Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Final Earthquake Observations

This next-to-last post summarizes the main lessons learned from our five-month visit to earthquake regions around the world.  Below I have outlined recurring themes that made an impression on me.

Communication was the biggest problem at all levels. Communication towers were damaged and power was out so that cell phones were ineffective. The government and utility providers could not help immediately. Some rural villages did not see help for a month.  This meant that banks could not operate so trading became a norm in the countryside. 

Stress was still intense near the earthquake epicenters even after one or two years.  People tried to move on with their lives, but they were weary, tired of how long it was taking to get things back to normal.  In fact, life will likely never be completely normal for the people directly affected by these large quakes in Concepcion, Chile, Christchurch New Zealand, and Dechato/Fukashima, Japan.

People needed people and families needed to come together. Grown kids moved in with their parents; neighbors came together, and shelters filled. In addition, many people were called away, leaving family behind. I encountered mothers who were on their own for weeks as their husbands were on rescue/recovery missions or repairing lifeline systems.

Those who recovered emotionally the best were the ones who’d helped others. One man who owned a water truck provided water to his village and told me if he hadn’t helped his village, he couldn’t have survived emotionally.

After the earthquakes, the recovery decisions are huge; how do you provide social care, do you rebuild or repair, what do you do with the debris, how do you keep businesses open, etc.?

Earthquakes can shift patterns permanently. For instance, large neighborhoods of Christchurch and Japan will never be rebuilt because the threat of the next earthquake.  In Concepcion, a city near the epicenter of the Chile earthquake experienced a shift from mom and pop stores to big box stores.  Big box stores (Lidar, owned by Walmart) had the resources to take the temporary hit and stay open with products, but the small stores could not. In the interim while small stores tried to get up and going again, people’s habits changed; they began using the big box stores and never went back to the small, neighborhood stores.  New Zealand combated this by subsidizing downtown businesses and providing temporary storefronts made from shipping containers.  In Christchurch a mall was literally built up out of shipping containers!

Final Trip Wrap-up

Our sabbatical was 151 days long from January 1 and ended May 29, 2013.  We visited seven countries, Chile, New Zealand, Japan, Thailand, Turkey, Denmark and Norway.  Over this period we moved around a lot, visiting different regions within the countries we visited and slept in 50 different beds!  We can pretty much sleep anywhere now!

My favorite places were the Chilean Patagonia region around Puente Arenas and Torres del Paine. The area was just beautiful and our boys were with us which made it really special.  Next on the list has to be the Routeburn Track in New Zealand.   This three-day hike across the mountains in southern New Zealand was just spectacular. The scenery and cherry blossoms in Japan would also have to be on the top ten list! The most challenging time was in Tokyo.  I just could not get comfortable there. I suppose the language barrier was just to high to live there for an extended time.

It was striking to me how much in common humanity has throughout the world. The social issues facing countries wherever we were focused around the migration of young people from rural to urban areas, how to support aging populations, and energy and water woes. 

I suppose it is our age, but regardless of where we were the conversation seemed to always drift to retirement age and pensions, taxes, and health care.  Although these issues were very common topics of conversation, the solutions that nations took were very different.  There certainly is NOT a one-size fits all solution to any of them nor are any of the solutions perfect!

The kindness and generosity of the people we met was overwhelming.  We were treated to countless dinners out and in friends homes, friends ferried us back and forth to the airports and played tour guide time and time again.  We are grateful to so many people that made our trip go smoothly and kept it interesting! 

We missed good coffee, beer and cheese! 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Last Stop - Norway

Norway is the land of my forefathers on my dad's side.  The Skovlin Farm is still active today in the south part of Norway.  Someday I'll visit it, but this trip was to Trondheim towards the north (latitude 65 degrees).  We stayed with friends from the University of Trondheim.

Trondheim, Norway

Typical northern Norway countryside.
Our friends treated us to a visit to their cabin about 2 hours north of Trondheim. Unfortunately, there were road problems so we had to take the 4-hour route.  The countryside is so beautiful with green rolling hills, white houses and red barns. It really is surreal.  Small villages dotted the way and we finally got into the highlands which were really more like tundra.  I was very excited to spot some caribou only to find that they are semi-domestic.

We parked the car on the side of the road and hiked our gear to the cabin about a half kilometer. Wow, the cabin was spectacular!  Nestled by a large lake, the grass-roof "cabin" is really three buildings; two self contained cabins and an outhouse.  Heat was by several wood stoves, cooking and fridge are gas and lights from a small solar system!   The latitude is so high they mount the solar panes on the wall instead of roof.

The following day we went on a big hike up the mountain behind the cabin.  It's was stunning with a tundra landscape dotted with lakes and pure flowing streams. There was still a little snow on the ground and the water was icy, but the day was nice and warm.

Oh man, was that cold!
Hiking across the Nordic tundra.

Denmark is green!

Three main islands of Denmark
We stopped in Denmark to visit friends from our stay in Thailand in 1994-96. Danish people are kind, fun and thoughtful. They have a lot of progressive policies from social services, to environmental management. 
There are three main areas of Denmark, a large peninsula (Jutland) and two big islands (Funen and Zealand). Copenhagen is on Zealand. There are only about 5.8M people in the country whose history was shaped by Vikings and sea-going trade.
Copenhagen is Denmark's capitol with 1.2M people, relatively small by world standards.  Clever and forward thinking planners have limited the height of buildings so the skyline is made up of historic spires and castle parapets instead of skyscrapers. It has a fantastic effect that connects one to Denmark's history!

Copenhagen skyline preserves historical view.
The best ways to travel in Copenhagen is by bike, foot or boat.
It is a very agricultural country with quaint farms on green, green pastures and windmills are part of the landscape. We thoroughly enjoyed eating fantastic cheese.

Frederiksborg Castle Hillerod Denmark

Every castle needs a moat ornament

We spent some time touring the local castle near our friend's home. It was built in 1,400 by King Christian IV. It was really spectacular and presented a good overview of Denmark's history through to the present day Monarchy, Queen Margaret.  

It was quite expensive for US travelers so we were grateful to be staying with our friends. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cappadocia, Cappadocia, Cappadocia

Friends from Corvallis told us that their trip to Cappadocia was the best part of 2012 and that was a good enough endorsement for us so off we went.  Getting off the plane you noticed the fresh, light air.  We never did put our finger on why, but the whole visit was relaxing.

Cappadocia is a region in central Turkey that was first settled before the bronze age. We visited a little tiny museum with axes dated 5,500-8,000BC! Christians occupied the area in the 2nd century and built extensive dwellings in the strange volcanic geologic formation and in the hillsides.  They were hiding from persecution by the Romans.  Underground cities were built out of the tuft formations that extended 70m (200feet) below the ground.  We toured a cave that had a community of 1,000 people and their donkeys.  It was very elaborate with ventilation tunnels, wells, rolling-stone doors and a labyrinth of rooms including churches, kitchens and stables.
Our view from the Cave Hotel of the city of Urgup
Pyroclastic volcanic eruptions created deep layers of soft tuft
overlain by basalt that eroded to form an eerie landscape.
The cities are built on, in and under the tuft formations.
Cappadocia is an agricultural region where famous
Anatolian wool carpets come from.

A typical street scene.  Women hang out in groups chatting
while the men sit around tables playing cards and backgammon.

The view we woke up to on our last day!

Vineyards are 4,000 years old in Cappadocia
making for some delicious wine!
A church built in a cave from 400-800AD..

Friday, May 17, 2013

Amazing Istanbul

Blue Mosque with six minarets
Istanbul is one of my all time favorite places.  The history is so rich, well preserved and openly on display.  The Roman Empire, Alexander the Great, Constantine, Byzantine, Ottoman Empire, Sultans and grand viziers come alive all around you. In addition to the incredible structures they built through the ages, they "acquired" artifacts during their conquests around the region and brought back to Istanbul. It's not unusual to see relics that are 3,000-5,000 years old!!

Iznik tulip tiles
Mosques and palaces seem to be everywhere and are just breath taking in their scale.  Scott and I literally spent an entire day touring just the Topkapi Palace, the center for governance during parts of the Ottoman Empire. At it's peak, 10,000 people a day were fed at Topkapi Palace. It had a Harem with over 1,000 concubines, 300 rooms, a school and a hospital.  Topkapi Palace is home to the Staff of Moses, the hand of John the Baptist, King David's sword, and the Prophet Mohammed's mantle (cape) along with his hair and impressions of his footprint.

The city was established in 667 BC and was known as Constantinople until Ottoman Empire took over in the 1,400s (AD). Today the city is incredibly diverse and walking down the street you will see women in full burkas, headscarves and western clothes.
Typical street scene

Istanbul-Bosphorus in background

Istanbul straddles the continents of Europe and Asia which are separated by the Bosphorus, a natural waterway between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea (and Mediterranean Sea). The Bosphorus made Istanbul easily defensible and wealthy because of its importance for the trade of wine and olive oil from the Mediterranean region for grain, skins, wool and timber from the Black Sea region (Russia). On an hourly basis, the Bosohorus changes its mood from black to emerald green and glacial blue.

Egyptian obelisk from 3,000BC at one end of the
Hippodrome where they had chariot races.
Inside Suleymaniye mosque
Haghia Sophia was built as a church in 537AD
by Emperor Justinian.  It is considered one of the
greatest architectural achievements in the world.
  In the 15th century it was converted into a mosque.

Byzantine mosaic fresco from 1,300 AD

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thailand for Sanuk*

Arriving in Thailand was like coming home.  It is so relaxed and we feel so comfortable, not to mention we could fit two of our Tokyo apartments into our hotel room! Thai people love to have fun and enjoy themselves and it is evident everywhere.
The economy is booming and more builidings are popping up everywhere. But, somethings haven't changed, Bangkok as busy as ever, the temples are still spectacular and the klongs (waterways) are still polluted.

Pollution-free skies in Bangkok!!
One great surprise was how clear the air is! In 1995 there were times that you couldn't see the skyscrapers for the pollution. Now you can see the highrises all the way to the horizon! That is a huge accomplishment for Thailand. The progress is through the development of a overhead Skytrain, improvements in vehicle emissions the fact that Thailand has a supply of natural gas (LPG) that all the taxis have switched to. There are certainly a lot of cars still on the road. Last night we went to dinner, it took us 90 minutes to get there in rush hour traffic and 20 minutes to return. It was nostalgic and well worth it for delicious Thai food and seeing old friends!

Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn)
Wat Pho

We spend a couple days touring around in Bangkok and then down to Kho Samui, a beautiful island with picturesque beaches. We completely relaxed! Now we are back in Bangkok and visiting friends. Thai people are the friendliest in the world!!

The beach at San Suoci Hotel
"Our" table where we ate all meals.

*Sanuk is a complicated word that means enjoying oneself and putting fun first regardless of what you are doing.  It is a unique word that applies to work and play.  Thai people are masters at sanuk!

Presentation is everything,
this is a melon, cantaloupe and papaya.