It’s the Vernal Equinox and it’s raining here in Seoul. A light rainfall around a temperature of about 5 degrees Celsius is usual for the coming of spring in Seoul, even though the Cherry Blossom festival begins next week. Things are as they should be. But how close to disaster do we come with every turning moment? How is it we constantly avert catastrophe by the hairs of our chinny-chin-chins? How did I get here in one piece? I’ve been asking the stars that very question repeatedly since I arrived in town safe and sound yesterday afternoon after flying out of Fukuoka just hours after the biggest earthquake the southernmost island of Kyushu has seen in over 200 years shocked the laconic shoppers in Tenjin just before stores opened at 11am.
The dryness in my mouth roused me before 8 from my capsule hotel slumber. Usually the snugness of the Oyafuko capsules ensures a cozy sleep after a night of rabblerousing in Tenjin, Fukuoka’s slick shopping/nightlife center. Maybe it drinking Absinthe with Matt or maybe the lack of ventilation that dried me out, but after a refreshing splash in the hotel’s public bath I was keened on finding a book to peruse over the hour-long flight to Seoul. I arrived at the 10-story department store as the doors swung open and madeway to the 6th floor Kinokuniya Book Store, whose selection of English books tends to focus on the likes of Jackie Collins and Dean Coontz, but whose translated Japanese works makes up for any lack of less tedious American-made pulp. I perused Haruki Murakami’s new opus Kafka On The Shore but due to the hardback’s imposing size and the ever-shrinking space in my carry-on bag I glanced over to his other works, one of which, After The Quake, caught my eye. This work of “fiction” is based upon the 1995 Hanshin quake (magnitude 7.0) which killed 5000 people and set off the national alarm clock concerning temblor preparedness in general. Something about the tone set me off (not to mention just having finished Salmon Rushdie’s ode to rock n’ roll and earthquakes, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, I had the eerie feeling two earthquake reads in a row might be bad luck) so I plucked up South Of The Border, West Of The Sun, paid and set off just before 10:30 to grab a cappuccino on the first floor before catching the subway for the ten minute ride to the airport.
Sitting in the sparse and well-lit Seattle’s Best (us dupes just across from the dupes at Starbuck’s) over my organic espresso and doodling in pornographic kanji (I’m still learning) the world turned into a 30-second movie, where upon some director of tectonic plates yelled, “ACTION” our sound stage began slamming to and fro, akin to a drunken teenager learning how to roller skate in a darkened sweatshop. The narrow street between the two ten-story buildings, already packed with Sunday shoppers, began filling with hundreds filing out of the buildings as if extras on cue to “Panic! Panic! Look terror-stricken!” which worked. A few began to run, a mother clutching her infant tripped in the middle of the street, people began pointing up and staring, mouths agape as the pieces of building and chunks of glass fell intermittently to the ground (which was no doubt, the work of some clumsy P.A.), that solid ground which, amazingly enough, held together, did not open up and swallow us whole. The world came apart just from above. The phrase, “The sky is falling” passed over my lips as I gripped my corner table, grasping the fact the 9 floors quaking jarringly above my head could quickly cave were it not for those mandatory earthquake-proof standards of modern Japan.
Taking a breath I made to avoid the probable path of the formidable–looking track lighting crossbar overhead and distance myself from any windows and mirrors which I suddenly noticed stood everywhere. Seeing 10 of myself shaking in unison, all with no more fear or shock aface than your high-end S.A.G. actor, during what seemed like an interminably long take. Quite unlike the extras outside running about like so many chicken littles about the falling debris outside. A relaxed feel of Zen overtook me and I entered the little-known “Zone” where death matters as little as bit parts in a crappy B-picture remake of a bad Japanese horror flick. I could feel my body ripping apart as the asphalt surged apart, lava spewing up from the multitudinous subterranean volcanoes roused by our 7.3 big brother earthquake and I kind of chuckled, a small almost unheard voice wondering somewhere behind the calm, “Why is it still going on though? Is this really the end?”
I remember as the face in the mirror stabilized (I swear I heard a “Cut” from beside the well-hidden cameras off-stage somewhere) and the world resumed its non-rolling-skating-sober-adulthood-normality, thinking that this was the beginning of something. And I hate to be morbid, but that this was the beginning of The End. Don’t ask what that means, but maybe just the end of a way of thinking, a society’s mentality. For the people of Kyushu, especially Fukuoka, they are no longer untouchables. Strange living in the world’s probable emperor of earthquakes that some people would consider themselves exempt from all the shaking and rattling going on. But it’s true, one has no idea how many times the phrase, “This is Kyūshū. Earthquakes don’t happen down here.” has been uttered. A way of life for the people of this island was swallowed by the invisible tears in the sky whence came those pieces of atmosphere so many of our chicken littles tried so hard to avoid. Yes, they will get up and brush themselves off and even smile about it, hell they are after all Japanese, but that Horror of knowing that they too are lepers like the rest will never be truly absent from the mirror watching them rock silently to and fro in their uncontrollably shaking world.
So I slurp my noodles in Seoul and watch the cherry blossoms wash away with the rain down the gutter and I wonder when the dragon will awaken for real.