Showing posts with label kyoto international community house. Show all posts
Showing posts with label kyoto international community house. Show all posts

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

A night at the "evacuation shelter"

"An earthquake has just hit Kyoto. Houses have been destroyed and the public transport network has been disrupted. You have been evacuated to the Kyoto International Community House which is one of the evacuation shelters in Kyoto..."
That was the scenario of the Overnight Evacuation Shelter Training Programme conducted by the Kyoto City International Foundation (KCIF) from 13 to 14 Oct 2012. My neighbour and I had signed up for this programme so as to better understand how to respond in the event of an earthquake.  On 13 Oct 2012 at 4pm, we gathered at the Kyoto International Community House with the essential items that we would need for our stay at the "evacuation shelter". 
The "evacuees" gathered at the Kyoto International Community House.
The programme started with the division of participants into three groups according to the language spoken. The Japanese participants formed a group, the Chinese participants formed another group, while the English-speaking participants formed the third group.  The programme was conducted in Japanese but the Chinese group and the English-speaking group each had an attached interpreter who would interpret for us the information conveyed by the programme organisers and trainers.

Participants of the training program were given some hands-on practice.
After the group division, the training which was conducted by the Fire Department began.  There were three components of the training, namely how to protect yourself during an earthquake, how to perform a heart massage  and use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED), and how to use a fire extinguisher.  The first aid-related training and the fire extinguisher training were useful and similar to what I had learnt before in Singapore.
The earthquake simulation truck was of particular interest to me as it allowed participants to experience the various magnitudes of an earthquake.  I went on the truck with 3 other participants, one of whom was one elderly ojiisan, and we got to experience magnitudes 1 to 5. After that, the Fire Department officers requested the elderly ojiisan to alight from the truck while the rest of us stayed on the truck to experience magnitude 7. It was pretty horrifying and we had to quickly dive under the table and held on to the legs of the table so that we would not be flung off the truck. At the end of the "quake", I felt like my bones were given a hell of a shake and I really hope I won't ever have to go through a real earthquake of that magnitude in my life.

Queuing up for dinner.
After the training, we gathered for dinner at around 6.30pm.  The dinner was provided by KCIF and everyone queued in an orderly manner for the food. We were each given a pack of alpha rice (i.e. cooked instant rice), an onigiri and a bottle of tea. 
I asked one of the facilitators if we would indeed be eating the same food in a real emergency and was told that it was not so.  In fact, evacuees shouldn't expect food and help to be available for at least three days because the government would need time to respond and send aid.  He also shared with me that in an evacuation shelter, even if food was provided, there probably would not be enough to go around. Instead of one onigiri for each person, we could expect five persons to share one onigiri. The learning point therefore was to prepare for yourself at least three days worth of food and water as well as any other basic necessities needed in the event of a major emergency such as an earthquake.

Left: Close up of the alpha rice which I ate.
Right: Bottled water handed out by KCIF. The water could be stored for five years.
Good to buy some alpha rice and bottled water to store at home in case of an emergency.

After the dinner, we were divided into small groups to play a game called "Crossroads".  It was a very interesting game which gave me food for thought. We were first given scenarios to which we had to answer "Yes" or "No". We then had to explain our answers to the group.  There was no right or wrong answer but just a game to understand the reasons behind the many decisions that would have to be made in a major disaster.  Below were some of the scenarios which we went through. What would your answers be?
  • The government has issued an advisory at 1am to evacuate from your house due to the dangers of a flood. There is a storm outside. You are living with your family which comprises your spouse, your aged mother and two very young children. Will you evacuate immediately?
  • You have to evacuate immediately to an evacuation shelter. You have a pet dog with you. Will you bring the dog along?

Playing the game called "Crossroads". 
After the game, it was time for bed at 10pm. Each participant was given a sleeping bag as a present which could be used that night but I brought my own though. It was not possible to sleep well in those circumstances and I found myself staring at the ceiling till 6am. While the whole experience was simulated, I now understand how terrible it must have been for those living in an evacuation shelter for extended periods of time after the Tohoku disaster.
Debriefing exercise where some of our concerns and queries were raised and addressed.
 On 14 Oct, we had to wake up at 6am and joined everyone for the morning exercise which the Japanese called "Rajio taisou" (radio exercise in English).  There were simple exercise instructions issued from a radio and everyone just followed accordingly. After that, we had breakfast (two onigiri each and tea). 
The activity after breakfast was a debriefing exercise in which we got into our groups and shared our concerns and queries from the training programme.  Each group then had to present the points discussed to everyone.  After that, an government official who was present addressed all the points.  It was a very informative session. I really appreciated the efforts put in by the KCIF to ensure that we leave the programme with as much learning points as possible.
I raised many questions during the debriefing session and my facilitator had an interesting answer for me. He said that in a disaster, many people would be asking many questions and seeking help and support. There would be very few people who would be able to provide the answers and solutions. Hence, instead of only asking the questions, we should try to see how we could provide the support needed.  It was a simple comment but it made me realise how important it would be to offer a helping hand in times of emergency.
I learnt that Kyoto prepares itself for two disaster scenarios namely, that of an earthquake and that of a flood. The evacuation shelters for an earthquake and a flood are different and there is a map of these shelters available at the ward office. In times of a disaster, we should head to the community assembly area first where we would be advised accordingly on the next steps. Basically, you only go to an evacuation shelter if your residence is destroyed. We will be able to obtain information about the community assembly area for disasters from the ward office too.  The organisers also emphasised many times the importance of getting to know your neighbours if you are an international resident new to Japan. In times of emergencies, you may need your neighbours' help.
KCIF organises many informative sessions such as this for international residents so it is good to check its website for such activities and training programmes -

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Statistics series: Singaporeans, wherefore art thou?

I was at the Kyoto International Community House to check out the cultural programmes available and found some statistics on the notice boards in the lobby.

Source: Kyoto International Community House.
There were 6032 international students studying in Kyoto based on the statistics (as of May 2011). The ranking of the countries in terms of the number of students was as follows:
1. China
2. South Korea
3. Taiwan
4. America
5. Vietnam
As for the number of registered foreigners in Kyoto City (as of Dec 2011), the top 10 countries were:
1. Korea
2. China
3. America
4. Philippines
5. France
6. UK
7. Thailand
8. Indonesia
9. India
10. Vietnam
If you look at the number of native English speakers in the above list, the competition is probably against 1000 over people for English teaching positions in this city. Assuming half of them already got the job so there could still be about 500 in the competition perhaps, and I am not sure if there are so many positions available. 
In any case, I digress. The number of Singaporeans registered in Kyoto City was 35. It has been five months since I came to Kyoto and I have not come across one. I wonder where they are...

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Prologue: the first three months

When I first arrived in Kyoto on 26 Mar 2012, I wanted to start a blog as soon as possible to share my adventures and observations. But I didn't.

It was because it took me longer than expected to set my life in order in this foreign land.

I didn't speak  much Japanese; I had to look for an apartment; I had to furnish my apartment; I didn't have internet; I didn't have a mobile phone and I knew no one. It was winter then. I remember feeling rather gloomy because of the cold and loneliness. 


The semester started on 2 Apr. A flurry of orientation activities followed. There were the Japanese class placement tests to grapple with at that time, amidst questions on whether and how to get myself a bed, internet and maybe some friends, for a start.  I was kept busy.

By the end of the first month, I was plagued by a different set of concerns.  I couldn't articulate my thoughts in class. My proficiency level was too low. I thought the class placement was a mistake but I was not allowed to rectify it.  I couldn't keep up with everyone's pace.  My classmates are young, in their early 20s. I was too slow for my age. By trying to keep up, I spent most of my time in my apartment studying.

It was fortunate that the sakura trees were in bloom at that time. The transience of the beautiful flowers reminded me of my mortality. I felt blessed to be able to undertake this journey on my own, and in good health. More importantly, I found strength and optimism.


With the passing of the sakura,  the Golden Week - a series of public holidays in the first week of May - brought me my parents and my friends from Singapore. Their short stays with me dispelled my loneliness for a while.
But by the end of May, I started to feel disconnected from society. Every day, when I went to class, it felt unreal.  It didn't help that I live somewhere else while most of the people I would have loved to hang out with stay in the school dorm. I was hardly included in the social activities of people I know in school. 

I felt a desperate need to fill the emptiness that surrounded me after class. I needed to interact with people.  I wanted to contribute to society again. I started job hunting but couldn't make any headway with my low Japanese proficiency. I thought of getting a television but it didn't seem right to replace people with a box.

And so, I started to look beyond the school campus for activities targeted at working adults. I was afterall a shakai-jin (社会人).


Life becomes meaningful knowing you are able to help others. I eventually found a non-profit organisation with a mission I could identify with, where I volunteer my skills.

It is an organisation that promotes international exchange between Japanese children and children in other parts of the world. The founders of the organisation escaped death because of a postponed meeting that made them cancel the ill-fated flight on 11 Sep 2001. They felt that they had to do something for the chaotic world and set up the NPO.  These are people who dared to make the difference.  I was deeply inspired.

I also started searching for cultural activities that I am interested in. For two Saturdays per month, I am now learning Japanese traditional dance.  At the class, I met people who share my interests, understand my difficulties, and are willing to listen and advise. 

Not too long ago, a classmate who is returning to America generously gave me her bicycle.  The bicycle, in its orange splendour, seems to have a message for me. Every time I look at it, I hear the words, Do More, Feel Better, Live Longer!

It looks like life in Kyoto has just begun.