Evacuate, Vacate, Inebriate, Marinate, Ruminate- The Clampitts’ Evacuation Vacation from Japan

Many of the vents fell out of ceiling at Narita Airport

Foreigners hit the skies while ever-increasing numbers of Tokyo-ites hit the highway in order to avoid the radiation poisoning looming overhead. I am handling this disaster the old-fashioned way- with my head in the sand and a drink in my hand. Literally. When Spouse arrives tomorrow, I fully anticipate a day or two spent completely senseless vs. my usual base state, mostly senseless, as I will be “loaded to the gills” as my Dad likes to say. Good thing Spouse is getting here soon or I’ll have to teach Offspring #1 to drive- a few years early.

As it turns out, re-entry to our home country is probably more negative to our health than staying in Japan. Having not driven in 8 months, I consistently hit the brakes on the rental car with a tad too much gusto causing various Offspring to hurl headlong in to the front seat. Where is that oh so useful button on Andretti-san’s car that one pushes instructing the car of heavy traffic conditions thus allowing IT to take over control of the gas pedal. All that going back and forth between the gas and the brake and watching the car in front of me constantly is so cumbersome while I’m trying to tell the Nose what to Fed Ex me.

This GPS actually forces me to enter- with my own fingers- the address. The GPS in Andretti-san’s car appears to be a Harry Potter type device. One can use a cell phone, or a mysterious phone buried somewhere in the car, to call information. The operator doesn’t give a phone number; she sends the coordinates directly to the car and the location magically appears on the screen. This is all completed with the push of one button- getting her on the phone. With my rental car, I’m surprised there’s not a hole in the bottom for my feet.

Since all driving is done on the left side in Japan and I’m converting to the right side, the first few days have been hazardous for those around us. Propping my elbow on the door window is my reminder of which direction- and what lane- to go in a turn.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Being in the US means shoes available for my son Sasquatch. Off we skidded toward the mall to enjoy Americana type shopping. Twice, while in one of the stores selling its own brand of cologne, which apparently got doused by three gallons of it upon opening to cover any odd smells to produce a new more noxious and potent one, I found myself using the Shazam app to get the artist name of a song. What’s next? Justin Bieber? Further, I was so aggravated with the clerk doing her job, ringing up the purchases, as she continued to interrupt these downloads to ask questions, I could hardly be polite. Couldn’t she see I was multi- tasking?

The Clampitt clan continually caused traffic issues in the mall not being used to walking on the right side. Given the escalators are also reversed, I immediately tried to ride the down escalator on this maiden voyage causing many to look over as if I were about to drop with convulsions. Perhaps they were evaluating the best way to avoid interactions if the rigors set in- who knows what I could be suffering from. In Japan, all escalator riders politely stand to the left side so the hurried few can climb and escalate (is that a word?) on the right. This caused confusion for all of us as we grappled with a) getting on the correct escalator b) standing on the correct side c) then realizing  no Japanese, or no one else for that matter, was going to be running past on the way up.

On a daily and 4qh regimen, we marinate ourselves in all the grease particular to American junk food. Jack in the Box Tacos, Taco Bell, and Ice Cream with flavors NOT called green tea, red bean, pumpkin or milk. My friends might not recognize me upon our return- I’ll be 18 again- fat, pimpled and greasy haired.

To quote Dan Akroyd:


How can you be relaxed, joke, shop, and treat the current situation in Japan with levity when thousands of people have died ?”

A question posed in various emails. In this situation, the Offspring have lived through one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded, tsunamis that have killed thousands and left their adopted home a wasteland, and worried that we would be the next victims of a Chernobyl type nuclear disaster. All within a 24 hour period. I have learned that as a mother, during a crisis, one’s sole focus becomes the protection and care of the children. To the exclusion of your own well- being.

Were I to change my basic devil may care personality, lose my sense of humor, start gnashing my teeth, and run in panicked circles in the living room, the Offspring would feel the further panic of a mother not able to care for them in a crisis thus undermining their sense of confidence and stability not only now but in the future. Watching for all signs as to how to act, they watch Spouse and me as gauges to the severity of the current crisis. Our message to them, right now, is that we are safe. You are out of harm’s way. We are your parents, we are taking care of you. It’s all ok.

At 12 and 14 do they need to see all the images on tv? No.The tv has been turned off. Facebook, the newspaper, and the internet has exposed them to the truth of the situation at home. Daily we answer their questions, slowly, so they can fathom and absorb the magnitude of the truth. They watch as Spouse and I carefully, methodically comb through all the news sources and educate ourselves as to the truth of the situation. They are learning, by watching and talking to us, that panicking and listening to rumors is not the way to manage a crisis. Remaining calm, taking deep breaths, thinking clearly, no matter what the situation, is the key to managing through any crisis. A life lesson.

Right now, the experts don’t need well-intentioned, inexperienced ExPats running in to crisis zones offering aide. But once the clean up begins, help will come from many avenues and the Clampitts- all of us- will participate in the recovery of our new home. The next life lesson for the Offspring.

And many thanks to all of you for your well wishes, messages of concern, and prayers, for us and all of Japan.

Mt. Fuji-san over Tokyo

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38 Responses to Evacuate, Vacate, Inebriate, Marinate, Ruminate- The Clampitts’ Evacuation Vacation from Japan

  1. When disaster strikes there is great sadness. Where levity lives there is profound strength to carry on. It does not negate or disrespect pain suffering or loss of life. I applaud your loyalty to your new home and know that when you take that next step you will also bring your humor to light and lighten the way for others.


  2. judithhb says:

    I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to live through an earthquake of that magnitude followed by a tsunami. Here in New Zealand we recently had a major earthquake but suffered little compared to the devastation you experienced in your adopted country. Although I should say that for those who lost loved ones and suffered through the Christchurch earthquake, their sense of devastation would equal those in Japan.

    I love your humor, your ability to turn what can only be described as a horror situation into something worth writing about. I am sure that your children are learning valuable life lessons from you.

    Best wishes to you and your family. I will be following you in your blogs to see what the next phase of your life brings you.


    • amblerangel says:

      Loss of a loved one is devastating no matter what or where. And I think the people of Japan and New Zealand, unfortunately, now have a kinship in a shared loss. Thanks for you comments!


  3. I’m sure your visit to the states must be a huge shock to the system. Reminds me of when I go visit my father in Miami. I get annoyed when NOBODY moves out of my way on the escalators. Over here, you stand to the right, so the left side is free for people to run up the escalator, and trust me, they do. Londoners in a hurry are a serious matter. You just get out of the way NOW. Can always spot the tourist, when they take both sides of the escalator, chatting away happily until a frowning Londoner stands behind them huffing and puffing until they get the hint.
    Enjoy the rude customer service, no, actually, they’re much more polite in America, they’re ruder here, totally ignore you if you walk into a shop.


  4. On Saturday 12 March, I was watching one of the news channels. Disgruntled passengers somewhere in the US were unhappy because their flights into Tokyo had been cancelled, and dammit they wanted to still go because they had organized a vacation there. I was thinking if that were me, I’d not voluntarily fly into a disaster zone. And I’m sure the Japanese would not want me there anyway using up resources, and potentially becoming another person they would have to rescue.

    I don’t know if you saw the comment somebody made on my site where they questioned why the UN wasn’t doing more to help in Japan. It turns out they are (they just aren’t announcing it on CNN) and as it says on their site “However, this is not the normal UNDAC deployment as the Government of Japan has a very strong disaster preparedness and response mechanism in place and is coordinating the international response effort.”

    Hopefully Japan will ask the International community for help of whatever kind they need, when they need it.


    • amblerangel says:

      People don’t realize that up until two months ago, Japan had the second largest economy in the world. Recently surpassed by China. Not exactly Haiti or a third world country. Although I’m sure help will be needed, it’s not exactly as if Japan doesn’t have access to resources or is a poor country unable to deal with a crisis.


  5. Bob says:

    Good luck with what ever you decide to do, your description of slingshoting your children with delicate breaking manoeuvres almost made my morning coffee do the same.

    I can’t imagine the chaos that is taking place over there now, I am almost grateful for winter in Canada now. Good solid rock under my feet, no earthquakes or tsunamis heading my way anytime soon. Just boring ol’ snow. Safe boring snow.



  6. Lisa Kramer says:

    😀 The return to the US is more surreal than the first days in Japan. The culture shock is almost harder bear because unexpected.

    I think that we have to go on living in the face of disaster. True, we mourn and we want to help, but living in a state of depression and stasis is not the answer. Your love for Japan is evident. Your love for your family is more evident–and that’s what you need to do! Enjoy! Drink, eat and vacate!


    • amblerangel says:

      We are definitely enjoying our vacation! I was surprised at the re-entry issues although after reading through some other blogs shouldn’t have been. Oh well- live and learn!


  7. misskallie2000 says:

    I agree with your choice for staying calm. Your children will remember how you acted during this frantic time. In fact this lesson will help them when they have a frantic time in the future.
    Prayers are with you and your family as well as Japan’s hope’s and struggles to come through this horrific experience with grace and peace.


  8. Tori Nelson says:

    I think your humor and calm during this disaster is a sign of strength and focus. It’s always much easier to fall apart, right?


  9. nanne says:

    so glad you & the fam are ok with body, soul and sense of humor intact!!

    i’ve never seen you fat–my imagination fails at even trying to conjure up the image. don’t remember any pimples….might have seen the greasy hair once or twice.

    take care and continue to keep us updated.



  10. The Nose says:

    We in the Ouiser Clan were never good at Hand-Wringing, despite the Southern-ness of it. After a (hopefully) brief period of “Taking to the Bed”/ Inebriation/shopping binge (thankfully we have never been crisis food bingers- probably why most people don’t remember us ever fat) we usually manage to just plain “Get our Shit together” and get on with things. But I have to admit, Ouiser and Spouse have done a stellar job through all this. I know their offspring will continue to be the grounded, smart, and empathetic kids they are. So proud of you all. Enjoy your vacation. And remember “No More Lychee Martini For You!”


  11. Bonnie says:

    What an amazing, strong person you are! I am so glad you and your family are safe. I certainly think of you often and will continue to include all of you in my prayers. I can not imagine actually being in the experience. The closeness that is created when a family needs to struggle through a crisis is a deep and meaningful experience. They often say on the airplane: ‘Parents put your masks on first and then attend to your children’. You have certainly done that by gathering inner strength to pass along to the kids. I am here to listen.
    PS – for some reason I have not been successful reaching out to you. Let’s reconnect friend. I will be sure to have my filter on. Sorry I do not have facebook. Best to email


  12. During the 2010 Expo in Shanghai, there was a campaign here to encourage people to stand on the right and let those in a hurry pass on the left, but it never really took-off as a concept. It appears that the consensus is that you should get with the program and patiently wait for the escalator to escalate you and not try to get ahead by yourself! This consensus also extends to the “automatic people movers” at the airports: many people hop on and stand still, waiting to be carried to the next hop-off point, which really grates against my “when-I’m-at-an-airport-I-am-on-a-mission” mentality.


  13. Dana says:

    I think your reactions and humor in the face of disaster are a sign of strength. Great model for your children to see, too. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were ALL so well-adjusted?

    Your readjustment issues had me laughing. We drive a Japanese import van in Canada, and it took a while to get used to driving on the right hand side of the road with a right-hand drive to boot! 🙂 Luckily, the only real issue was turning on the windshield wipers instead of a turning signal every now and then.


  14. Michi says:

    Very well-written. Sometimes people judge without necessarily having been in your shoes, and it looks to me as if you and Spouse are doing the right thing. Welcome home!

    P.S. I totally know how you feel about driving after almost a year of not having been behind the wheel! I’m already missing Mama Cherri! (sp?) 😉


    • amblerangel says:

      I’m so glad my mama cheri is locked up- well- not that anyone souls steal it- but I do worry about my prized possession! I hope I don’t forget how to maneuver that thing!


  15. 2summers says:

    What are you saying about people with big feet??

    I can empathize with your side-of-the-road/side-of-the-escalator confusion. It’s a good thing aren’t in DC or you really would be getting run over by people charging up and down the left side of the escalators in and out of the metro. Joe had a hard time with that when he went home with me.


  16. Widya says:

    You can always see the lighter side of life! My co-worker really has to see what I was reading to understand why I was laughing my heart out (and she agreed that it IS funny). Thank you for sharing with us. I hope you can go back to Andretti-san’s GPS-ed car, and clean-up everything side by side with your Japanese neighbor soon. God bless you all!


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