Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Promises Promises...

Heya, I know I've been an absolute slacker lately. Apparently making time to blog when I'm actually around the people I started this blog for in the first place is proving more than a little difficult. 

I'm back in Florida for the moment being. It's been really nice seeing friends and family. I'm a little limited in seeing everyone I want to see, mainly because I don't have a car, nor do I want to rent one (maybe I'm just being lazy, but it's nice just sitting around and catching up on shows and just chillaxing at mi madre's house). 

But just to give everyone the short version about why/how I came back: Ajax asked me to go, my base approved "voluntary" evacs, work approved taking off 2 weeks, his parents had me on a flight 3 days later to ATL (THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!), my mom got me home from ATL to Tally (I love you Mama), after 2 random security checks/fondlings, a little stay in DC, 8 hours in ATL, and an emergency landing in Valdosta, GA... I was back in Tallahassee, FL. :) Believe it or not, the trip was fabulously zen. The only exception was the stay in DC because the loudspeaker announcements every 2 minutes were extremely loud and annoying. It was nothing like the quietness of Japan that I had gotten used to.

Yeah, I'm at my US home again. It's really nice to have multiple homes in multiple countries. It makes me feel oh-so accomplished. Since I've been home it's been wonderfully relaxing: pedicure, massage, church, hanging with my best friend, helping with church youth group, sleeping in, massive amounts of delicious mommy-made food, family egg-roll dinner, giving Japanese trinkets to people, and seeing all of the people who were worried about me overseas. I really am lucky to have on amazing support system of people. I feel very blessed.

That's about all I have for you right now... got to go get ready to make a run to Georgia with Mom for food and random adventures. 

Hope you're all doing awesome. :)


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Party in the USA...

I'm baaaaaaaaack! MWAHAHAHA! Well, I am back in CONUS (Continental United States- I pick up weird lingo from my job) for the next two weeks. It's going to be crazy and Im going to miss Japan like you wouldn't believe... but I'm here and I am safe. :) I'll post more on why the US was the right decision to make for the moment being and how insane my flights back here were, but that will come later. Right now I need a pedicure and some freaking pasta.



Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Quiet Riot...

 Updates from Facebook (which has been helping out all the foreigners in Japan the past few days- seriously, Facebook deserves some credit for helping us out!):
Japan Earthquake Information - Updated Mar 15, 7:30PM

Please refrain from over-stocking supplies
Food and supplies are selling out from the stores in the Tokyo Metropolitan area, however this may cause in running short of supplies for the worst stricken areas. Japanese government has announced that there are enough supplies in stock. Please act calmly with patience.

Scheduled Blackout
There are scheduled blackouts in Tokyo, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Gunma, Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama, Yamanashi, and Shizuoka everyday until further notice.

There will be scheduled blackouts in Yamagata, Niigata, Aomori, and Akita between 3/16 to 3/18.

Areas will be divided into groups and each group may experience few hours of power outage at scheduled time.

Please refer to the Yahoo! JAPAN Emergency Information (English) - link to English list of groups to find out which group you are in and what time the power outage will occur in your group. The list will be updated often. Please check the list for the latest groupings.

The Facebook website will not be affected by this blackout.

Train Operation in Tokyo Metropolitan area
To conserve energy, there will be limited train operations. Please refer to below links for the latest information.

JR | Metro | Toei | Tokyu | Odakyu | Keio | Tobu | Keikyu | Keisei | Seibu

About this box
Earthquake Information is currently being displayed in Japanese for those users using Facebook in Japanese, and in Korean for those users using in Korean.

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends...

Hello All,

First off, for any of those who haven't been updated as to how I am doing over here in Japan... I'm fine. Please don't be concerned for my safety. Saying that living in Japan has presented me with some challenges is a gross understatement. I wanted to send a mass email with some bits of information just to give y'all an idea of what has been going on in my neck of the world lately and to clarify some things going on over in this area of the globe. 

Friday at 2:46pm (Japan time- duh) I was sitting in my office at work when my coworker, Mac, mentioned that he was feeling an earthquake (which is definitely the norm around these parts). After about 10 seconds he looked at me and said "This isn't right, get your shit, and let's go. NOW!!!" and he ran out of the office. Now when a man who has lived in Japan for over 20 years yells and runs... I follow! I sprinted down he hall, down the two flights of stairs and out the door behind him in enough  time to be the first people out of the building and to be able to watch the old building (THE oldest on my base) shake about 2-3 feet side to side. We could barely stand up outside. This went on for at least five minutes. It was really unnerving to see people around me who had lived in Japan for years and years start crying and calling family members. That's about the time that it hit me that this definitely wasn't normal.

We went back inside the building to crazy amounts of things that had fallen and broken. We had two lights fall from the ceiling. Our fridge fell over. One bookshelf broke. Our computers and file cabinets had toppled over. A table fell behind our storage closet and is still currently blocking us from being able to get inside for supplies. Other people in our building had their tvs fall off stands and break. And the building stairwell railing broke. We got evacuated from the building because it was assumed to be unstable and they would have to inspect it before we could return to work (wait...I'm sensing silver lining here!). By 3:30pm I was told to head home to make sure I still had one. 

The drive home was insane. A 5 mile drive took me over an hour with the traffic, I dumbly assumed people were just freaked out and wanted to make sure their houses were okay (which was partially true) but I didn't grasp just how bad everything was until later. I really didn't have any clue what to expect when I got to the house. Alex had been able to talk to me via gchat (Thank God for gmail) the entire time this was going on and definitely helped put things in perspective for me (don't turn on the lights when you walk in, check for gas leaks, leave the door open for easy escape if necessary... those Navy guys are pretty dern prepared)! I walked in and everything seemed to be fine. The worst that happened was that everything fell off the walls, couple of frames broke, DVD tower toppled over, fridge doors were open, and tv had fallen over (out of sheer luck, the tv fell towards the wall behind it and not the other direction towards the ground). No gas leaks, no power failure, no burned down house, no lack of water and no cracks in any walls. We were/are definitely lucky. I pretty much thought this was over at that point, and I was wrong.

Alex told me I needed to turn on the news. I managed to get it onto Japanese news (that in and of itself was tough - there are like 30 remotes!) and could see that this earthquake extended far past what I could have imagined. Even by just looking at the pictures and videos on the Japanese news I could tell what was going on. People in Tokyo were quickly uploading pictures and videos of the happenings there, from ceilings falling in Narita airport, to buildings cracking in half near Shinjuku, and mass shaking all around the city. The center of Tokyo is less than 15 miles north of where Alex and I live and work. The trains had been stopped everywhere within about a hundred miles of Tokyo. And if I've learned anything from living as a gaijin (foreigner) in Japan, it's that the trains do NOT STOP. That is how everyone commutes to and from work. Trains just do not stop here, end of story. Tokyo was dealing with some major problems. Again, we got lucky.

After nearly 30 minutes of freaking out about not being able to get any news in English, and not knowing where everything was coming from, Alex calmed me down enough to help me figure out how to get CNN. The news showed what was going on in Tokyo, they showed what was happening in more northern regions of Japan. I could see that the quake(s) had caused a major set of tsunamis that had radiated towards the town/coast land nearest to the epicenter of the earthquake. Myagi Prefecture just happened to be the most unfortunate area on the planet on Friday. Two of the main towns in the Myagi prefecture were Sendai and Ishinomaki. Most of the videos you've been seeing on CNN and MSNBC are from those areas. The videos look like something straight out of an action/ adventure movie... or a horror one. You've undoubtedly seen images of people floating on rooftops, of people being rescued from cars that have been carried miles from where they were parked, and you've probably seen the images from the massive amounts of water tearing apart everything in its path. I can assure you that these videos are absolutely authentic, that the interviews from people on the news are true, and that there is a major disaster that is still occurring in the country I currently live in. 

Since the earthquake and the tsunami, there have been issues with nuclear reactors. Japan is one of the world leaders in nuclear power and technology and these types of power plants give electricity to over 30% of Japan. These plants are very important to this country and right now they are (in an effort to down play it a bit) "on the fritz." We are having rolling blackouts (scheduled power outages to conserve energy so that we don't use everything up and then have a major power outage for everything  run by TEPCO in my area). So since Friday we've been having blackouts at work and home 2 hours at a time 2 times a day. Not a big deal for us. And the more we go without electricity at work and home, then the shorter the blackouts are.

I  just had a townhall meeting on my base and we were reassured that everything is safe and they would continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds. My area is looking pretty good. I am over 100 miles from the plants that are having the technical difficulties. I promise you we're not getting any nuclear green rain, and birds are not falling from the sky (although if the crows started dying here, I wouldn't cry about it. Those things scare me more than radiation). The bases in my area are taking precautionary measures by having people try to stay indoors as much as possible... but it is only a precaution. Please do not assume that if I step outside to go to the car or to make a phone call that I will magically turn into some radioactive weirdo. (I'm weird enough as it is, thank you very much.) I have the facts on the radiation levels and how non-detrimental to my health and well-being that Japan is at the present time. That does not mean that I'm not completely mentally flipping out. I am human, after all. This is scary stuff here, people! I hear the word "radiation" and as a non-scientific person, I go a little crazy. Alex's mom and dad sent me this link all about radiation. It's a great information source and if you want any information on what's going on over here to dispel any rumors you may have heard, check out the link. Radiation Info

So that's been the past few days for me. Exciting, don't you think? Yeah, I'll pass on this much excitement. Right now I have enough confidence in the US Military, the US Embassy, the Japanese government, and Alex... that if there was a real reason for me to go home to the US... I WOULD. Yes, I have moments of freaked-out-ed-ness (shhh, that's totally a word). But those freaked out moments have been relatively few and far between and I honestly do believe that (based on the research I've done as well as what experts and other military personnel have told me) I am safe here. If that changes, if my feeling of being protected here changes, then you can bet your sweet patootie that I will be on the first plane out of Dodge that I can find. 

What was originally reported as a 7.2 earthquake was then elevated to a 7.9 earthquake. From a 7.9 earthquake it was elevated to an 8.8 earthquake and then 8.9 and now it is apparently sticking at a 9.0 on the richter scale. Since then we have had over 305 aftershocks, more than 30 of which have been over a 6.0 on the scales. 15,000 people have been rescued. There are at least 8,500 more people still registered as missing. Google's People Finder site has been very helpful in putting families back together. 

Right now Alex is on his way back to Japan on the USS Blue Ridge. (Regular updates on the Blue Ridge can be found here: USS Blue ridge ). Alex is going to be back soon to assist in whatever rescue and relief missions the US Navy needs him for, there will be a lot of flying for him in the near future so please keep him in your prayers. He's going to have a lot of work to do in the upcoming months. He's probably the one that's going to be flying a lot of the goods and foods to the areas around the site where the tsunami and earthquake hit worst. 

As for my part in all of this, I am working with the Red Cross (Pacific Far East) to get donations to help out. I've been told specifically that they don't want your stuff. Stuff costs money to ship and to store and to transport, and that's extra money that they could be spending on food and water and shelter for the people who need it in Japan right now. In the past 48 hours I've collected about $700 just by talking to people on base to get donations for the Red Cross- I've had another $200 come in from people telling me they've donated online. Seriously, if you do ONE thing for me this year, please let it be a donation to the Red Cross. The best way to do that is by going to: Red Cross Japan Relief. On this site you click the top little dot for "Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief." Just to let you know what you could be giving for $20, you'd be providing- 5 meals of rice and water, 2 blankets, and a week of bathroom necessities... and possibly even more. Really any amount helps. And then you get to be an awesome citizen and tell people that you have a friend/family member in Japan and that you did something to help out when the country needed assistance. YAY! Also as incentive, any of my people that donate $25+ dollars and tell me about it, Ill send you something randomly awesome from here (when we get mail services back). Yes, that's a bribe. Don't care. :) You can also send a text and automatically give $10. Seriously, this is so easy. If you don't, I won't disown you or anything, but I probably would give you a dirty look if you were here. 

Right now it would be so easy for me to give up and come back to the US. But Im not. As of this moment I am sticking it out and trying to help out the best way I know how, by raising money for these people who have lost everything and by talking to my people and keeping them updated on what's going on from a local perspective. Consider me your local representative as to what's going on over here. Feel free to ask questions. I'd be more than happy to try and explain things to anyone who wants. 

PLEASE pass this email along. You guys know that I'm no spammer, we just need some major awesome US of A assistance right now. I thank you for everything. If nothing else, I hope this email will convince you that I am safe and currently not in harm's way. I'm sending big hugs to all of my friends around the world. If you have gchat please add me- swiggard@gmail.com. It is the best way to contact me any time of the day. If you have facebook, I'm posting a lot of updates on there. If you have a computer (and obviously you do) this info will be posted on my blog here. You all have been so wonderful and supportive and I am very thankful that I have such a great network of people in my life.

Domo arigatou,



M. Swiggard

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Seeing Things (For the First Time)...

Today isn't really going to be a well-formatted blog. I mainly have a list of random things I've noticed about Japan/my area/life in general that I want to share with my people. Some of it's dumb, yes (but who doesn't expect that from me anyway). Here goes:

  • The crows here have no fear or anything and if I die here then it will probably be because of death-by-bird-attack. These things are huge! They are scary and mean and there is no doubt in my mind that massive amounts of small pets (ie. children) have been carried off by these creatures of doom.
  • I have been obsessed with the drinks here. The milk tea is one of my favorites (basically tea with milk and sugar already added to it so all I do is pour and warm it and enjoy). Powdered green tea is huge here too. I found a green tea soy latte this morning at the 7&Holdings (7-11) and it is delish. I've found two new favorite alcoholic beverages one being tequila and tonic with lime. As my mom pointed out, I'm basically "drinking my way through Japan." Doesn't sound like a bad idea to me. 
  • The other day I met the Japanese Snooki. (For all of yous guys who don't know about the train-wreck that is Snooki from Jersey Shore... you're better off.) But yes, there's a girl who works at the on-base quicki-mart who looks just like her. I swear I will somehow get a picture of her as per your Facebook requests for me to do so, but I haven't seen her at work since that day last week. (However, if she really is like Snooki, then she probably got fired.)
  • I still hate snow. It snowed again yesterday. One minute it is pouring down rain and the next minute the rain was big white fluffy flakes of sadness. I would have preferred a flood.

    • Driving in Japan rocks! It's been a lot easier than I expected. People are pretty nice and let you out into traffic and they always give a courtesy honk or wave if you help them out in traffic. :) Got my license Friday. Saturday i took a test drive into work to see if I could navigate with my Droid GPS. I couldn't. Droid is out to get me. I ended up in the middle of some rice field (no joke) and Droid said that I had reached my destination. So I tried putting in the location of the nearest train station and that got me to the general area and I could find my way from there to work. I also got lost on the way home and had to employ the same method of finding the nearest train station on my navi system and finding my way home from there (at least there's some greatness from me knowing the train systems here by heart now)! On Monday I did it again. Stupid me thought that putting in work address would get me there but I was wrong, so I did the train station thing to get to work and from work on Monday. This morning I tried something new (and scary as hell). I threw my phone in my purse and tried to get there on my own... and I DID IT! I didn't backtrack or make a wrong turn or anything. Just paying attention to the signs and landmarks got me to work. Needless to say, I feel like a freaking genius right now. :) 
    • Saturday night i went to Hachioji, which takes about an hour to get there by train from my house. Since it takes so long and because I wanted to stay out late with some new friends, I looked online and found a cheap yet nice hotel to stay at. The main trainlines close down at midnight, but my local one closes down at 11pm. So I would have had to leave Hachioji by 10pm, which was just unacceptable for me. :) I stayed at Hachioji Plaza Hotel. So nice. 
      • Hotels here are a bit different than the US. The rooms are smaller, the bathrooms are smaller (think cruise ship size) but the amenities are fabulous. They make it so all you have to bring when you travel is day clothes and makeup. They had a bathrobe, pjs, slippers, toothbrush and paste, hairbrush, snacks, green teas, coffee, mints, mouthwash, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, free breakfast buffet, razors... they had it all in my room. It was fabulous. That plus check in at 3pm and check out at 11am all cost 5500yen ($65). Such a good deal. Plus it allowed me to sleep in a bit and explore the town on Sunday.
        • I am no karaoke novice. I've been known to bust a few ear drums in my day. But Saturday night was ridiculous. 3000 yen for all you can eat AND drink AND sing for 3 hours with 10 other people. I had such a good time. We pretty much sang the entire soundtrack to Top Gun (my NAF guys can thank me later) and we rocked the heck out of that place. 
          • Sunday when I was exploring Hachioji, I finally found two of the things I'd been looking for in Japan since I got here to make my boyfriend's Valentine's Day present. (Don't judge me on it being March and just now getting his Vday gift... I just got my first paycheck and got a bank account out here so I could withdraw yen... because most places don't take credit cards here. AND I couldn't make it when he was around.) So I finally got the items I needed to make his gift. Went home. Made it. AND IT LOOKS AWESOME! I'd show pics but I want to surprise the heck out of him when he gets back. Seriously, I rock as a girlfriend. You guys are going to be impressed. 
          • Something that is on my list of things to do is to get packages sent to people back home. HOWEVER, I have no clue where my address book is, and I live by my address book. I think it's in one of the boxes that I haven't had shipped yet (Ajax gets pissy when more than one of my huge packing boxes is delivered to his work APO address at one time). So I am trying to redo my address book. Please email me your address, at some point or another I will be sending all of my friends and family something from over here. So if you know me, send me your address. :) Please and thanks. 
          That's about it for me today. Still loving life over here! I hope you all are doing well!