Daily Archives: Tuesday 19 April 2011

Shock absorber

All manner of outlandish vocabulary has come up in lessons over the last couple of weeks, at times straining the interpretive skills of a new teacher.  We were talking about buildings and the technology that saves them from quakes.  There was an awful lot of hand movement going on as the student attempted to demonstrate and I wracked my tired brain for the right word.

Eventually we managed to make it to ‘shock absorbers’.  I mentioned my belief that Japanese innovation in this area and strict adherence to building codes must have saved a lot of lives, as well as the buildings themselves.  It seems I am not the only one who thinks so.  You only have to witness these Tokyo skyscrapers swaying like tall grass in a breeze to realise how lucky we were:

(Although I did hear from students with offices located on high that the resulting queasiness lasted for ages!)

Attempting to further clarify ‘shock absorbers’ I mentioned cars.  They have the same thing, I told him, it is the same word that stops you feeling all the bumps in the road.  He looked back at me, with a thoughtful expression and I wondered if he had understood, maybe I hadn’t explained it well enough.  As I was trying to think of other ways, he spoke.

It’s like you.  Your personality is a shock absorber

Is it, I wondered?  I am not so sure.  Whenever a student tells me I am brave for staying, or gives me a gift to say thank you, I question the bravery of drinking tea and eating cake, the twin exploits of most of my post-quake days.  I certainly don’t feel brave, especially not in comparison with this, a Japanese medical aid worker’s diary from Iwate.

I especially don’t feel brave when I reflect that her story had me in tears, the piece titled ‘Beautiful’ in Quakebook also made me cry and saying goodbye to friends has moistened my eyes more than once, until I am beginning to realise that when I look back on my first year in Japan it is going to be at the greater part of 12 months spent sobbing.  It feels as if my nerves have migrated closer to the surface of my skin since I have been here.

Then I stumble across mention of a new type of shock absorber, one being developed with the intelligence to sense the kind of shock it is facing and react in the best way to avoid damage.  And although the article is concerned with buildings technology, I realise that it is as neat a description of the kind of person I want to be as I could ever write.  So that when future shocks happen, as they inevitably must, I can – in the immortal words of Run DMC – wobble but not fall down:

Words to live by, even if you aren’t in an earthquake zone.

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