Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Okinawa, Part II

We are finally back from our two-week trip to the island of Okinawa. Okinawa has its own culture that is different from mainland Japan, so it was a refreshing change. The weather is also completely gorgeous, and some of my best girlfriends live there too! I even had a chance to meet other military wives through my friends. This isn't a diary, so I won't get too sappy, but I was so happy to be around these wonderful people!

I do want to cover some of the awesome places we saw in Okinawa. Avril, Kara, and I went on a ladies' field trip to Ryukyu Mura about halfway through our time on the island. Ryukyu Mura is like a Japanese version of Henry Ford's Greenfield Village (shout out to my Detroiters!) complete with actors in period costume doing things like weaving and taking care of water buffalo for tourists to check out. I love Greenfield Village and have to say it covers a lot more territory than Ryukyu Mura. The up side was that we visited on a scorching hot day and I was happy to be out of the heat when we were done looking around. 

Check out some pics from our Ryukyu Mura visit:
Okinawan woman weaving while sitting on tatami mats
A precious little monster on a rooftop scaring away bad spirits
Visitors can tie a piece of paper on this tree while making a wish for good fortune. Bonus: Can you find Avril behind the tree?
We'd been outside for a while and decided to check out the main reception area/gift shop/cafeteria for some entertainment. There were two musicians singing, playing a banjo-like instrument, and keeping a beat on a small drum. There were also two dancers who went through a few costume changes and were very entertaining to watch.
Okinawan musicians
I love this colorful photo of one of the Okinawan dancers.
I also captured a short video of the performance on my iPhone! Check it out:

On our way home, we went to Cape Zampa to see the famous lighthouse and the dramatic landscapes. You can climb to the top for a fee, but we decided to enjoy the view from the ground. I later read that Cape Zampa is famous for being a place where the Japanese military forced Okinawans to jump off the cliffs to their deaths to "save" them from our "barbaric" American military. I get the chills knowing that I was in a place that saw history like that.
Cape Zampa Lighthouse
I guess you can tell I'm my mother's daughter. We weren't about to go home before I embarrassed everyone.
We then headed to one of the nine (NINE!) UNESCO World Heritage sites on Okinawa. The Zakimi Castle ruins are relics of the Ryukyuan Kingdom on Okinawa. It was built in the 15th century and we could feel the history oozing out of it. We were inspired by the beautiful scenery and took the opportunity to try out for Okinawa's Next Top Model:
Avril is showing Vogue how carefree her vacation is!

View from the cliffs
Kara doing some free jumps off the stone wall
Airing out a bit
Avril and Kara by a sign that reads "FALL ATTENTION"

The Zakimi Castle ruins
More of the Zakimi Ruins
On our way back to Kadena, we made a stop at a department store called Jusco. I always thought Coleman was a uniquely American brand and my sister even worked on an advertis8ing campaign for them in Detroit! It threw me off to see this beefy, rugged brand selling comparatively tiny equipment here in Japan.

Coleman camping goodies
Our next big adventure was to the northern tip of Okinawa! I joined the crew on the second day of their camping adventure at an Air Force resort on Okuma Beach. It was about an hour and a half from Kadena but well worth it! I rented snorkeling equipment and we hopped on a boat to check out the reef. I had no idea what to expect from Okinawa, but I can truly say the sea creatures are spectacular! I really need to brush up on my critter identification skills, but the colors and variety of fish I saw literally made my jaw drop (while snorkeling!) There might be some underwater pics in the future, but for now, I'll have to let your imagination do the work. 

We wanted to check out the very northernmost tip of Okinawa, so we piled into Kara's giant SUV and trekked around the grounds of Hedo Misaki:
Low tide exposed the tide pools through the turquoise water           

While in Okinawa, Joe and I took part in our very first Japanese karaoke session! My experience with karaoke was always thinking that it was dumb until I drank enough and started belting away my favorite jams in front of a huge group of strangers at a bar or bowling alley. Japanese karaoke is not nearly so haphazard. You must enter a specific establishment for karaoke, be assigned a room for your party, and then you can order drinks and put in song requests.

I'm so excited that I'm only a few hours away from paradise inhabited by great friends! I'll definitely be going back to see my girls, the amazing sites, and the scuba diving!

Have any of my readers gone scuba diving before? Give me the scoop on your experience! I've caught the bug and I'll be on the look out for more great diving!


Sunday, June 12, 2011

The ladies of Okinawa!

Scuba was new and exciting, but this next part of my trip has been even more fulfilling. I've had a chance to hang out with some of the Quantico wives and their new friends on the island! Kara, Kaylie, and I went out for Thai food and shopping in American Village and happened upon a group of kids starting to dance.

The tip off was a young boy in a fairly eclectic outfit:
A hula skirt? Nay. First, we watched his friends perform a traditional Okinawan dance:

Then we got to the main event! Shisa dogs/lions performed a riveting chase dance for my amusement. They ran around fluffing their neon fur and terrifying every child they snapped their wooden jowls at. These are priorities I can tolerate.
You can hear me giggling in the background of this video because it is ridiculous and kind of mean in a fun way. Aside from a kid tall enough to don the mask, the dogs are animated by children who run around to music that builds fun-filled anticipation until the scary face opens and snaps shut in front of even smaller children who inevitably bawl their eyes out.

After my first shisa dog performance, we continued perusing American Village and found a rockin' Forever 21-esque shop full of random t-shirts with random text like "Alcoholic Girls!" We also came upon a rack of accessories devoted solely to miniature hats:

Kara, Kaylie, and me
It was great to catch up and I can't wait to see more of them this week now that my evenings aren't overtaken by scuba instruction.

I also had a chance to hang out with Kara and her friend Avril who is visiting from Kentucky. I met Avril two Halloweens ago when Joe and I hosted some TBS friends for a costume party. Imagine Avril's surprise when I wasn't a blonde biergarten wench and mine when Avril wasn't a sparkly fairy! ;)
After a short walk on the beach, we went to Coffee Casa for coffees. They are known for their delicious iced coffee drinks with homemade whipped cream. I'm drooling just typing these words. I tried the iced almond mocha and it definitely lived up to its hype! So good!

We met up with Kaylie and a few other island girls for pedicures at the famous Cocock's (pronounced "Coco's") nail salon. After the girls sit you down and begin the process, you get a 2-inch binder full of nail art to choose from. The designs range from intricately shadowed hibiscus flowers to butterflies with crystals. I was overwhelmed and apparently let my teenage innerself make the judgment for me. Reserve your judgments as I unveil cheetah print (3 colors!) with hot pink and rhinestones. There is not an airbrush in sight, just teeny tiny brushes and nimble Japanese hands.
All these lovely military wives - and our honorary wife, Avril - spent some time enjoying the sunny Okinawan weather out on the seawall.

How gorgeous are these women!? Here are our beautiful works of art:

*Sigh!* I'm so happy I got a reprieve from Iwakuni to visit Okinawa and all the pleasures that come with it. During our last dive today, I bumped into the girls at Maeda Point! It's so great to recognize friendly faces in a crowd. I know I've only been in Iwakuni for a few months, but I hope that I can make lots of new friends there too.

Island Life

Here I am on Kadena AFB in Okinawa, Japan. I've been here a little over a week now and have loved just about every minute of it! This trip worked out like a dream. I simply went into the building Joe works in and got a permission slip from his boss for my field trip. Okay, there are actual terms for everything and everyone I had to work with to get that far, but most people reading this are not familiar with military terms like S2 Shop or EML. Maybe I'll explain that in another post? Anyway, I got the paperwork out of the way to take advantage of one of the greatest perks of being a military spouse: free flights!

After taking care of the paperwork, I just went down to the flight terminal on base, checked out the flight schedule for the next day, and asked to be put on the list of people interested in flying. The nice Marines there told me I was almost guaranteed a seat on the Patriot Express, so I packed my bags and made it for "show time" at 2pm. Show time is just another way of checking to see who will actually be on the flight so they can prepare. I was allowed to bring up to 80 lbs of luggage for free on my completely free flight to Okinawa on a chartered airplane (not even a C-130)! They also gave me a pretty decent turkey sandwich, cookie, and drink on the flight. Not too shabby. The flight was only a few hours and I was sitting next to a nice girl in the Air Force who was on her way from Arizona to move to Okinawa.

Joe picked me up from the terminal on Kadena and we have been at the Shogun Inn the whole time. We have a suite with a living room, kitchen, and bedroom that was supposed to be for just Joe! I couldn't let that go to waste, so of course, I had to crash the party. Over the weekend, Joe shuttled me around and showed me the little bit of Okinawa that he's seen so far. We went to Chili's on my first night, which was weirdly exciting because the American food in Iwakuni is not very good.

On Saturday, we were trying to get a hold of the Kadena scuba locker and had the hardest time finding a contact who could give us real information. Finally, we realized we'd just have to go in on Sunday and beg for a space in the next open water diving course. After being denied several times, we continued up the chain politely channeling Tim Gunn -- as in,

Finally, we ran into the instructor himself. We explained that we'd only be in Oki for two weeks and really wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef on our trip at the end of the month. He denied us and told us his class size was too big already, but buckled when I told him I'd just sit in on the classes until someone else dropped out. Lo and behold, a few people dropped out and made room for me and my lovely husband. Muahahaha.

We had class for two nights in a conference room, then two five-hour nights in the pool practicing skills, a day off for rest, and then two open water dives at Uken Kita (Uken Beach) and Maeda Misaki (Maeda Point) this weekend. I can only blame myself for the one failing, and that was the large class size (tsk tsk, Heather). Our instructor, Scott, is a retired Green Beret and I'm glad he used his strict military discipline to drill us on life-preserving skills that we'd need in the water.

We had an amazing weekend in the water. I got to see batfish, lionfish, a jelly fish (yoikes), a sea snake, a blue damsel, and a gorgeous parrotfish. The exhilarating feeling of breathing underwater and looking up through 60 feet of blue ocean to see the waves on the top and the sun breaking through was the best part of the whole experience.

And the best news: Joe and I both passed! We are officially open water scuba divers and are allowed to dive anywhere in the world up to 60 feet in depth anytime from one hour past daybreak to one hour before nightfall. I'm definitely interested in obtaining more specialties next time I'm on the island - and OH YES, there will be a next time!

What else has been on my itinerary during my trip to Okinawa? Just you wait! I'll be blogging about it soon. :D

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My thoughts on the Delta luggage controversy.

I've been seeing status updates on Facebook about Delta Air Lines being under attack for charging active duty service members for shipping their gear back from their deployments in Central Asia. The story tells us that a group of returning soldiers spent $2800 collectively on baggage fees because they went over the allotted amount. 

The story doesn't say that they had the same amount of gear with them on the way to their deployment, so I'm guessing they were bringing home personal entertainment and souvenirs. Just an assumption. Also, any official gear would be checked in before leaving and shipped back with the military.

I just wanted to let anyone who reads this know that, as a military wife, I've had nothing but great experiences with Delta. Their staff is always friendly when I'm checking in, understanding about my hoarding tendencies when packing luggage (sometimes I go overweight), and their flight attendants have always been incredibly hospitable. For these reasons, Joe and I are SkyMiles members and travel almost exclusively through Delta when we are in the states.

We love the benefits Delta provides military members, like being able to check two fifty pound bags when traveling on personal business, and FOUR fifty pound bags when traveling on orders. Who in their right mind would want to lug 200 lbs of luggage around an airport is a detail I won't even address, but having that option and being able to take advantage of it for free is a major perk that Delta offers. Once in a while, we even receive passes to the Delta Sky Lounge! These little oases in a jam-packed airport full of screaming kids, sick travelers, and uncomfortable seating bring me incredible joy when traveling. The ones we've seen have had open bars, breakfast stands, newspapers from around the world, leather recliners in front of 60" TVs, and even showers. These can make a huge difference in my attitude during a 12-hour layover.

A rule that was constantly drilled into me when I worked in the service sector was that you need to treat everyone with a smile. Every time something bad happens to a customer, they will tell five of their friends. Yet, when they are treated well or with special privilege, they may only tell one other person. Basically: bad news travels fast! I would hate to see Delta suffer financially from attacks on their commitment to military members and their families because I sincerely appreciate what they do. They go above and beyond the necessary public relations stunts and actually show us that they care. Please support them by continuing to book flights and not passing along the story about returning soldiers being charged for luggage.

For more info about Delta's commitment, check out their blog post.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

It's Murda.

Living off base has some distinct advantages, like being able to walk to the 24-hour Japanese grocery store, the train station, a Japanese version of Denny's with a 200 yen ($2.50) beverage bar (non-alcoholic, you lushes), a sushi-go-round, a Japanese version of Michaels called "Craft Heart" and so much more!

Yet, there are drawbacks. I've always considered myself an environmentalist (it only makes sense, right?), I definitely don't litter, and my mom always taught us to use the recycling box as kids. Joe and I really stepped things up when we moved to Germany and our apartment had a garbage sorting area where you split things into biodegradable (food waste), paper, and plastic. Then you save up your glass bottles and take them down the street to throw them in appropriate bins for their color.

So I thought I was ready for the Japanese recycling system, but I was wrong. First of all, we have garbage pick-up five days a week. When we moved in, we got a calendar with a different color for every day and a somewhat crude English translation with it. The good: the "combustibles" are collected twice a week. This includes food waste, kleenex, etc. However, there are different pick-up days for cardboard and white paper. The plastics are divided into PET plastics (specially marked as recyclable) and all other kinds of plastic. There is no such thing as restmüll here in Japan. I would remember this word as being basically "the rest" after you recycle what you can. Every single thing here has its specific day in the month to be collected!

The problem with this arises when you (ahem, when WE) are moving into a new house and are buying things off the internet to organize your new life. This means our subtle recycling area is actually an overflowing monstrosity of cardboard boxes, packaging peanuts, the accompanying plastic packaging, and the paper filler inside! 

I'm still trying to whittle away at this project but in the meantime, it's murda.

/my uptown problems