Sunday, November 28, 2010

Goodbye from the Dragon Hill!

by Pa Rock
World Traveler

It's Sunday morning and we will soon be having our last views of Seoul as we board the bus to Incheon for our flight back to Okinawa.  I am way behind on posting photos of the trip, but will try to get caught up in the next few days!

Dragon Hill Lodge, Yongsan Army Garrison
Seoul, Korea
We had a wonderful time!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Hae Dong Yong Gung Temple

by Pa Rock
World Traveler

A few more scenes from yesterday's visit to the Buddhist temple near Busan, South Korea.
The Temple
View from the Temple
Zodiac Animal Sculptures Guard the Temple 

More From Busan

by Pa Rock
View from atop the Tour Bus
World Traveler

Busan is a coastal city of 3.6 million very busy people.   It is the largest port in South Korea, and, according to my friends at Wikipedia, the fifth largest port in the world.  Our side trip to Busan was primarily a bus tour of the city, interrupted by a side trip to a Buddhist temple.  I packed light for the day, taking only a windbreaker to keep me warm -  big mistake!   The afternoon portion of our tour was atop an open-air tourist.  By the time we finally got back to Busan Station, I was freezing!  Kelly and Murphy went out for one final hour of competitive shopping while I hunkered down in the train station trying to get my blood to resume circulating!

Busan is a very beautiful metropolis with many high rise buildings and fantastic beaches and ocean vistas.
Busan Skyscraper
Busan Beach and a Bridge

Busan, South Korea

by Pa Rock
World Traveler
Rugged Coast at Hae Dong Yong Gung Temple
Golden Buddha
Yesterday while millions of Americans were shoving and elbowing themselves into discount stores, we took South Korea's famous high-speed rail from Seoul to the coastal city of Busan.   Our day in Busan included a bus tour and a separate outing to the Hae Dong Yong Gung Temple.  It was much more peaceful and relaxing than holiday shopping!

Foot Bridge Across Gorge at Temple
Here are a few photos.  More will follow.

Friday, November 26, 2010

More Thanksgiving Shots

by Pa Rock
World Traveler

Here are a couple of more random photographs from yesterday's walking trip through Seoul.
A View Inside Seoul Station
Something Fishy This Way Comes!
The Devil Made Me Take This Photo at
the Seoul Arts Center - Unfortunately,
He Didn't Make Me Center It!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Seoul Arts Center, Seoul Station, Walking Market

by Pa Rock
World Traveler

Photos taken Thanksgiving Day, 2010, Seoul, South Korea.
Me at the Seoul Arts Center
Exterior of Seoul Arts Center
The Open-Air Market
Seoul Train Station

More Photos of Seoul

by Pa Rock
Inside the Grounds at Changdeok Palace
World Traveler

Straw Sculpture Along the Street
Peace-Loving Street Tiger
Photos taken on 24 Nov 2010:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Day in Seoul

Main Entrance of Changdeok Palace
Throne Room at Changdeok Palace

by Pa Rock
World Traveler

Our little group took a bus tour of Seoul today.  The fare was a princely sum of 10,000 won per person - about ten dollars.  We got off the bus at Changdeok Palace and toured the beautiful grounds - probably a hundred or so acres in the center of Seoul.  From there we walked to the Insadong shopping district and walked about a mile along the historic shopping district.  I bought some brass wind chimes  for my kids and a collection of Korean postage stamps for Boone.  We also had lunch at an Indian place.  The meal was very unimpressive.
Kelly Gets Advice from Information

The people of Seoul were all calm - no indications that they have any concerns regarding Kim Jong Il's recent bad behavior.

Murphy and Kelly (with backpacks)
Navigate Along Insadong

The Seoul Skyline

by Pa Rock
World Traveler

My friends and I arrived at Incheon Airport last night and are staying at a five-star hotel - the Dragon Hill Lodge - at Yongsan Army Garrison in Seoul.  ("San" means mountain in Korean, and "Yong" is dragon - go figure!)  Heading out in a few minutes.  Attached is a photo of the Seoul skyline as seen from my hotel room window.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Packed Now and Waiting

by Pa Rock
World Traveler

Okay, I'm packed now and waiting on my ride.  The rest of the day will be spent at airports and on airplanes.  More to follow from Korea!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Busy Not Packing

by Pa Rock

It is Monday night on Okinawa, and I am heading to Korea tomorrow.  My friends will pick me up at my apartment at 10:15 tomorrow morning so that we can be at Naha Airport by 11:00.   Our 1:00 p.m. flight  will take us through Tokyo, and we will arrive in Incheon at about 10 o'clock tomorrow night.  From there it will be a shuttle or cab ride to our hotel in Seoul.

Several minor last-minute crises descended on me this evening, as is always the case when a deadline approaches, and consequently I have not done any packing for the trip.  The mood to pack has passed, so it will have to wait until morning.  Pressure!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Holiday Shopping

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

I tried to drive to American Village late this afternoon to do some last minute holiday shopping, but the traffic was heavy, slow, and snarly.  I eventually managed to get off of the back road and out onto Highway 58 - and headed straight for Camp Foster where I found much of what I was after at prices more reasonable than they would have been out on the local economy.

I had planned to get packages mailed home tomorrow - Monday - before leaving for Korea on Tuesday, but I forgot that the American post office on Kadena is closed on Monday's.  Now the packages will have to go out a week from Tuesday.  I hope that they get to my kids before the holidays are over!

The good news is that now they may also contain some souvenirs from Korea!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thousands of Americans Born on Okinawa

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

I read a news account the other day that reported the birth of the 1,000th baby this year at Lester Naval Hospital - or roughly one hundred babies a month.  I have mentioned before in this space that my oldest son, Nick, was born at that same hospital thirty-seven years ago.   It was called Camp Kue Army hospital at that time.

I don't know how long Camp Kue/Lester has been around, but my recollection is that it was far from new when Nick was born.  Basic ciphering would indicate that several tens of thousands of Americans have come into this world at that hospital!

Welcome all!

Friday, November 19, 2010

If It's Friday Evening, That Must Be Rain!

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

It's Friday evening on Okinawa, and of course the rain has begun...a long, slow, almost cold rain.  But I have too much to do this weekend to remain trapped in the apartment by crappy weather.

Murphy and Kelly and I are heading to Korea on Tuesday for the Thanksgiving break.  I still have to collect a few things for the trip.  I also want to get some Christmas shopping done tomorrow so that I can get it into the mail on Monday.  I expect enormous lines at Kadena's only post office after Thanksgiving. I will also do some shopping over the Internet, but that can wait until after the Korean adventure.

I've always heard that life gets simpler and the pace slows when one reaches a certain age.  Obviously I am not that old yet!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Bullhorns Are Back!

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

I need to learn more about Okinawan politics.  Just six or eight weeks ago there was an election that brought out candidates with bullhorns on their little cars circulating through my neighborhood.  There were also lots of small posters plastered all over the light posts.  Then an election must have occurred because all of the noise and litter suddenly went away.

But now the bullhorns are back and they blast through the tranquility of  my seaside neighborhood until late into the evening.  What's up with that?  Could it be like a primary election followed by a general election - to use the American model - or are different offices up for election at different times?

And what's with all the damned noise?  Can Okinawan votes really be influenced by who speaks the loudest?   Is that how Okinawan politicians get the most bang for the buck?  There is so much to learn about this culture!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sleeping Weather

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Thanksgiving is one week from tomorrow, and it is just beginning to feel like autumn on Okinawa.  The weather is in the seventies most days, sometimes reaching into the low eighties, with light breezes.  It is so much nicer than the sultry, sticky summer!

But the weather isn't all that makes me sleep better.  Yen was down to 79 to the dollar a few weeks ago, and today it was back up to 83.  If it is still there tomorrow, or hopefully even higher, I will go to the bank and buy enough to pay my rent - two weeks early!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Crime of the Century

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer  

Although Okinawa has added a north-south expressway in the forty years since I first lived here, as well as a monorail in Naha, most of the traffic heading up-or-down-island still seems to do so on Highway 58.  It was a busy traffic artery in the 1970's, and it remains so today.

I drive Highway 58, about five miles of it, getting to and from work each day.  Going to work is a breeze.  I have to get there early, and traffic moves well in the dark mornings.  The afternoons, however, are a different story.  Highway 58 is three lanes in both directions, and sometimes afternoon traffic moves at an acceptable rate - and sometimes it does not.  This afternoon the southbound traffic was constipated.  Added to the stalled traffic was the snafu of a whole fleet of police vehicles, lights flashing and sirens blaring, trying to get through!

Drivers were pulling over to the left and to the right attempting to clear a path for the emergency vehicles - five cars and five motorcycles.   The motorcycles weren't a problem because they routinely weave through traffic - all motorcycles, not just those belonging to the police - but it took some adroit moves to clear enough space for the racing caravan of police cars to slice through the traffic.  Amazingly, they all got through with out any apparent mishaps and sped on south.

I don't know what was going on, but from the sound and fury it must have been nothing less than the crime of the century!  Either that, or one helluva doughnut run!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Holiday Lights

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Even though it never snows on Okinawa, some of the communities apparently put up elaborate displays of holiday lights during the month of December.  The attached file contains some photos of holiday lighting from years past.  Time permitting, I plan to get out and enjoy some of this holiday spirit!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday at the Gym and at Home

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Today marks the end of a much needed four-day weekend.  I managed to make it to the gym where I huffed and puffed on the evil treadmill for an hour.  That was followed by a long afternoon at home doing laundry, washing dishes, and getting ready to return to work tomorrow.  This coming week I will be in the office five long days.  The following week (Thanksgiving) will start off with one day at the office followed by a trip to Korea that will consume the rest of the week.

Can Thanksgiving really be next week?  Christmas and New Year's will be rushing in very soon!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Soggy Saturday

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

The rains began before I could get out of my apartment today, and they lasted all day long.  I gave up on plans to get out and do something, opting instead to stay dry inside and do some reading and writing.  The forecast calls for more rain tomorrow.

I did have three telephone calls from the States today.  Tim, my youngest, has become a regular Saturday morning caller, and this afternoon I had two calls from my friend Valerie at Luke AFB in Arizona.  Valerie has accepted a position where I work at Kadena, and she will be arriving on island about the middle of January.  It will be good to see someone from home!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lester Naval Hospital

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Back in the day Lester Naval Hospital was known as Camp Kue Army Hospital, but a lot has changed since the first time I lived on Okinawa in the early 1970's.  Somewhere along the line the Navy took possession of the hospital, and it now serves as the primary source of medical care for most Americans on the island.  Plans are in the works to build a new military hospital at Camp Foster, and when it is complete in a couple of years, Lester will probably be razed or handed over to the government of Japan.

My oldest son, Nick, was born at Camp Kue Hospital on July 24th, 1973.  Today babies are still delivered there, on the fifth floor, in the same room where Nick entered this world.

The attached pictures were taken today.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It was a beautiful day on my island home, and I managed to spend at least some of the day away from my apartment.  I began with a necessary trip to Gunner's Fitness Center where I worked up a good sweat on the treadmill.  As I was leaving I followed a young marine out the door who, as he stepped outside, immediately lit up a cigarette.  An hour in the gym followed by a satisfying smoke - yeah, that makes sense - if you're twenty!

After my tortured time on the treadmill, I got a coke on ice and then headed off down Highway 58 trying to find the section of flea markets that I mentioned here last night.  I was able to locate the stores with no problem, but couldn't find a place to park.  Parking on Okinawa is an art.  There are never enough spaces, and what few are available are cramped and in places that are almost inaccessible by car!  I spotted a couple of parking spaces, but using them would have necessitated backing out onto Highway 58 when I was ready to leave - not a sane prospect!

The flea markets appear to be about a one-hour walk from where I live, so if tomorrow is this nice, that may be how I get my exercise.  Then, in the event that I find a chest of drawers, I guess I can walk home with it strapped to my back!  Talk about a good aerobic workout!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Long Weekend

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

This evening is the beginning of a four-day weekend for me.  I can't travel too far from my home because I am "on call" and have to be within cell phone reach of the base.  One of my errands will be to visit some of the junk shops located a few miles south of where I live.  There are a series of stores specializing in used furniture and merchandise, sort of like American flea markets, that stretch for several blocks along Highway 58.  I have company joining me in January and am in the process of getting a room ready.  To that end, I am searching for a chest of drawers.  I will also visit Lester Naval Hospital on Friday in a quest to get on their rolls for medical care.

And, if this long weekend is graced with some sunshine, a walk along the beach will be in order!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Twittering Okinawa

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

I've had a Twitter account for about a year (@PaRock), and in that time have authored about 1,500 tweets.  I enjoy the challenge of trying to pack my outbursts into 140 characters or less.  I currently follow forty-seven individuals on Twitter, and have ninety-four who follow me.  Some of those I follow are old friends and others are just people whom I have run across on Twitter and found to be interesting.

Last night I received a notice that I was being followed by a Twitter user named "okinawa2go_en".  I checked the site out, found them to be an information resource about the island of Okinawa, and decided to become a follower of that site.  Today I have received several tweets providing useful knowledge about the island.

The site informed me that today's yen rate is eighty-one to the dollar - that is an improvement of two yen over last week.  I learned that  the package of dried pastry that I bought a few weeks ago is called "sa-ta-andagi," Okinawan fried doughnuts that are much better when served warm just out of the fryer. There was also a mention of a popular lunch item called "umi-budou don" or sea grapes on rice, as well as information regarding a local festival.

I'm glad that I stumbled across this local resource. It will help me to learn more about my island home.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Of Course the Weather Was Nice Today!

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

The rain has left the island, which was to be expected because the weekend is over.  It was so nice that I had lunch in my car with the windows down, and read for an hour.  Very relaxing!

One of our group planning on going to Korea ran into a snag today.  United Airlines spelled her last name wrong - by one letter - and now they want three hundred dollars to correct their error.  Bastards!  The airlines have become very, very picky since George Bush rushed his Saudi buddies out of the U.S. immediately following 9/11, and then declared war on the rest of America's air travelers.  My friend doesn't want to tithe an extra $300 to United, and I don't blame her.

My ticket is fine.  They wouldn't dare misspell "George Clooney!"

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday Rain

Gunner's Field House
by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

It's been rainy and drizzly all day, a weather condition that I have come to anticipate on weekends.  I did make it over to the gym twice, once yesterday and once today, but am ashamed to admit the small amount of time that I spent of the treadmill.  It seems like I just couldn't get my air.  I have a four-day weekend coming up starting this Thursday, so I will use some of that time to get more serious with the exercising.  Here is a picture of Gunner's Field House on Camp Foster.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Korea Trip

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Two friends and I are headed to South Korea over Thanksgiving.  We will be gone five days and headquartered at a five-star military hotel in Seoul.  The hotel hosts many one-day excursions to various parts of the country.  My only planned outing so far is a day-long bus ride to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and (hopefully) back.  Earlier this week shots were fired across the DMZ - going both directions - for the first time in seven years, so tensions may be heightened, but hopefully that mini-adventure won't be cancelled.

The plane tickets are purchased and the rooms are reserved, so it looks like this trip will be a go.  Expect to see plenty of pictures posted right here!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Few More From Last Saturday

Traditional Okinawan Dancers and Musicians at the
Cultural Center

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Okay, here are a few more photos from our trip up-island last Saturday.  This will be the last installment from that outing - I promise!

The Pineapple Winery

A Potter Working at the Okinawan
Cultural Center
The "Piggery" at the Okinawan Cultural Center
A Pineapple Car at Pineapple Park

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

More From Last Weekend

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Here are a few more pictures of our trip up-island last weekend.  It's always nice to get away!
Thatched Roof Demonstration Building at the
Okinawan Cultural Center
A Traditional Okinawan Family Masoleum
These can be found on hillsides throughout
the island.
Nefredia, Chef John, and Murphy Outside at the
British Wine and Tea Shop

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Night - Kinda, Sorta

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

It's Tuesday night on Okinawa, but back in the States it is very early on Tuesday morning and the polls are just opening for the 2010 mid-term elections.  I voted absentee several weeks ago and mailed by ballot back to Pineville, Missouri, where, hopefully, it has already been tallied.

This isn't the first time that I have cast an absentee ballot from Okinawa.  The last time was in the general election of 1972 - the presidential election in which Richard Nixon trounced George McGovern.  I'm proud to say that I voted for McGovern.  Of course, it would have been hard to have admitted that at the time.  The U.S. military, my employer, was in the bag for Nixon - damned near openly - and they did not easily tolerate any liberal tendencies.

Back at that time I was a young officer with the United States Army.  The local officer's social roster had my name spelled wrong - I forget exactly how the spelling went, but it was unique.  The spelling was so unique that when I started receiving unwanted mail from the Republican National Committee, it was very noticeable that their misspelling of my name was the same as the Army's misspelling.

Imagine that?

For those of you too young to remember - Nixon was a corrupt slimeball.  He got his a few years later when he became the first President ever to be forced to resign from office.  If only the country would have followed my example and voted for McGovern...if only the military would have kept its nose out of politics...if only Tricky Dick's mother would have practiced better contraception...if only Checkers would have been a cat!

Monday, November 1, 2010

American Radio On Okinawa

Nefredia and Murphy Figuring Out My Car Radio
by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

There are two American radio stations on Okinawa, both run, more or less, by the military.  The FM station has a playlist of about ten songs, mostly hard rock from the eighties along with a couple of rap selections, and one or two sad country songs.  And while the country songs are awfully pitiful, they are not nearly as sad as the radio station itself:  WAVE 89.

I had heard that the other station was more intelligent - an AM outlet that is basically rebroadcasts of NPR programs in the morning and talk radio reruns in the afternoon.  My house radio wouldn't pick that station up for some unknown reason - it just screeches, and my car radio wasn't working because I couldn't figure out how to operate it.  This weekend while we were on our trip up-island, Nefredia tackled the car radio and got it to working.  It is now set on the AM station and I don't mess with any of the controls except the volume.

It is good to hear NPR again, but the talk radio is another matter.  Today as I went to lunch I was disgusted to hear Sean Hannity on the air.  That jerk is really a trash-mouth!   I finally had to turn the sound completely off as he was preparing to introduce Christine O'Donnell - the Delaware politician who recently told Delaware Republican officials that she has Sean Hannity in her "back pocket."  That got to be a tight fit!  Tonight on the ride home I was treated to Ed Schultz's show.  He is as left as Hannity is right - only much funnier!  Limbaugh's show is also featured sometime in the afternoon, but, Praise Allah, I managed to miss that Missouri pork chop!