Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Typhoon Update

by Pa Rock 
Cultural Explorer

Current View from My Apartment
It is approximately 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday and Typhoon Kompasu is still dancing out at sea somewhere.  She was supposed to have hit at 9:00 a.m., but slowed.  I went to bed last night with instructions not to go into work today.  Just before midnight, one of our sergeants called with the weather update and said the plan was now to report to work at the regular time.  I got there early, a quarter before seven, and by 9:00 a.m. we had all been sent home again.  Now the projection is that Kompasu will hit Okinawa just a few miles north of Kadena at 7:00 this evening.  We'll see!

I sat through a major typhoon on Okinawa in 1972.  That one, Typhoon Rita, danced around the island for several days before finally coming ashore in the south and working its way up the center of the island.  We were hunkered down in a secure building on base when the eye of the storm passed directly above - roaring, then scary quiet, then more roaring!

Waiting for a hurricane is somewhat like the anticipation of a snow day.  Will it happen?  Will we be out of work or away from school?  When will life get back to normal?

Right now it is very overcast, but no rain.  I may get out and snap a few photos before the fun starts.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Typhoon Preparations

The Big Golden Arches

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

The sky is still a bright blue with scattered white clouds, but all  of that is fixing to change.  A typhoon is out in the Pacific preparing to blow across Okinawa at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow - fifteen hours from now.  It is now such a certainty that we have been told to plan on staying home tomorrow.  Our last appointments were cancelled this afternoon, and we spent some of that "free" time wrapping our computers and electronics in large garbage bags.

The typhoon was being referred to this morning as "Number Eight" by the local press - and I have no idea why.  Now it has been given the name "Kompasu" which apparently refers to some type of drafting instrument.  I had lunch down by the Sunabe seawall with a friend today.  We could see rain storms out at sea, and the surf was already picking up.

McDonald's at Araha Beach
I was able to leave work one hour early this afternoon.  I skipped the urge to drop by the commissary on my way home (it would have been hectic as people stocked up for the storm), but I got home and decided that I needed a few things.  There is a large grocery/department store about five blocks from where I live, so I took a stroll down there.  I found eggs, diet soda, and English muffins without any assistance, but I had to ask two different people about cooking oil (and am hopeful that I purchased the right thing), and I also had to be led to margarine.  One of the Okinawan shoppers who helped me stopped me on the way out to make sure that I had found everything that I had been hunting.  Nice lady!

The store is called Hamby Town.  It is five or six stories high with elevators and escalators.  I stayed on the ground floor which is where the groceries are located, but I want to go back in a few days and explore the rest of the place.

Meanwhile back at the apartment I am waiting to watch "A Touch of Frost," a British detective show, on the Japanese mystery channel.  Unfortunately I am having to sit through a half-hour Japanese infomercial on special rags that are used for wiping up dog pee.  Ugh!

I took a couple of pictures of the local McDonald's as I walked to Hamby Town.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Walk to the Beach

Serenity by the Sea
by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

This afternoon, following a day of laborious and monotonous unpacking, I gathered up my camera and a bag of cracker jacks and headed to the beach.   Along the way I met up with Bob, the bob-tailed cat that scrounges around the local restaurants.  He let me pet him so that he could get close enough to investigate what I was eating.  He chased a cracker jack down the sidewalk - it was fun to play with, but didn't ring his dinner bell!

Food Advertisement in Front of a Cafe
The tide was out, and the beach was quiet - almost serene.  A young Okinawan man was walking along the railing of the bridge that serves as an entryway of sorts to the sea.  I snapped a picture of him from a distance.  When I actually got up on the bridge, he was sitting in a folded position on the railing, contemplating life.  I chose not to be rude and snap another picture - which is a pity, because it would have been a great one!

An American family was walking along the shore hunting crabs, and two older Okinawans were sitting on the seawall fishing.   There were a few people swimming further on down the beach.

Shortly after arriving back at home, one of the Captains in my unit called and said that a typhoon is bearing down on Okinawa and could arrive tomorrow.  It might also just turn into a summer storm.  He told me to get prepared.  (I have plenty of groceries and books.  What else is there?)  The Captain told me that my friend from yesterday's medical drama is still in the hospital - ICU - and hopes to be released tomorrow.  (If the typhoon is coming, he needs to stay right there and let the staff wait on him!)

Araha Beach
Be sure to check back tomorrow for the typhoon update.

Island life!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Revisiting Camp Kue Hospital

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Today I drove to Kadena to accomplish a few errands.  My first stop was at the post office.  Little did I know that it would turn into a medical drama that would last the better part of the afternoon, and also serve to reconnect me to some old memories of my stay here in the 1970;s.

Walking toward the post office, I discovered one of my co-workers sitting on a small wall outside in the sun.  I spoke to him and was surprised to find that he was disoriented.  The man has some serious health issues and has not been feeling well, so I was concerned,  After unsuccessfully trying to get him to let me take him somewhere, I was able to contact another co-worker and we sat with him until a passing physician got involved and called an ambulance.  My friend was taken to Lester Naval Hospital, the military's only complete hospital (the others are just clinics) on Okinawa.  Lester is situated about one mile from where I live,  When I was here before it was known as Camp Kue Army Hospital.

Later this afternoon another co-worker and I went to Lester to check on our friend.  We found him being treated in the emergency room and mercifully doing much better.  He will be in the hospital at least for the night.

As we were preparing to leave, the friend that I had ridden to the hospital with asked me if I would like to take a tour.  I told him that my oldest son, Nick, had been born in that hospital thirty-seven years before, and I had not been in there since we checked out  with him in July of 1973.  We found a diagram of the hospital and learned that Labor and Delivery was still on the fifth floor.  Arriving on five and stepping out of the elevator, I walked directly into the same waiting room where I had waited for Nick to get here those many years ago.  The furniture was new, and there was a flat-screen television on the wall, but it was the very same room!

The day Nick arrived I sat in that small waiting room, by myself, for about an hour and watched Sanford and Son on an old, large television.  I'm sure it was funny, but to this day I can remember a thing about that episode.  I had other things on my mind.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Three Car Rule

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

I was on Okinawa almost a month before I started driving.  A lot of the delay was due to raw fear.  The traffic is slow, about 35 m.p.h. is the top speed for most of the island, but traffic is heavy, and many of the side streets are very narrow - and the little cars are everywhere!

Then there was that whole driving-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road thing, but that is just a question of practice and remembering where your hiney is supposed to be.

When I was going to orientation classes we were warned about the motorcycles.  Okinawan cyclists routinely drive between rows of traffic, so if there is a long double line waiting at a stoplight, multiple motorcycles will race up between the stopped cars and head to the front of the line.  They even zip between cars while traffic is moving!

And car drivers who are at the front of the line at the stoplight have more to worry about than just cyclists cutting in front of them.  There is apparently an unwritten "three-car rule," that says after the light turns green, a driver at the front of the waiting line can expect three Okinawan vehicles to run the light in front of him!

Driving may be slow here, but there is still plenty to worry about while puttering around this small island!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Beautiful Day

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

The rain falls here, softly, quietly, unexpectedly - while the sun is shining.  It was one of those days today, with light showers weaving their way through the blue skies of Okinawa.

I am learning some new procedures at work, and several people have been very patient in teaching and reteaching me how to record complicated information into an inefficient and cumbersome software program.  I am starting each day earlier than normal, and staying much later.  But by the end of today I was beginning to feel some mastery of the process.

Maybe by this weekend I will be able to get out and stroll along in beach where I can soak up some of these beautiful island showers - and sunshine.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Japanese Locked Door Mystery

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

I have a car and an apartment, and I am enmeshed in a foreign culture.  Back home, in the good old US of A, I had this crazy habit of locking my keys in my car or in my house.  The habit got more pronounced as I aged.  Coming to Japan, I had a distinct fear of getting locked out of  my car or apartment, and I suspected that it would be much harder to gain entry in a land where people routinely refused to learn my language.

But I was wrong.

Istanbul Kebab House - a local business
Oh, the language barriers were real enough - and then some!  But what I have learned here is that Japanese technology, especially regarding locks and keys, far exceeds the minimal standards that are so common in the United States.

First, let's look at the difference in locking systems between the car I have now and the POS Chevrolet that I drove for the last few years in America.   Many times I opened the Chevy's door, flipped the lock, jumped out and slammed the door only to realize that my keys were still in the ignition.  It got so bad that I hid a set of keys in my unlocked out building at home and another set in my desk at work.  The Japanese solution:  My car here, an old Nissan Cube - older than my Chevy - has three door with locks.  If I jump out and lock the driver's door manually as I am exiting, the passenger door unlocks itself.  In fact, it is impossible to lock all three doors at once without using the key on the driver's side door.  It is so simple - wake up, Detroit!

My apartment has two exits, a door facing the elevator and stairwell, and a balcony with a six-story drop.  The apartment cannot be locked from the outside by any means other than using a key.  I cannot set the lock on the way out and slam the door behind me.  Granted, there are similar locking units in the United States, but they ought to be mandatory - especially for our fogbound senior citizens!

Simple solutions that work.  Of course, simple solutions cut down of the income of locksmiths, carpenters, and car glass companies.  As Gilda Radner used to say, "It's always something!"

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Twilight Drum Song

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Last night there was an Eisa drum celebration somewhere in my neighborhood, and although I could not spot the event from my sixth floor balcony, the sounds rang out loud and clear for over an hour.  It was a beautiful island soundtrack leading to the realization that I truly am residing in a foreign culture.    If life is about movement and a struggle against complacency, I can take comfort in the fact that picking-up and moving to a foreign country in my sixties at least proves that I am still living.

Retirement looms large on the horizon, but I fancy that I would rather keep moving and follow the sounds of the pounding drums.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is the largest aquarium in Japan.  It sits on the site of the Okinawa Ocean Expo that was held on the island in 1975 as part of a global celebration of the U.S. government returning Okinawa to Japanese control three years earlier.  It was a world's fair of sorts.

The welcoming sea turtle!
Today Ocean Expo Park is  home to the Churaumi Aquarium as well as to a major arboretum.  This time we saw the fish - next time I hope to see the plants.

One of the highlights of this beautiful aquarium is the presence of two very large whale sharks with their attendant remoras.  There were also several varieties of manta rays, shiny tuna, smaller sharks, and a wide variety of beautiful and colorful smaller fish - all apparently living happily in the largest of the aquariums.

A small cafe is situated at one end of the largest aquarium, providing  guests with the opportunity to sip their tea and coffee\ as they sit almost beneath the creatures of the sea.   The view from our restaurant table was mesmerizing almost to the point of being completely hypnotic.  It took unusual effort and concentration to get up and leave!

A whale shark entertains his guests!
The lesser aquariums held other aquatic life like turtles, lobsters, and, or course, a wide assortment of fish.  There were also many small exhibits of specific types of sea life, as well as a "petting pool" where visitors could reach in and feel starfish and other unusual aquatic life forms.

The long drive to the Churaumi Aquarium culminates in a wonderful experience!  Okinawa, you've done well with this one!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The British Wine and Tea Shop

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Original Sign for British Wine and Tea Shop signed by
artist Ralph Steadman
Good friend Murphy swung by this morning and picked me up for a day on the road.  Although we made a few extraneous stops, the thrust of our trip north had two objectives:  the British Wine and Tea Shop where we had a wonderful lunch, and Okinawa's famous Churaumi Aquarium, a world renowned marine exhibit that was constructed shortly after I left the island in the 1970's as part of the Okinawa's World Expo.  Today I will discuss the Tea Shop, and tomorrow's subject will be the Aquarium.  Expect some good photos with each report.

To call The British Wine and Tea Shop remote would be serious understatement.  It is so well hidden that most people make their initial visit by traveling to the secluded establishment with someone who has dined there before.  The place was founded by a sweet old Brit named John and his Japanese wife, Maki, about four years ago.   Maki was trained as a chef at Cordon Bleu London and also worked as a pastry chef at the Savoy and Sheraton (5-star) hotels in London.   John was also trained as a chef in London and owned his own restaurant there. Their entire staff seems to consist of one other young oriental lady.   The owners live on the premises and are expecting a baby this fall.
Owner and Chef John in his apron - standing on the
front deck of the British Wine and Tea Shop

The tea shop is not busy, but it is definitely a quality establishment.  Each day John and Maki change the menu and cook a limited amount of food.  Today there were four or five selections.  I had a wonderful beef in red wine dish with rice and a large serving of delicious vegetables that included several types of peppers and squash.   We also shared a pot of Breakfast Tea - with plenty of cream - the way the Brits drink it.  For dessert I had a frozen parfait with berries.  John also brought us complimentary chocolate truffles and some Japanese cherries.  The chocolate truffles were the richest that I have ever encountered!

Murphy and I arrived just as another couple were leaving.  They asked us to take their picture with John - which Murphy did.  They had been the only diners, and when they left we became the only diners - which meant that John made several trips to our table to chat while we dined on his wonderful creations!

Besides the great food, the other unique characteristic about the British Wine and Tea Shop was John's art collection, some of which was on display.  Sometime in the 1970's John struck up a friendship with artist Ralph Steadman.  (One of Steadman's claims to fame is that he was Hunter S. Thompson's de facto personal illustrator for several years.)  Not only does John own many Steadman limited-edition illustrations, Steadman also designed the sign for the tea house.

The British Wine and Tea Shop is a place not to be missed during a stay on Okinawa!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Some Road Sights

by Pa rock
Cultural Explorer

I scooted over to the PX at  Camp Foster this evening for a crescent wrench and a screwdriver, so that I could put together some furniture tonight.  While sitting at the stoplight waiting to cross Highway 58, I made a couple of observations about Okinawan commerce.

The first thing I noted was, like their small cars, Okinawan commercial trucks also seem to be small, but to make up for their lack of carrying capacity, they also tend to be overloaded.  One of the trucks that went sailing down Highway 58 while I sat at the stoplight was loaded with wooden slats,  not just loaded - but dangerously overloaded!  Another truck went by carrying four large cubes that appeared to be made of crushed aluminum cans.   Recycling is a big deal here.   After making my purchases (and then some!) at Camp Foster, and stopping by Captain D's for a fish deal, I was on my way home and passed an Okinawan firetruck.  It was a large, rambling, almost sloppy affair that presented as more comedic than emergency oriented.

During my first tour of Okinawa, I came across an overloaded vehicle, the vision of which has remained with me for nearly four decades.  My wife and I were driving down a hill toward our house when we passed a truck carrying several large logs that had been headed up the hill.  The logs were hanging several feet over the truck's tailgate, and the poor driver had apparently down-shifted as he was driving up the steep grade.  Shifting gears had caused the weight to shift toward the rear, resulting in the truck sitting on its rear end with the logs touching the pavement.  The truck cab and the driver, meanwhile, were in an elevated position with the front tires several feet off of the ground!  Ever the Good Samaritan, I stopped the car and got out and took a picture!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Burning Up the Roads

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

With mobility comes a welcome sense of independence.

I am becoming  much more comfortable behind the wheel of my little car, and seldom find myself driving on the wrong side of the road anymore.  I can now make the three or four mile trip to work almost effortlessly, and have learned the major landmarks necessary in the successful navigation of that route.  Now I am slowly expanding the routes that I travel.

Today I drove to work, put in half a day there doing some computer training and filling out a necessary attendance report via computer.  Then I headed north to the Army base at Torii Station.  I had been to Torii twice in the past, but this was my first trip there on my own.   Several people gave me directions to my destination, each of them slightly different from the others, but I was able to amalgamate the information and get there successfully.

The first place I went was to the finance office (the Army pays my salary) and gave them some paperwork.  From there I drove down to Torii Beach where our unit was holding its annual "Splash Day." I grabbed a couple of quick hot dogs, chatted with a few friends, and got back in the car to head south.  Unfortunately I got lost on Torii as I was leaving - even though it is a very small base - and headed out the wrong gate.  I concentrated on landmarks and eventually found my way back to the main thoroughfare, Highway 58.

Heading south, I stopped by Camp Foster where the Marine Corps finished the registration process on my car.  I made a quick stop at Foster's quick stop for milk, and headed home.

Three military bases in one day - Air Force, Army, and Marine - and several miles of driving on the left-hand side of the road in a busy foreign country.  Yes, I am feeling very independent, and yes, I think I will be able to maintain here quite nicely for two years.

Sunday a friend and I are driving way north to visit a British Tea House.  I'm hoping to be the navigator on that trip, but, if push comes to shove, I can drive.  I'm that good!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Service, Okinawan Style

by Pa Rock
Cultural Observer

The good news is that I stayed calm.

I came home early so that the Internet provider could come into my apartment and hook up the modem for my Internet service.  I had already been told that he would get the connection into the apartment, and I would have to program the computer in order to get the service started.  Moments before I left my office to head home, the company emailed me sparse instructions of how to accomplish that procedure.

Of course the technician who came to install the modem spoke absolutely no English, absolutely no English!  I expected that.  I also expected that he would show me which end of the cord to plug in where.  Actually, my most basic expectation was that there would be a cord.  There wasn't.

So this evening I am headed to the PX at Camp Foster in hopes of figuring out what I need to connect the computer to the modem.  Just about all of the employees at the PX are Okinawan also, but most of them know enough English to sell a rube something!

God knows what I will come home with!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Where the Streets Have No Name

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

I am getting more comfortable transporting myself around the base and the local community, whether by car or on foot.  But to get from the proverbial Point A to Point B, I am having to train myself to recognize and remember landmarks.  All of the Okinawan streets and alleyways are marked in Kanji script, and Kadena Air Base is street-sign-challenged.  The streets at Kadena have names, and they can be found on maps.  Many, however, do not appear on signposts at intersections - and  I have given up looking for them.  Now I know to turn at the Fire Station, or the banyon tree, or the rusty gate, or whatever!  Navigating by landmarks takes a lot more effort, but I am learning my way around in a very concrete manner.

Walking is also a challenge, especially on base.  Sidewalks have a tendency to begin and end at odd places, and when they encounter a road, a connecting crosswalk cannot be assumed to be waiting for the tired pedestrian.  It is not unusual to encounter intersections with a crosswalk for one street but not the other.   Jaywalking often appears to be a risky necessity.  (But I am still exploring, and there may be a method to all of this madness!)

Well, I am heading home from my evening blogging at Camp Foster.  That is a right out of the parking lot at The Spot, taking care to get in the left lane, a left out of Gate 4, straight across Highway 58 with the Blueberry Cafe on my right, left at the end of the 1st block by the vending machines, left at the next block with the Ishigaka Cafe immediately on my right, followed by Mike's Tex Mex on my right, and left into Mikano Mansions where I can park in either spot labeled 602.  It's as easy as pi!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

My stuff is here - and there, and everywhere!  My goal is to unpack two boxes a day until the whole mess is put away.  So far the only casualty is my CD rack, a cheap piece of crap that I should have given away while I was still in the states.  It took some serious talking on my part to get the movers to take it away with them when they left.

I found out that my Internet will be hooked up on Thursday afternoon.  Apparently the people who install  the connection won't actually hook up the computer, but a nice Okinawan kid (When seeking help with computers, one always has to deal with a "kid!") told me that he would email easy-to-follow instructions.  Color me skeptical!

Driving seems to be becoming easier, and I have finally mastered where to turn off to get on base, and where to turn off to get into my neighborhood.  Little victories!

My apartment house is solid, so when the great Tsunami of 2012 hits, I will be sitting on the balcony fishing!  (If I happen to be home at the time - otherwise I'll be swimming!)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Another Stroll in the Hood

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Monday morning, and I am typing directly into Microsoft Word for later transfer to my Okinawan blog.  Still no Internet connection at my apartment – obviously - so a trip to Camp Foster will be in order later this afternoon – sometime after my movers arrive and depart.  It is a little after 11:00 a.m., and I have been waiting on them since eight o’clock this morning.  They are now scheduled to arrive between 11:00 a.m. and 1 p.m.  We’ll see if that happens or not.

Mikano Mansion.  My apartment is the
entire left half of the sixth floor.
Late yesterday evening I went on another stroll around my new hood.  I had planned to go to one of the Okinawan burger joints down by the beach, but opted at the last minute to visit a McDonald’s that is about four blocks from my apartment.   I have heard several American’s state that the McDonald’s here is much better than those in the states, but that was not my experience yesterday.  Yes, they did prepare the sandwich while I waited, but my Quarter Pounder just didn’t have the same taste as it did back home.  (Maybe the Okinawan grease is cleaner!)  The fries did taste like those at home, only they were cold and stale.  I chose the “meal” option, which also came with some sort of tasty pork fritter that was mostly fat.  The fritter lost its appeal after just a few bites.   

The meal cost 770 yen – which is somewhere north of eight dollars.    But it came with a toy – a small replica of a McDonald’s Fish sandwich – something that I did not see on the menu.    (If I put up a Christmas tree this year, I will use it for an ornament.)  They were selling the complete set of six of the food toys for over three thousand yen – somewhere between thirty-five and forty dollars.  
I did not understand that pricing at all!

On my way to the McDonald’s I came upon two large Sunday flea markets where clothing and other assorted wares were displayed.  I noticed one vendor had a plastic tub filled with Old Spice deodorant sticks.  There were also paintings, jewelry, CDs and DVD’s, and a couple of snack shacks.  I didn’t buy, although it was so muggy I could have used some of the deodorant right on the spot.

Coming back from McDonald’s I walked along Highway 58 and visited several nicer shops there.  I was looking for a chair (as I have no place to sit in my apartment other than on the toilet) but found none that were priced to sell.  I also visited a place that we would have called a “head shop” in the sixties, but now is probably thought of as some sort of grungy teen boutique.  Their prices, at least, were boutique-ish! 

Whatever became of black lights?

Another store that I visited specialized in Mexican merchandise, and even has some small “Day of the Dead” figurines - which I collect on an occasional basis.  Again, they were proud of their stuff.  The Mexican place had many large clay pots, outside and inside, that were filled with water lilies and pond vegetation – and home to goldfish and other little fishes.    What a great use of junk pottery!

11:30 a.m. and still no movers.  I don’t mind not being at work because my credentialing hasn’t happened yet, so there wouldn’t be much to do.  But it is damned boring standing home alone.  God, I would kill for a chair – or a bed!

Post Script:  The stuff arrived around one in the afternoon.   Several sweaty Okinawan lads had it hauled up six flights and spread into the proper rooms in just a couple of hours.  They will come back when I call them (hopefully) to haul off the trash.  Tonight I sleep on my own bed instead of the sleeping bag on the tile-over-concrete floor!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What Makes an Island?

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer
A View Toward the East China Sea from My Balcony

Yesterday was productive.  The air-conditioner man, a young fellow who spoke absolutely no English, showed up and worked an hour or so on the unit in my living room.  He was finally able to communicate that he needed to send for a part and would come back another day.   And even though he was unable to fix the air conditioner,  and spoke nary a word of English, we became good friends.

When the young man arrived I was sitting on the floor trying to screw a stand together for my new television - and it wasn't going together.  (Things never go together for me!)   The air-conditioning man noticed my frustration.  I had to go downstairs to my car for some reason, and when I returned, he had put the stand together!  As he was leaving, I showed him that the clothes dryer wasn't working, and it took him all of two minutes to figure it out.  At about that point I decided that I should adopt him!

My next visitor was the Norman, an Okinawan who was educated in American schools and spoke flawless English.  He came to install my satellite dish and collect 20,000 yen in installation fees that the bastard housing agency should have paid.  (That battle continues!)  Norman told me that the HBO mini-series, The Pacific, has recently started running on Japanese television, and he felt that it is treated the war in the Pacific in a fairly even-handed manner.

My 1998 Nissan Cube
Norman and I were discussing a large island in the East China Sea that I can see from my balcony.  He told me its name, though it escapes me at present, and said that he has been there twice.  He said there are two hundred people on the island and they make their living primarily by fishing.  Norman continued by talking about how important fishing is to the Japanese economy.  He said at one place off of the coast of Japan there is a rock sticking out of the water that is about the size of a home air-conditioner.   Norman said that the Japanese government spent one hundred million dollars (He may have meant yen.) building a barrier around the rock to keep it from sinking beneath the surface of the sea.  The reason:   the rock is officially a Japanese "island," and their fishing limits extend for 200 miles beyond the island.  If it disappeared beneath the surface of the sea, all of that fishing area would be lost!

A friend came over last night and we went to dinner in a quiet Okinawan restaurant.  I had pasta and mushrooms with (I think) spam.. Spam is huge here!  My meal was rounded out with garlic toast and iced tea.  A very large cat roamed beneath the tables as we ate.  He looked as though he did very well begging off of the diners and scarfing up what slips through their chop sticks!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Walk to the Beach

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Last night I left my apartment for an hour or so and went exploring into my new neighborhood.  My stroll took me past several small cafes, most of which featured some American fare including hamburgers and salads.  There was also a couple of souvenir shops selling touristy trinkets.  The East China Sea is about two blocks from my front door.  I walked along the beach and spent time standing on a small bridge listening to the surf drum slowly onto the land.  It was early evening, and dark, and by the time I headed home the neighborhood was rocking with young service people and their dates drinking beer on the sidewalks, telling stories, and laughing their cares away.

This morning when I woke up, one of the sights awaiting me was a couple of ships out on the horizon.  I think that I will like living by the sea!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Saturday Evening with the Marines

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

It feels like I have been learning to drive all over again today.  It has been a constant struggle, but, for the most part, I have managed to keep my hiney on the  liney!

I moved from Kadena to the city of Chatan this afternoon and have managed to lug all of my worldly possessions, at least those that are here on Okinawa with me, upstairs to the new apartment.  Tonight I will bed down on the floor in a sleeping bag - but my comfortable bed will be here in just two days!

After unpacking and sorting, I drove over to Camp Foster to find the PX and pick up a few necessities - like a towel and a shower curtain.  Later I found their Internet cafe  It is at a food court called "The Spot."  Camp Foster is just across Highway 58 from my apartment.  It has a PX, commissary, and even a movie theatre.  There is also a branch of my bank here.

More tomorrow...hopefully...when I get out and explore my new neighborhood on foot.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Keep Your Hiney on the Liney!

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer and Road Warrior

Okay, it's official.  Pa Rock has wheels!  At about 4:30 this afternoon I picked up my 1998 Nissan Cube, gold in color, with just 49,000 actual kilometers on the old kilometer-meter!  It's quite a car:  not too pretty, but the gold color helps it to stand out among all of the silvers and shades of gray that seem to be so popular here.

In Japan, as Okinawa is, all of the driving is on the left side of the road, and all of the steering wheels and other devices used by drivers are on right side of the car (from the driver's perspective).  Everything is bass-ackwards!  I made it onto the base from the car lot, which fortunately is located mere feet (excuse me, kilometers) from Gate 2, but I had to open the door to show the guard my temporary road tax sticker because I couldn't figure out how to lower the automatic windows.  (God, I hate automatic windows - especially Japanese ones!)

Once on-base I putted around looking for the only gas station, which I eventually found after several wrong turns.  Wrong turns were educational because the turn signal is next to the door - on the right side of the steering wheel.  So my first several turns were signalled by the windshield wipers going off!  Finally, however, I did make it to the gas station where I was able to locate the release for the gas cap cover in under ten minutes. 

My next stop was my office which was closed, but several co-workers were still there - a bad sign of things to come!   My boss saw the new heap on the parking lot and remarked that she liked the gold color.  So I guess it does stand out.  While at the office I removed a bottle of rice alcohol (supposedly something akin to vodka) that my housing agent had given me as a gift for signing with her company.  The alcohol is now in my car and by tomorrow evening will be safely in my new home.  I'm not a vodka drinker, so it will be here when my company from the states starts arriving next summer. 

Kadena is a really big base - on the order of Ft. Campbell - so it took me quite awhile and several more wrong turns - accompanied by windshield wipers - before I found my way back to the Shogun Inn. 

Tomorrow I have to travel off-base to my new apartment south of Kadena.  I have to be there in the early afternoon when the housing agent will arrive for the initial joint inspection.  She will be accompanied by the gas man who will hook up the gas so that I have hot water and am able to cook.  To get to the new digs, I will have to traverse a section of Highway 58, the busiest highway on Okinawa.

My boss gave me an axiom to follow in making certain that I was always driving on the correct side of the road.  It is:  "Keep your hiney on the liney."  (That also works in America.)  Every time I made a turn, I concentrated on making sure that my body was located next to the center line, and I kept repeating over and over, "Keep your hiney on the liney."  I'm likely to be using mantra for a long time to come!

(One bit of huge news:  I learned today that all of my household goods have arrived and will be delivered on Monday!  I will be completely here!)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Getting Set Up

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

A car tomorrow, a home on Friday!

I shipped two loads of stuff from Arizona:  a small one with an air mattress, bedding, kitchen stuff, and a few other nice-to-haves, and a big one that had everything else that would join me on Okinawa.  The small load is here and will be delivered Saturday.  (That means that I am off to the BX tonight to get a sleeping bag so that I have something to sleep on Friday night.)  My cable will also be hooked up on Saturday.

The big disappointment is that it will take ten days or so to get the Internet set up.  That means that there will probably be a break in the blogs - unless I can manage to get it done at some Internet cafe on base, such as the USO.  Expect some gaps.

The skies were blue again today - finally, but it was very humid.  The weather is so different from Phoenix - and yes, I prefer the humidity to the desert's "dry" heat!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Home and a Car

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer
Yesterday morning, just as I was beginning to suspect that I would never find a suitable apartment, I found the right one.  I went to the housing office at Kadena and told them what I wanted, the lady there made a few calls and set some appointments with different housing agents, and the very first one, a lady named Junko, took me directly to the place that I had described.

For those who have been to Okinawa, my apartment is on the sixth floor of an eight-story building in Araha Beach.  It is closer to Highway 58 than it is to the beach - which made it cheaper - and directly across the highway from the commissary at Camp Foster.  The beach is nice, and only about a three-minute walk from the front door of the apartment building.  And, yes, it has an elevator - although climbing all of those steps will be good for me.

The apartment is a little over 1,200 square feet.  It has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen, living room, and a utility room - with all appliances.  There is a deck on two sides that looks out over the East China Sea with a view that extends to the big ferris wheel in American Village.   It will need curtains, and, coincidentally, the landlord owns a drapery business - those Okinawans are always thinking!  The cable TV and Internet will be hooked up and ready to roll when I move in on Friday.  I have even arranged for a mama-san to come in and clean twice a month - that is a luxury that I give myself wherever I live.

The reason that I decided to try to find someplace at Araha Beach is that they have put down a new, wide sidewalk that follows the beach three miles up to American Village, and it will soon be extended all the way to Sunabe.  It is wonderful for walking or riding a bike.  There are also many businesses in the area, some of which are open late.  I noticed a Tex-Mex barbecue place right across the street, and one of the women in the housing office told me that it was really good.

(That same lady, a young Okinawan, asked me what I did for the military.  I explained that I was a social worker and told her a little about our programs.  "Is that like a therapist?"  she asked, and I explained that a large part of my job was therapeutic individual and group counseling.  She then proceeded to tell me, in great detail, about a dream that she has been having.  After listening for awhile, I stopped her and said that it might be due to indigestion.  If she wants free therapy, I'm going to need those curtains!)

This afternoon I went back to BC Motors by Gate 2 and bought a car.  It was the oldest and ugliest one on the lot, and it was $1,600 cheaper than the one that I would have liked to have bought.  It will be sitting out in the rain for the next two years, and will have almost no value left when I am ready to leave - so it just made sense rather than spending more money on a nicer one that will also be hard to get rid of in two years.  I will use the savings to get a nice television - and maybe curtains!  (Of course, on the sixth floor in that neighborhood, there will be no window-peekers, not that I would have to worry about that anyway!)

The car will be ready for pick up on Thursday evening, and I move on Friday.  It is all coming together so nicely!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Whole Lotta Bangin' Goin' On!

Bang that drum!

This young lady was intense!  She could
make Gene Krupa sit up and take
by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Last evening several of us from work met at a restaurant in Naha to honor one of our co-workers who has just finished her two-year tour here and is heading back to the states.  The honoree, Dr. Elizabeth Goodwin, a young  psychologist , came with her boyfriend John, a Marine “gunny” sergeant (E-7) who is stationed on the island and has completed five tours in the war zone.  Everyone else in attendance works at our office with the exception of little Maddy, the infant daughter of Stephanie, one of our airmen.

(I am still car-less, so Elizabeth and John kindly chauffeured me to the party - thank you very much!)

Our meal was at a place called En Okinawa which Elizabeth had read about in a local magazine.  The menu had several pages of Okinawan fare, with each entry accompanied by a photo.  I had baked salmon and rice along with iced tea.  It was excellent, but the only eating utensils were chopsticks – so it took me a while to re-master that art!

En Okinawa features an awesome Eisa drum show, my second exposure to Eisa drumming in one week.  Several drummers banged on several different types of drums for about an hour, and when I say “banged,” I really mean “beat the hell out of!”  The place was small, the drums were loud, Maddie cried and had to be taken outside to protect her little ears, and I jumped about a foot the first time one of the drummers hit the monster (size-wise) drum! 

An amazing drummer!
The show also included a large, fuzzy, red  creature who danced and led the audience in clapping to the drum beat, as well as a two-man dragon that somehow managed to perform some really great tumbling.  At one point the dragon came over to where I was sitting, opened his cavernous mouth, and placed it over my head.  I was told that would bring good luck, and I guess that it did, because today I found my perfect apartment and signed a lease!  (More on the apartment later.  I move this Friday.)

It was a nice evening, and we are all going to miss Elizabeth. (And Boone,  I am definitely getting us a big, red Eisa drum!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

An Evening in Naha

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer
Just back from an evening out with friends at a nice restaurant in Naha, the capital of Okinawa. We dined at En Okinawa, eating Okinawan fare and watching a very unique pounding drum show. The event was planned as a going-away party for one of my co-workers who will be leaving at the end of this week.

It's late. Details and photos will follow tomorrow.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Hunt Continues for a Home and a Car

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer
I learned this morning that the Clampett mansion (10th floor, view of the Pacific) had been ripped out from under me. This afternoon my poor, hapless housing agent, Marianne, took me to see an apartment by a nice stretch of public beach in a desirable location. I didn't like the apartment for several reasons, but liked it a little better than one in the same area that she had shown me yesterday. As we were leaving, another housing agent showed up to give the tour to her clients - who, of course, took it.

I have sold real estate and I realize that I am a careful consumer who is functioning as a bogey man to scare others into committing. "You better act fast because that old guy who just left is going to take it!" So be it! Yes, I will be renting on the government's dime, but I have principles and I refuse to squander that dime on something that is over-priced or just plain crappy.

After wasting part of her afternoon, Marianne dropped me off at Gate 2, which is where the USO and Chili's, Too (a mini-Chili's) are located. I stood in line with my ID to get through the gate for too long, and decided to turn around and go back out into the community, on foot, and look for a car. BC Motors has a lot by Gate Two and another by Gate One. That agency comes highly recommended by several of my friends.

I roamed through the lot amusing myself by looking at cars in the light rain for about thirty minutes before a salesman finally approached. The young fellow, Oso, is a Nigerian native who is married to an Okinawan. He is also a proud new parent of a daughter. Oso showed me six or eight used Nissan Cube's, because that was the type of car that caught my eye. The Cube is small enough to worm its way through local traffic, but large enough inside for three guests and their luggage.

But the damned rain intensified, and I would not commit to buying a car in a rain storm. I am prone to make mistakes in fair weather, so no telling what I would have purchased running from vehicle to vehicle in a downpour! Before I left I also spotted a little red Cypher that caught my eye. It looked as though it could handle two-to-three passengers and minimal luggage. Oso was cool toward the Cypher because it has a small engine, but hell, the fastest anyone is allowed to drive on this island is 35 km/hour. "Yes," he agreed, "and the small engine would save on gas." I told Oso that I would come back tomorrow if the sun was shining (and the creeks didn't rise!).

All of the cars at BC Motors are used - but nice. They import them by the boatload from mainland Japan. I asked Oso if they would buy back the car that I bought in two years when I am ready to leave. He said, "Probably not." I respect honesty.

It is much easier (and cheaper) here to buy cars from Americans who are preparing to leave the island. There is even a large parking lot dedicated to selling their vehicles. It is aptly named "the Lemon Lot!" The problem with purchasing from individuals is that Japan has a rigorous inspection, the JCI, that all vehicles must pass every two years. (JCI repairs often run in excess of a thousand dollars!) Cars bought off of the Lemon Lot always have less than two years remaining on their JCI. If a car is purchased from a dealer, the dealer will provide the 2-year inspection as well as a one-year warranty. Dealers here also sell cars on credit - with no interest!

I went to BC Motors prepared to buy. I had several (but not an obscene amount of) hundred dollar bills in my wallet, as well as a credit card and a personal check. I ran into the office during one especially brutal downpour, and while I was there I noticed a big sign announcing that they did not accept hundred dollar bills, credit cards, or personal checks! Nothing like being prepare, I always say!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Hiroshima on My Mind

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer
Today is the sixty-fifth anniversary of the United States dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the starkly cruel beginning of the atomic age. The Stars and Stripes did a cover story on the anniversary today, noting, among other things, that the United States ambassador, John Roos, would be at today's commemoration of the event in the city of Hiroshima - the first time that the United States has sent an actual official of our government to that annual event.

President Obama is coming to Japan in November, and the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have each invited him to visit their cities. I personally believe that would be a good use of his time while he is in Japan, and it would help to focus the world's attention on the awfulness of weapons of mass destruction.

I reminisced in my other blog, Pa Rock's Ramble, today about a visit that I made to Hiroshima thirty-seven year ago. That account is at

The trip to Hiroshima is one that I would like to do again if I have the opportunity during this tour. It is a place that truly overwhelms visitors with the absolute necessity of peace.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

More on the Housing Hunt

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer
My housing agent, Marianne, showed me two more places today, one of which was very nice and one that wasn't. Then I asked her to drive me back by the Clampett Estate - the tenth floor wonder that I talked about yesterday.

The places that are close to the Sunabe Sea Wall, where I should live, are very nice, but so far they all seem so hemmed in. Most of the windows feature views of other houses or apartment buildings. And the sea breeze in non-existent due to all of the structures. The Clampett, on the other hand, is ten stories up, has a commanding view of the East China Sea, and the breezes are constant.

Did I mention that it has a wonderfully wide balcony that stretches across the entire front of the apartment - with plenty of room for a nice patio set, a barbecue smoker, and maybe even a telescope?

Speaking of telescopes, I did learn today that there are actually several "love motels" in the surrounding vicinity - and Marianne says that their lights are really pretty at night!

My decision is close - probably tomorrow - and I am definitely leaning toward the Clampett. Somebody needs to talk me down!

Regardless of that drama, I am also going to buy a used car this weekend so that I can quit taking advantage of my friends.

Okinawa is starting to feel like home!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Jed Clampett Moment

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer
This is the twelfth day that I have been on Okinawa, and the entire time I have been staying in temporary billeting, a place owned by Air Force Inns and locally as the Shogun. My room is cozy (cramped), with a small refrigerator, microwave, and a television. Basically I am living out of suitcases and eating most of my meals at the Kadena Officer's Club which is one block away.

So I am very ready to get my own place!

Housing here for Americans is expensive, and there is not enough housing on base to accommodate all of the civilians that are necessary to make the base function - especially unaccompanied civilians like me. So the government picks up the tab for off-base housing, within generous limits. Today I hooked up with a housing agency and began looking at apartments. The ones that I was shown was nice, I mean really nice!

The first place that I saw provided me with an honest-to-God Jed Clampett moment, because when I stepped inside I knew exactly how ol' Jed must have felt the first time he walked into the big house next door to the Drysdale's. It was huge, and nice, and had a long view of the ocean from the balcony.

The drawbacks were that it was on the tenth floor of an eleven-story building (in fact, it was the tenth floor!) and the neighborhood was isolated. I wouldn't personally have to lug my heavy American furniture up to that level, but several items wouldn't fit into the small elevator, and I feel for the guys who would have to drag it up all of those steps. The other problem was the neighborhood. Not only was it more isolated than I would like, but when I noticed some commercial signs on a nearby long structure and asked the housing agent what sort of business it was, she replied, rather sheepishly, that it was a "love motel!"

The balcony of that apartment overlooked the "love motel," so it might be interesting to sit out in the evenings, peer over the railing, and watch the comings and goings!

Another place that I looked at was a house one block from the Sunabe Sea Wall and the East China Sea. That area has many American residents, local businesses, and much more to do in the immediate vicinity. It would be a safe place to get out and walk in the evenings.

I will be looking at some more places tomorrow. Needless to say, I am very anxious to get my household goods unpacked and resume my life.

It has been another beautiful day on Okinawa!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tornadoes, Typhoons, and Earthquakes

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

The weather has been warm and extremely muggy for the ten days or so that I have been on Okinawa. Lots of moisture in the air and occasional rain storms. It is so very different from Arizona.

I learned in one of my many orientation meetings and briefings that Okinawa has tornadoes, apparently an average of eighteen a year. That is something that I never encountered or even heard about on my previous tour here. Typhoons (the Asian equivalent of hurricanes) have a habit of ripping through the island every few years or so. I sat through a major one in 1972 when the eye of the storm passed right over the quarters where I was living. Apparently Okinawa has not had a typhoon in the past two years, so the locals are saying that this will be the year. The official typhoon season runs from June 1st through November 30th. They are amazing storms, and provide island residents with a good excuse to miss work for a day or so!

Earthquakes are fairly common, though many are so minor as to hardly be felt. Okinawa sits along the Pacific Rim of Fire, an area that is known for earthquakes. I remember sitting through one in the seventies. There was a major one here this past March, and a minor one two weeks ago before I arrived. Most of the buildings here are designed to survive tornadoes, typhoons, and earthquakes. They are mainly one and two story, squat buildings made of blocks and cement. I wonder how they would stand up to a good tsunami - and I hope that I never find out!

Attached are a couple of more photos from the Esai Festival in Naha this past weekend. Enjoy.

Monday, August 2, 2010

An Evening with Friends, More Photos

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Tonight Elizabeth and John invited me to join them for dinner at the Rocker NCO Club at Kadena.   It was a Mexican buffet and some of the best food that I have eaten since arriving here. Elizabeth will be going back stateside in two weeks, and John will be following shortly after. They are such nice folks and have much knowledge to share with someone like me who is just starting his tour on the island. I am so glad to have met them!

Attached are a couple of more photos from the Eisa Festival yesterday in Naha. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Eisa Dancers Take Kokusai Street

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Dan, Nefredia, and Rock
Kokusai Street runs through the heart of Naha, the capital of Okinawa. Back in the day it was a laid back venue of places to eat and little shops where one could load up on tourist junk. Today it still caters to tourists, and many places selling junk souvenirs abound, but my how the street has changed! It is not nearly as quaint now as it was then. There are buildings along Kokusai that are several stories tall, and many of the cafes are definitely upscale.

There is even a multi-story McDonald's on Kokusai Street. When I came here in 1972, Okinawa had one fast food American joint - an A&W Rootbeer Drive-In, and when I left nearly two years later the island had also acquired its first Kentucky Fried Chicken. We had to go to Tokyo before we encountered a McDonald's - and it was just a serving window in a high-toned area of the Ginza.

Eisa Dancers on Kokusai Street in Naha
Today I spent the afternoon on Kokusai with some friends from work. Our group consisted of two other social workers besides myself (Laura and Nefredia), two psychologists (Dan and Elizabeth), Elizabeth's boyfriend, a marine named John, and an airman and new mother (Stephanie). We went there to see the annual Eisa Street Festival, and amazing event featuring a purported 10,000 drummers/dancers. These folk artists were mostly young people ranging in age from three or four to young adults. They formed up in units of twenty or thirty individuals each, and put on shows up and down Kokusai. It was truly and entertaining experience.

(Boone, I will be getting us an Eisa drum while I am here - a big one - and a big stick to bang it with!)

Eisa Dancer
We drove to a parking garage in Naha and then made our way to the monorail station by walking through a large mall. The monorail is fairly new to Naha and plays a key role in moving people around the city in an efficient manner. Our ride on the monorail was 200 yen each way, which is around two and a half dollars.

We began our afternoon on Kokusai with lunch at a mini-brewery. After that we walked out onto the crowded street where it took me all of five minutes to become separated from the group. Fortunately, they decided to send out search parties and I was located about an hour later. (It's a good thing, too, because John told me that a taxi ride back to the base would have been over a hundred dollars! (I now have a local cell phone that I haven't figured out how to use. One member of our group called me several times, but the street was so noisy that I couldn't hear it ringing!) Fortunately I am getting old enough that being kidnapped and sold into slavery is no longer a risk
Eisa Dancer on Break with his Drum

I did buy a purple ice cream cone while I was lost. I just pointed at a picture to order, and I have no idea what the flavor was - but I think that it might have been sweet potato.

It was a nice afternoon, and I was so happy to get off of base for awhile. Enjoy the photos!