Saturday, January 14, 2006

Stupid Foreigner, part 6: Shake and Quake

Hey, it's Saturday, the only day this blog is remotely funny. That's because I just publish things I wrote years and years ago, when I still had a sense of humor and a bright outlook on life while living in Japan. It's been downhill ever since. This is something I wrote on July 2, 1999.

The following is an article that did not appear in the local newspaper, although it almost happened:

Foreigner falls to death during mild earthquake

SHIZUOKA, Japan (ap) -- An English conversation teacher died after apparently jumping from his third-floor balcony during an earthquake that rattled the Shizuoka area Friday night. No other injuries or deaths were reported.

Bill Tyler, 30, from Liverpool, England, was pronounced dead on the scene following the earthquake, which measured 4 on the Richter scale. Witnesses said Tyler was standing on his balcony and appeared to panic as the earthquake struck at 8:45 p.m.

"When the building started shaking, Bill looked around wildly and started shouting something about the end of the world," said Tubb Lyin, a neighbor.

"Then, he jumped."

According to co-workers, Tyler, who was considered a "scouser," was afraid of earthquakes.

"I remember one time there was a tiny earthquake during work," said Calvin Bonk, an employee of AVON Intercultural Institute in Shizuoka. "Most people didn't even notice. Or they thought some heavy truck was driving past.

"But Bill really freaked out," Bonk chuckled. "He dove straight under the table in his classroom. The four students just sat there laughing."

Bonk admitted that Tyler probably got a good view up his students' skirts while hiding under the table.

"But when he emerged from under there, he was still shaking. Then, he ran to the bathroom and threw up, I don't know why," Bonk said. "Maybe he was just hungover from the night before."

The Friday night earthquake was not particularly a strong one, according to the Meteorological Agency. It had the force to knock items off shelves, but there were no reports of damage, a spokesman said.

Some Shizuoka residents were unaware that there had been an earthquake.

"I remember I was having sex with a student who had come over for extra tutoring," said another AVON teacher said, who asked that his name not be used. "We were really going at it, and afterwards, she said, 'You made the earth move.'

"I was pretty proud of that one. Shoot, was it really an earthquake?"

As I said, that story is almost completely made up. (I mean, come on: Do you really think conversation teachers would have sex with their adult students? Especially here in Japan?) But this one guy I know really almost jumped from his balcony during a recent earthquake. He told me me about it.

I suppose everyone reacts a little differently when they think they're about to die. Some people jump, some run away, some just curl up and let some guy beat the crap out of them.

And here in Japan there are not all that many opportunities for a person to come face-to-face with death. Unless he's drunk enough to offend a pack of "coolio" Japanese guys by calling them gei, and they then punish him with their boots (but that's another topic). Or unless he's here when the Big One strikes, which is the earthquake so predictable that it already has a name. As far as I know, the Great Tokai earthquake is the first time in history that an earthquake has been given a name before it strikes.

The only unpredictable thing about the Great Tokai is the exact moment it will strike. Everybody already knows that when it does strike, a hunk of Japan the size of California is going to join the Titanic at the bottom of the ocean. Considering the entire country is the size of California, this is not a good thing. Is it any wonder most Japanese walk around frowning, hustling around like the end of the world is at hand?

Earthquakes hit Japan quite frequently, and most people react differently. The earthquake that did happen recently was only the second one I've felt in two years, so I remember both quite clearly.

The first one happened while I was at, of all places, McDonald's, before a roadtrip to Yokohama. I actually thought it was a truck driving past, but I joked anyway: "Oh no, an earthquake."

My friend assured me that it was an earthquake. It was over as fast as a truck driving past, and none of the other customers looked up from their hot dog breakfast sets to notice.

The second one caught me with my pants off. Literally. No, I wasn't having sex (I can only wish!). I was just lounging around, watching TV at the old Leopalace. (Note: If you see the word "palace" in a Japanese apartment name, it probably means "tiny one-room hell hole." And "mansion" means you're too poor to live in a proper dwelling.)

Anyway, it was after work, and I was just sitting around in my boxers and a T-shirt. All of a sudden, I felt the wall behind me shaking--I thought my neighbors were having sex. Then, my ceiling started shaking, and then the other wall. Damn, I thought, everyone's having sex except for me! But finally it felt like a giant hand had taken my apartment and was shaking it a little, just playing around. (Believe me, if you've even seen my apartment, you too would think this was possible.)

"Earthquake!" said my girlfriend, who was ironing my clothes.

Then, a weird thing happened. I could actually hear the ground moving. It sounded like the giant hand decided to push the earth around, and the ground was offering up some resistance.

My reaction? I started running wildly around the room.

"Don't worry, it's not a big one," my girlfriend assured me.

"I'm not that worried," I said. "I just want to find my pants. I don't want a big earthquake to hit and then have to run outside in just my underwear."

And so that was my reaction to the prospect of death. I didn't run to the kitchen to turn off the gas supply, as the government advises. I didn't fall to my knees and beg for God's forgiveness for my many sins against humanity. I didn't try to have one last sexual encounter, to go out with a bang.

I just put on my pants.


Anonymous jenska said...

It's been a long time since I've felt an earthquake, but it wasn't uncommon when I was growing up in Southern California. The Northridge quake (a 7 I think?) hit when I was in high school, asleep in the early am. It was probably centered 50 miles away, but still knocked me right out of bed. Another one I distinctly remember as a kid was a 5 or 6, and the sounds of it woke me up before the shaking even hit. The sounds was like a giant bowling ball might sound at a bowling alley, then bam, the quake hit.

Each time, though, even through all the little ones, I'd stop and think "is it getting worse? is it the Big One?" It's weird because there aren't that many occasions where you sit for a few seconds and ponder if you're about to have the ceiling cave in and possibly die, then moments later just go about your business like nothing happened.

6:35 PM  

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