Japan Hits Home for Me

March 24, 2011

Nothing could be simpler than a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread for a comforting lunch, yet finding all the pieces to this American staple food is one of the first challenges I undertake when living abroad. My dinners can be anything from Japanese blowfish to Ethiopian sponge bread, but when it comes to a midday meal, the sandwich is by far the most highly evolved food. In Asia, it’s a struggle to even find decent bread; the taste is the same, but most bakeries serve incredibly thick slices, unable to be cut in half where they should be. I can locate turkey easily enough online or in import stores, but then there’s the matter of finding tasty brown mustard…

As I was consuming one of these creations this very afternoon, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly guilty at everything I had.

CNN provided the perfect contrast: people in the areas affected by the tsunami waiting in lines to buy oranges and milk from makeshift markets; seniors trapped in evacuation centers with limited medical supplies. And here I was, safely in South Korea, in clean clothes, an apartment all to myself, using a knife to slice a 1900-Won apple.

I know this reaction is typical, empathizing with those suffering, particularly if you have close ties with the people or place. But, for some reason, Japan’s tragedy is lingering with me. Nothing that’s happened in the US – Katrina, Arizona shooting – has made me feel quite as bad as I do now. Food doesn’t taste as good, a bitter taste sloshing along my tongue where there should be sweetness.

Maybe it is just my own fears about what might have happened to me had I chosen to pursue work in that area of Japan. Or maybe it’s simply because Japan was my first destination abroad, and I believed myself and my surroundings to be invincible to any problem. Whatever it is, I can’t seem to move on.

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