Saturday, July 30, 2011

Regionalism or Malicious Intent?

Today I volunteered for a USO fundraising bazaar here in Iwakuni. A few days before, I met with one of the organizers who said, "Wear warm clothes!" in parting.

This led me to believe that the air conditioning would be on full-blast and that I should layer in preparation. He had a bit of a southern twang, which also led me to believe that he couldn't be trusted about temperature advice, so I wisely wore a shirt and a skirt.

When I arrived in the gym, it was roughly 85 degrees with no fan! As my body was melting into a puddle on the floor, I remembered the advice and had a flashback to another southerner who said something vaguely weird about wearing warm clothes. I'm starting to think this is a way of saying "Wear clothes suitable for warm weather" rather than "Wear warm clothes so you don't get cold!"

Is anyone better versed in linguistic patterns? I love that I am exposed to all these regionalisms in the military community, but this was one instance where some clarification would have been very helpful. 

Out of curiosity, how do you tell someone to dress for hot temperatures? 

As a side note: if you are interested in showing your support for the sacrifices military men and women make, the USO is a fantastic place to volunteer your time or donate your resources. They really have no political agenda, just a willingness to lift the spirits of those who offer their blood, sweat, and tears for your freedom.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Retail Therapy

Retail therapy in Japan, for me, is a different monster than it is in America. I treat it more like a mix between museum hopping and a night at a comedy club. I don't buy anything because the USD is close to worthless, and English phrases can be hilarious. My other half is still away, so I'm stretching my awkward muscles to get out and see new things alone. Unfortunately, today it only got me to the mall. 

Lots of my awesome friends have flown off to exotic locales, told tales of the differences in life and culture, totally adapted, and then stopped telling the tales I love so much. I know it's happening to me since I've created ONE facebook photo album since I've been here! It's strange to think about, but we've almost been here for six months! Time FLIES.

So anyway, I'll share some of the fun that entertains me when my #1 is away. 

The most fun department is always the clothing, but it was a slow day and there were sales people checking me out the whole time I was perusing the merch. I felt kinda rude snapping pictures when they could see me/when they were watching me. 

So, next best place to look is the kids' toys. I had an obsession with Sanrio characters and Japanese office supplies in general in elementary school, so it's really not surprising that the kids' section brings me immense gratification. Childhood is where we are socialized into accepting the norms of our society, so I also think that, as a sociologist, kids' toys are important.

Have you ever seen a paper recycling toy in an American toy store? I only recognized the process because I made recycled paper on an awesome field trip to a museum in elementary school. Is that normal?

Step 1: Shred that paper up!
Step 2: Toss it in a blender and mash it!
Step 3: Pour some chemicals/bleach on it.
Step 4: Leave it to drain and dry!

I wish there was still room for Step 5 in my world. 

Next toy: Decorate Your Own Pencil Machine.

Why on Earth should you have to settle for a measly Ticonderoga when you could be wrapping pencils in your choice of glittery tape with the help of a trusty pencil-wrapping machine? Definitely let some charms dangle off the end or else you won't be popular. 

Now that you have paper and an unsharpened decorative pencil, why don't you make yourself some jewelry? We know you're a child and your hand-eye coordination sucks, so here's a machine so you don't need to worry about threading the beads onto your bracelet.

Ugh, I told myself I'd stop being sarcastic! So, I'll share the rest of my shopping trip and musings in photo and caption form:

I need a bag of time.
This isn't even snack packaging. It's just a notebook.
Full of dream, hope, and a bear!? The cup runneth over!
I'm kinda thinking about buying this bag. It describes my exact taste in music.
This was a little girls' shirt. "Dear my lover, I am very glad to meet you. Be not glad when it feels to the same"?
Don't you mean Hartford? Heart Ford is probably closer to Detroit.
Totally embarrassing shirt for a little kid. A. Lubricant brand? B. OUR MINI C. Nothing special, just small.
Sexy men's muscle shirts. "What's your favorite color?" should be a pick-up line at the bar.
Cheer on your local Iowa Conservatives!
I'm taking all the vigour.
It's just, so...personal.
Finalmente, some cigarette vending machines at YouMe Town mall. No need to check IDs!
Anyway, I hope other people get a kick out of my shopping trip. It's weird being by yourself for the majority of every day. Maybe blogging an entire shopping trip is insane and one of those tipping points psychologists look for, but I don't have any background in that. 

What did you think? Lay off the pretending to have a shopping partner? How do you like the pic sizes (I've enlarged them!)? Is it easier to scroll through when they are smaller? Is it more fun to see the detail when they are larger? I just took a test to see if I can qualify as a usability specialist and I'm obsessing over usability of my recreational blog now. Should I get professional help? Choose your own adventure!

xoxo Heather

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Workin' on my fitness.

I finally went to my first group fitness class here in Iwakuni! I was nervous that it would be too advanced or the people would be clique-y and make me feel uncomfortable, but it was so great. 

Working out has definitely taken a backseat for me this year. Like, the backseat of a bus - many, many rows back. For a while, it was because I had thyroid surgery and was feeling the effects of --you know-- not having a thyroid. I was lethargic and had very little energy or motivation to even go for a long walk. I really surprised myself at the Kintai Bridge Lighting this week when I was walking all over the park area, from bridge to bridge and didn't feel tired at all. I know it sounds pathetic, but when we first moved to Japan, Joe and I went exploring this beautiful landmark and I was tired after just getting out of the car and walking around enough to enjoy the trees and view. 

Anyway, I went to the bridge lighting all by myself (cue Celine Dion) and realized I've come a really long way since March. I feel like my levels are in check and I have motivation to work up a sweat once in a while. I put the group fitness schedule in a prominent place in my house yesterday and finally got some workout shorts. Side note: I bought my first workout shorts since 10th grade yesterday. Judge as you will!

Our yoga instructor here in Iwakuni is so great. She has an English accent and a great sense of humor. The class was definitely not too advanced, though she gives options for your degree of strength and flexibility. The class was also over half male. WHAT!? The only dudes I'd seen doing yoga before were stringy hippies wearing too-short shorts.

I think my body is going to go from an unfortunate pretzel rod to a nice, twistable pretzel soon. Ahhh.

I totally believe that sharing a goal with others helps keep me accountable, so here's my modest goal: I'm going to make it to yoga twice a week. Ask me about this in a few weeks so I can brag about my progress or feel guilty about my fitness neglect! Thanks :)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Atherton Tablelands

The Atherton Tablelands were another unexpected twist from what I went to Australia expecting. I had no idea what to look for on my own in the expansive and wild outback, so I decided that we would be better off booking a tour rather than renting a car and using a map to get around.

This turned out to be a great idea because I came across the #1 recommended tour in Cairns on TripAdvisor and got to meet Barefoot Tours' Captain Matty and his awesome wife! Captain Matty has a great sense of humor, is full of information about every site and vista along the way, and takes care of all the driving throughout the day; meaning, I got to nap along the road. :)

Here are some of our favorite sites from our day out with Barefoot Tours:

First, the 500-year-old Cathedral Fig Tree:
Joe and the stranger fig
Joe's photography skills are so good! <3
Strangler fig et moi
Next up was the crater close to the Cathedral Fig. Nobody knows how deep it is, but the information kiosk said it is a "diatreme" that was caused by a "violent gas explosion." lolz.

Our tour guide telling us about this "big hole" in his New Zealand accent had me concealing giggles.
Next stop, Lake Eacham. Apparently it's an extinct volcanic crater formed about 12,000 years ago.

Joe dropped in the water for a bit, but I was content to watch. It was about 65 degrees outside, brrr.
Had to go swimming around like he's never been in a lake before. We're from Michigan, people.
Highlight of Lake Eacham for me. Turtles who breathe out of their butts!? Hi, I'm 12 years old.
 The moment had come! We were going to see some gorgeous waterfalls at Dinner Falls.

I'm on the left, plugging my nose as I come up for air. The water was ICE COLD.
Your heroes, in the ice cold water. Honestly, people would jump in and come up for air shrieking/in shock.
The next stop was for "pie" at an Aussie pub. Pie is sold all over the place, but they aren't talking about tasty desserts, they're talking about a pot pie. Still good! [No pics!]

Then, the famous Millaa Millaa Falls. We were told that Herbal Essences shot a commercial there, and I definitely believe it, but I can't find a video!

Beautiful waterfalls!
I say fool me once, shame on me. I got pictures of Joe in the water though. Again, brrr.
 We got back on the bus and popped out again at Ellinjaa Falls.

Unbeknownst to me, I had a fever. I'm wearing three layers and people are swimming.
And finally, Josephine Falls

There was a natural waterslide on these smooth rocks. How amazing. Here's Joe doing a standard waterslide maneuver (he's on the left, turn off your sound):

And then, mixing it up with some x-treme watersliding (turn off your sound, watch the far left, wait until after the girls go):

I'm so glad we had time during Joe's leave to see these natural wonders! We're going back on our 50th anniversary world tour (this is when we've decided we'll be rich) when it's warm so we can actually play in the water. It was too cold and I was sick! Still, epic.

Bucket List: Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef!

This is the story of a trip that was close to not happening. I'm not being dramatic. I would have cancelled the trip had we been able to get a refund. I was sick for two days before our departure date and not in the mood to move or eat, not to mention be stranded on a small boat in choppy waters, squeeze into a wetsuit, and descend 60 feet.

Being the cheapskate/spiteful/stubborn lady I am, I grumpily boarded the boat going to the Great Barrier Reef with two boxes of Kleenex (Eucalyptus-scented, ooh la la), an assorted arsenal of medication Joe sweetly procured from the Chemist (drug store), and the willingness to spend the next three days and two nights miserable in the ship's cabin. 

I was feeling especially miserable at the end of the first day and Joe asked the ship's director for a thermometer. He was a very nice Australian guy and had been in the Australian Army as a trauma medic for a few years. He told me I had a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius without much fanfare. I asked him what it was in Fahrenheit and he punched it into his iPhone. Apparently I was dealing with a 104 degree temperature! Whoa. He got me some ice to cool my forehead/neck, a few aspirin, and a few bottles of cold water to get myself hydrated. 

The next day, I was feeling about 70% better at breakfast. I decided to go diving because I would regret it FOR LIFE if I didn't. Plus, I thought about how the ice had lowered my temperature and decided dipping my whole body into cold water would probably help too. 

So, we rented an underwater camera from the ship, popped our memory card into it, and got in the water for some incredible views of the largest and most well known reef system in the world.

Words won't do it justice! The color made me all googley-eyed!
S'all good! No thumbs-up while diving: it means you need to make an emergency ascent.
I was taking my own sweet time equalizing on the way down and Joe snapped pics.
One of the joys of being underwater: everyone is a gymnast! This is me doing a somersault.
I love this shot. It's amazing being in this other world!
Here I am chasing after a fish near the anchor.
Joe was there too. :P
Swimming away from a giant clam.
The fish swim right in front of your face. It's surreal.
Joe and some fishies in the background.

My new hobby: underwater break dancing.
Coral from one of Joe's night dives.
More night photography fish.
Night dive fish
This fish was like half the size of my body! TERROR!
Joe and coral.
Caught Joe at a safety stop under the boat.

Look away, kids! I got an underwater kiss!
Phew! And to think that is my edited collection for le blog! We took about three zillion pics on the trip.

I even saw A SHARK on my last dive during (what else) my safety stop. It must have recognized me as a weak and vulnerable snack. By the time I got to the surface to tell Joe to get a picture, it had already swam away. In retrospect, maybe I should've just gotten out of the water. Ha!

If you're wondering if I eventually died after my boat fever...NOPE. I'm feeling lots better now that I've been back in Iwakuni for a week. 

Thanks for taking a peek into our trip to the GBR!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Wild and Wonderful Magnetic Island

The last time Joe was in Australia, he took a side trip to Magnetic Island and saw real koalas in the wild, eating their eucalyptus leaves. I remember squealing and exploding with jealousy when I saw his pictures, even though I was on the trip of a lifetime in the Philippines with Shea!

On this trip, I wanted to go to Magnetic Island with Joe and we decided to make an overnighter of it. We hunted around for a good place to stay that was cheap, had an en-suite (attached, private) bathroom that would be a quick jaunt to the water. Keeping in mind that our standards have been set pretty low for hostels, we were impressed by the spacious room we got for about $50 a night at Magnum's Backpackers. We had a kitchenette, huge bathroom, balcony overlooking the ocean, and were only steps away from the center of this "backpacker's resort." There were a few cafes, a cheap $6 backpacker's dinner we enjoyed, live music at night, great drink specials, HDTVs in the bar, a game room, friendly drunk Australians, and a few pools. 

The resort is just across the road from the ocean, so we took an evening walk on the beach (romance!) and examined all the strange things that low tide exposes. When we got to the other side of the beach, there were some huge boulders making up a retaining wall and it looked really fun to climb, so we clambered up to the road at the top. We saw some little furry things hopping around and then remembered that the lady who checked us in told us about the rock wallabies around the corner! 

Rock wallabies and a joey!
We were so shocked to meet these fun dudes! There was a really nice couple already there and they had special rock wallaby food that they shared with us so we could get a little closer.

What is this creature!? Am I gonna die!? Can I hug it?!
After we randomly stumbled on these animals, we started getting greedy. How close can we get? What will they do for us?

Not cute enough! Show me athleticism and agility!


Okay, you got that. Hmm, how about babies?!



Okay, so your babies are among the cutest in the animal kingdom. How are you gonna protect that thing?


That is one fearsome and crazy ho! Keep your baby! Geez. We'll walk on some rocks and see the beautiful view from your house.

I'm pretending to be a nimble rock wallaby here. Check out that stance - one foot on each boulder!

This is how my picture would look if I were trying to show you how introspective I was being while on the island. 

When we went back to the hostel, we realized we were starving and that we should take advantage of the cheap wine and meals for a relaxing dinner. As soon as we sat down, a kookaburra came flapping into town, scared the crap out of the harmless curlews, and watched us eat like a straight-up creeper for our entire dinner. We really didn't mind because when else would we get a kookaburra as a dinner guest? 

I would 100% recommend a stop at Magnetic Island for anyone visiting Australia. It was breathtakingly beautiful at every turn, it was less expensive than mainland, and they have a variety of resorts for every taste and budget. 

Thanks to anyone who checked out our vacation pictures! We loved taking them and hope you loved seeing them!