Saturday, July 31, 2010

The American Village

Street Scene in the American Village

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer
This past weekend my new boss took me on a walking tour of the American Village, a beach front community of shops and eateries that cater to Americans. The focal point of the Village, besides the beautiful beach, is a gigantic ferris wheel (on the order of the London Eye) that does one revolution every twenty minutes. I didn't ride it on Sunday, but will soon. It looks like a great vantage point from which to take photos of a big chunk of central Okinawa.

The Beach at American Village

Tour Guide Urges Me Onward
While in the Village we walked through a large Okinawan grocery store observing many of the local delicacies that lined it shelves, and even sampled the local ice cream - which was delicious!  Lunch was at a sidewalk taco stand, where we chowed down on what can only be called "hellfire" tacos.

Another interesting stop was at a military surplus store that had items from the military of several nations.  I had a lot of fun digging through things that were necessities back in the day when I wore a uniform.

It was a beautiful day!

Friday, July 30, 2010

More About American Television on Okinawa

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer
Okay, I was wrong: certainly not the first time, and certainly not the last.

The television news programming put on by Armed Forces Network makes a decent attempt at being balanced. (I won't say "fair," because they still use Fox!) Yesterday I came across a complete daily schedule for AFN, and from it I learned that various news programs from several sources run throughout the day on its news channel. In addition to the odious Fox, AFN airs the evening newscasts of the three major American networks, as well as regular programming from CNN and MSNBC.

Yes, that's right! MSNBC can be found on what is essentially programs aimed at military families. No wonder Dick Cheney had another heart attack!

Yesterday (and each weekday) on the AFN news channel one could see at various times Tavis Smiley, Bill-o the Clown, Keith Olbermann, Glenn Beck and his psycho chalkboard, Sean Hannity, Anderson Cooper, Campbell Brown, Shepard Smith, and...ta dah...Rachel Maddow!

Unfortunately, for me at least, Rachel is on at three in the afternoon, a time when I am usually at work.

For news purists, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report are also broadcast on AFN in the evenings when they can be viewed by the masses! This is not your grandfather's military!

The ladies from The View can be found on AFN, as well as Dr. Phil, Oprah, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Craig Ferguson, and Jimmy Fallon.

All in all, there seems to be something dealing with current events for every taste and persuasion. Good job, AFN!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rain, Glorious Rain!

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer
It has looked and felt like rain every day since my arrival on Okinawa one week ago, but, for the most part, the moisture just lingered in the air and never formed into precipitation. That changed today when the water works from above really cut loose. I emerged from the guest hotel that I currently call home early this morning and stared in amazement at the dark blue and gray clouds that were stacked from the rooftops clear up to Betelgeuse. By the time my ride showed up and we got to work, a good rain was falling.

And it rained off-and-on all day. (Eat your heart out, Arizona!)

My new best friend, a psychologist and co-worker named Dan, took me off-base for lunch. After a pleasant meal at an Hawaiian restaurant, we drove through the seaside community where he lives and then stood for awhile on the Sunabe Sea Wall watching the rain fall peacefully across the East China Sea.

There are no words to describe the beauty of the rain falling on the ocean.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

By the Seashore, By the Beautiful Sea!

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer
I have been on this lovely island six days, and in that time I have seen the ocean at a distance on several occasions. There doesn't seem to be a lot of surf, but a friend explained yesterday that surf here is somewhat seasonal, and there are times when it really rages. I remember some of the storms that came in from sea when I was here before, and I am eager to experience that raw power of nature again.

There are some beaches on the island that offer quite respectable surfing conditions, but don't look for me on a surfboard anytime soon!

I was in an orientation class for newcomers to the island today. Several leisure activities involving the sea were discussed. Diving is apparently great here, and several of my friends have taken diving lessons and become certified. That is not something that appeals to me, but I do plan on snorkeling - which I enjoy, and which I hear is great along the coast of Okinawa. I want to experience the ocean by taking boat tours to a couple of the smaller islands in the area, including Ie Shima where Ernie Pyle was killed during World War II, and I also plan to go out on a deep-sea fishing excursion.

There are several military resorts along the Okinawan coast. One of my new friends at work said that he and his family never miss an opportunity to stay at one of these beachfront getaways.

Okinawa is roughly eight miles wide and sixty miles long. It is hard to be anyplace on this island where you can't see the ocean of feel its presence.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

News From Home

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer
There are a variety of news sources on Okinawa that cater to the American community. Sometimes news consumers have good choices, sometimes they don't

News over the radio is generally a non-choice. The only American FM radio station on the island primarily uses Fox News (and occasionally Associated Press) to keep the public updated throughout the day. Fox News Radio is generally more digestible than the crazy crap that Fox tends to run on it television outlet, but, bottom line, it still is Fox.

Fox is the most pervasive news channel around the military installations, a fact of life here that tends to give Okinawans working in the American community an unobstructed view of our dark side.

Armed Forces Network (television) has some other options besides Fox. They support network programming, like the Today Show which airs live each night. AFN also presents serious news through the classy BBC World News.

(Interestingly, I have yet to come across MSNBC on the airwaves. I'm not sure that I can pull two years here without an occasional Rachel Maddow fix!)

The jewel of news for Americans on Okinawa, however, is a daily newspaper that is familiar to generations who have served or lived overseas: Stars and Stripes. Even though this publication has a strong military bent (that is, after all, its primary audience), it puts news out in a quasi-even-handed manner that is far more "fair and balanced" than anything ever contrived by Fox.

Today the Stars and Stripes ran two editorials on its opinion page. One was conservative from the Philadelphia Inquirer that focused on how liberals are big spenders and will never allow government to shrink. That, of course, is nonsense, pure and simple, considering the budget is bloated from excessive and continuous war spending that is the mother's milk of the right-wing. But, be that as it may...the other editorial was of a liberal perspective from a writer at the Fort Worth-Star Telegram who correctly pointed out that Republicans in Congress have no interest in governing, and their entire agenda is to obstruct the party in power.

Editorial cartoons, as well, cover the political spectrum, and the regular cartoons strips range from the old chestnut, Beetle Bailey, to the far edgier (and funnier) Doonesbury.

The news gets here, but one has to look for it. Those who just run around the base soaking up the background noise of the ubiquitous television sets are, for the most part, getting their world view from Fox. Careful news consumers, however, can find news that really is fair and balanced from a wide array of better sources.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Land with No Wal-Marts

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer
A co-worker drove me through much of the local community surrounding Kadena Air Force Base today as part of the orientation process. At one point I commented that I hadn't seen a Wal-Mart. She informed me that there are none on the entire island - and only one on mainland Japan. That one on the mainland, she stated, is much cleaner than the Wal-Marts in America.

A land with no Wal-Marts - and people seem to function just fine!

I guess that if the Okinawans and the Japanese feel the need for cheap Chinese junk, they prefer to go straight to the source and cut out the Bentonville middle-man!

Welcome to the Okinawan Experience

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer
Somehow I managed to lose my original entry into this blog, an entry that was posted on July 24th, 2010, with a title the same as the one above. I must have accidentally deleted it. Stuff happens, especially when you are old!

I wanted the original post to be dated July 24th, because that was my oldest son's 37th birthday, and that son, Nick, was born on Okinawa. We left when he was two-months-old, and this is my first trip back since that time. An old family joke is that we wanted to get off of the island before the local nationals began referring to him as "Nick-san," a dirty word in certain circles at that time!

This blog, as I mentioned in the original post, will serve as a collection point for all that I learn and see while on the island this time. I have begun taking photographs and will hopefully learn how to incorporate them into the blog. I also plan to get out and travel around the Far Est while I am here, and will share those experiences in this space also.

So, "welcome" again. Hopefully this time I won't screw up and delete your invitation to join me as I explore Okinawa and the Orient!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Taco Rice, It's Mighty Nice!

by Pa Rock
Food Critic
One place where cultures can be counted on to collide, often with tasty results, is in the vicinity of military communities. Today I experienced one such culinary collision. Taco rice is a delicious combination of the oriental staple, rice, and the tasty import from America's south-of-the-border passion, tacos. The dish has a base of white, sticky rice covered with taco-seasoned beef or chicken, and then topped with shredded cheese and lettuce, chopped onions and tomatoes, and sliced olives - with taco sauce splashed on to taste. The entire thing is put together and served up in a shell like those used for standard taco salads.

Taco rice is simple, yet satisfying - a good example of the benefit of cultural cross-pollination!


by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer
Kanji is ancient Chinese heiroglyphics or script that has been incorporated across many countries in the Orient. There are between 50,000 to 100,000 distinct characters in Kanji, though many of those are obscure variants that are seldom used and even less seldom understood. The Kanji characters that are most commonly in use in modern Japan number between two and three thousand.

The reason that I have addressed the subject of Kanji script is to explain the Kanji symbol at the top of this page, just above the Twitter Updates. It is the symbol for "Okinawa." And now you know the rest of the story!