say things in Tokyo are back to as they were. Hence tonight’s excerpt. I worked an unusually tough day. Got home and went on a very long and hard run. I don’t jog, I run. There’s a huge difference. Jogging is pleasant and fun and a near low impact form of exercise. It’s gentle and can be a social event. Running is different. It’s getting on the road, going hard and fast, as well as losing yourself. It hurts, it’s challenging, and when you are done you have a sense you overcame your weaknesses and urge to quit. The best part is that in the aftermath, you feel great, and in the process of enduring you think clearly. It’s a brutal form of meditation and I highly recommend it to anyone. After runs I get hungry. When this strikes me I’m left with amazing food cravings. It could be pizza, pho, burgers, Chinese food, etc… Tonight it was sushi. Therefore I’m writing about my favorite place for it.

So I went out for sushi at 1:00 AM. The evening was unseasonably cold and I headed down to a narrow alley near my apartment. Nestled a short distance from the main road is a quaint sushi bar. It’s open until 3:00 AM. A 12 seat bar/restaurant with a long counter. It’s wooded interior is warmly decorated with traditional Japanese crafts. Inside a friendly non English speaking chef named Shibuya-San runs a one man operation. He’s been here for ages and has a regular following of customers. On any night anyone from a simple local businessman to a famous Japanese TV/Movie personality can be seen eating here. Tonight as I stepped in from the darkness, it’s just he and I. He’s a skilled chef and told me it took him 15 years of apprenticeship to master this art. Here in his shop there’s no menu. Customers either know a certain type of sushi top of mind and order it. Or he’ll make something to suit their tastes. As for me, he always makes me a variety of the things I’ve noted I liked and each time he’ll  make and introduce to me at least one of two items that are new. It’s a great way to learn about sushi and this type of Japanese culture. He executes orders with incredible speed and beautiful presentation. I’m quite fascinated by anyone who’s good at what they do. With Shibuya-san he’s taken a craft and turned it into art. Each piece of sushi is perfectly rolled in oiled rice and wrapped tightly enough that they never fall apart. The fish is always the best choice fish and extremely fresh as he goes to the market each day before opening shop. The seaweed, wasabi, soy sauce he chooses, and even the teas compliment the beautifully laid out food. Each time I have to stop and take a nice long look before I make the tough selection of which one goes first.

There’s always good conversation with him. Every time I come here I loose a little bit of my troubles at the door and forget about them after I leave. Sushi is not always about food, it’s as much that as it is the experience of having it made and presented to you. It’s the ambiance of the moment and a witnessing of mastery. This I’ve learned from Shibuya-san and my many visits to my favorite sushi bar in the world. As I’ve not written in a while I wanted to write about it and share with you all one of my secret little hideaways from life’s daily grind. It was a good night. I slowed down.

>The Amusement Park

10 May

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Ulaan Baatar Amusement ParkUlaan Baatar Amusement ParkUlaan Baatar Amusement ParkUlaan Baatar Amusement ParkUlaan Baatar Amusement ParkUlaan Baatar Amusement Park
Ulaan Baatar Amusement ParkUlaan Baatar Amusement ParkUlaan Baatar Amusement ParkUlaan Baatar Amusement ParkUlaan Baatar Amusement ParkUlaan Baatar Amusement Park
Ulaan Baatar Amusement ParkUlaan Baatar Amusement ParkUlaan Baatar Amusement ParkUlaan Baatar Amusement ParkUlaan Baatar Children's ParkUlaan Baatar Children's Park
linhvienthai’s photostream on Flickr.
 During Golden Week I had some time to organize my photos. There were a lot which I had not seen in years and some from hard drives and disks that I had to rescue. Finding lost things is always good. Many of the shots posted above; I thought I had lost forever. Gladly They’ve been rediscovered. Herein the entry for tonight. These were taken years ago during a cold winter day. As I recall it was late afternoon when I came to this children’s park. It was -20 C and steadily dropping as the sun was setting and the weather turning.  This park was centrally located in Ulaan Baatar and at the time of these photos the place was closed for the season. I was the only person on site and had it to myself. I like places like these. It’s always interesting to visit somewhere long after the crowds leave. It’s the same feeling as an empty boardwalk on the beach after summer. All the stands and shops shut and the festive things frozen in time. There’s a spookiness here that charms in the gloom. Although silent it’s not difficult to recall or imagine the sounds of crowds, music, laughter, screams, and mechanics. The Carousels, Ferris Wheels, Mini Roller Coasters, Boats, and other amusements were left out in the open as if their keepers just walked away after boarding up the ticket booths. The park had the rough simplicity that came from a bygone Soviet era. Nothing grand but very suitable for family outings and a child’s imagination. It served well for many of the people that came here. Although it’s likely that people elsewhere have more sophisticated and glittery amusement parks; to a kid it’s all relative and this was likely a location of good childhood memories. I heard that a season or two after I shot these photos that the park was finally closed forever. I can understand why as it seemed to have had a very long and steady decline. There’s likely not many remnants of it left and most of attractions and venues are gone. Finding these lost photos brought me back here again and made my day.

>linhvienthai’s photostream

9 May

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It’s hard to imagine a ship so far inland. I was walking through this valley shooting photos and from a distance I noticed this ship sitting atop a great deal of debris. I could not help but want to explore. I came up to it and climbed on board investigating it. It was tilted and pointed it’s bow towards the valley. There were many punctured holes in the hull, but all seemed fixable. Surprisingly the cabin and bridge looked fine. Although taken in by the tsunami it was remarkably in relatively good shape. As it was carried in, it must have collided with buildings, houses, vehicles, and other structures. It’s likely reason for survival was that it offered no resistance to the forces around it and was moved about fluidly. It’s one of the sights I’ll remember for a lifetime.