Home, Sweet Home
March 14, 2010
Have you ever realized how important your home is to you? It is not just when you are away from your home; it is about how you feel when you lose your home. My story is not about homeowners who lost their homes in the recent economic crisis. It is a true story about me.
I was woken by a very strong pitching and a loud noise. In the dark, everything happened so fast that I couldn’t know if it was a dream or something else. I couldn’t get up because the up and down shaking, as if I were a popcorn kernel bouncing in a frying pan full of oil. I heard a big and terrifying noise from the depths of the ground and the shaking building. I eventually realized it was an earthquake.
I covered my head with the quilt, and curled my body to feel if I still was in one piece. The shaking seemed to be in a slow motion. I felt it would never stop. Finally, it ended. I groped in the dark for my clothes, and put them on in haste. Stumbling on many things, I ran to the door. I quickly found a pair of shoes, and dashed down the stairs.
In the dawn, I didn’t see anyone in sight, and everything looked normal. “Am I in a bad dream?” I could hear my own intense heartbeat. After a while, people started to come out, some of them only wore pajamas, and no shoes. Later, I got to know that the locals had earthquake drills for years. They were supposed not to come out of the building right after the quake. But back then I knew nothing about earthquakes.
A woman handed me a baby and cried, “My family’s still inside. Please hold my baby!” Before I answered, she had already run into the building, and then the baby started to cry.
About daybreak, a friend of mine passed by and told me, “You should call your family. This will be on the news, and when they find out, they will worry about you.” I ran back home, wanting to make a phone call, but the phone was dead. I found my purse and phone book in great mess, and came out to look for a public phone. When I found one, there were already more than twenty people in line.
I called my parents in China, “It’s an earthquake here, but I’m fine and I will call again later…” I held back tears. It was January 17, 1995. I had been studying Japanese in Japan for only a year and a-half.
Great smoke came from the west. But no ambulances, fire trucks or police cars. There were few cars on the road. Banks, gas stations were all closed. Some of the neighbours had gone with their families and friends.
Fortunately, I ran into some of my classmates. We gathered our food and bought some of what remained from a convenience store. Someone brought a small radio, then we got to know that we were in the epicenter of this earthquake—the Kobe Earthquake—a magnitude of 7.3. It happened at 5:46 in the morning.
The electricity and water supplies had stopped, and aftershocks kept coming, so we had to stay in a gym of an elementary school that was full of people. People helped one another to carry futons from their homes and found a place in the gym.
The first night, we lay on the floor, unable to sleep. Thankfully, there was emergency power to keep us from the dark. When aftershocks came, lamps swung, people got up and talked. “It would have been magnitude 3,” someone said. We then checked with the radio.
The night of the second day, we were all exhausted. When there was an aftershock, nobody got up and talked. Some people started to cough, and babies couldn’t stop crying.
Nobody knew when aid supplies would come. Only a little food was left. My friends and I started to talk about leaving. The news said cities around us were okay.
There were no running buses and trains for half way to the next big city (Osaka). We had to walk. We set off with our small luggage in the morning of the third day.
Only a few blocks away from our neighbourhood, we found lots of collapsed buildings and broken roads. Most of the old wooden buildings became piles of wood chips. Some people were wandering around their collapsed homes. Some of the concrete buildings collapsed from their bases or broke in their middle. We even saw an engine sticking half out on a broken bridge.
We walked almost four hours to the nearest train station. Nothing happened in Osaka. We must have looked as if we were from another planet, or refugees, dusty and disheveled. We hurried to a bank and then a restaurant. While I was sitting on the comfortable couch, and had hot food, I started to miss both my homes in Kobe and in China.
Before we could go back to Kobe, I went to another city with my classmate, lived with her friends for two months, with only a small bag of my belongings. Later, I learned all the facts from the news: nearly 6,000 people were killed, more than 26,000 were injured, and 100,000 people lost their homes in the earthquake.
When I returned to Kobe, an apartment was hard to find. I could choose either to live in the temporary house which was provided by the government, sharing with other people, for free, or to rent an expensive small apartment.
I chose to have my own home.
After surviving the earthquake, I started to feel a strong attachment to my home. The world harbours dangers that cannot be avoided, but we are so lucky to be human beings, living a convenient modern life, and most of all, we essentially care about one another.