Helping Japan, from Singapore
Seventeen year old Nobusato Timothy Ban, a half Japanese-half Singaporean, was with his father in Tokyo to learn the Japanese language after receiving his ‘O Level’ results from ACS (Barker Road) in January. He was due to return to Singapore in end March to pursue his education in the School of Engineering, Ngee Ann Polytechnic as a freshman.
On 11 March, after school dismissal, Nobusato was on his way to visit a Museum at Saitama Prefecture, an hour away by train when the major earthquake struck. He was all alone. It was the biggest earthquake that he has experienced. He said “people around me were visibly shaken, faces turned pale but nobody screamed in that 4-5 minutes of violent shake up which was really scary.”
When calmness returned, Nobusato was at the door step of the Museum, only to be refused entry as the Museum was signaling all visitors out of its premises in compliance with safety regulations.
Next, it was announced that all train services will be stopped for the day. He tried calling his dad but was unable to reach him as all domestic phone lines were disrupted. Then, he called his mom in Singapore and she told him to stay calm and stay put at the station and to keep his mobile line open. However, to her dismay, Nobusato shared that his mobile phone battery was running very low and soon, he would not be able to speak to her. After a few brief calls of update, she was unable to contact him again. Instead, she managed to reach Nobusato’s dad who was on standby to hear from him.
Came nightfall, temperature fell and it was biting cold at the station. Nobusato, who vaguely recalled seeing a hospital nearby was planning to make his way there to take refuge for the night. Before he could do that, fortunately, the train master and his team decided to move all the stranded commuters to the Saitama Super Arena (our National Stadium equivalent).Straining his ears to hear every instruction given, together with hundreds of others, Nobusato walked about half an hour to the Stadium to take shelter. Upon arrival at the shelter, he was given a cardboard and a blanket for the night. Nobusato was hoping to establish contact with his parents to let them know that he was safe. And, it was an answered prayer when Japanese mobile phone companies also arrived at the Stadium and offered SOS phone lines. Nobusato took the SOS phone and immediately called his father and told him he was camping overnight at the Stadium and that he would take the first train back when the service resumes the following morning.
When asked what kept him calm when caught by this unexpected event all on his own, he said “initially, I was panicky but when unexpected help also came in slowly, I know, if God had allowed this to happen, He will see me through.” At the Stadium, the night was long. Surrounded by strangers and the SOS team and a projection screen reporting on the crisis throughout the night, equipped with only elementary Japanese, Nobusato tried to make sense of what was said. Initially, the unfamiliar camping ground and the chaos was overwhelming and he kept himself awake and alert. But by midnight, like the many others around him, he dozed off out of tiredness.
The next morning, the stranded commuters walked back to the station, but the train services did not re-start as was the expectation. Nobusato managed to speak to his father and he didn’t waste time and drove down to the station to pick him up and was reunited with him by noon-time.
Upon his return to Singapore, Nobusato signed up with the Singapore Red Cross, wanting to do his bit. He related his sadness upon hearing that the coastal stretch at Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, had been swept away by the monstrous tsunami. He said "on 5th March, exactly a week before the tsunami, my dad and I were visiting the same location and enjoyed the hospitality of the Sendai people who were really kind and friendly to visitors … to know that many of them have been swept away really shocked me and I know I want to do my part in the fund raising effort ."
So what did Nobusato learn from this experience? He said he saw "calmness in chaos in that no one screamed during the earthquake, perseverance in adversity, that people just waited patiently when stranded at the station and braved the biting cold until told to move to the Sports Arena to take refuge, and orderliness amidst shortages in queuing for whatever little foodstuff that could be purchased from the supermarket after the quake."
And, about his brief attachment as a volunteer at the Singapore Red Cross, he said, "it was really like working in a family, being one of the youngest volunteers there, I was taken good care of. As part of my job was at the call centre manning the incoming calls, for the first time, I realised being able to speak more than one language really helps."
"I feel that Singaporeans are warm-hearted and many were still calling in to find out how they could help. I feel that the work at the Red Cross is really meaningful. Though the term at Ngee Ann has commenced, I would go back to help out again during my term break when the opportunity arises," Nobusato shared.