Thursday, September 30, 2010

Shaking on Six

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Most evenings I read in bed for thirty minutes or so before going to sleep.  Two nights ago as I was finishing the last few pages of Tree of Smoke, saying good-bye to some fictional friends, my bed began to suddenly sway.  The motion lasted only seconds, but it was quite unsettling.

That was the second earthquake that I have experienced.  The first was longer, and harder, and also on Okinawa - forty years ago.    Apparently earthquakes are fairly common here, but usually so slight that people don't even notice.  This tremor was also slight, but by the time it worked its way up six stories and shook my bed - I noticed!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More About Traffic on Okinawa

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Driving on Okinawa today is not nearly as crazy as it was forty years ago.  Part of the reason is the completion of a second main traffic artery - the toll road that was mentioned yesterday.  The second major improvement is the huge reduction in what used to be the ubiquitous "skoshi" cabs.  Those little demons were everywhere, and much like the motorcycle drivers of today, the skoshi cab drivers felt they had a right to go anywhere.  More than a few times I saw one dart onto a bare stretch of sidewalk to get around stalled traffic, and it was a very common occurrence for skoshi cabs to race to the front of turn lanes and then crowd in.  Those drivers literally felt that they had complete control of the rules of the road, and basically they did.

"Skoshi" is a Japanese word meaning "little."

Today there are still many cabs on the island, but percentage-wise, they are much fewer than before.  Today's cab drivers operate in a much more predictable manner.  Forty years ago Okinawans were just returning to Japanese control after twenty-seven years of American supervision.  It appears as though the Japanese have used the intervening four decades to civilize their cab drivers!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Traffic and Tolls

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

I was sucked into a minor traffic jam as I tried to leave the Air Base tonight, a rarity on Kadena.  It took eight minutes to navigate the final half mile to the gate.

Forty years ago traffic off of the bases was much worse than it is now.  Today I can motor up and down Highway 58 with relative ease, but that certainly wasn't the case back in the day.  True, there are undoubtedly many more people driving on Okinawa than there were then, but today there is a "toll" road that gets people up and down the island quickly without any of those pesky stoplights.

The Okinawan government is still experimenting with how to best use its toll road.  As the name implies, there was originally a charge (toll) to use this expressway, but the government discovered rather quickly that most people didn't like paying the toll and kept using the free Highway 58.  Earlier this year, about the time I arrived on island, the government decided to conduct an experiment and remove the toll from the toll road. Apparently that has drawn people off of Highway 58 and made that traffic run smoother.

So now the problem is apparently solved.  Cheaper is better - at least on Okinawa!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Paying Rent

Seaside Hotel as Seen from Ferris Wheel
by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Saturday I made a trip to the bank at Kadena and purchased enough yen to pay my rent.  I am developing a theory that the exchange rate drops at the end of the month, thus squeezing more dollars out of Americans as they purchase yen to pay their Japanese landlords.  It was 83 yen to the dollar on Saturday.   What will it be on this coming Thursday, the last day of the month?

Apparently a year ago yen was being exchanged at the rate of 95 to a dollar.  Since I have been here it has fluctuated between 85 and eighty-one.

Also, another photo from last Saturday is attached.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday at Home

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Street Vendor at American Village
Evening Slips in as I Walk Home
Sunday's highlight was having a telephone visit with two of my kids and my grandsons - I talked to kid number three yesterday!  After those morning telephone calls, I did laundry and managed to get myself to the gym and the Quick Stop at Camp Foster for a few necessaries, but for the greater part of the day I have read, napped, and vegged.  It is dark now, and Monday morning looms ugly on the horizon!

Attached are a couple of more photos from my walk to American Village yesterday.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Walk to American Village

Okinawa's Famous Ferris Wheel - 500 Yen Per Passenger!
by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

This afternoon I walked to American Village (about 20 minutes along the seashore) and met my friend Murphy for lunch.  We hit a couple of shops and rode the big Ferris Wheel - my first time.

While I was walking around the Village waiting on Murphy to show up, a young, very well dressed, Okinawan lad came up to me and asked to take my picture.  He snapped two.  Later, after Murphy got there, an equally young Okinawan girl came up and to take our picture.  It turns out it was some type of school project.  I was caught flat-footed both times or I would have asked to take pictures of the young photographers!

Young Man Attends the Loading and Unloading
of Passengers
I took some great photos along the beaches as I walked to American Village.  Unfortunately, I was operating without a photo card - I had left it at home in my computer.  So I had the impromptu adventure of buying a new card in an Okinawan department store.  The sales clerk handed me one in a package and collected my yen.  Fortunately I had the presence of mind to stand at the counter and try to insert the card.  It didn't fit.  He then took a closer look at my camera and came up with a different (and cheaper) card.  He spoke no English, and my Okinawan is totally non-existent, but we were able to get it figured out.  What a shame the whole world can't invest the time and patience to work with one another!

Looking Down from On High!
The Ferris Wheel was great, but our compartment shook in the constant breeze off of the East China Sea.   The Wheel is a very dominant landmark on the island.  It is on the order of the famous London Eye.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Battle of Okinawa

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

When I was moving into my office at the Mental Health Center on Kadena, there was a stack of posters just  lying around that depicted the American GI's coming ashore on Okinawa in 1945.  One of the young people who was clearing the junk out of the office so that I could move in asked me if I would like to have one.  As a history major, as a a guy whose father was a decorated World War II veteran, I was pleased to accept.  I liked the poster so much that I had it matted and framed.  It now hangs in my office.  Unfortunately, this photo fails to do it justice.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hotel Asia

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Each evening on the way home I drive past a place that has captured my interest, the Hotel Asia.  It is an older three-story building on Highway 58, and I can never go past without wondering what stories those rooms could tell.  Unfortunately, it is located on a stretch of highway where there is no place to pull over, frustrating my desire to take a few pictures for posterity, so tonight I managed to snag the attached photo from the driver's side window of my little car as I was motivating through the traffic.

I am speculating that the Chan family had the Okinawan branch of their famous detective agency on the third floor, and the second floor was probably used by American servicemen in the 1950's as they performed cultural exchanges with the local girls.  The ground floor undoubtedly had a bar with slowly rotating ceiling fans and maybe a three-piece house band with a vocalist who specialized in torch songs.

Maybe it sits on the site of the original Teahouse of the August Moon.    The only certainty is that the structure was built after the Americans fought their way ashore in 1945.  Everything was rubble then,

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mystery Solved

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

The bill for nearly nine thousand yen that I mentioned in yesterday's post is apparently for my satellite television service, which is actually covered in my rent agreement.  That is very pricey considering the lameness of the the television offerings.  Most evenings I watch two hours of mysteries on the AXN Mystery Channel, classics like Jonathan Cheek, Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Linley, and Wire in the Blood.  Most of the series are in English with bothersome Japanese subtitles, but at least one series, Julie Lescaut, is in French with Japanese subtitles - and another, Wallander,  is in some Scandinavian language with Japanese subtitles!  It's kind of amusing to watch Julie Lescaut or Wallander and try to figure out what is going on!  The language barrier makes those programs true mysteries!

Gotta run.  Jonathan Cheek is beckoning!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Another Day, Another Bill

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

I have two mailboxes - an American one at the post office on Kadena where I receive all of my military mail and correspondence from the United States, and an Okinawan mailbox at my apartment house.  Today I received a bill in the Okinawan mailbox.. It was from some group called DNCC and the total due was 8,845 yen.  The rest of the bill was in Japanese, including payment instructions and a return address.  I don't have a clue as to what the bill is for.

Tomorrow I will take it to work and have one of my friends with a Japanese wife figure out who is trying to get their hand in my pocket.

Living in a foreign culture offers many mysterious surprises!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Where Have All the Pennies Gone?

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

The exchange rate for money changes daily on this tiny island, but, on the average, it takes about 84 yen to equal one dollar.  Since I have been here the rate has fluctuated between 81 yen and 86 yen to the dollar, and it never fails that when I need to exchange dollars for a bunch of yen - like, say, to pay my rent - the exchange rate will dive.  Yen currency comes in10,000 yen notes, 5,000yen  notes, and 1,000 yen notes.  The Japanese coinage runs 500 yen, 100 yen, 50 yen, ten yen, five yen, and one yen.  All of the coins are metal with the exception of the lowly one yen piece that appears to be more plastic than it is metal.  One yen is worth more than a penny:  one eighty-fourth of a dollar versus one one-hundredth of a dollar.

The reason I mention all of that is that Okinawa is a land of no pennies.  American currency is used on all of the military bases, but pennies are not given in change.  All purchases are rounded up or down to the nearest nickel. As odd as it seems, the system works nicely.  If Wal-Mart and some of the other major vendors in the United States would adopt the same policy, the penny would be a thing of the past.

And you know the teabaggers would love that - one less liberal to look at every time they get a handful of change!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Car Facts

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

My Cube:  Note Placement of the Steering Wheel!
Not much occurring today.  I did manage to get to Gunners Gym at Camp Foster and march two miles on the treadmill - thirty-four minutes.  Still not up to my one hour, 3.75 mile standard, but definitely better than either of my performances last weekend.  There was just a hint of air-conditioning in the gym today, leading me to believe that some Marine General must have ambled through.  (Gunners is a sweat box most days - those marines don't believe in the nice things in life - like a/c!)

I picked up around the apartment and did my week's worth of dirty dishes - just a few, because I rely on paper plates and plastic utensils for most of my dining pleasure.  Episodes of Nero Wolfe were on AXN Mystery Channel most of the day, and I caught the last fifteen minutes of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert on the Fox Movie Channel.  Priscilla is Mama Mia for grown-ups!  I also read some more of my book, Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson.

Caught a Nice Reflection of Myself!
Attached is a photo of my little car, a 1998 Nissan Cube.  The Nissan Cube is one of the most popular cars on the island - and mine is one of the oldest!   Also pictured is a photo of one of my neighbor's cars with the most popular decal to grace American cars on this small island.  Probably one in ten American cars promotes the web site where military families find and get rid of their junk.  (I've heard it rumored that they become eligible for prizes for advertising the site with the over-sized decals.)   Check out Okinawa Yard Sales and let me know if you find anything that I need!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Electric Bill

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

I received my first local electric bill last week and discovered that I owed the power company 12,333 - fortunately that was yen and not dollars!  The amount was the equivalent of about one hundred and fifty dollars.  I called my landlords after receiving the bill and asked if I could pay it at their office, but I knew that would be too simple..  They directed me to any of several local convenience stores.

Lawson's Mini Mart - Avoid the Chicken Strips!
The little stores are located throughout the busier parts of the island.  Basically they have two names, Family Mart or Lawson's.  There is a Lawson's located close to Kadena's Gate One that I pass every day on my way to work, so that is where I headed.  The process was simple, and the clerk who spoke very limited English had me taken care of in short order.

While I was there I decided to try the local deli selections.  I bought two chicken strips, secure in the knowledge that chicken strips are a universal item that could not be screwed up by cultural preferences.  Wrong!  These had a thin layer of nasty fat running completely through each piece of chicken.  It only took one bite to satisfy my cultural curiosity!

The typhoon is apparently heading toward Taiwan, but we are getting some of the crappy weather that these things generate.   Maybe tomorrow will be better - it would be nice to have one sunny day on a weekend!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Another Typhoon?

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

The weekend begins - with a chance of big rain and wind.  The buzz is that another typhoon is headed this way, and while I like the excitement that the big storms bring, I really need a couple of days outside in the sunshine.

I had planned to walk to American Village this weekend, a two or three-mile stroll along the seacoast.  Once there a friend and I were going up in the Ferris Wheel and I was going to take some "aerial" views of the area that surrounds this American hangout.  Another friend who is here on a special assignment from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona had even talked of meeting us there.  It looks like that won't happen.

Plan B was that I would head to the Base Exchange at Kadena and buy one of their beautiful Turkish rugs to cover my living room floor.  I checked it out yesterday, and one of the Turks selling the rugs said that he would ride with me to my apartment so that I could get the seven-by-ten-foot floor covering upstairs and onto the floor. All he asked for his efforts was a ride back to the base - and a handsome price for his rug!  I eventually want to get smaller ones for each of the bedrooms as well.  My Turkish friend knows a good prospect when he sees one!

The Turkish rugs that I have been looking at are machine made.  The vendors also have some handmade Turkish rugs, but those are well beyond my budget!

And Plan C had to do with all of the unfinished work that I was forced to leave at the office today because one of our medical records programs went down on some of the computers - including mine!

All things considered, I would prefer the Ferris Wheel!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Trip Planning Update

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Today myself and three friends met with an on-base travel planner to gather information about vacation destinations in Asia.  After much discussion, we have narrowed our trip down to either Thailand or Korea, and moved the date up to the Thanksgiving break.  (Christmas stirs too much travel, even in predominantly non-Christian countries.)  The travel agent is checking prices, and hopefully we will begin to firm arrangements later this week.

The advantages of Thailand are that it has more special activities for tourists, besides just shopping:  the temples, Bangkok, elephant rides, river rafting. great beaches, and lots of local tours.  Korea's big advantage is that it is much closer (and therefore cheaper to reach), and we could probably stay in American military guest housing.  One of my friends has been to Korea before, and has recommended a full-day excursion to the DMZ.  I think that would be a very educational side trip - literally the chance of a lifetime.

Now we are talking about going to a jazz festival over Christmas and maybe spending the holidays on one of the small local islands.

There is so much to do here!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

The rains on Okinawa are usually light and don't tend to last more than a few minutes, but his afternoon we had a major thunderstorm with lots of thunder.  Small lakes formed in the low spots, and little rivers run along beside the roads.  Unfortunately, it all began just before time to leave the office, causing me to have to navigate all of the weather madness from behind the wheel of my little car.

It took twice as long as usual to get home, though thankfully I didn't come across any accidents.  We were warned at our island orientation to be extra careful while driving in the rain because the local asphalt is made, in part, from crushed coral and can be very slick.  I drive slowly even on dry days, so I managed to get home without incident.

Okinawa does not have an underground fresh water source, and has to catch rainwater in large reservoirs.  Today was a good day for collecting drinking water!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

License Plates

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Children's Masks For Sale at Esai Festival
Now, I'm not saying there is a double standard in force with regard to traffic laws and situations, but it is relatively easy for local law enforcement officers to tell the difference between citizens of Okinawa and all other orientals.  They can even tell which Okinawan women are married to Americans or people of some other nationality.

Another Food Vendor at Esai Fest
That is because the island has a two-tier license system. Okinawans, excluding those married to non-Okinawans - have a distinctive yellow license plate.  Americans and other foreign drivers have their vehicles tagged with white plates.   Some wags speculate that if a yellow plate and a white plate mix it up, the white plate is likely to lose.  I don't know that is the case, but I am smart enough to be extra-extra careful when driving in a foreign country!

Drive defensively - that is my motto - and live to gripe another day!

Monday, September 13, 2010

More on the Esai Drum Festival

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Fair Food  (Octopus Balls on the right!)
Going out on a Sunday  night makes for a very slow and tired Monday!  Today has literally dragged by.  Several co-workers told me today that they were also at the drum festival last night, but the crowd was so large that we never encountered each other.

The food vendors were interesting to watch.  They worked over long hot tables, cooking and then keeping food warm until it sold.  Some of it looked delicious, but I have learned not to eat late in the evening, particularly things with which I am unfamiliar.  Hot packaged noodles seem to be a big draw, as well as oriental delicacies like fish, squid, and octopus.  Lots of people were walking around with bits of meat on sticks that looked good.  There was also an abundance of corn-on-the-cob.  (I love hot corn-on-the-cob, but, alas, it does not love me!)

Attached are more pictures from last night's festival.
Fishing for Goldfish with Rice Paper Nets

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Eisa Festival

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Trickster - Complete with Bette Davis Eyes!
My friend Murphy and I went to the the finale of Okinawa's big Eisa Festival tonight.  The weather was muggy, but the experience was well worth the sweat.

This annual event is held on a soccer field just outside of Kadena's Gate 2.  It used to be an all-island competition between each community's Esai group, but now is more or less just a showcase for their talents.  We watched three groups perform tonight, each lasting about half an hour.  This was the third and final night of the event.  It concluded with a fireworks show, the likes of which probably hasn't been seen over Okinawa since the Americans came ashore in 1945!

The Eisa drummers and dancers are all young people - high school or college-aged.  Each group has its own distinctive colors and costumes.  There are also guys running through the performers wearing striped outfits and pointed straw hats.  Murphy referred to these guys as "tricksters," much like the Navajo kokopellis.  At one point they were pulling little children from the audience and letting them dance with the performers.

The nearest American equivalent that I can come up with for the Eisa groups would be high school and college drill teams.   They bang their drums in unison and are highly choreographed.
Finger-Lickin' Goodness Just 300 Yen!

There were many people there in traditional dress, including the performers.  Many young ladies - and some of their mothers and grandmothers - were wearing beautiful kimonos, and some of the young men were wearing traditional garb as well.

There was a country fair type of event surrounding the soccer field where vendors sold food and drinks.   The foods were mostly oriental fare, but Colonel Sanders has a spot staked out also.  Murphy pointed out one delicacy to me that he said was "octopus balls!"  Yummy!

There were also game booths and the like.  We watched a large group of people scooping little goldfish out of a water-filled boat.  The little nets that they purchased to scoop the goldfish were made of rice paper and would quickly begin to dissolve when they got wet - so it was a skilled activity that was also a race against time.

We're Number One, Hey!  We're Number one!
The other thing that I really enjoyed, besides the drum shows, the country fair, and the fireworks, was the crowd surging on the field as the event ended.  It was mayhem, and it was fun!  The crowd was mostly Okinawan, but quite a few Americans turned out for the event as well.

This evening was well spent.  Enjoy the photos!  More will follow in the coming days because I took plenty!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Gunners Fitness Center

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Although mercifully I do not seem to be putting on any weight, I have been horribly remiss in going to the gym since arriving on Okinawa.  I did a couple of short strolls on the treadmill while I was in temporary housing at the Shogun Inn, but have ignored exercise altogether since moving into my apartment.  Oh, I've had good intentions, but there have always been other demands on my time that saved me the sweat of serious exercise.

Today I finally ran out of excuses and headed over to Camp Foster.  Foster is a relatively small Marine Corps facility that is literally within walking distance of where I live.  I have gone there to shop at the PX, the commissary, and to use their "hot spot" food court for my early Internet needs.  Today I finally sucked it up and went looking for the gym.

Gunners Fitness Center is a large exercise complex located behind Camp Foster's enormous field house.  Not knowing exactly where I was heading, I roamed through the field house first, where I met a kind lady who was watching some wrestling instruction.  She took me through the field house and out back to the fitness center.  A second kind lady, this one in the fitness center, gave me a towel - and I was ready to get serious on my old nemesis, the treadmill.

The marines know how to do things right.  The treadmills were equipped with television screens.  I watched a bit on crime profilers, listened to my iPod, and marched on the machine for an embarrassingly short period of time.  (I didn't realize how negatively my hiatus from exercising had impacted me.)  Tomorrow I will hit it again, and hopefully do better.

After burning off six or seven calories, I headed to the commissary (base grocery store) and bought a few supplies for this week.  I am now patiently waiting on a crock pot full of chicken breast, soup, and rice to rise to the occasion of my supper - and several suppers later in the week.

It's a beautiful day on Okinawa!

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Winter Trip

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Two friends and I began the process today of planning a trip over the Christmas break.  We agreed on four places that we would like visit, and then each of us made a priority list that rated the four in order of our preferences.  My priorities were Thailand, followed by Taiwan, Korea, and Tokyo.  (I have been to Tokyo before, albeit forty years ago, and I suspect that during two years on Okinawa I will have other opportunities to get there.)  Next week we will meet with a travel planner on base to make a final selection and set up the details of our winter break.  We are looking at being gone four or five days total, including Christmas Day or New Year's.

The last time that I was in this part of Asia, I didn't really have the time or resources to get out and see much.  That is something that I plan to do differently this time around!  Expect to see some great photos in January!

Cultural Overlays

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Modern Okinawa is a product of several cultures, with the three most prominent being a unique blend of native Okinawans, Japanese, and American military.  And while the American influence on Okinawa is limited to the sixty-five years after the end of World War II, a relatively small portion of the island's history, the impact that American servicemen and their families have had here is substantial.

The post-war Japanese have brought in big amounts of cash, and built some beautiful hotels - but it is the Americans who have had the biggest impact on the island.   Thousands of Okinawans work on the military bases, and thousands of others have jobs in the community that rely on American spending. 

A friend of mine recently asked me why we still have troops on Okinawa, and I didn't have the answer to that question.  (There undoubtedly is an answer, but that bit of knowledge is well above my pay grade.)  Of this, however, I am certain:  if all of the troops and their families were to suddenly leave, Okinawa would suffer an economic depression so severe that it would impact Japan and much of Asia.  If Americans serve no other purpose in this part of the world, they are a key component of the economy of Okinawa.

Americans also have a large cultural footprint on this island.  Young people like to get out and have fun, a fact that has resulted in a sprawling bar scene around the major bases.  And again, the bars employ many people and become major identity factors in the neighborhoods.  Today the bar culture seems far less pronounced that it was forty years ago - but it still exists.

Young Okinawans listen to American music and are knowledgeable of American cultural icons.  They wear tee-shirts featuring American celebrities, eat American fast food, and zip across intersections on skateboards. Sometimes our influence is positive, sometimes it isn't.  When a young marine drinks too much and gets into some trouble, a few voices are raised among the local nationals proclaiming that it is time for the Americans to leave - but only a few voices.   Most recognize the impact that the Americans have on the local economy, and some even appreciate having an counterweight to the Japanese influences.

Cultural Footnote:  Today, as I was leaving the base, I passed a large group of little American kids practicing soccer.  One of the young mothers on the edge of the group was wearing a tee-shirt that said,"Beer.  It's not just for breakfast anymore!"  Okinawa is changing, and so is the world!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Electioneering, Okinawan Style

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

There is an impending election of some sort in my neighborhood.  The past two evenings I have been entertained by the sounds of a young lady barking campaign promises in Okinawan through a loudspeaker on a car.  Coming home from work tonight the vehicle drove past me, and a lovely lady sitting in the backseat waved a white gloved-hand at me.  When I ignored her, she began waving insistently, so I finally relented and waved back - an act of contrition that seemed to appease her.  (I don't look like the typical Okinawan voter, at least I don't think that I do, so I'm at a loss to explain her vehemence in soliciting my acknowledgement of her presence.)

There are also numerous photographs of candidates going up on all of the local  light poles.

I remember Okinawan electioneering from the last time I was here - cars with bullhorns, candidates standing on flatbed trucks at busy intersections harassing anyone within earshot, and photo posters going up everywhere like out-of-control blooming Okinawan weeds!  If there has been a significant change in the process over the last forty years, it is that more women seem to be running for office.  That is a good thing - but the white gloves are a bit much!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Kadena Cicadas and Other Tales of Import

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

One of the first things I noticed when I arrived on Okinawa was all of the noise, and a good part of that noise, at lease on Kadena Air Base, was provided by nature.  The cicadas (I always called them locusts, and my father used to refer to them as "jar flies") were everywhere on base.  Their noise died off after I had been here a couple of weeks, but I have noticed in the last day or two that they are back.

I read once that Japan intentionally imported a plane load of lightening bugs from the United States.  I don't guess they made it this far south, because I have not observed any on Okinawa.  That leads me to wonder if cicadas are native to the Orient, or are they, too, imports.  Kadena has hundreds of pine trees which were supposedly brought in by some American general in an attempt to make the base feel more like home - his American home.  And, of course, many cherry trees in America were imported from Japan.  Man, whether of the western or eastern persuasion. seems to love messing with his environment.

If we could just learn to import and export peace and love - instead of promoting war and international arms sales - what a wonderful world this would be!

Monday, September 6, 2010

More of the Same, with American and British Overtones

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

The weather is still drab and dreary, causing me to remain inside feeling sorry for myself on the third day of the holiday weekend.  I'm sure that things will be bright and sunny tomorrow when I am safely back at work!

I am cooking today in an effort to create a comfort zone.  There is a nice roast in the crockpot along with a side of new potatoes.  The whole thing is simmering under a gravy of garlic and mushroom soup - and it smells warm and wonderful!  I have also hooked up my new television, the one that I bought strictly as a DVD player, and have popped in the first episode of BBC's Hamish Macbeth,  a quirky detective yarn set in Scotland and starring Robert Carlyle - way before Trainspotting and The Full Monty made him famous.  Hamish Macbeth is some of Carlyle's finest work.

Home is where we make it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dreary Holiday Weekend

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

The typhoon didn't materialize, but the rains came.  Today has been bleary, dreary, and rain-soaked.  I called each of my kids and my sister this morning - even managed to use the unreliable Magic Jack on a couple of the calls - and then went back to bed and read.  Finally this afternoon I decided to challenge the rain and drove over to Camp Foster where I bought some groceries at the commissary.  (I work for the Army on an Air Force Base and shop at a Marine Corps Base - quite ecumenical!)

The post exchange and commissary at Foster are much smaller than those at Kadena, yet they seem better stocked. I think they handle things that they know people will want, and leave the extraneous crap to the bigger stores.  Anyway, I am glad that I live so close to Camp Foster because shopping their is quicker and much more convenient.

There are no Wal-Marts on Okinawa.  That is a good thing.

I miss the sunshine!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Another Fizzle

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Mike's Tex Mex - One of My Neighbors
The current attempt at a typhoon has fizzled.  Oh, it's been cloudy, dreary, and even rainy, but the winds just never materialized.   In fact, it has only rained twice today, both times when I happened to be out puttering around the island.  The last I heard, this "typhoon" which never even garnered a name, has been downgraded to a "tropical storm."

Friends and I were going to an Okinawan drum festival tonight, but it has been kicked back one week due to the unpredictable weather.

Ishigawa Kitchen - Another of My Neighbors
(Note Their Matching Scooter!)
I spent today nesting.  All of the drapes are up, and that has left my apartment feeling much more private and restful.  Next comes the rugs!

I also bought a television for my study that's only purpose will be to play the DVDs that I brought from the states.  I bought several series before relocating to Asia - including Hamish Macbeth, Tales of the Gold Monkey, BBC's Sherlock Holmes, Jeeves and Wooster, and Northern Exposure.  They will go a long way in supplementing the crappy local channels.

I got a lot of stuff put away today, and could be ready for visitors in just a couple of days.  Come see me!

Friday, September 3, 2010

More of the Neighborhood

by Pa Rock 
Cultural Explorer

Stand of palms at the beach
It's starting to get sticky and cloudy on Okinawa, good signs that tomorrow's anticipated typhoon may actually be heading this way.  Today as I was shopping for drapes at the Base Exchange on Kadena, I had a visit with a local national lady who works at the Exchange.  She said that Okinawa had not had a typhoon in the past three years, and now it looks as though the island will have had two in one week!  I told her that I had been here for a big one in 1972, and we decided that I must be somehow responsible for this fearful weather!

Ice cream stand  near beach with windows boarded up in
anticipation of Typhoon Kompasu

I did find the drapes - but not at Kadena.  I needed four identical panels, but Kadena only had three.  I found better ones at the Post Exchange on Camp Foster, plenty of them, and they were cheaper.  It pays to shop around!  The two big sliding glass doors (one of which covers the entire wall of the living room) are now draped.  Only two more windows to go - and then I move on to rugs!

Attached are a couple of views of my neighborhood taken last Tuesday a couple of hours before the storm.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Let's Have Another One - Just Like the Other One!

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

As I was preparing to leave work today, an email came around advising us to unplug and wrap all of our computers, telephones, and electronics in plastic garbage bags.  The reason:  another typhoon is expected to hit the island on Saturday evening..  Apparently Okinawa has not experienced any typhoons for a couple of years, and it is now literally "raining" typhoons.

Maybe this one will prove to be more exciting than the last.  I at least hope that it has a better name!

The movers returned and hauled off all of my empty boxes today, so now I officially feel at home.  Project for this weekend, barring a typhoon, will be to buy some long draperies for my patio sliding doors - two sets - and possibly a couple of nice rugs.  Nesting!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

All Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Typhoon Kompasu has come and gone, and as typhoons go, it was fairly lame.  The winds roared, I don't know at what speed, but I had occasion to step out onto my back balcony a couple of times and did not blow away.  This morning it was calm, with a light rain, and the birds were chirping.

Typhoons are unpredictable.  There is no way of knowing exactly where they will hit, or even if they will hit, until just before the event happens - and severity or force is also a crap shoot.  This one was a dud, but the next could make international headlines.  The best plan is to have a plan and be prepared.

I benefited from Typhoon Kompasu much as someone benefits from a drill.  I got to see firsthand how the military prepares and reacts, and I took a walk through my community shortly before the weather got dicey and saw the ways the local nationals got their homes and businesses ready to face the typhoon.  It was a good education. - one that could be of great importance sometime in the future.

There was no local damage.  I will try and post a couple of photos of boarded-up businesses tomorrow.