Saturday, April 30, 2011

This Week on the Island

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

My youngest, Tim, and his beautiful wife, Erin, were supposed to be on Okinawa this week.  Their plan was to stay from last Saturday through this past Friday, and then fly on to Tokyo for a weekend in the big city.  But then the earthquake and tsunami happened, and plans changed.

Erin is pregnant and did not want to risk the weekend in Tokyo do to the radiation scare - and the airlines wanted as much to alter their tickets than they cost in the first place.  So now they have credits that are good for a year.

I miss my family terribly and wish that someone could visit, but that just doesn't seem to be happening.   The earthquake and tsunami seemed to take the shine off of Japan.  That's a pity.  Okinawa literally was not affected by the disaster.

But things happen for a reason, I suppose.  This week we had two solid days of rain, and I am suffering from multiple ailments - my shoulder pain remains, though it is getting better one month on, and I have had a serious hacking cough all week that is also finally starting to get better.  So all in all, it probably wasn't the best week for company.

Yesterday I went back for my second session with Robert, the massage therapist.  Just about everyone where I work uses his services, and I believe that he is the reason that my shoulder is finally showing some improvement.  I went to the gym later, but the treadmill aggravated my hacking cough so much the whole place began looking at me like I was carrying the plague.  I left after five minutes.

Today I had to get out, so I headed to Torii Beach where I bagged some sea glass and a few odd shells.  The beach was great - not many people,  and I was able to cough and spit at will!  Tomorrow friends and I have plans to take the ferry to Ie Island - the place where famous World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed by a Japanese sniper.  There is an Easter Lily festival on Ie Island this week.

But the forecast is calling for rain...

Friday, April 29, 2011

Kiko and the Battle of Okinawa

by Pa Rock

Cultural Explorer

The Kadena Base Exchange as well as most other Base and Post Exchanges world-wide have annex areas on their property where local vendors lease stores and floor  space to sell their wares.  Last year I had shopped at one of these annex stores at Kadena and came away with some great oriental goods for holiday gifts.  A pleasant, older lady had waited on  me then.  Today when I went back into that same store to look around, she was again on duty.

The Okinawan saleslady was obviously somebody's revered grandmother.  She was stylishly dressed, and her white hair had strong hints of lavender and even a bit of pink.   She was puttering around dusting, but as I was her only customer and had already selected a couple of items to purchase, she quickly engaged in conversation.

Kiko told me that she was born on Okinawa in 1937 and had been eight-years-old during the Battle of Okinawa.  I already knew some of how brutal things were during the war for the residents of Okinawa.  They were subjects of the Japanese at the outbreak of the war, though Okinawa had been an independent kingdom for several hundred years and most did not really consider themselves to be Japanese.  But the Japanese brought its war machine to Okinawa in full-force in a final all-out attempt to keep the Americans from reaching the Japanese mainland.

Some of the worst fighting of the war occurred on this small island during the nearly three months that the battle raged.  Okinawan men were conscripted into the Japanese military, and their families were left to fend for themselves.  By the time the siege had ended, the island was decimated and the locals who survived were literally living hand-to-mouth.

Kiko told me that she was born in Yomitan City, a community about ten miles north of the present Kadena Air Base.  She had four brothers who were taken south to fight in defense of the capital, Naha, and of those four, only one survived the battle.  She said that she and her mother fled Yomitan, along with many others, and headed north to the larger city of Nago on foot.  She said they would walk all night and hide during the day.

Kiko said that after the Americans won the battle they began gathering up the locals.  She said that she and her mother were captured and placed in a large military truck and taken to a camp.  She was very scared.  When they arrived at a camp, the Americans tried to feed her, but her mother told her that she must not eat what they were providing.  She said one American tried to give her a chocolate bar, but when her mother stopped her from taking it, the GI unwrapped it and took a bite himself to show that it was okay.  Then, she said, her mother permitted her to eat the candy.

Kiko-san had a lovely smile and even managed to laugh a few times as she told me her war story.  She said that after she grew up she moved to mainland Japan for a few years, but finally came home to Okinawa.  Although at seventy-three she could be retired, she didn't want to be at home doing nothing.  Today she has two part-time jobs - one at the Kadena Airport, and the other selling goods and chatting with Americans at the Base Exchange.  She said that she likes Americans very much.

And I liked her!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Night on the Beach

by Pa Rock
Cultural Observer

From Left:  Nefredia, Kelly, Daniel, Leni, Me, Valerie, 
Gary, Carolyn, and Ron
Friends and I spent yesterday evening strolling along Araha Beach, gathering for dinner at a Nepalese Restaurant, and then returning to the beach to watch a fireworks display.  The beach was packed with kids, sun worshipers, jugglers, and drunks who all seemed to fold into a  pleasant mosaic of humanity.   The breeze off of the East China Sea was far more intoxicating than the ice chests full of Bud Lite that the young servicemen and their tattooed girlfriends were toting up and down the sandy shore - but that is a type of appreciation that undoubtedly comes with age!
A local restaurant
Bartender jugglers on the beach

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Okinawan Hospital

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

My friend Valerie who stayed with me when she first arrived on Okinawa has been caught up in a medical crisis for the past two weeks.  She brought her motor scooter to Okinawa thinking it would be a convenient way to get around.  A couple of weeks ago she took the driving test on base at Kadena to qualify for a license to drive it here, but she failed that test because the instructor felt that she did not drive aggressively enough.   On Monday, the 28th of March, she went to the safety lot on base where he scooter was being kept to practice driving more aggressively.  Unfortunately, the practice went badly, the scooter fell over, and Valerie broke her arm in a couple of places.

Then she began the long, painful process of learning how to get care on this island.  Our only military hospital put her in a cast, but could not perform the corrective surgery because the lacked the small parts necessary to repair the breaks.  After much negotiating with her insurance company and contracting agency, she was finally approved for surgery at a local Okinawan hospital.  That surgery occurred two or three days ago, and she be in residence at the hospital five more days.

Valerie is now pleased that she wound up in an Okinawan hospital.  She feels that the care she is receiving is excellent - although she doesn't particularly like the food.

My friend Murphy and I went to see her today.  After visiting for awhile she revealed that she would really like a bologna and cheese sandwich.  We took a break, went shopping, and eventually returned with two sandwiches made just the way she likes them, some Easter candy, microwave popcorn, and magazines.

The hospital was very busy.  Many of the rooms, such as the one she was in, house six patients.  All of her neighbors, of course, are Okinawan and don't speak English.  But Valerie seems quite happy and appears to be healing nicely.
Valerie Seitz and Daniel Murphy