Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Deus ex Machina

Now, I'm not really a student of historical drama or plays, but apparently, in certain ancient Greek plays, the storyline would be giving a really terrible time to the protagonist, and though everyone wants the hero to pull through and save the girl/kill the badguy/defeat the monsters/all of the above, there is just no possible way for him to get out of his predicament.

But, as everyone knows, no one really likes a story where the evil guy is triumphant and the good guy fails to save the day. Unless of course, you *are* the evil guy, but for the most part, people like a good happy ending. An ending where they see the hero get the girl, kill the badguy, defeat the monsters, and rides off into the sunset.

But there is just no physically possible way for the hero to save the day! And this, is where the playwright steps in, and writes in a section where a god appears and magically makes everything right.

"And then, Johnny woke up, and realized that it was all a dream."
The most common form of Deus ex Machina found in the English Compositions of primary school children in Singapore, saving their storyline hero from evil, but alas, not saving the authors from the bane of unoriginality, or from the ire of their English teachers who have to read 70 stories that end this way.

The god-character is usually lowered (or raised, depending on the stage) onto the scene by a crane (or a platform), hence the term 'machina' (Which in case you haven't quite noticed, is where we get our word 'machine' from). And so in the end, the hero rescues the girl, slays the badguy, defeats the monster, and saves the day.

Thinking about that reminded me of this other story where everything was dark and hopeless, and there was no way there could have been a happy ending. The story is the one about humanity.

I mean, the world was pretty much screwed over when Adam and Eve chose not to follow God's commands, but decided to do things on their own. And since sin is hereditary, and they were the only people on earth, it goes on to say that there was no way that humanity would have been able to save themselves.

And so no matter how much we want to be pure, to be holy, we can't, because from the beginning, from when we were first born, sin was in us. We were doomed, and the devil was laughing because by his single act of deception, and the single moment of weakness by Adam and Eve, we were cursed to damnation away from God.

And then, God steps into this world. He sent His Son, to take away the sin, to take the punishment we deserved, and provide redemption for all humanity.

So there you have it. Christmas: The greatest Deus ex Machina ever.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Whoa almost missed another month there.

Here's a recap of November in pictures!

Marie came!

Marie left :(

I ate some apple pie.

We made Alvin Yap go diving.

We also made him go flying. We also made him go trekking about (actually, he ended up dragging our asses around cos he's a ranger and we're not) and had a campfire and cooked some stuff and ate it, but no pictures sorry.

Alvin got married. Photo credit (copyright?) to TouchStudios and Moving Pictures.

I got older. Alvin also got older, which was coincidentally (or maybe NOT!) one day after his wedding.

That's about it.

Friday, October 28, 2011


When I first went to Japan in 2005, I thought, I would never go back to Japan again.

Team members of Japan'05

When I went back again in 2006, I figured I would never go back as a team leader.

I took a picture with Steve Weemes back then because I didn't think I would ever see him again too.

When I went to Japan in 2008 as a team leader for a short-term youth team, I did not think I would ever stay longer than a month.

Team dynamics, as seen (and drawn) by Mavis.

When I signed up for the OLOY program in church and went to Japan in 2009, I did not think I would stay longer than a year.

It seemed like half my church sent me off that time. I felt so embarrassed.

When I went back in 2010 for my second year, I did not think I would want to extend past my second year.

Summer at Kamakura/Shonan with Shinagawa Kai, which seemed both so long ago, and so near at the same time.

And now, I want to go back again. Whether missions or not, I'm not sure. But I know I want to be in Japan. Here are a list of reasons why I want to go back to Japan:

Yokohama bay

Sunset over Tokyo

Tokorozawa station East exit

KHCN team

Tokorozawa HC

Tono city centre

Coco's English Corner

Walking home to Tokorozawa from Kotesashi

Snow in winter

CRASH Japan Logistics team

Kids' Club

Shinagawa Kai


I think, maybe, just maybe, I'm sensing a trend here. God, you really have a sense of humour, don't You?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Dumb hacker

So I had not logged onto MSN Messenger in quite a while, and then when I log on today, I get into this conversation with a friend I haven't really spoken to in a while.. To keep the identity secret, I've blanked out the name of the friend:

######## says: (11:02:45 PM)


Daniel says: (11:03:00 PM)


Daniel says: (11:03:01 PM)

what's up

######## says: (11:03:12 PM)


######## says: (11:03:21 PM)


(Writer's note: Here, I started to get a little suspicious. Almost all my friends know my Chinese is not good, and the only ones who speak to me in Chinese are those who's English is almost non-existent.)

Daniel says: (11:03:34 PM)

english pls

Daniel says: (11:03:40 PM)

you know my english is better than my chinese

Daniel says: (11:03:49 PM)

and my japanese is now better than my chinese too

Daniel says: (11:03:50 PM)


Daniel says: (11:03:51 PM)

but sure

######## says: (11:06:24 PM)

Now convenient do me a favor

Daniel says: (11:06:45 PM)

what favour

######## says: (11:08:06 PM)

Help me to buy a few pieces of mycard card is convenient for me

(Writer's note: Now, right about here, it became full-blown suspicion. I mean, this English is pretty broken, even for a Singaporean. And my friend speaks English pretty well. But I decided to play along and see whether he would make a faux pas and prove beyond reasonable doubt that it was not my friend.)

Daniel says: (11:09:27 PM)

what's that?

######## says: (11:10:41 PM)

Taiwan 7 and 11 family ok Lyle rich some sell

######## says: (11:11:02 PM)

With the clerk said to buy mycard card = m CARDS they will understand

Daniel says: (11:11:16 PM)

wait, this is AAAAAA right?

(Writer's note: I asked the name of my friend, but with a slight misspelling, in case it really was my friend who was, I don't know, intoxicated or something)

######## says: (11:11:28 PM)

Would you help me buy some Taiwan friend zhang

Daniel says: (11:13:12 PM)

did you even get the right person?

######## says: (11:13:42 PM)

Is not the only trouble you

######## says: (11:13:55 PM)

Can help I think the way to trouble

Daniel says: (11:13:55 PM)


Daniel says: (11:14:23 PM)

this is Daniel. from %%%

######## says: (11:14:35 PM)

He didn't online

######## says: (11:15:15 PM)

Can you help me to think the way

Daniel says: (11:15:39 PM)

wait wait

Daniel says: (11:15:43 PM)

you are AAAAAA right?

######## says: (11:16:13 PM)


######## says: (11:16:17 PM)


Daniel says: (11:17:28 PM)

get off my friend's account you stupid hacker

######## says: (11:17:49 PM)


######## says: (11:17:51 PM)


Right there, after trying to insult me, he went offline. I say trying because, you know, I was really just toying with the moron, and I wasn't insulted. Well, a bit. If I met him, I would sock him good for that, and then another time for hacking my friend's account.

So yeah. Google translate is a lot better than Babelfish, but seriously, it's not enough if you want to try and pretend to be someone to trick that person's friend.

And yes. I am slightly mortified to admit that right now, my Japanese is indeed, better than my Chinese.

Ichinoseki Epilogue

Thank you

Ichinoseki Part 3

Took a little too long to get back to this.

Our final work day at Ichinoseki was a little different. We knew before we got down to the volunteer centre, that Onodera-san was not getting volunteers, as she had requested none on that day. So Nobu said that the first one that comes along that can fit one of our groups, we should just take it. And so we were separated from the CCC team.

We were assigned to do photo-recovery work at a nearby sports hall (I think), and we did not take our car with us this time. One of the volunteer centre staff dudes drove a few of us out in a van, and he took us through the part of Kesennuma that was hit the hardest by the tsunami, and by the fires that broke out after that. We had seen damage of course, but it still kinda cast a pall over the entire car when we were driving through it, and he was telling us his experience.

Yes, that is a container ship that was washed inland.

Photo-recovery work was a lot different from what we had experienced up to that point. We were working indoors, so it was cool. There was no construction work going on, so it was quiet. There were chairs and tables, and all we had to do was to salvage as many photographs as we could from photo albums that had been pulled out of the wreckage, dry them off, and put them in new albums.

Now, if you know what some of those albums are like, each 'page' is made of stiff paper which may be sticky, so you can plonk your photo on it. And then there's a plastic film for each page that goes on top so that it can be protected from spilled drinks and the grubby hands of people. What we had to do was to slowly peel the film off (hopefully without peeling off the picture), and then cut the picture off the 'page'.

And it seems like a relatively cushy job compared to the physical stuff we had been doing, but now I realize that finesse can be as stressful as doing hard manual labour, bending over the tables, controlling your movements so that you don't damage it any worse.

And the albums smell bad, because they were in the sea. The moment we opened it up, we got a powerful whiff of it. And we have to keep our faces near the books so that we can see what we are doing (though we kinda get used to it after about an hour or so).

And this is also where it kinda hits you a bit more, that these pictures may be the visual remnants of someone who may be dead. When we were working before, it was physical stuff, and the owners were still around, and they had friends and family who got swept away, but, you know, you're still kinda distant from those other people.

Now? You're looking at them smiling at you from the pages of a photo album which were meant to be a memoir for them, but instead, is giving you a window into the life of a total stranger who you will probably never meet.

There were photos of vacations, and houses and plants, but the ones that really struck me were those old photos of children, or a child with his mother, because they remind me of the photos my grandmother had when she was young and my dad was a kid. And these are treasures, because those are the only copies. In our digital age, where we can take thousands of photos and have backups and store it on hard drives and print out a billion copies, we forget (or don't know, perhaps) how valuable a photo was.

It was only 4 hours of work, but it was a lot harder than we thought. We got a ride back to the volunteer centre, and then we headed back to base, and that was the end of our volunteer work in Ichinoseki.

We also went out to Rikuzen-Takata to do a short prayer-walk around the tree. This tree had been in a grove of 70,000 that had been a park/breakwater, but now it was the only one that remained. It gave hope and courage to the people I guess, in the '頑張れ (ganbare)' way, to just push through adversity, and they are desperately trying to save it from the seawater that had gotten into the soil. (Side note: On the way down from Tono much later, we drove past the tree again, and it looked a lot worse.)

The pine tree

On Sunday, we went to a church in Kesennuma. They did not have a sermon, but a guy shared his testimony of doing volunteer work (he had been helping out at the volunteer centre as one of the staff). It was somewhat sobering to hear that everyone in the church had lost someone they knew, but the church members were all very kind to us, and welcomed us warmly.

The CCC team left for Ichinoseki station after that, to take the train back down to Tokyo. Our team went to find a ramen shop (someone wanted to eat local ramen), and then we went to the summer festival in the town (Murone town) near the base. We had been invited by this guy who had driven all the way up to the base, so we felt that we should go.

Summer festival at Murone

It was a lot smaller than the ones I had gone to before in Tokyo, even the one in Tokorozawa, but then Murone is a pretty small town, and they were using a rather large place to stage it. It also felt a little too cold for a summer festival, as it had been cloudy and rainy all week long, so the temperature had dropped quite a bit.

We met the guy who invited us, and then we found out why he wanted to invite us; there was a log-cutting competition, and he was supposed to get people. So he signed all four of us up. I ended up squaring off against one of the local guys, and the result wasn't exactly pretty. I am not particularly strong, and I was not used to the small one-handed saw they gave me (it cut on the backstroke, whereas I'm used to a two-handed hacksaw that cuts on the forward stroke). And then I cut myself.

The aftermath. This was after the 'first-aid person' (in apostrophes because the first thing she did was to stuff cotton balls on the wound) and Marie had nursed me back to health. Incidentally, I noticed all the contestants wore work gloves after that.

But it all turned out well. We got to see fireworks that nights, and I got an iMax experience because I was lying down on the road and the sky was my screen.

Monday was our off day too, and after kinda lazing around hanging around the base, some of us took a walk around.

Ichinoseki base is located in a really beautiful area.

Near the end of our travels, Laura, who was trumping around the area with us, started to feel pain in her foot. She had tripped while walking around the base before we left for our hike, and when we got back, her foot was purple. Roberta prodded her a few times (she has some real nursing knowledge), but it seemed to only be a bruise. We found out after we got back to Tokyo that Laura had broken her toes in five places.

And that is about all. We left the base the following morning, saying goodbye to Woody, his wife, and a couple of new staff that had come by the night before, and reached Tokyo around 8.30 or 9. It was a really good trip, got to see (and help out) in some of the work there, and got to know each other better during the trip.

And now, a final word from the 'safety officer', who cut his hand sawing a log:

They always say to wear a breath mask and a helmet; I combined the two and wore a breath mask as a helmet. Remember, 安全第一!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Recap Intermission: Tono Day 5, 6

We'll now have a break from the Ichinoseki recollection, and have something about what's going on in Tono.

I came up to Tono (in Iwate Prefecture too) almost a week ago, and three days after I had returned to Tokyo from the Ichinoseki trip (just enough time to wash all my underwear). It was hard to leave at first, because unlike Ichinoseki, I had to come up by myself, and I had to leave stuff in Tokyo that I did not really want to leave. But I reached the base fairly uneventfully (though the trains here don't run quite as... often.. as the trains in Tokyo).

I've had to do the dinner cooking and stuff, and so far, it's not been too bad. Fortunately, the first few days, I only had to prep food for about 12 people, though right now, I have to get enough food for close to 30.

And last night (Day 5), was when I started to get a little stressed. Now generally, I don't get too affected by work stress. I tend to just sleep it off. But last night, I decided to make spaghetti, and I foolishly did it without looking at a recipe. I decided to try it with a small batch first, and at around dinner time, it was still kinda bleah (I thought. The others thought it was fine). It didn't help that everyone was coming back late, so Plan B, which involved going out to buy instant sauce, was not gonna be easy to coordinate. After all, everyone was tired and asking them to drive to run errands would have been hard.

But I got encouraged by two people. One of the guys from the American team, Jon, offered to drive me out to the supermarket when I mentioned the need for a driver, even at the expense of a trip to the sento for him, and after a full day of work. While on the way there, I got some more encouragement in the form of a virtual bottle of energy drink from Marie in Tokyo. Stress was still there of course, but it was a lot easier to bear after that.

The following day, base management decided to bring everyone out to eat dinner, which meant I did not have to stay back and think of what to prep for food. So I was able to go out with one of the teams to do some work.

I ended up being part of a group that went back to Rikuzen-Takata. The job that day was to go to pick up rubbish in a spot where the tsunami had kinda gone through. II really couldn't understand much of the briefing, but when people started doing work, it was pretty easy to just take a look and follow.

We were picking up pieces of rubbish from the sandy area.

At first, it seemed a simple enough task. I mean, it was just picking up rubbish right? But as I was picking up some trash, and noticed that there was even more trash that had been buried in the soil, I started to wonder, how meaningful was our work? After all, prior to this in Ichinoseki, we had worked in a way where there were clear results happening, whether it was cutting weeds or talking to people. But as I picked up one piece of garbage, I saw 3 more pieces. And it just did not seem to be getting any less. It was not being done in an organized manner ("just go and pick up rubbish around here" *waves hands in a vague circle*), which meant that groups coming in the next day could, and probably would be working in the same spot, which would not be altogether pointless considering the amount of rubbish still there.

But even as I was thinking that, I knew that I was picking up one piece of rubbish, and that that piece of rubbish would be gone from the site, and even though it was just a bit, it was still that little bit that was gone from the area as they try to make the place livable again. And I guess what I was doing that day was just a 'drop in the ocean' so to speak, but eventually, all the rubbish will be cleared, and the little bit I did to help would have played a part in making that place habitable again.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ichinoseki Part 2

On the 2nd day, we went to the place of a lady called Onodera in Kesennuma. She lived in a three-storey house, and the third floor was actually untouched, but the tsunami and reached up to about a foot on the second floor, and had swept away everything in the first floor. This was also when we started to notice a smell. On the first day at the garden, there was no odour, and it smelt pretty much like what one would imagine a garden would smell like. But at the area around Onodera-san's house, there was a bit of a smell. Soon however, we barely noticed that, because we had to wear breathing masks, and it took too much effort to just breathe through it.

The HQ team was assigned to work on the second floor, and our work involved mostly sweeping up the dust and mud that had gotten settled on the floor. It sounds pretty simple, except for three facts:
  1. There were kind of wooden support beams about two centimetres above the floor. Fortunately, the beams were spaced far apart enough to squeeze the dustpan in, but it was hard to clean the area directly under the beams.
  2. The dust was the very fine kind, and there was construction work going on outside.
  3. Some of the mud was caked. Hard. I'll get to that part in a bit.
So what happened was that after one round of sweeping (which was a lot harder than it sounds), we would look back on the swept places, and realize that there was still a lot of dust on the floor. And we would sweep again, and find out again that there was still dust on the floor. And we would be unable to reach the dust under the beams. And we had to breathe through breath masks for safety, which got pretty unbearable after about 5 minutes.

It did get very bearable at about 10:30 though, because that was when Onodera-san made an appearance, carrying a massive amount of drinks and snacks with her for us. Like Sato-san the day before, she was very grateful to us for coming, and her lack of a furnished living room did not detract one bit from her hospitality. We all very happily took a break from our work to get a bit of rest, and to talk with her.

Both Mrs. Onodera and her husband were ok after the tsunami, but their house was damaged, and she now stayed up in Aomori prefecture at an evacuation centre, but came down to Kesennuma 3-4 times a week to check on her house and clean it up. She felt fortunate because her house was salvageable, while most of the other houses nearby were totally wrecked.

We continued cleaning up the place, and by lunch time, one of the rooms on the top floor looked reasonably clear of dust. The kitchen though, was a completely different matter. Although Laura had been working hard scrubbing the floor and sweeping up dust, there was still a lot of work to be done. We did break for lunch though, and that's when we saw the scourge that is flies. Lots and lots of flies. You couldn't hold your sandwich still for a moment, for flies would start landing on them almost immediately. They were everywhere, they got in your food, they got in the car, and worse still, they refused to get out. And flies are notoriously difficult to kill.

After having to contend with flies, we got back to cleaning, and continued sweeping and scrubbing away at the dirt on the floor, till it was time for us to leave. Victor, leader of the CCC team, gave a small tract about Christianity to Onodera-san, and she mentioned that she had gone to a Catholic kindergarten, and actually still remembered some of the hymns and prayers from that time.

HQ-Ichinoseki Team 3, CCC Team B, and Mrs. Onodera (Orange shirt, centre)

Oh, and that day, a reporter from the Nikkei Shimbun, Kishida-san followed us around to get materiel for an article she was writing about foreign volunteers serving in Japan. If you're interested, the link to the article about CRASH by her is here.

The following day, we went back to the Kesennuma Volunteer Centre to get our job assignments. And once again, Nobu-san (the translator for the CCC team) suggested we pray that we would get an assignment that would allow us to stick together as a big group. The day before, we had asked God that we would get a job that would let us go as a big group of 15 people, and we were blessed to meet Onodera-san. On this day, we prayed, and once again, God gave us a job that required 15 people, at the very same location, Onodera-san's house.

Kesennuma Volunteer Centre

It was a great blessing of course; not only were we able to stay as a group, we would also be able to meet Onodera-san again, and we also knew what tools would work better for us. So this time, instead of taking huge shovels and wheelbarrows, we searched for small brushes and screwdrivers to help clean the nooks and crannies, and to help chip away mud.

Onodera-san was quite happy to see us again, as she was used to us, and we knew what we had to do, so we got back to work again. We also had two other volunteers with us, Nakagawa-san from Shiga prefecture, and Okubo-san from Tokyo. Both of them had come up on their own to do some volunteer work, and were joining us for the day.

We had to start sweeping and dusting up all over because the dust had returned, and had pretty much covered up all the area already. Laura and myself continued working in the kitchen chipping away at the caked mud with screwdrivers and crowbars, while Roberta swept outside and Marie cleaned up some cupboards outside. We pretty much remained engrossed in our work, though we did stop for a break at about 1030, and took a longer rest at lunch.

After lunch, I went back up to the kitchen to resume my chipping work. I had been using a screwdriver to scratch away at some mud that had been stuck on the linoleum on the kitchen floor, and had been doing so for more than an hour. That's when Marie came in with a wet cloth, and pretty much cleared more mud away in 5 minutes than I had chipped away in 1-and-a-half hours.

Yup. I felt like one.

But thanks to Marie's bright idea, we did manage to clean up the kitchen, so much so that Onodera-san said it looked "pika-pika" (bright and sparkly, has nothing to do with Pikachu) by the time we were done and had to leave. As she had not requested help from the volunteer centre the next day (our last work day), we agreed to stay in touch even after we had gone back to Tokyo, and she invited us to come and visit when her place was spruced up again and ready to receive guests.

When we got back to the base, we heard a bit more good news, because Woody, the base manager, had cleared his Japanese license test on the first try.

So that's it for the second and third work day. We had an earthquake somewhere one night then, and it wasn't too bad for the base building, but it does rattle a lot, which kinda makes it sound worse than it actually is. I'll continue on in the next post about our last day of work and our off days.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Ichinoseki Part 1

Just over a week ago, I was traveling up to Ichinoseki base with 6 other members of the HQ staff. The main purpose of this was to be for HQ people to be able to see what the bases were doing, and to help out there for a bit.

Oh, and about two weeks before, I was appointed the group leader. How about that.

So on the 26th of July, 7 of us set out from HQ; Laura, P-chan, Keith and Cece, Ramona, Marie, and myself. I had kinda studied the route beforehand, but it was good that Laura knew the area well, and could get to the Gaikan without any help. We got up to Ichinoseki pretty easy, and took a long but scenic route around the city and out to the base.

We did have to stop a couple of times along the way though, because our GPS went slightly wonky on us, and once, it was because there was a huge crack on the road up to the camp. Some of us got out a couple of times to check about and stuff, and because of all the forest around us and the mist, I half expected a dinosaur to jump us like in Jurassic Park.

Come on, wouldn't you expect to see dinosaurs here too?

We got to the camp at about three, and met the staff members and CCC team when they got back in from volunteer work. We got to go to a nearby sento that night, as the heaters in the camp's bath were off.

The next day we went to Rikuzen-Takata to do work. It was raining pretty heavily when we were getting the assignment at the volunteer centre, and we definitely saw lightning. And driving over to the place, we kinda got a bit lost. But by the time we reached the worksite, the rain had stopped completely, and the sun was out. Victor, the leader of the CCC team, told us much later that he and the others had been praying for the rain to stop.

The day's work was to help to pull weeds and clear up a garden. It was a rather large garden, and it was sprawled across a hillside, so some parts of it were on pretty steep gradients. It was kinda the first time I had to do gardening work, but after a while, I got used to the work. At about 2 in the afternoon, the owner, and 80+year old lady named Sato came to visit us. She was a tough old lady, walking over the hill behind the garden, and carrying a whole bunch of energy drinks and snacks for us.

We found out that she lost her daughter-in-law during the tsunami, and that she was now living in a evacuation centre. She was really grateful to us for coming out to help her, especially since so many of us came from overseas, and this, as well as her hospitality to us, would be a recurring theme during our time there.

At about that time, it started to rain pretty heavily, and Victor was saying that God did answer prayers because He gave us just enough time for us to do our work. One of the CCC vans sent Sato-san back to her place (she had actually wanted to walk back in the rain without an umbrella, but we managed to convince her to take a lift from us), and then we headed back home.

Ok, I realize that to write about the whole trip in one post is gonna be too long, so I'm gonna break it up into several posts, which I will try to do as soon as possible. I guess I should have done it during the trip itself, but everytime I got through the day and cleared out the supply requests, I was too sleepy to think straight, hence the recap now, when I'm already on my next assignment in Tono base. So, hopefully, I don't forget too much of the trip.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Prayer Stuff #17

Please pray for the Eby family, as their son, Ethan passed away yesterday morning. He was about 18 I think.

The Ebys were instrumental in helping set CRASH up in the days immediately after the quake, and Ethan served faithfully by clearing the rubbish out every morning and helping us get the supplies we needed in the office.

It was upsetting enough for me as I worked with him and know him, can't imagine what the family is going through, so please pray for them, especially for their mother.

Thank you.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Number 9: Tap

I moved into the Laus' place on Sunday (10th) afternoon.

On Thursday (14th), I tried to help Louis put a water filter onto the tap.

L: You know how to attach this filter?
Me: Hmm. I think you have to see what type of tap you have and screw on the filter using the correct piece.
L: Ok. Oh, you must take out this other thing from the tap first. *unscrews thing from tap*
Me: Then we must put this part on.
L: Ok. *Tightens water filter onto tap.* *Turns on tap, and water starts coming out from above the ffilter*
Me: Oh, I know I know, you need to add this washer. *Tries removing filter, but it's been screwed on too tight*
L: Can't take out ah?
Me: Yeah.. maybe need pliers.
*Both of us try to unscrew the filter with pliers, but not much success*
*Finally, Louis gets the filter to come off*
Me: Ah ok good. Now we just need to add the washer inside... *adds washer to filter*
L: Ok.
Me: And then screw it on... *attempts to fix it to tap, but it does not screw on easily*
Me: Hmm, not working. Let me try.. *tries again. Still no success*
Me: Ah I think I know why, must really put it in so that the washer is compressed enough so that the screw threads can catch... *pushes the filter harder onto the tap*
Me: A littler harder perhaps... *uses more strength*
Me: Ack, I dropped the filter. *Looks up* And. Er. Oh.


Me: Oh dear.

* * * UPDATE * * *

Louis got the tap fixed, and he didn't have to pay for it! (The landlord paid for it as it was getting old).

It looks brand new...er it *is* brand new!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I touched down in Tokyo 5 days ago. I started to clear out my house 4 days ago. I finished packing most of my stuff 3 days ago. And 2 days ago, I moved out of my house.

Now, generally speaking, I would say moving isn't exactly a very emotional event. Especially when you move to a place less than 200 metres away. And in the heat of Tokyo, it's a little hard to think when all your mind focuses on is that bottled drink you put in the fridge.

At the same time though, this was the place that I lived in, mostly by myself, for 2 years. It was the place I called home when I first came to Tokyo at the beginning of my initial year, and it remained home to me all the way till the end of last week. It was where I suffered through the heat of 2 summers, and the frigidness of 2 winters. It was where I learnt to cook food by myself (not just cup ramen and ochazuke), and where I could allow all my little foibles (ironing my clothes immediately after washing, not making my bed etc) to just come out.

Naturally, it also doesn't help when you have your special bowl, knife and spoon.

Yes, I had a special bowl. I used this bowl for rice. And noodles. And cereal too. This was actually my 2nd special bowl. I accidentally broke my original special bowl.

Yes, I also had a special knife and spoon. I always used that knife for breakfast (except when I was eating cereal), and I always used that spoon for my other meals. Strangely enough, I never had a special fork.

Staying with the Laus is a nice thing. They are pretty much the epitome of hospitality. It brings back a lot of memories, because this was where I stayed when I first came to Japan in 2005. And my room here is a lot cooler, because it's on the 3rd floor.

However, having to give up a place I called my own, that is not something I found easy.

So here's to my home at Kita-Akitsu Century, for all the memories I had, while I was living there.

Where I spent most of my time hiding.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Now that I'm near the end of my 2nd year in Japan, I've been forced to think about what I want to do with my life.

That, personally, is no easy thing for me to do. After all, I did grow up in Singapore, where everything is more-or-less planned out for you, isn't it? Primary school, secondary school, JC or Poly, Army if you're a guy, then Uni.

And even deciding to come to Japan back in 2009, it was very clearly laid out for me, I believe, by God. He provided anything I needed to get up, so it was easy for me to simply 'float' along, to go with the ebbs and flows of life, wherever it guided me.

And then, I find myself where I am at now.

Recently, I spoke to Pastor Ivan (my church's missions pastor) to talk about the near future. I had been thinking about asking for another extension beyond the extra three months that I had already tagged onto my extra year. And it was actually for a good cause. We had a rather large earthquake back in March you see. You might have heard about it, and though it's no longer on the international news, the needs are still as great as before.

So I asked him whether it would be possible to extend longer again. And he told me, that I would not be allowed to, unless I know exactly what I want to do with my life.

And that is the quandary I find myself in.

I have absolutely no idea what I want to do with my life.

Of course, that is not quite correct. After all, it's not really my life. But my quandary still remains, for I have no idea what God wants to do with my life either.

So I spent a day trying to find out what God's will for me was. Still nothing, as far as I can tell. It's just that I've never been particularly sensitive to hearing His voice. Perhaps I should be, but at the moment, I am not.

And so I am still waiting to see what God's direction for me is going to be. I would think He has been closing a couple of doors (and some of them did hurt), but we'll see how things go on from here.

And just as a final thought, if you have about half an hour of time, please watch this video. I found it particularly enlightening, especially with regard to my priorities and my position in this world. But for you, dear reader, you'll have to come to your own conclusions and convictions.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


So having been working helping out at the volunteer organization that is Crash for the past 2-and-a-half months, it would be really remiss not to talk about what I had been up to, especially since I haven't updated this blog in a while. So here goes.

First things first, let's talk about what Crash is. CRASH is actually an acronym that stands for Christian Relief, Assistance, Support and Hope. It was started by a missionary (I think. But he's been in Japan for a long time, and his wife is Japanese) called Jonathan Wilson, who was thinking of how to help Christians coordinate their efforts in order to help people who have been hit by a natural disaster. And they helped out in Haiti and the Sichuan earthquake and a few other things.

So, I originally went down on the Monday immediately after the 'quake. I had watched the livestream of the meeting they had on Sunday, and I thought, 'hmm, people are gonna be wanting to help, and I can't do much, but I *can* buy coffee and donate that!', so I bought some coffee (and other things) at Seiyu (the queues were really long that day), and lugged it over to the Crash office. And I thought, 'hmm, maybe I can help out a bit, because they probably need volunteers, and I can help out this week maybe, and then I'll be done.' And so I asked an OMF missionary there if there was anything I could do to help out just for a bit. And now I'm still there, so obviously, the part where I said, "Just for a bit" didn't really get transferred across.

Initially, I was under this guy called Corey, and we started off with a sort of Registration/Reception hybrid, that slowly morphed to include office management, which was what we were called for about a month or so. It should be noted, of course, that most of the volunteers did not have much experience in the category of "Setting-up-relief-work-company-quickly-and-with-mostly-volunteers-for-staff", so it was really messy. It kinda still is, but we're slowly getting more organized.

So this was the old Reception/Registration/Office Management/Placement/Screening/Registration+Reception in that order I think. Incidentally, all three of these people are no longer working at the CRASH HQ (maternity leave, gone to Aomori, gone on Home Assignment)

So my first job was to call up volunteers to ask them when they could be free to come in and what they could do to help out. And that would explain my astronomical phone bill for the month of March. And then we had to grab all the new people and get them to register. And we sometimes went out to buy stuff for the office, like ink for the printers, paper, pens, post-its, more ink for the printers, scissors, tape, even more ink for the printers, and nametag holders.

I ended up making nametags too. In my personal 'room'.

No it's not a closet! It's a room I tell you! A room! *controls sobs* It's a room!

And then they started to do some restructuring. This was about the time some people who had experience in the category of "Setting-up-company-from-scratch" came in, and they started to reorganize. And that was when I, because I was making nametags, ended up in the Logistics unit.

And now I know why I was posted to do Log work while I was in the army, because now I have some idea as to what working in Logistics will require. (Yes, you may have to move big boxes of heavy stuff around. No, you cannot eat the food that people are donating).

And people do donate food. But these ones are for staff to eat, so we can eat these ones. Thanks Bola!

I have also developed a slight amount of IT ability, because of my proximity to the resident IT expert, who incidentally also goes by the given name of Daniel. While I'm sure some of said ability is due to the IT aura which surrounds him, most of it is the result of the following scenario:

Person A: Hey, I need help with my computer.
Person B: What's up with it?
A: It's this problem.
B: Oh, hmm I don't know. Go and ask Daniel for help *waves vaguely in the direction of the room where both Daniels reside*

And because they don't specify which Daniel to ask, they end up asking the one nearer to the door, which is me.

The worst part of course, is that sometimes, I actually do solve their problems, which makes me look like an expert in things IT, which I am not, but which continues to feed the myth that Daniel-Logistics can do IT.

No, I'm telling you, I just make nametags. I don't really know how to solve your IT problems! You've got the wrong Daniel, I tell you! The wrong one!!

One of the really nice things about working in such a community is that you get to meet friends. Now, in my normal work with OMF and housechurches and stuff, I do get to meet quite a few people, but it was quite...limited, I would say, in that all the people I meet are somehow connected through OMF. Which is not a bad thing, just that it's a very specific group.

Now however, with so many people volunteering at CRASH, I not only meet the OMF friends, but people from other places, whether it's from other agencies, or they are Christians who have time and just want to help serve, or even some who may not be Christian, but have come down to help out in whatever way they can.

Some friends.

But the greater thing is being able to see how God is using some of us to help serve the people in Japan. And I don't really see much because I'm in the back room of the HQ, but we do get reports of how people have been helped through our ministry, and even more than that, that people are able to see God through the work that we do.

So perhaps I'm not getting paid very much (read: none) for this, but it would be hard to deny that it is fulfilling.

Prayer Points:
  1. Pray for the work of CRASH, that though chaos may reign within the office, we will be able to get relief and aid to the people who need it.
  2. Pray for some of the workers who go through a lot of stress. Whether it's the base personnel who work out in the field, or the people at HQ who just can't seem to pull themselves away from work *koffmariekoff*, pray that God will sustain them, and will help them find rest and renewal in Him.
  3. Pray that we will not lose sight of our objectives, which is to be able to help people in need (and not be a smooth running company), but also to tell them of the God who loves them.
  4. For myself, I guess I've also been immersing myself too much into work, and have somewhat neglected my own QT. I hope I can slow down enough to do it regularly.
Ok, that's about it.

Monday, April 04, 2011

17 Days Later

Almost immediately after the 'quake happened, I wanted to go up to help out in some way. When I heard that Crash (which is where I'm volunteering at now) was going to organize teams to send relief, I wanted to be on one of them. However the teams were meant to assess the situation, and they needed people who were familiar with the region, and were fluent in Japanese, both of which I was not, so I had to wait.

Then they started to send up work teams. And I wanted on. I thought, since I don't have any familial responsibilities, and I'm fairly able-bodied, I can go up and do some stuff. Then OMF told me I couldn't because as a short-term worker, I was to be treated even more 'importantly' than a child of a missionary worker.

So of course I was upset, and chafed under my circumstances, bemoaning my being stuck in Tokyo, and berating the lack of logic (illogicy? illogicity? unlogicity?) that would put me, a grown adult (who learnt how to kill people in the army) on a plane out of the country earlier than a 5-yr-old child, if the situation was to deteriorate.

But after considering some things (and getting a talking to by a few friends), I resigned myself to work hard in the Crash office, and not think too much about going to Tohoku. I guess part of it was because I may not have been ready to go up, or that even if I went, there would not be much I could do. And I will confess that pride in being able to say: "I'm doing something!" would probably have been a pretty big stumbling block for me. So I stopped thinking of ways to sneak up, and focused on the tasks at hand (and hanging out with friends at the office).

And that was when Doug called me, saying he was going up on a short trip for the OMF workers there, and asked if I wanted in.

* * *

The trip was fairly normal I guess. I had to stay the night at Tim's place because Doug wanted to leave from there at 6 in the morning, and I didn't trust myself to wake up and get over in time. We packed what they had bought the day before (thanks to funds from Saitama Intl), and then we headed over to the HQ at Ichikawa to meet up with the Jaes, and pick up more supplies that the Chapel of Adoration at provided.

Not quite overflowing, but it was pretty full of food, hygiene products, and clothes. It's hard to see from here, but we were stuffing vegetables into every nook and cranny we could find.

Moving up to Sendai was uneventful. We stopped a couple of times for rest and for petrol, and we didn't feel any different when we passed closest to the damaged reactors in Fukushima (about 80km away I think), but we opted not to hang around in that area too long anyway.

When we got into Sendai itself, the city looked very normal. There were some rather long lines at the petrol stations, but if not, you would not have thought anything was out of the ordinary...until we started to get nearer to the beach areas, and then we started to see some damage.

Just some of the evidence that this place was wrecked...and it wasn't the worse.

The roads were clear; it was more than two weeks since the earthquake and tsunami, but all the stuff was just piled up to the sides. Cars, trash, rubble, debris, there was just piles and piles of the stuff. Some of the buildings showed the aftereffects of the quake, but most of the damage was done by the tsunami I guess (and also when they just shoved everything out of the way for the relief convoys to get through).

We linked up with one of the OMF missionaries, Rod, who was actually next to the sea when the tsunami came in; his house was on high ground so him, his wife, and a few neighbours were safe, but his car got swept away. He brought us to one of the distribution centres, where we dropped off most of our supplies (it was good to finally be able to sit normally in the car), and then we went to pay a visit to his house. Along the way, he brought us through Shichigahama, which was one of the worst-hit areas.

There used to be houses here. Now it's just flat.

Think this was farmland. It got inundated with seawater, and they'll have to desalinate the fields before anything grows again I reckon.

This scene came out in several newspapers and stuff I think.

There used to be about 2 more meters of land beyond where Tim is standing. It fell off during the quake.

The next day, we helped to transport some stuff around, and then went to help Rod and his wife start doing some work near his place. We cleared a bit of trash, helped set a couple of fences back in place, and picked up some recyclable materiel that washed ashore. I realize now that my 'able-bodiedness' was not quite enough to do some of the heavy lifting there; I had to carry a 12-foot plank, and boy did I suffer carrying it.

We managed to get the fence in the picture to stand again.

While we were there doing repair work, Tim found an envelope with some photographs showing a childrens' play. The photos were dated 1988, and they were probably washed out from one of the houses. I also saw things on the beach that were clearly personal belongings; a shoe, a stuffed animal, a CD.. and you realize that this is not just 'stuff that was washed up', but that these things actually belonged to living people, who were in all likelihood killed during the disaster, and that's when the weight of it all starts to sink in on you.

Looks like some scene out of a disaster movie...except this is no movie set, and people did die here.

In the evening, we helped to move more supplies in one of the warehouses, and while we were doing it, some relief workers from Malaysia came by with a couple of trucks to deliver water. There was quite a bit of water, and my arms kept on feeling like they were about to drop out. It was kinda nice to hear people speaking English with the Malaysian accent, reminded me of Singapore. We went for dinner with another of the OMF missionaries, Jim, and his family. (Another odd facet of our trip there was that quite a few of the restaurants were open for business. The conbinis could be out of food like bentos and onigiri, while the restaurants were able to give you steak. Odd.)

Our third day was pretty much just packing up and going back, though we were able to meet up with the third missionary, Joel, and his family. Somehow, I ended up being the caretaker of his younger child, a boy named Leo (I think), who was about 3 (if I'm not wrong). Doug and Issac also got to experience waiting in line for fuel, as we were skittish about going on to the highway without enough petrol in the tanks, and though it took Doug two hours, and Isaac close to four, we were able to leave Sendai around noon, and head back to Tokyo.

* * *

Overall, it was a rather eye-opening trip. There was lots of physical damage everywhere, and the army was there helping to clear things up, but it seemed so atypical of a disaster zone; everyone was calm, you didn't sense there were any shortages, there was no screaming or crying. Maybe it was because it was two weeks old, but it still seemed too placid, too utterly 'normal' for a place that had such violence visited on it.

I guess it was eye-opening for me in the sense that I now know how little I can do to help. I don't have medical training, I can't do construction, I'm not able to help counsel people, and even if I did, my Japanese is not good enough to do so. Even removing debris, I realize is not as easy as I thought it would be (I didn't think it would be easy, but I didn't imagine it would be quite that hard either).

And while the people were going about as if this was all in a day's work, there's no telling how much damage they have inside them, that they are hiding and that we can't see. So I guess right now, we should pray for the people, that Jesus may be able to send His peace to them. Because in the end, food and clothing will not fill them, and will not be able to heal their hearts. Please pray that in this time of pain and suffering, the people may be able to find the One who loves them so much that He is hurting with them.

Seems so peaceful now...

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
Like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow in tears,
Will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
Carrying seed to sow,
Will return with songs of joy,
Carrying sheaves with them.
- Psalm 126:4-6