Images in a gallery format because the internet here is awful and uploading them one at a time is not working right now. Will edit later

Bad news: Seems like I picked a pretty bad time to change planes in Japan.

Good news: Instead of reading about playing basketball with all my coworkers on my last day followed by a wind-down of the blog, you guys get to read about earthquakes.

So today I was supposed to be going to see my family (and finally meet my brother’s girlfriend) in Hawaii for spring break. The plan was to leave from Beijing pretty early — at the time of starting to write this, about twelve hours ago (7.30 Beijing time) — have a five-hour layover in Tokyo, then a seven or so hour flight to honolulu, another layover and then wind up in Kuai. All told it was supposed to be fifteen or so hours of flying; certainly not pleasant by any stretch of the imagination but not awful (and it’s hard to complain at all when your end destination is Hawaii). I didn’t quite make it that far, though.

I’d been in Japan maybe five minutes — having not even finished taxing — when the first one hit. For anyone out there in readerland who for whatever reason hasn’t yet experienced a high-magnitude earthquake from an airplane, allow me to describe:
It’s exactly like midair turbulence. Like, I was trying to deplane, and walking around I felt precisely the same sensation of unsteadiness that you get when you’re trying to get down the isle to a bathroom while the plane is going through a storm. So even though we were clearly grounded and stopped, my brain’s immediate reaction to the feeling was “oh. this turbulence is pretty nasty” followed by “ok wait turbulence is impossible, we’re grounded, so man I guess there must be some hell of a wind out there” to “ok there’s no way wind can be this strong and it definitely feels like we’re moving, but looking out the window we clearly — oh holy shit the entire airport is shaking and the windows look like they’re made of rubber what the christ is happening.”

Then the captain came on, said it was due to ‘seismic activity’ and then five seconds later I learned the Chinese word for earthquake. Didn’t quite expect to ever just pick that one up from daily life.
Getting off the plane, the first thing I saw was that first image below. Not so bad. Then I saw the second one. First time in my life I’ve been glad to have been seated near the back of the plane. People near the front of the plane were already off the plane in the area where shit was falling from the ceiling when the quake hit; if someone had been standing under that huge grate it would be… problematic.

For the next half hour or so, we just waited in the lobby with that second picture as the building got rocked by aftershock after aftershock. Incidentally, people are saying these were in fact entirely new earthquakes, but I don’t get the distinction. In any event, it was kinda a scary time; I realized partway through the second big quake that I was standing under a terminal directions sign that was wobbling rather severely. Rather, I didn’t realize this, but the Chinese guys next to me did and I overheard them tell each other to move. Never let anyone tell you that Mandarin isn’t a handy language to know. After that I hung out by a wall after that for a while, until they eventually unloaded everyone onto the tarmac.

So: earthquakes on a plane feel like turbulence, and earthquakes on a building feel like you’re riding a subway without holding onto anything, but earthquakes when you’re just standing on solid, flat ground are above all the most disconcerting. It almost feels like you’re dizzy, because when you start feeling movement while standing still on a huge flat expanse of asphalt your brain automatically assumes that the fault lies with it as opposed to the Earth. So you have to consciously convince yourself that your sense of balance is fine, and it’s actually the Earth moving beneath you; it’s a strange mental conversation to have.

Another bit of advice that isn’t — if you’re going to be in an airport getting hit by earthquakes, do it in Japan. Their reaction was perfect, and pretty timely. Pictures three to six are about the lengths that they went to to get everyone seated and comfortable — they had people sitting on the tarmac vehicles, on the luggage carriers, on these random couches that 300 workers in identical blue suits and white hardhats dragged out from godknowswhere. They put out buses, vans, huge plastic tarps, countless chairs. Best of all they passed out tons and tons of airport blankets and then, when they ran out of those they started handing out bath towels. I again have no clue where an airport produced hundreds of towels from, but I know that Douglas Adams would be proud.

Now, due to the “indeterminate” — read: canceled — nature of all the flights, I’m sitting in the lobby that you see in the last picture. They’re passing around candy and water and ritz crackers. I was able to get a power outlet by acting very, very fast and it’s made me incredibly popular. I’ve set up a really elaborate power-rotation so that in the past three or so hours we’ve had a dozen or so people keep a whole lot of devices sustained off of three outlets. And my laptop is the only one around with 3 usb ports so I’m charging 3 different phones at all times… the amount of camaraderie built by situations like this is pretty awesome.

As of the 9:30pm posting time of this blog, my dad has somehow managed to get me onto a flight bound for houston leaving sometime tomorrow. Also, in the last ten minutes, a flight to D.C. was allowed to take off; the runways are uncracked and operable. I am hopeful that I’ll be in the states within 24 hours. Unavoidably camping out at the airport tonight, but it’s actually kinda fun. Still more pleasant than camping in my powerless/heatless house was, anyway…

“Most powerful earthquake to hit Japan in 100 years” is what the guy next to me is reading…wow

Alright, listen. I have spent the last two+ months in a country where if an Asian person is attempting to communicate with me in English, but is obviously feeling awkward about it because their English is not very good, the absolute best way to improve the situation is to begin responding to them in Chinese and carry the conversation from there. Worst case scenario it just transfers that awkwardness and language burden onto yourself, which I’m more than happy to do because it forces me to learn.
But here, here I’m in Japan.
Japan, if you’re not aware, is not the same as China.
– God this has happened like five times now, I swear –
So these well-intentioned Japanese stewardesses will come by and try to check on me / offer me things with like, a few words of broken English
And I’ll auto-respond with a dozen words of Mandarin before I realize ‘shit not only do you have a lesser chance of knowing Chinese than you do English i bet you find this SUPER SUPER RACIST’

And then I feel deeply ashamed of myself for the next hour, until another stewardess comes by
at which point I do it again because seriously, forcing a conversation away from English into Mandarin as a defensive maneuver and selfish way to improve my own language proficiency is actually, legitimately an instinctive reaction that I no longer consciously control unless I’m thinking very very hard about it, and my mental state is not fit to think very very hard about anything right now.

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