Sunday, April 3, 2011

Countdown to the Philippines!

This week has been fairly uneventful as we get comfortable here in Ozu-cho, Iwakuni-shi (Ozu district of Iwakuni city). Some people refer to Iwakuni as the Alabama of Japan and I'm starting to see little reasons why that might be. Our townhouse is in a flat parcel of land bordering the sea that we suspect is reclaimed, as in, filled in. The swampy area around us features perfect growing conditions for native plants like lotus root. Once flowering, these are beautiful plants with profound symbolism. However, we are too early for the growing season right now and the only scenery we get out of the deal is dark, swampy marshes that attract bugs. I am pretty thrilled to see the flowers though. Our housing expert on base mentioned that he would grab a lotus leaf to use as an umbrella on his way to school as a child.

As I was saying about going country in Japan, we wanted to live off base to get a better feel for how Japanese people live, work, and play. Our new home is in a block of nine townhouses that are brand new and never before occupied. Joe and I were the first to move in and now there are a few more slowly trickling in. We discovered that each townhouse is going to be occupied by Americans or Japanese married to Americans. One lady works for Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS), one gentleman we met went to the Naval Academy, and some neighbors are a Navy couple who were staying in the TLF at the same time as us. It seems we'll have a fun group in our accidental American enclave here in town. Worry not, though, we have Japanese nationals on all other sides. Our Japanese redneck neighbors to the left have an old truck on cinderblocks rusting in the elements and a sun-bleached inflatable boat hanging on their clothesline: a beautiful sight to behold.

One of the interesting differences between the American-style housing on base and the authentic Japanese homes is the landscaping. There are nicely manicured lawns all over base just like what I was accustomed to in Michigan; however, off-base houses plant trees in their front yards, arrange stepping stones, rock formations, and patios, and even feature mossy areas in their zen gardens. I'm starting to prefer this over the idea of maintaining a soccer field for kids and pets to run laps on. The beauty and simplicity of these spaces makes me think that mowing, pruning, raking, and fertilizing grass is ridiculous.

The front yards I've seen in my neighborhood make even better use of space and soil nutrients. Many people plant impeccable rows of lettuce, parsley, and other presumably edible vegetation  and spend their time fertilizing and weeding plants with an actual function - in this case, nutrition. It's inspirational to see older people in their gardens all day enjoying their work.


I've also made the commitment to dish out a Sunday Recap each week, and I probably will skip it for the next few weeks while I'm in the Philippines, so here are a few more places I've explored:

NAFCO: This store is pretty comparable to a Lowe's back in the states. A friend took me here since I needed some basic household goods. I ended up finding drapes to cover our naked doorwalls, some sponges, slippers for guests, and a basket for all the random accumulation in our coat closet. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone new to Iwakuni who needs to set up their house.

Jan-Jaka Korean BBQ: Joe and I went on a date here Friday night before he left for Australia. When you walk in, ou take off your shoes - make sure to wear socks - and the host leads you to a table that you climb down to. It's hard to describe, but the tables are recessed into the floor and there are curtains over each table for privacy. We ordered different cuts of raw steak, raw veggies, and garlic rice for dinner. It was fantastic! I had a "big apple" cocktail and we shared an amazing chocolate parfait (pafe!) for dessert. There is a grill built into the table that you cook your food on. It's a great experience and the meat is sensationally good.

Shin-Iwakuni: The Shin is not part of your leg. Here in Japan, it is the the high-speed train that can take you all over the country. We are lucky to be about 20 minutes from the one here. These trains go 300-400 km/her from what I can remember. I dropped Joe off to catch the Shin from here to Hiroshima and then to Osaka. Finding our way there was not too difficult, but finding my way back was nerve-wracking. I have a pretty good memory for visual cues, so I basically just recognized strange trees and buildings and meandered my way back home. I would recommend printing return directions before leaving.

Speaking of the Shin...this is the same route I'll take in a few days for my trip to the Philippines! I really couldn't be more excited. Not only will I get to spend time with one of my best friends, Shea, but I will get to see the country she's been calling home for the past year and a half, meet a few of her students, spend time with her Filipino host family, and hopefully see some whale sharks!  Wish me luck!!!

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