Sunday, October 30, 2011


Winter is drawing close to the land of Tohoku as the wind chills our bones when we work outside.  For the people who live in the temporary housing, no one is sure how well those thin walls can shield them from the bitter cold.  A department store generously donated tens of thousands of hot water warmers to the ones who lives in temp house, and we have been busy packaging them with a couple other basic essentials and delivering them.

This day we delivered almost 800 hot water warmers, came to about 393 families.
After a whole day of labor, we have only reached a tip of the iceberg.  Sometimes it truly leaves me feeling so small, so insufficient.  I constantly have to remind myself that I am merely like the little boy in 5 bread + 2 fishes.        As long as I have given my everything, God will feed all who are hungry.  It is not me, but Him.

In one of the temp house compounds, the occupant number of all 48 households are either 1 or 2.  Likely that none of the families in this compound is whole.  Especially when it came to household that was only grandpa or grandma, it wrenched my heart and I could only bless them with a silent

Mr Sasaki and his highschooler son came to help with our packing and delivering when we arrived upon his compound.  We learned that he is a temple priest, in which his temple/house was washed away in the tsunami, and nobody can tell when it can be rebuilt.  His tone was gentle and light, only with a slight hint of sadness in his eyes.

I needed to go to washroom and Mr Sasaki had his son took me to their unit.  This was my first time to be inside a temp house.  Sasaki's younger daughter was also in the house and looked over to say hi.
I took a quick glance around the room, went to washroom and returned to the meeting place with Sasaki's son.  A question was burning at the tip of my tongue all the way as we were walking, but I couldn't manage to roll it out to ask him.

After I got on our van, I fetched out the occupant's list and searched for Mr Sasaki's unit number.  In the column of occupant number, the number "3" was printed beside their name.
When I walked in their house, the chaos was unimaginable for a japanese family.
It could be a single parent family,  It could be just their way to be.
But my initial impression was a chaos that stemmed from an utter loss.
Probably, probably mommy is not in the household anymore.

I often hope that I'd thought too much when these moments come.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Train Cross way

Have you ever waited in front of the train's cross way?
We just had the day before. In the morning we were busing down from our dorm on the mountain down to our base, just as our daily routine goes.  When we got close to the cross way, the safety bar was lowered and there was a little line up in front of it.
"Oh, how I  have missed this!"  said Mr Wada, our bus driver.
We all poked our little heads to see through the front window.  Slowly but surely, a small train head passed through the crossway as we bursted into cheering and clapping our hands.

The lifeline of train tracks was destroyed in the tsunami in the coastal area, since then train service has been suspended.  Hearing the sound of train is like hearing the sound of the footsteps toward recovery.  Slowly, but surely.

How odd it is now that the usual stressful wait in front of the cross way become so moving.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Yesterday when Mr Kawahara learned that it was the last day of one of our volunteers Mayumi, he said, "Please don't forget Ofunato."

My dear people of Ofunato, do not be afraid
We can never forget  you.
We who come from all over the world have met you in the debris of mountains and sea
We have laughed together, we have cried together.
When we leave, your lives are like stardust
ingrained on our hearts.
Perhaps one day, when dark night comes onto our path
it would be these sparkling stardust that save us from the starless nights

Thank you for sharing your smiles and tears with us
Thank you so much.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Park 2: The Bricks



We found out this the hard way.  
At the final finish of the brick-laying, we pour fine, white silicon sand to fill the gaps between bricks.  
Using a brush to push aside the excess, a beautiful brick road comes into being.  
As I was brushing the excess sand off, I discovered that a few bricks appeared to be very loose.  Soon we realized those were the bricks that weren't hammered well enough to be sturdily lodged in the sand base.  Painfully, we had to take them out, filled in the extra sand that was needed to become the solid base, then pound it back. 

I was wondering why we have to sweat so much effort to fix the sand level and everything.  Now there was the answer.  I thought of what Jesus said about people who hears His words and put them into practice.  
Jesus concludes at the end of The Sermon on the Mount, ""Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock."    (Matt 7:24)  

All looks beautiful, until the trial comes.  

Read Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7

Park: A Park!

Laying down bricks in a park was my major task of the day.  I'd never thought about how that piece of brick road under my feet have come into being.  Ever.  And I am giving birth them right now!  After flattening the sand, we lay bricks down and hammer them down.  Each brick needs to be at the same level as the rest of its buddy, else somebody is gonna trip over it.  It's not as easy as it sounds, because each brick is not exactly the same thickness, and could be uneven on its own surface.  So we put different amount of sand underneath each brick to level it, and pound to its perfection.  As the day went, my hammer managed to miss any parts of my hand most of the time.  But finally I managed to miss the gigantic brick and hit my tiny little finger with the rubber hammer.  Oh I feel so smart these days when learning how to do handy work.

We are making a park for the kids in the community.  Most of the recreational space like park have been used for temporary housing, leaving the kids nowhere to play. One afternoon when I was killing my back with the brick-laying work, a small voice asked, "May I ask what you are making?"  I looked up, and saw two elementary school kids standing on the path in front of the bench area I was working at.  
"It is a park.  Please look forward to it!"  I smiled.  
"It's a park!  Isn't it great?"  The boy who asked turned to his friend exclaimed with excitement.  
I stood and watched as they walked away with a smile.  I never knew a park could bring so much joy to a little soul.

More bricks please! 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sharing my Finger Tip Joy ;)

After bundled up my finger for a good couple of days, the wound is healed!  and I managed to shave off 2mm fibrous skin off it before taking this picture.
Oh what happened to my finger?  Nothing.  The rubber hammer just missed a gigantic brick and went for my tiny little finger tip instead (I feel so smart these days when I learn how to do handy work).

to my radiation therapist friends:  tegaderm and paper tape are great for finger tip wounds!

A small  price to pay for the making of a community park ;)
Park story coming soon!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

At the Door

Today's work is to take people to spend money! XD
Most of  locations of temporary housing are inconveniently located in the middle of  nowhere.  People who don't own a car, esp the elderly, can only wait for the mobile food truck to come, or take the shuttle bus to shop grocery which comes to the area once or twice a week.  The temporary housing area that we serve doesn't even have a shuttle bus service.  Honestly, I am pretty upset about the negligence from the city officials!  On top of that, the shuttle bus service, when it is available, is not free.  Each time they will have to pay 600 yen.  When you have lost everything and the government is not paying you much, it is a lot of money.
The grannies and grandpas really appreciate our help to get some food.

One of the grannies called Mrs Asano asked me to carry her grocery to her house.  It was definitely my pleasure to give her a hand.   When we arrived at her small square box, she stopped in front of the door.  She turned around and said to me, "It is really embarrassing inside, you can leave the grocery here, thank you."
I was a little stunned, and was overwhelmed with sadness.
Usually Japanese are very hospitable.  They would double the miles if you have walked them one.  And I wouldn't be surprise if the little old lady attempts to feed me.
She could barely lift the bags herself...  How much shame does it take for a japanese old lady to refuse someone who has just helped her to carry heavy grocery to even step inside?
Yes, with a roof over their head.  A roof that reflects their embarrassing and stranded situation.  A roof that makes them feel they are not good enough to open their door to welcome a guest.
I suddenly remember the vision of Habitat for Humanity:  A world where everyone has a decent place to stay.  I wish for the day to come, that they can smile and open their door to guest with all the warmth and pride in the world.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Pieces of broken lives.

One of the important works that we do is to clean ditches (sewage system, canals... whatever you like to call it!).  The tsunami has brought loads of mud and all kinds of debris into the canals along the road side clogging the water sewage system, thus floods the area when  it rains.  What we do is to lift all the concrete cover of  canals, pull out the weeds that blossoms in the tsunami mud, then dig out the mud/earth shovel by shovel.  After we dug out the soil, we must sort out the concrete and debris from the soil, putting them into different bags for disposal.  Just a fun side note, there was a fish factory in one of the area before.  Many fishes were washed to everywhere, including ditches.  After so many months, the fishes decomposed into the mud, wherever they had landed.  The mud becomes kinda  sticky, gluey  aka asphelt-like (I am sure it is full of collagen and protein!), emitting a distinctive obnoxious smell.  YYYyuummmmmmmmmMMm.

In the usual japanese cleaning standard, we use a brush to clean the ditch after digging the mud out.  A straw-made broom is used to clean whatever is left behind before the final touch of a lighter broom to rid the dust off the sidewalk.  To be honest, my room has less treatment than the ditch!!

As we dig thru the ditch meter by meter, lots of different debris are recovered:  a watch, calender, penguin-glass paper holder, red wine bottle, fragments of fine china... I feel I am picking up broken pieces of people's lives.  In the midst of all the debris, we found a collection of train miniatures.  We carefully put them aside as we found them one by one.  over the span of that morning, we found a total of 4.  We were all abit quiet and heavy.  Perhaps they were once a favorite toy of a little boy.  At the end, we couldn't manage to throw them away.  Heather brought them back to the base in a small towel, and gave me 2 of them after washing them.

I carry them around in my bag during my break in Osaka and Kyoto, as a reminder of why I am here in this far far land.  At times, I tell their story to my new friends.  My new friends would look at these little trains with a tint of overwhelming sadness in their eyes.

I feel this has become a part of my mission.  It is not to sell tragic tearful stories, but to tell the stories and lives of the earthquake area to others, so people of the Northeast will not be forgotten as they try to live their best in the midst of loss and grief.

Forget them not.

For more photo:


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rest: semicolon.

Starting from tomorrow, I will take a 10 days break from the earthquake tsunami area.  Going to Osaka, kyoto and tokyo to visit friends and have some quiet time with myself and God.
After 3 weeks of relief work, it is time to rest, redeem some lost thoughts and reflect.

Just found out one of our dance teachers has lost her son in the tsunami.  It was a shock to us all, who were so oblivious of the deep sorrow that our beloved mama has been enduring all these time.  At a loss of words and thoughts, I don't know what to think or what should I think.  I will let this thought settle abit before I share more.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Marks of Life

I have been washing dishes, dishes and dishes in the past couple of days.  And some cats' paws as well (there are 3 super cute kittens inside the house and running around with dirty paws on the wet wooden floor we just wiped clean. Bad kitty, Bad!)  Those dishes are recovered from a tsunami damaged house to a second house that the owner has.

At the end of the day, my finger tips chapped badly.  And it wasn't part of my gear to include hand cream (for some odd reasons I have such a hard time finding normal cream in japan O_O).  Even after I put on cream twice, my hands still feels like sandpaper.  All of a sudden I realized, this is one of the marks that my hospital job has carved on me.  We washed our hands so often in hospital with anti-bacterial soaps and alcohol foam, after all these years my hands ceased to produce any oil such as normal skin would.  As far away from my job as I am now, there are things in life that will make a mark in you, and follow you no matter where you go, reminding you life once lived.
Such as chappy hands, such as death.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Top Chef dinner and breakfast@Ofunato

Today is our rest day and I just had a breakfast prepared by a former Top Chef (a tv food show) Frank Terzoli. And dinner last nite too!! benefit of volunteering haha XD
really appreciate that he came all the way from tokyo to Ofunato to cook for us.

Yummy yum dinner!

Chef in action

yummy appetizer

Red Carpet Screening: Yum in Yukata!

Sakamoto Teacher who teaches us Japanese traditional dance.

Before our performance on Senior's Day for 240+ people.

For more pictures:

Japanese Traditional Dance

Photo backup: Mr Asano

The damaged building

Mr Asano

For more Photos at Mr Asano's, click here

Mr Asano's

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

An Old Man's Tears

Today's work is salvaging Mr Asano's old storage house before it gets torn down due to the damages from the earthquake. It was a dirty and mouldy job! That storage house contains family artifect and all kinds of living utility that Mr Asano has inherited. He hasn't moved it for years and many things he only saw it for the first time! O_O Browsing through dust and sweat, it was like going through a japanese family history. Mr Asano at times told us story about certain things, like the gigantic barrel used to make miso. There was STILL miso in there. Yes, you've read it right. After 60+ years. The miso looks like brown jelly, or the turtle jelly if you are chinese. Goosebumps are growing as I thought of it. There is also old fashion sewing machine, beautiful kimono belts, Mr Asano's high school uniform, japanese traditional wooden chest and cupboard filled with personal artifects, china dishes and cups, japanese trad small eating table, grandpa's 乓amboo reclining chair...... it's more than I can fill the page. Even included a samurai armor set, with Mr Asano's grandpa's name on the box. When I was handed the armor, I wonder where has it gone to war for.

During break time, Mr Asano told me about his 25+ years friend, Takashi, who was a carpenter. Takashi was the one who built the house that we were clearing out today. He also helped Mr Asano to fix his house, store, and storage house in previous earthquakes. Just that this time, Takashi won't be here to help anymore. He escaped the tsunami when it hit, but went back for his dog even though his wife pleaded with him not to. This time, the wave took him. Mr Asano's eyes were misted with tears as he stared into space, and wiped his eyes when the silence fell. He quietly said that if Takashi is still alive, perhaps he can fix this house.
You must be sad and lonely, I said.
He nodded and said, yes, sad and lonely. And wiped more tears away.
My heart breaks as I listened to his story. There must be many stories like Mr Asano's in the area. How I wish I can listen to all of them, and wish they know that there are people who care to come.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Day1: Their Photo Albums

I was planning to start the volunteering with some majorly hardcore physical labor, but signed up for photo team accidentally. at the end of the day, I am actually glad that I have taken this job, and decide to clean more photos for one week. Our main job is to clean photos that relief workers or volunteers have picked up when they are cleaning up the debris. Because the photos were soaked in sea water and often have mud on them, we gently remove them from the album, or whatever left of it, and wash with in water to prevent bacteria growth in future.

As our bus passed by the area close to the ocean, there are mountains of debris. Although I know in my head that these are Fremains of houses, buildings, I just couldn't register and sink in the idea that this construction site-like place was once a community, once a place full of life and people living here. I think it will take some time before it can sink in.

The photos were so fragile, but contain so much memories and lives once lived. Baby naked after bath, high school graduation trip, wedding... one of all photo sets that caught me the most was a picture of a middle school class reunion, grandmas and grandpas stood neatly in rolls with their beloved teachers, just the same as if they had once taken the class photo in their old days in middle school. They were laughing and cheering in the photos, their teacher giving them a speech on the stage... as I washed the mud off the photo surface, I can't help but to think if the owner of this photo is alive to ever see this precious memory again.

I have to say, it is not job for everyone. Emotional aspect for one, and some people are simply more the action-type. I am not really the delicate type that handles fragile things very well usually, but this I just have to do. Playback theater honors stories of life through playing them out on the stage. This photo cleaning honors stories of life through gently gliding the fragile damaged photo through the water, brushing residual mud that stained the surface and restoring the memory as much as we can. One girl and a guy came back, taking 2 full boxes of cleaned photo album back to where they live and let ppl check through them to see if their photo are there. Wynne asked us to remember their faces, because they have come from time to time to ask if we have found their pictures. The girl's house was entirely gone, so has her previous life. I pray that she will find hers one day.

For more photos of Day1, click
Ofunato tsunami relief work


***Post From yesterday***
Arrived safely after some treacherous ways, I finally arrived at Ofunato, Iwate!!!!
In the room full of beddings on the floor, this will be my little sleeping spot for the coming month(s).

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Heading out!

Just a short entry to tell you that I will be on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to the earthquake relief area, in just about 4 hours. I didn't have much time around computer these couple of days, so I will update you what happened... it has been interesting ;)

I should go back to sleep for a little more.... need the strength to carry the deadly weight again thru the long long station walk!!!!!!!

keep me in prayers ;)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Beginning: CCU

This journey of faith started in the morning after I arrived in Kolkata. The volunteer friends whom I have made upon arrival offered to meet up and show me the way to the Mother House. Afterall, it was only my second day. They were going to meet me in front of my hostel at 5:15am. Now, most people know that there is a 7.5 hour time difference in Kolkata. Most people. Except me. So after I waited on the street for 15 min and the soliciting and stares from the men on the street became uncomfortable, I didn't want to miss the morning mass so I decided to start walking.

"Go straight on the street ahead, and you will find Mother House," they said.

Uncomfortable as a newly arrived, with my untrusting nature I kept on asking. At times, when I saw a street on the right, I would make a right turn to announce my suspicion by detouring. But the people kept pointing me back to the original street I was instructed to walk straight thru. As I walked on, there were some individuals who would point toward the end of that straight road without me asking, and said, "Mother House."

All of a sudden God's voice spoke, "See, I have told you where to go. It is only you who doubt. But despite your little faith, I still have placed beacons to show you the way."

I was stricken to the core. Where can I hide from your Spirit? The streets of Kolkata became an entrance to the Labyrinth of my faith.

Labyrinth looks very much like a maze. But in fact, no matter how we walk it, an exit awaits us. In our own pace, pause at times when we want to, it is a long stroll of rhythm where we slowly synchronize with God's and encountering Him in the whisper of the breeze. Every now and then, when I need to make a decision out of faith, I think of that morning in Kolkata. And every time I take a leap in faith with prayers, He proves He is God. The rhythm of faith seems to swing in pendulum. Between the tick and tock, slowly I am moving close to the edge of the boat. The storm seems wilds and the waves seems high. I heard His voice in the wind and His arm stretches out invitingly.

The Voice says, "Do not be afraid."

Come, let go. Let's go.

Friday, August 19, 2011

From CCU to NRT

14 more sleeps before flying!

From volunteering @mother teresa's in Kolkata to relief work in japan, I've owed a whole lot to my fellow backpacker friends. Many of them have quit their job to travel. Some have climbed Mt Himalaya and traveled to Alaska visiting the bears and glaciers; Some have walked the entire pilgrimage camino of Santiago. My roommate Unni, a korean lady, has traveled for 5 years.
I think people who came to kolkata are summoned by this place, all of them are on a spiritual journey, in search of something bigger than life itself. I admire them wholeheartedly for one thing: they all have taken a step to begin the search. Too often we are held back by inertia, so many valid reasons for us to maintain our status quo -- clock of life continues to tick and horrible things continues to happen -- I will do it sometime in future, we said.

Then my backpacker friends told me, "There are things that if you don't do it now, most likely you will never do it." -- I think they are right.

I've wanted to go to Japan since the earthquake happened, but at that time I've bought the ticket to india already. Now in hind sight, the kolkata trip ought to happen, so I would be inspired to take the leap of faith over the forest of fear, to just go and do what my heart is called to do.

There are so much that we ought to do, and we can do. Thank you, my kolkata friends. You have shown me life can be lived like this.
Chiyo and Chris, I will see you two in japan!!!!!