Monday, May 28, 2012

The Season of Death and Life

In  front of Akahama elementary school of Ootsuchi City in Iwate Prefecture.
One day after working at creating a veggie/flower garden at the back of the temp housing, I halted in front of the school by the mesmerizing beauty of sakura in the heartwarming spring sunshine.
"Snow is growing out from the trees!"  I thought to myself.
Wind from the ocean breezed through the sakura branches, and the petals showered like snow in a winter day.  Standing in a pink wind of flowers, there are no words poetic enough to describe the dazing beauty of the moment.

I scoped up a handful of pink petals from the ground, I thought of Jesus' parable of a kernel of wheat. Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains as a single wheat. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
The fallen flowers blend with the earth, and the earth carries its fragrance. Is it the flower or the earth?  It really doesn't matter anymore.  Petals fallen decay over the bitter winter, and become fertilizer for the tree in springtime.    
One God, One Spirit, One Church -- if we can give ourselves to one another, we are One.  We gives, so that one another can become more.
Lying down oneself for one another.  This is the love of Christ.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sabbath: Rest

Sorry for not posting a vacation note earlier!  
Yum is out of Japan and will be back at the end of April.  Please leave a message! Beeep~ 

Back to Hong Kong and Toronto, saw my cat tigger's orn, sapping the peppermint tea I have left here half a year ago, spending time with my family... but the most of all, absorbing the quietness in the air of the Northern sky.  Simply let my soul rest and allow the thoughts and experiences sink in and filter...

Sorry if I don't get to see you, although I do miss you :)

Monday, March 12, 2012


311 Anniversary Memorial Ceremony @Kamaishi, Iwate 

Long, long official ceremony, swamped with bureaucratic titles and resounding words.  It almost took the life out of the people who were attending it.
I would rather mourn you in the snow, where you used to live.
Nonetheless, the most moving part of the ceremony was the beautiful singing of the children's choir.  It brought tears to my eyes.

If the happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can't I?

                                    ~Judy Garland, Over the Rainbow

Fallen like a star, you who cannot fly over the rainbow anymore.... rest in peace.
We will remember.

Haiku by the Seashore

March 1, 2012

There is a little temporary grocery shop beside our work base at Ootsuchi Akahoma elementary school.  The shop owner is a gentle artistic soul that loves to draw and write poems.  He treats us free coffee everyday.  It is a life saver when it is minus zero and snowing!!!

One day in Feb, a Haiku was written on the board.  It says,

In March
People who are to be met in dreams
Are plenty

Did you lost many friends?  I asked him. He nodded.
His original shop was actually right beside the ocean.  When the tsunami came, he made all the customers run and when he finally was going to flee for his own life, the water already came.  He had no choice but to hang onto a tree.  The water swallowed him and the tree.  He was actually under the water for a few minutes, or at least he felt it was.
It is truly a miracle that I am still alive, he said.
Although his family was fine, the land that he was once familiar has lost its landscape and the people he knew.

I look forward to have the volunteers come everyday, he said.  I think I did it more for myself.
Sometimes, when the snow is heavy, the Ootsuchi team will call off the work for a day because the land will be frozen.
He said, on one of those days when I don't see the bus arrive in the morning, I would think to myself, 'ahh, maybe they are not coming today...'

Snow day today, and Ootsuchi team is called off.
I thought of the lonely shadow in the small shop as I looked out through the window.
It would be a quiet day today.

Friday, March 9, 2012

On the Road

Deep in the fog.
Mountains become splashes of ink on thin paper.
Into the picture we go.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Disclaimer: This is not my bag.  

It belongs to an awesome friend I met when volunteering at Magokoro net.   In the past two years he has been volunteering as a teacher in an elementary school in Mongolia.  He just came back to Japan not long ago. 
In a jist, his blog entry talked about this bag that he has been using for the past three years.  It is sturdy, despite of the heavy load it has been carrying.  Parts worn out at times but after some needle works, it's as good as new.  It was loaded with pencil crayons, notebooks, dictionaries, scissors, camera, passport copy, teaching plans and water etc, as he traveled from place to place in the yellow wind of dust in the far far land.  

This bag is still running around with him in the disaster area. 

I am neither a person obsess with brand names nor hating it. The craft work and material quality of some brand names are well deserving.  Just that nowadays most buy for the name or trend without making the full use out of it.  Chinese has a saying, "Killing a chick using a butcher's knife for a cow".  I think probably most brand name products are wasted in such a pitiful state.  
When a brand name product met an owner that uses it for the purpose it is made for fully, what a rare and wonderful thing it is for both!

On the side.
I have had a retired "companion" bag too.  For almost 7 years, it has been to Kolkata India and over half of Japan with me.  One time one side of the strap broke off suddenly, just as I was about to leave a house to catch a bus.  I had no choice but to delay abit to do some patch work.  The short stay was a story by itself.   
When it was at its final stage of life beyond repairable, I couldn't manage to throw it away.  It is still sitting quietly on the shelf of my closet.  One day when I get home, I should take a picture of this old friend and show you here! :)

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Wait

Sun rises and night falls,
The little horse sits in silence watching
cars zoom and people trickle by.

I passed by it everyday
A little pat on its head is all I can give.
One day, maybe one day you will be gone when I come, I said to the little horse.
Maybe your owner will come pick you up and take you home.

The little horse continues to quietly sit.

In the Soil.

We went to Ootsuchi everyday to clean up debris from the foundation of houses.  Sometimes we find the concrete, sometimes it is all earth only.  In those cases, we will only plow through about 10cm deep of earth to clear any debris that come out of it, then all will be smoothed out.

Today at this site, it amazed me that the ground looked EXACTLY the same at the end of the day as it was at the beginning of the day. Only, we had a little mountain of debris on top of it as the sole evidence that we have actually worked!  I find it fascinating,  as if it is some archaeological artifacts in a deep slumber in the soil, awaits to be unearthed to see the sun again.  I guess in some ways they are the same.  They are all proves that people have once lived.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Was and Is.

One year ago, Iwate Prefecture, Ootsuchi.
Once, a hell on earth.
Now, a deserted land with shattered dreams, family and lives.

Now, it is a place I work in everyday.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Under Your Wings

Everyday I passed by this breathtaking harbor view to get to the temporary housing complex.  Not far from this bay, it is a sight full of destruction: bare foundations of houses, metal infrastructure of buildings with many artifacts hanging over them, proving once there were lives living here.  I stared at the beautiful, calm horizon, trying to imagine what it was like on that fatal day.
Did these pastel colors turned black?  How high did the water go?  Were there any cars taken from my current position?   My imagination is out run by the reality.  

I continue to pass by it everyday, pondering what it is like when such beauty turned into a monster.
And I ponder, what I am like when that time comes.

"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging." ~Psalm 46:1-3  

O God my Lord, if I am less faith than that, please help me. Because I am of little faith, but I choose to believe in You.

There is a Story to be Told

Jan 13, 2012.

This was the first time I talked with a survivor who has lost an immediate family member.

In our mobile cafe, Yuri was a middle-aged lady with a polite smile.  Sitting beside me, she joined in the conversation occasionally.  When she was not, Yuri would seemed to have left us briefly to be in a world of her own, deep in thoughts, frozen in time.
When I asked about if her family was ok in the tsunami, her facial expression froze for a moment.  Then she shook her head and said in a quiet voice, "My son was gone."
I wasn't quite sure of my ears and was suspecting my crappy japanese had misinformed me.  In the moment I was hesitating, the topic of the group conversation changed like a tidal wave in the ocean, washed over the hidden wound Yuri has just spoken of.  I felt a great sense of grief and tenseness from Yuri, and somehow I felt this was something very important that needed to be told today.  I caught a chance to ask her again about her son.
Where was your son at that time?  I asked.
He was working, in the car on his way going somewhere, then the tsunami came,  she said. Tears started glittering in her eyes.  They found his car, but not him.
The group went quiet.
"Can you tell us about you son?" I asked gently. "Anything... something happy, something special, something that you remembered about him."
"Something about my son..." she hesitated, and her eyes started wandering into that world of her memory.
"Don't strain yourself over it," one of the volunteers said.
I prayed desperately in my heart, asking God how far would He allow the story to be told today.  From my experience in playback theater, I truly believe being able to tell one's experience of pain is the first step toward healing.  I stayed with her in that moment of  brewing thoughts, guarding that moment of awkward silence that I could see others were uncomfortable with.
Suddenly she broke the silence.
"He was huge," she said.
Then she told us about her son Kasuki practiced Sumo from from primary school to junior high.  Because he was big and practicing Sumo, no one on the class dared to bully him.  Just when he started high school, he refused to do Sumo anymore.  "I hate it!" Kasuki said.  I'd always wandered why he hated it, Yuri smiled.  She was smiling faintly and there was a sparkle in her eyes as she told us about Kasuki.
But with my house washed away, I have lost everything of him.  Not even a picture.

At the end, we prayed with Yuri.  There was no one I really could tell this to in the temp house, Yuri said.  But I felt more relieved now that I have spit it out.  One of the volunteers, who is also a mother, gave her a hug in tears and Yuri broke down crying in her arms.

It was a beautiful scene.

In a Loud Silence

Jan 12, 2012.

Varying from the previous work I have done with All Hands, the type of work we are doing at CRASH Japan is mainly emotional/spiritual care.  A mobile cafe that goes to different temporary housing complex regularly creates a space for people to be listened to and to build community.  It has been almost a year since the devastating disaster has happened.  I was abit in shock when I first learned how some residents still  do not know anyone in their temporary housing complex. Slowly, I began to learn this is at large a common phenomena, if not the majority.  In many of the temp house complex, residents come from different area, only a few lucky complexes are blessed with people who come from the same neighborhood of their previous life.  Japan is a society where the building of community takes time and relational connections.  The earthquake and tsunami have not only torn families apart, but also communities that had been living the area for years if not generations.  The devastation is not physical and emotional, but social as well.

My first day's work was distributing blanket at temp house complex.  An elderly grandma came to answer the door.
"Come in, come in, it's so cold outside!"  She greeted us with the warmest smile.
Grandma Setsu* lives in this unit alone with a daughter living close by.  As we were drinking green tea and peeling mandarin over an exchange of conversation, she told us about herself.  Because of her diabetic condition and other unmentioned reasons, she said she doesn't go out much nor does she has visitors.  She pulled out a letter she has received from her long time friend Miyu.  Miyu left her home town Ootsuchi, an area seriously damaged by the tsunami, to live with her son in Chiba.  She wrote in her letter that she doesn't know anyone in the neighborhood, alone in the house everyday.  Miyu desperately wants to come back to Ootsuchi, where her friends and home are, and were.  Grandma Setsu paused, with her gaze far far away.  After a moment of silence, she said, "I want to meet her so much.  But she did not include a returning address."  I held her hand in mine, patting the back of her hand gently, as we took a moment to let all the feelings occupy the tiny room in a loud silence.

** For privacy reason, all names in all entries will either be a partial or fake name.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Flower on the Pebbles

January 13, 2012.  Tono-->Otsuchi.

Second day working at CRASH Japan Tono base.
On our way to Otsuchi, a tsunami-devastated area, to distribute blankets to residents of temporary housings, we passed by a deserted land of an originally what supposed to be a residential area,  a man on the side of the road caught my eyes.
He was sitting squarely on the edges of what was the foundation of a house.  A solemn silence was frosted on his slightly frowning eyebrows.  His eyes was staring deeply beyond the space in front of him, as if this is only his shell with a world of memory living within.  Not far away from him, a small bouquet of flower was lying against a short wall of rubble.
As our van passed by him, our eyes met.  I am not sure in what dimension we were looking at each other at, but I was almost certain that we saw each other.
I bowed deeply to him, and to whom he is grieving and mourning for.

Loss and grief, are pebbles that you can find on the frozen ground of Tohoku.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

May a Flower Blossom for You Everyday

Lovely bouquet from Yoshino coffee shop owner @Ofunato.
I told her that it was abit scary to stay in the japanese style old apartment all by myself, and she gave me this cute bunch when I was about to leave.
"It may make the room abit brighter," she said.
Indeed, it is warmer!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

An Imperfect Offering

After 5 hours of travelling, here I am, back to the city of Ofunato.  Only this time there are no ditches to be dug nor walls to be knocked down.  I walked on the street where our base used to be.  It seemed awfully quiet and empty.  The Yoda figure in the t-shirt shop’s window is no longer holding the All Hands poster.  The big blue handprint sign of All Hands Volunteer is now buried under a layer of white paint.  No hands, only the same hue of blue and white is only trace that the busy traffic of volunteers had once constantly flooded in and out of the shop’s gate.  I took one last look of the empty street, and turned into the small street toward Mr Asano’s house, who has kindly offered me an empty apartment to stay at during my time here.
        In between pints of beer and exchange of updates, Yu-san told me after the project was finished and the volunteers left, he felt such a huge, indescribable emptiness grew within that at times, he would wander to the places where the volunteers had worked at.  Sometimes, he walked along the ditches that we had cleared; Sometimes, he sat in the Midori Park by himself. Yu’s eyes were misty as he told me, and added, “Sometimes, my eyes would become teary when I looked at the messages you guys have signed on the benches.”
        My eyes became teary too, as I listened to Yu.  All of us who have been here are inevitably bonded to the people of this land more or less in some ways.  We are not of the same blood line, nor do we have the same color of eyes or skin, nor speak in the same tongue.  But only because we allowed ourselves to be here at a time of great need, consciously or unconsciously, an imperfect offering we have made ourselves to be. To the people in need, to the hearts in distraught, even though we, ourselves, are as broken as we are in our own life.      

Blood Sucker in Shibuya

In between appointments, I had 1.5 hour wandering around by myself in Shibuya, one of the busiest districts in Tokyo.  As I was swimming through the sea of people, a red cross caught my eyes. It was the blood donation center of Red Cross Japan. For some reasons I thought to myself, “I have nothing to do now anyways, why don’t I go give blood?”
        Yup, just like that.
So a few moments later, I found myself filling out a form, given a locker, and in a roomful of snacks, free drinks and manga/magazines. Hagandez ice cream, donuts, cookies, sweets, and all you can drink free drinks ranging from sport drinks, coffee, carbonated drinks and hot soups.  I guess if they want to pump something out from you, they have to pump something in first and afterward XD  The corn soup and seafood flavor miso soup were yummy! 
The doctor who went through the questionnaire with me saw that I have filled Ofunato as my address, so he asked what I am doing about there. I told him I am a volunteer in the Northeast.  He told me he came from that area too, and his grandmother was lost in the tsunami too.  A strange connection arose from inside, and we smiled at each other.  An unimaginable disaster of deep waters and trembles has destroyed countless lives. But somehow, in some inexplicable ways, lives from different worlds and all walks of life are intertwined through this web of debris, loss and death.  Whether willingly or unwillingly, Tohoku, is the place that has linked us all together.  However the circumstance we met, as Ann Sally sings, “I am glad that you came inside my life.” 

Friday, January 6, 2012

My First...

Before I hitted the Asakusa house, I had the honor to have my first Osechi Ryori (御節料理) and first kotatsu (被爐)  in Yokohama.  Mrs Miyahara just has retired from her work this year.  She is an absolutely amazing cook!  She made the delicious Osechi set within 2 hours, I will definitely vote her for Japan top chef! ;D Osechi is a traditional Japanese new year food, usually eaten on the new year’s day.  While Mrs Miyahara was busy in the kitchen, I slipped into the kotatsu that I have wanted to try since a long time ago.  It is a short table with a heater on the underside. Covered with a thick blanket, people in the Japanese drama eat mandarin and shriveled up into a baked potato that doesn’t want to get out of the oven.  With that extremely comfortable picture in my mind, I submerged myself into the blanket world and waiting to get shriveled up.  So I waited. Waited.  And waited.  My arms and legs were still as cold as ever. (FYI, my Canadian friends, I really missed central heating!!)  I thought to myself sadly, is THIS it?  Is this as warm as kotatsu will get??
While I was mourning my warm picture of kotatsu, Mrs Miyahara came out from the kitchen, took a look at me still in full winter coat and scarf, took a look at the kotatsu switch, then exclaimed, “The kotatsu wasn’t turned on!  Why didn’t you say anything?” 
I blinked, blushed, and shriveled into a mushroom and replied in a small voice, “It was my first time in a kotatsu…”

Nonetheless, I love being a baked mushroom! ^o^ 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Happy New Year!

It was a chilly new year in Tokyo.  Wind was blowing hard, but it was warm inside my friend's common house. I have come back to Japan after my grandpa's funeral in Hong Kong, my friend Chiyo has kindly offered me a place to stay along with all her amazing housemates in Asakusa.  They truly made me feel like at home!   For the short few days I have stayed, Chiyo has managed to forgot that I was merely a guest and turned to me to ask for direction and things along that line around her area, only to find me blinking blank at her XD  On the new year's eve, Paul, our friend from volunteering at Mother Teresa's place in Kolkata popped by to visit.  We ate vegetable hot pot, steamed egg with shiki (me!), yakisoba (fried noodles) and drank together.  Topics ranged from education, music, faith, dating, dreams etc spurred over the food and beer with lots of laughter.  Then Chiyo and I retreated from the crowd, spent a quiet time of praying and singing as we crossed over from 2011 to 2012.
Thank you Chiyo, Kei, Kent, Yuko and Yoshi for making my new year!