Life continues to be strange. The horrifying pictures from Japan make our earthquake seem so minor, which in a way is reassuring – it could have been so much worse – but also kind of scary – it could have been so much worse!
Just as after September, now that the initial drama has died down, what’s left is mostly tiredness and depression. Life is just hard work – everything seems to take twice as long as it did before the earthquake, and is much more complicated. Even something as simple as going shopping is complicated – for a start you have to allow twice as much time as normal to get there, because the buses aren’t really running to a regular timetable yet, so you pretty much have to guess when one will arrive and just go to the bus stop and hope for the best (so far the longest I’ve had to wait is about half an hour – good thing I had a book!) At least the buses are free at the moment, which makes the waiting much more bearable 🙂
Travelling by car isn’t much better, because the traffic is still pretty awful (people aren’t exactly heeding the constant calls to limit car use or at least carpool), so it takes forever to get anywhere. And in large parts of the city the roads are in really bad condition, which slows the traffic down even more. I went over to Hillsborough (which is deep in the heart of portaloo country) the other day with a colleague for a meeting, and it took us about an hour to get there from Ilam, partly because of the traffic, but also because the roads are all warped and cracked, so we had to keep slowing down to avoid potholes and negotiate the bumps.
That sort of thing is getting on everyone’s nerves, and everyone’s getting a bit scratchy and irritable (I saw two cars driving side by side down Riccarton Road the other day with the drivers having a shouting match through their open windows). But then you look at what’s happening in Japan, and our little problems and inconveniences seem so trivial in comparison… which of course then makes you feel guilty for not coping better, which makes you feel even worse…
Ok, this is turning into some sort of pity fest, which isn’t at all what I set out to write! It’s really not all bad – there’s still all the good stuff like people banding together as communities and looking after each other, and all sorts of incredible acts of generosity.
I’ve been back at work this week – well, sort of. Our building still hasn’t been cleared by the engineers, so we’ve been allocated a single office (for our whole department!) in one of the few campus buildings that has been certified safe. Our new office has only got three desks and one working computer, so we’re practising what the managers are calling “hotdesking” (i.e. what normal people would call “sharing”) and doing a lot of working from home. I’ve been going in for a few hours a day (mainly to deal with student enquiries), and otherwise trying to get as much work as I can done from home (the wonders of the internet age – I can log in remotely to the university’s servers from anywhere and access all my files and things), which has its advantages and disadvantages (and many distractions!).
Our luxuriously appointed new office, with hotdesking colleagues.
We were allowed to go back into our building briefly today to grab any essential records and teaching materials. Because the building is possibly unsafe (it looks ok, but some of the other buildings they’ve inspected turned out to have hidden structural damage, so they’re not taking any chances), we were only allowed to go in a few people at a time, escorted by a search and rescue team. And we had to wear hard hats and hi-vis vests – never thought I’d be wearing those to work!!! We were only allowed about 5 minutes in our offices to grab as much as we could carry (we’d all sensibly come equipped with suitcases and backpacks :-)), then we were taken back outside. My office wasn’t in as bad a state as I thought it might be – a lot of stuff on the floor, and I think my potplants are done for, but at least all of the furniture stayed upright this time. The cracks in the internal (non structural) walls that still hadn’t been repaired from September look even more impressive now – one was the whole width of the room! (No photos, sorry – I didn’t have time, being too busy trying to grab everything I could think of that we might need over the next few weeks).
Some people were feeling really anxious about going back into the building, but I wasn’t too worried – or at least, I thought I wasn’t, but it obviously had more of an effect than I thought, because I realised a few hours later that I was feeling utterly exhausted.
We’ve got no idea when (or if!) we’ll be allowed to go back in – it depends on what the engineers find when they start looking closely at the supporting beams and stuff. I’m hoping that by the time I get back from America it will be all sorted out and we’ll be allowed to move back in. In the meantime, we’ll just have to cope with camping out in our tiny office (at least we’re not literally camping out like some departments, which are having to work out of tents!)
It does feel good to be back at work at last, though. It feels like life is at least slowly starting to get back to normal – or what the VC keeps calling “a new kind of normal”.