Tag Archives: Marco Lobo

The Transience of Cherry Blossoms

Ten years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. In reflection of the episode, I share my personal thoughts and learnings of that period, and of the time since.

We found her in the dark, cold apartment, hunched over, cooking on a small camp stove, stirring a pot of instant noodles. The gas, water and electricity had been cut off and Miyoko, my deaf-in-one-ear, eighty-year old mother-in-law, had her transistor radio turned up loud. It was March 12th, 2011, a day after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture, unleashing a tsunami that caused immense damage along Japan’s eastern coastline, in places reaching as far as five kilometers inland.

The day of the earthquake, a Friday, we had taken the day off work and headed for the ski slopes of Nagano. After a couple of hours of skiing, a few minutes before 3:00 pm, the ski lifts stopped running. High winds, I thought as we trudged back to the lodge, hoping to continue our fun later in the day. It soon became clear that something was terribly wrong. People at the lodge were gathered around a television set watching news of the damage caused by the earthquake, and of the tsunami that had slammed into the coast of Miyagi Prefecture a mere 30 minutes after the main seismic shock. Miyagi, more specifically the town of Shiogama, was where my mother-in-law lived. We knew we had to get to her, but with the images of destruction on the TV news, we decided to first return home to Tokyo to plan our next moves.

Miyoko had first been evacuated to a school gymnasium, but with the place having no electricity or running water she returned home, deciding that being surrounded by her own things and the butsudan, the altar set up in honor of her recently deceased husband, was a preferable option.

This is a tale of sorrow, but also of hope and resilience, of how living alongside my community in Tokyo as well as the wider Japanese community has allowed deeper insights into Japanese culture and behavior.

After the earthquake struck, phones were not working. Already a day had passed without our being able to contact Miyoko. Eventually, through contact with a policeman at her koban, neighborhood police station, we received news that she was uninjured and at home. We threw sleeping bags, torches, bottled water and a first-aid kit into the trunk of our car and set off for Tohoku. The main highway north was closed due to earthquake damage, so we drove the 400 kilometers from Tokyo to Miyagi via local roads, through the countryside and small towns. Signs of devastation grew the further north we went and our sense of despair rose along with it. Witnessing the aftermath of the tsunami was terrifying. Sendai Port had been flattened. Cars and boats sat upturned on each other and atop buildings. Plumes of black smoke from oil and chemical fires darkened the sky. Helicopters thumped overhead. Japan Self Defense Force trucks roared here and there, heightening the sense of being in a war zone.

As harrowing as the experience was from witnessing nature’s destructive power, we also felt a sense of hope. People we saw along the way had already started to dust themselves off. Road crews were already out making repairs. In some areas, water was running again. Long orderly queues had formed in places where vital supplies were available.
Nowhere did we see panic. That’s not to say there wasn’t fear — we saw it and felt it each time he earth trembled with an aftershock. Above all, we saw people doing their best trying to restore a sense of order to their shattered world just as Miyoko had been doing in her collapsing apartment building. Even in such dire circumstances, there was no cutting in line in front of the hundred-car lines waiting for petrol at every gas station. The drive back to Tokyo took us fourteen hours, two hours longer than the trip up to Shiogama. The car’s navigation system repeatedly beeped warnings for us not to get within twenty kilometers of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station.

Shortly after the disaster, a Japanese newspaper printed a story that provided a glimpse into the Japanese psyche. It reported that when the earthquake struck, patrons of a Tokyo restaurant fled out into the street. When the tremors subsided, many diners went back into the restaurant and settled their bills. Some of those who had run for their lives returned the next day to pay for their meals.

A week after the devastation that we now know claimed many thousands of lives, as the weather warmed, with the first promise of cherry blossoms — that Japanese symbol of transience, but also of life and rebirth, I took my white-haired mother-in-law for a stroll. She was then as she is now a decade later, imbued with a sense of hope that things will turn out for the best in the end. She is my moral compass, guiding me with words of wisdom such as ‘Sekizen no ie ni wa yokei ari’ — The family that has done many virtuous deeds has abundance.

It is through sharing experiences with my Japanese family and community, joyful ones such as the approach of spring and anticipation of cherry blossoms, as well as the painful ones like natural disasters and the ongoing Covid pandemic, which have helped me more deeply appreciate this country, its people, and my place in it.

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The Sierra Nevada

In JINCAN, Angus Greystone and his partner Shen team up and go in search for an assassin. Their quest takes them to the Sierra Nevada. Here is a passage from the book about the birth of the mountain range as well as a native creation myth.

TEN MILLION YEARS AGO, a massive block of the earth’s crust ripped through the surface as it tilted to the west. Rivers cut deep ravines on both sides of the new mountain range. Lava boiled up and then flowed down into canyons which over millennia, eroded to leave high plains along the ancient river channels. Still, the gods were not done sculpting. Glaciers carved out crescent-shaped gorges throughout the range. Working hand in hand, river and glacier exposed the uppermost portions of the plutons forming the Sierra’s crest. Long before Garcí Ordóñez de Montalvo dreamed of gilded Amazons, or the Franciscan missionary and chronicler Pedro Font, named the serrated peaks ‘Sierra Nevada’, the mountains were home to America’s native peoples.

It was many years later that I heard the story of the birth of the peaks explained in Yokut lore:

There was once a time in the world when nothing existed but water. At the place where Lake Tulare is now, a pole stood far out of the water. This pole provided a perch for Hawk and Crow. First, Hawk would rest on the pole for a while, then Crow would knock him off and sit on it. Thus, they took turns sitting on the pole above the water for a very long time. At last, they created the birds which prey on fish; Kingfisher, Eagle, Pelican, and others. They also created Duck. Duck was very small, but she dived to the bottom of the water, filled her beak with mud, and then died when trying to return from the depths. Duck floated on the water, lying dead. Then Hawk and Crow took the mud from Duck’s beak and began making the mountains. They began at the place now known as Ta-hi-cha-pa Pass, with Hawk building the eastern range and Crow forming the west one. They tamped the mud down hard into the water and piled it high, working toward the north. Finally, Hawk and Crow met at the place we call Mount Shasta. Their work was done, but when they looked at their mountains, Crow’s range was by far larger than Hawk’s. Hawk said to Crow, “How did this happen, you rascal? You have been stealing earth from my bill. That is why your mountains are biggest.” Crow laughed at Hawk. Then Hawk chewed some Indian tobacco and it made him wise. At once he took hold of the mountains and turned them around almost in a circle, putting his smaller range where Crow’s had been. And that is why the Sierra Nevada Range is larger than the Coastal Range.

    

If you enjoyed this post feel free to leave a comment.

My new book, JINCAN is available via Amazon and other booksellers.

JINCAN, The Shaman's Poison: Ancient China collides with Gold Rush America when two sleuths unite to hunt down a killer. (Graystone and Shen Novel Book 1) by [Lobo, Marco]

    

    

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February 26, 2020 · 1:58 am

JINCAN – places: PANAMA

Meeting of the Great Oceans

The story of JINCAN begins in southern China (Macau), introducing Shen and his quest for the perfect poison to carry out a final mission. While Shen sails across the Pacific to San Francisco, with the hope of escaping his past, Greystone attempts to arrive in California before him, taking a route that cuts across Panama.

In my previous post, I described San Francisco: https://lobomarco.com/2019/11/

Here, Greystone arrives in Panama.

A THUNDERBOLT HAD ME JUMPING OUT OF MY SOAKED SKIN. It was close enough to taste — metallic, acidic — and to feel its charge in my fillings. Even more horrifying, the light-burst exposed the ocean. Heaving beneath me, it was viscous and black, conjuring up the images of my darkest fears — tentacles as thick and long as the ship’s mast, curling up, studded with suckers, each ring armed with a beak ready to tear flesh.

     A few of us chose to brave the storm up on deck rather than to suffer in the airless hold. Clinging to a pole or rope while being lashed by icy rain was preferable to the misery belowdecks. Down there, men groaned with each roll of the ship, clutching their bellies, squirming in pools of vomit. From time to time one would claw his way up through the hatch. The denizens of the stinking hold would manage only a few shaky steps before again spilling their guts and scurrying back down to the stink. Shivering under my raincoat and hat, I hid from the storm as best I could, pressed into a corner. 

     At dawn, the downpour softened to a drizzle and with a calmer sea I began to feel safer from the retreating squall. Then, as if in defiance, the storm released a deep, slow rumble — nature telling me with a belch that it had its fill. Another roar shook me to the core before ebbing away.

Under a burst of light, purple welts lined the sky. Panama seemed to wink at me; a weary gesture from her bruised eyelid that said, “So, now you too.”

     Hers was a story of turmoil. Thrust off the seabed by its cataclysmic coupling she was smothered in layers of sludge. Driven ever upwards, she eventually broke surface. With first breaths she conjoined the landmasses to either side, cleaving the Earth’s ocean into two.

Coveted as a prize long before she was named, her slenderness was what made her so alluring. Separating Atlantic and Pacific oceans by a mere 50 miles at her narrowest point she so served as a bond between them. For centuries, conquistadores, mercantilists, and pirates fought to have her. Even my former homeland Scotland had tried its luck at setting up a colony on her Atlantic shore in order to establish an overland trade route. The 17th Century Darien Scheme failed miserably after only a few years, resulting in the destruction of the finances of the entire country.

              There were several versions as to the origin of the name ‘Panama’. A fellow passenger regaled us one evening saying,

Some ascribe it to the fact that a species of tree abounds there.  Others say that it is because the first settlers arrived in the month of August when butterflies are plentiful, and that the name means ‘many butterflies’ in native tongue. Perhaps the best known story is that a fishing village originally bore the name Panam , named after a nearby beach, and that the name meant ‘many fish’. Yet still another version says that a Kuna chief gave the land the name ‘pannaba’, the Kuna word meaning ‘very far’.

     Whether the name referred to trees, butterflies, a sandy shore or plentiful fish, I had indeed traveled very far, and still had farther to go.

     Panama had declared independence from Spain just thirty years earlier and was now part of Colombia. Given the recent interest in California, I wondered what designs America had on her. There was already talk of a railroad straddling her back to link the two great oceans.

     And so, yes, now me too, I thought in reply to a final burst of light from the receding storm.

If you enjoyed this post feel free to leave a comment.

My new book, JINCAN is available via Amazon and other booksellers.

JINCAN, The Shaman's Poison: Ancient China collides with Gold Rush America when two sleuths unite to hunt down a killer. (Graystone and Shen Novel Book 1) by [Lobo, Marco]

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December 6, 2019 · 6:16 am

JINCAN – places

San Francisco

The story of JINCAN begins in southern China (Macau), introducing Shen and his quest for the perfect poison to carry out a final mission. Shen sails across the Pacific to San Francisco, with the hope of escaping his past. It is in San Francisco that Shen and Greystone meet.

In some of the places that Shen and Greystone travel to or through, San Francisco, Panama and the Sierra Nevada mountains, I have written a description of the place as seen through the eyes of early explorers or indigenous people. In this post and ones to follow, I am giving you a taste of how I have introduced each new location, starting with San Francisco.

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Pedro José Lobo

A man’s love for Macau

Pedro J. Lobo 1892-1965

A biography of P. J. Lobo, the businessman and philanthropist who also served as Macau’s Director of Economic Services is being written by his grandson, Marco Lobo.

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