Disasters Suck (and a few things that don’t)

March 20, 2011

Last weekend, I had planned to write a long, blathery blog post about my recent run-in with a respiratory infection. It would include all the exaggeration and self-absorption of my usual posts – but with more mention of phlegm… and Chinese cough syrup.

But then on Friday, a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated the northeastern coast of the main island of Japan. I spent the weekend tearfully watching footage on TV and online and checking in with my friends in Japan. Suddenly, whining on and on about a little cough didn’t seem all that important… or even appropriate.

Instead, I tried to write something about Japan. I wanted something that would express my concern for my friends, students and colleagues in Japan and for the country I called home for four years. I wanted something that was eloquent and insightful and heartfelt. It would not be my usual diatribe about couches and cookies and unicorns and pants that don’t fit and, well, it wouldn’t be about me.

Nope, this time I would be serious. And I would talk about serious stuff.

I would feel sorry for someone else beside myself. (And then, you know, I’d promptly go back to feeling sorry for myself next week. Did I mention I’ve had this cough for like three weeks? Three weeks! That’s, like, a lot of days, okay?)

But when I sat down to try to write something meaningful, all I could come up with was this:

Disasters suck.

Yeah… umm…. Needless to say, this wasn’t exactly what I was going for.

I thought maybe I just needed more time and more information, and then maybe I’d be able to come up with something intelligent and insightful. (And, preferably, something that doesn’t use the word “suck” because my grandma reads this blog and I really don’t think she’d approve of that kind of language. Sorry, Grandma!).

Admittedly, I’ve never been very good at keeping myself well-informed when it comes to current events. (Unless those current events happen to involve movie stars or… umm… Dancing with the Stars). It’s bad, really. I know I should watch more news and less reality TV and Youtube videos of kittens. I am an intelligent, well-traveled adult person – I should really be better informed of important worldly things like military coups… and not, say, my March horoscope. But I, like many people, prefer to stay blissfully ignorant of the bad stuff and ridiculously well-informed of… um… well, kittens.

But, this week I made an attempt to be in touch with reality (like the real world version of reality and not, say, the Real World version).

It helps that the only English channel I get on my TV in China is the English language news. It also helps that I’ve been spending way too much of my time on Hulu, and every once in a while a clip from one of the American news shows will appear on the bottom of the screen so I feel obliged to watch it.  (Including one clip from ABC News, which attempted to show the potential effect of nuclear radiation through a very “high-tech” demonstration that employed red food coloring and a glass of water. Really, ABC news? Like, really? Who’s managing your visual effects team these days? The eighth grade class from the local junior high school? While I will say the demonstration was reassuring, I don’t believe ABC News will be winning any science fairs with that number, that’s for sure!)

Additionally, I’ve been reading news articles and blog posts written by people living in the country. (If you read only one article about the tragedy and the current sentiment in the country, I really suggest you read this one in the New York Times– it’s beautifully written and you simply have to love someone whose response to pending disaster is to grab cookies and alcohol. This article gave me both hope for the country and for myself because, Lord knows, if I were ever in an natural disaster of this magnitude, cookies and booze would be the first and only things I’d think to grab!).

I’ve also read a few posts and comments from people on the Internet that have suggested that the disaster in Japan does not deserve as much attention and international support as it has gotten. Japan is a developed country, they reason, and they were prepared as they could be for the situation. One blog post, written by someone living in Japan, even suggested that instead of donating money to support relief efforts in Japan, you should just donate money to a local organization in your own country.

I didn’t agree with everything I read.

(Yes, Japan is a developed country. Yes, they were relatively well-prepared. And, yes, there are tragedies all around the world every single day that don’t get the same amount of media coverage. But any amount of help and human compassion in a world full of big, bad, horrible disasters is a good thing, right?)

And there were all those hateful comments and videos circulating on the web stating that the disaster in Japan was the result of some kind of “karma.” (Now, I’m no expert or anything, but, according to my understanding of the word “karma,” bad things happen to people who do bad things, right? Well, wouldn’t saying hateful, racist things on the Internet be kind of a bad thing, huh?)

I thought that all of this stuff might trigger a part of the brain – you know, the part of my brain that’s able to produce meaningful language… and not just, say, language about cookies… or language that is going to get me in trouble with my grandma.

But after a week of watching heart-wrenching footage and reading commentary about the tragedy and getting angry at annoying, close-minded people, all I’ve got is this:

Disasters really suck. All of them. Every single one.

And hateful people suck, too.

Again, not exactly what I was going for.

I sat in front of my computer all day yesterday in an attempt to come up with something meaningful and insightful and, ultimately, hopeful.  After all, Japan is a resilient country. They’ve survived other devastating natural disasters, World War II and two nuclear bombs. They will survive this. (But they sure could use some help – so, you know, don’t listen to the haters and donate if you can, okay?)

Instead of eloquence, I rambled on for a bit about deep-fried bananas. (Apparently, a local specialty here in Wuxi! And, no, it’s not called gluttony if you eat this kind of thing while living in a foreign country – it’s called a cross-cultural experience!)

And, then, I talked about learning how to open up a wine cooler using the side of my bed in Chiang Mai. (Hey, don’t judge. The label on that wine cooler promised that it was made with the “finest wines.” Besides, you try to open a bottle of Merlot when you don’t own a corkscrew!).

And, to add a bit of gravity to my blog post (because, you know, this was going to be a very serious post) I wrote an entire paragraph about how to kill a spider with a toilet plunger. (Step one: grab plunger. Step two: close eyes and scream. Step three: start whacking.)

This morning, I erased everything I wrote yesterday and tried to start over.

But… uh… I ended up back where I started:

Disasters suck.

It’s been a physically and emotionally exhausting week. Maybe I just don’t have it in me to write anything big and meaningful about a topic so huge and horrible.

Or maybe my steady diet of Oreos and red wine and Chinese cough syrup has given me some form of brain-rot and made me incapable of meaningful insight.

Or maybe I’m only good at writing silly blog posts about silly stuff that doesn’t really matter. (Not that I’m saying that deep-fried fruit doesn’t matter. But, you know, I’ve never heard of deep-fried fruit helping anyone survive a natural disaster… now, cookies, on the other hand…)

Or maybe I’m not very good at talking about stuff that sucks. (Unless we’re talking about stuff that sucks that happens to me – in which case, I have to say this respiratory infection really does suck. I mean, three weeks, people! Is that even normal?)

So instead of writing about big, bad horrible stuff, I’d like to write about wonderful stuff. Because, maybe you’ve also been spending the week watching similar devastating news footage and hearing similar stories of heartbreak and worrying about nuclear radiation. (Not that we have to worry about nuclear radiation — according to ABC News and their little bottle of red food coloring, most of us have absolutely nothing to worry about!) We could probably all use a little bit of wonderful, right?

So, here goes:

6 Things Don’t Suck

1.     Deep-fried stuff (Which, mind you, Japan is quite good at making. Don’t let all that talk of healthy diets and long-life expectancy fool you – the Japanese do and will deep-fry almost anything and make it taste good.)

2.     Chinese cough syrup. (Okay, so it hasn’t really cured my cough, but tastes like candy. And it’s medicine so it has to be good for me, right?)

3.     Cookies (They’re the disaster survival food of choice, people, so keep your cupboards stocked!)

4.     People (This includes all the brave people in Japan, including my wonderful friends, former students and colleagues in Japan, who I have been thinking about this past week. This also includes all my family and friends who emailed, messaged and called me last week to make sure I was doing alright and, well, all the other awesome people in the world. This does not include haters, but you knew that.)

5.     Kitten videos (What? Did you think now that I’m a serious writer, I’d stop watching kitten videos altogether? Come on, I can’t just go cold turkey like that.)

6.     Good karma (Again, I’m no expert on this, but good karma comes from doing good things like donating money. I know not everyone has the means to give, but if you can, please do. You can even donate to the Red Cross using iTunes! Give money and get the new Lady Gaga single all in one go! After all, good karma deserves a little dance music to go along with it, don’t you think?)



I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On March 20, 2011 at 2:58 pm Megan said:

    Ooooh, am I the first to comment? That would be awesome! (And, yeah, that’s how my month has been going–being the first commenter would be a good part of my day. Yikes.)

    So, yeah, agreed, disaster sucks. Not much else to say is there?

    Except: deep-fried bananas? Jealous.
    Megan recently posted..Challenge- Getting a Cab in BKK

    • On March 21, 2011 at 12:31 am Sally said:

      And, lucky for you, the first commenter wins deep-fried fruit! (But you’re going to have to come to China to get it… sorry, but I have a feeling that banana won’t airmail well.)
      Sorry, to hear your month isn’t going well. I suggest eating more cookies & watching lots of kitten videos! (And come to China & eat deep-fried fruit! A sure-fire pick-me-up, if I do say so myself!)

  2. On March 20, 2011 at 3:47 pm jill- Jack and JIll Travel said:

    There have been so many negativity in the news lately (lately? it’s more like always) that I’ve tuned it out for the past months or so. Just 2 days ago I found out that there’s some sort of action against Libya — and I was like, ‘What? Another war?’


    Negative news sucks. Whether it’s war, disaster, or squabbling politicians.

    News channel should talk more about cookies and cough syrup.
    jill- Jack and JIll Travel recently posted..Last Day of Work – Shouldn’t this be fun

    • On March 21, 2011 at 12:29 am Sally said:

      Yes, this is probably the reason why I end up watching “Glee” more than my evening news. I would like to stay better-informed, but it’s hard when all the news is so bad. (But, hey, at least I knew about Libya. Where have YOU been? Watching too many kitten videos, I suppose? 🙂 )

  3. On March 20, 2011 at 5:17 pm magdalena said:

    I like that you posted about things that don’t suck.

    Less negativity–everywhere. I agree with that.
    magdalena recently posted..Finalitiesand beginnings

    • On March 21, 2011 at 12:27 am Sally said:

      And more kitten videos! (Seriously, I think there would be a lot less war if people just watched kitten videos. You can’t hate when watching stuff like that.)

  4. On March 20, 2011 at 9:20 pm Debbie Beardsley said:

    I find it difficult to come up with the actual words to describe how the people affected by this earthquake must feel. It is truly indescribable.

    Basically I am disgusted with all news outlets right now. I really don’t see any of them actually reporting. What is news worthy about following a family as they search for their child? Disgusting.

    On a positive note, fried bananas look good! Last night I had fried yucca, which was like fried mashed potatoes. . . yum!

    • On March 21, 2011 at 12:26 am Sally said:

      I, personally, tend to watch the human interest stories. I think a lot of people do. Because the tragedy is so huge and horrific, I really think it’s hard to wrap your brain around. Having personal stories helps people do that. Plus, I think it’s stories like these that spur people to action & cause them to donate. It’s easy to say, “The problem’s too big. I can’t help out.” But I think watching one family’s story makes you think, “Okay, maybe I can’t help the whole country. But I can help one family.” So I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all.
      I have heard lots of reports from people living in the country that the international media has really sensationalized the problem there. A lot of the news makes it look like the entire country is in a state of catastrophe, when, in truth, they’re not. My friends who live in Kobe and Osaka are fine. They are experiencing shortages and are worried about the nuclear reactors, but, their part of the country did not experience much damage at all.

  5. On March 20, 2011 at 10:39 pm MaryAnne said:

    Mean people certainly do suck, as do disasters. It’s been a rough week on so many levels for so many people. If I see or hear some numb skull going on about Karma For Pearl Harbour one more time, I’m going to punch something. Or, alternately, carry on as I have thus far- beer and imported Sour cream and Onion chips.

    Here’s to getting better and to not having more horrible things happen.

    PS I’ve also learned through repeated experience that I suck at writing about unfortunate events that don’t somehow involve myself or my reactions. There goes my hope for journalism school or a Pulitzer.
    MaryAnne recently posted..A Call To Arms and Submissions- A New Series on Settledness and Restlessness

    • On March 21, 2011 at 12:20 am Sally said:

      What? Are you saying I won’t be getting a Pulitzer for my fine reporting on the snack food front? Sheez. Those Pulitzer people are so picky.
      And I think you should give yourself more credit. I read your post on the sites of genocide in Cambodia & it was very well-written and thoughtful & didn’t just say, “Genocide sucks.” So I think you’ll definitely be up for a Pulitzer before me!

  6. On March 21, 2011 at 2:27 am Jonathan said:

    I’ve been watching too. I think the relationship in Taiwan to Japan is very close, because most of the older generation speak Japanese and a lot of people have friends and family there. The radiation scare makes the event all the more horrible and incomprehensible. Our friend got up early on Thursday to buy us seaweed, because she heard it combats radioactivity.

    I never like discussions of “comparative atrocity.” I guess in some sense they have to happen since we want to help everyone, not just those who are most visible, and I understand that a lot of places just get ignored (see: Congo). I also get that people naturally think in terms of causation and we want to believe if good things happen it’s because we’re good and if bad things happen it’s because we’re bad. But, this just isn’t true. And blaming the victim never helps. I think after accidents, people also look naturally for reasons that this won’t happen to them. All probably natural, but also kind of disgusting.

    I’m hoping that Japan recovers quickly. I know people here have really been struck by the sacrifice, organization, and effort that people are making to help. If you hear from friends or have more updates, we’d enjoy hearing how things are going.

    • On March 21, 2011 at 12:59 pm Sally said:

      I really should have had YOU write this post. You said all the stuff I wanted to say, but made it make sense (and sound intelligent… “comparative atrocity”? I’m totally using that word next time).
      Most of my friends are in Kobe & Osaka, and they only felt the earthquake (no damage, just lots of shaking). They’re still pretty concerned about the nuclear situation and shortages, but, for now, they are doing well. My friends in Tokyo also are doing fine. It was really the people by the northeastern coast that got hit the hardest.

  7. On March 21, 2011 at 6:15 am Odysseus said:

    I like how you wrote about the things that don’t suck. (Err, though you might want to correct the “doesn’t” to “don’t,” which I’m sure was just a cough medicine-induced typo.)

    I understand what you mean about wanting to direct your attention on something big and horrible, in order to show support for Japan. It might seem superficial to write about kittens and cookies when people you love are in danger. But laughter can be comforting and healing. The world needs kittens and cookies and unbrave girls to make them feel like it’s all going to be okay.
    Odysseus recently posted..Hospital Tour of India

    • On March 21, 2011 at 12:55 pm Sally said:

      Whoops — thanks for the grammar check. Yes, the cough syrup definitely hasn’t done my brain any good. You can blame all other grammar/spelling/factual errors or anything that just sounds stupid on the cough syrup, okay?
      And thanks for the lovely comment. I’ll be back to kittens & cookies next week, for sure.

  8. On March 22, 2011 at 9:44 am Nomadic Chick said:

    Ugh. Me relate. The crater on my arm continues to mess with my head. One day it’s pink and flat, the next it’s red and puffy. WTH? If it helps, I feel sorry for you AND Japan. Hang in girl!

  9. On March 22, 2011 at 3:44 pm Laura said:

    You really branched out. Instead of cookies, a fried banana! 🙂 Yes, mean people suck. That’s ridiculous to mention karma. Hope your cough gets better.
    Laura recently posted..Montage Monday- A Glimpse Back of Cape Town

  10. On March 22, 2011 at 11:03 pm Ciki said:

    oh I had no idea u were a fan of the Pei Pa Koa! LOL.. not bad at all for a cough syrup huh;) great post.. keep it coming!

  11. On March 23, 2011 at 3:28 am Roy said:

    Disasters do suck. But at least it’s Mother Nature. Hateful people suck more!!
    Roy recently posted..Manta- Birds &amp White Water

  12. On March 23, 2011 at 6:19 am Fearful Girl said:

    You managed to say more than I did. Like you, I felt a somewhat self indulgent writing about anything other than the masses of human suffering taking place in Japan (and let’s not mention those two loyal dogs).
    Fearful Girl recently posted..Welcome to- Holy Sht I’m Going To Die!

    • On March 23, 2011 at 3:08 pm Sally said:

      Oh yeah, I saw all that hoopla about the dogs. I couldn’t even watch the video; then I would NEVER be able to write another self indulgent blog post again. (Okay, that’s not true… but if it had been KITTENS I would have been wrecked for life)

  13. On March 23, 2011 at 8:14 am Choi Kum Fook said:

    Miss Sally, try to eat good food, try to AVOID to eat good taste food. Instead of taking deep fried food, take more steamed food and fruits. The cough syrup, picture above, also one bottle in my refrigerator in the farm, only can be cured for ordinary cough.Serious cough, I mean still coughing after taken the syrup for a week, you have to visit the doctor.Ha! Ha! I am not a doctor, but I have experienced it. Prevention is better than cure! Lastly h ope you enjoy the great food in China. Good luck.

    • On March 23, 2011 at 3:07 pm Sally said:

      But all the food is good taste food in China, Mr. Choi! You should know that! I have been trying to eat lots of fresh fruits & vegetables… and have seen the doctor TWICE about my cough. Hopefully it will clear up soon!

  14. On March 24, 2011 at 8:34 pm Ceri said:

    Sally, in worrying about not writing anything profound, deep and meaningful enough, you’ve written one that’s exactly like that. Very human and not full of false emotion.

    I’m so shocked that people were actually saying the Japanese don’t deserve help because they’re advanced and were prepared for this. I’m sorry but no-one’s ever prepared for something like that. And just because they’re not a third world country doesn’t mean we shouldn’t reach out and help them. Ugh. Horrible!
    Ceri recently posted..Hello Brain Are you there

  15. On March 28, 2011 at 2:36 am Theodora said:

    I’m one of those who suggested Japan didn’t require as much attention as, say, ongoing crises in developing nations. This was before the scale of the disaster became clear, and I am happy to eat my words.
    Theodora recently posted..In Which I Lose A Child and Gain a Motorcycle


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