Saturday, February 26, 2011

Grilling and Temples and Castles, OH MY!

Last night our neighbors took us out for our first real meal off base. Dear Lord, was I glad we were not alone! I don't remember the name of the restaraunt, but I do remember that it had some very bright sparkly lights flashing all around the sign. Seriously, these were the kind of lights that make a girl feel epileptic! Now, everything in Japan is bright and flashy, but these lights were on a whole new level. I am sure we wouldn't have trouble finding the restaraunt again at night time.
This was one of those all you can eat and "cook it yourself" places. We walked in and paid about 2,000 yen (about $20) each and were taken to our table. Each booth has a small little cooking pit in the middle. The menu was unlike anything I've ever seen. Most of it was in Japanese and had pictures, so we just pointed to whatever we wanted. Turf and I each tried a taco salad (which in Japan is white rice, lettuce, meat, and tomatoes...really different, but not bad), I had a cesaer salad (complete with the smallest crutons I have ever seen), a plate of chicken, a combo plate of steak and chicken, white rice, and drinks. The first few pieces of meat that Turf tried to cook were terribly burnt, but the rest was excellent! We all ate with chopsticks, and felt very accomplished. Ice cream was also included with the price, which made me very happy :)
Honestly, I don't know how we would have fared had we been by ourselves. Our neighbors had been there a couple of times and have also been in Okinawa for a while, so they know more about how to order. Turf and I were completely confused. We did learn some new words that will come in handy: Onegai shimasu (please), futatsu (two of an object), hitotsu (one of an object), and mittsu (three of an object). So, to order two rice bowls, we would point at the rice and say "futatsu onegai shimasu". I have no idea how to say rice yet, so I will stick to pointing.
Here is a picture of our little set up! I did see some vegetables on the menu, so I might try to round out the meal by ordering those next time as well!

He's going to slap me for putting this picture of him up! But we found this random temple/shrine as we were driving around looking for this sunflower field that I had heard about (which we never found). Sadly, I don't know what the name of it is :( I have no idea if we were supposed to be there, as we didn't see any other Americans around. There was a gate directly in front of this building that had hundreds of little prayer/fortune papers tied to it- omikuju, I'm told they are called. Anyway, we looked inside and saw that in the corner they were selling little trinkets, so I figured they wouldn't mind us going in. We walked in, took off our shoes, and sat down in front of the shrine. At that point, we really weren't sure what we were supposed to do, and Turfy was feeling insecure about us being there, so we waited a few minutes and then left. As soon as we left, we heard drumming and chanting, so we went back to the entrance and looked in on the little ceremony that was going on. A sweet little Japanese lady motioned for us to come in, so off went the shoes and this time we sat a little farther back from the two ladies in front. It seemed like some sort of blessing or something, because they waved this thing over their heads and the ladies left with something. Just goes to show how educated I am on this stuff. In any case, the inside of the temple was beautiful and elaborate. There was a definite sense of peace and calm within the temple, and even though we don't practice that religion, we appreciated the serenity of it. I have heard it is a big deal to visit a temple/shrine on New Years Day in Japan, so that's on my To-Do list.

Our last stop of the day wasthe Nakagusuku Castle ruins. Again, this was a really beautiful place with a lot of history and great views. One thing we really liked was that we were able to climb the steps of the castle and explore most of it. The legendary Ryukyuan commander, Gosamaru, built the fortress in the early 15th century to defend against attacks from the east by Lord Amawari of Katsuren Castle. The six courtyards of this fortress with stacked stone walls make it a prime example of a gusuku.

This is one of the pictures we took from the 1st enclosure of the castle. Behind me is a great view of the Pacific Ocean.
Once we were done exploring the castle, we ordered some apple-mango ice cream as we were leaving. I practiced my new words by pointing and saying "futatsu onegai shimasu" and was pleasantly surprised when the girl understood me! Now that we are home, I have learned that apparently there is an abandoned, haunted hotel right below the ruins. We just may have to go back to check it out!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Sneak Peak at Okinawa

This was one of the first pictures I took in Okinawa. It was the view we had from the parking lot in our temporary lodging. obviously, the base is not the best looking thing, but I was really impressed with all of the green!

Our 1st new car. This baby was a whole whopping $3500 and one of the only cars that Turf was able to fit comfortably in. It looks like a minivan, but is actually much smaller than a standard van, even a "Japanese" standard van.

This is a bit odd and hard to get used to. I have no idea what this says, and can only recognize some of the symbols I see while driving around town.

This is the ferris wheel in American Village. Our sponsor told us that it moves so slowly it is hard to tell that it is even moving, and he says it moves at that speed all the time. We plan to take a ride on it, but I guess we'll need to set aside part of an afternoon!

This was one of the first pictures of the ocean that I took. The beaches here are different. The "sand" is not very comfy to walk along, as it is more shell and coral than actual sand. I know there are beaches on the island that have finer sand, but we have not visited those yet. But look how clear the water was! I can definitely see why people dive and snorkel here. Just from the surface we could see tons of bright blue fish swimming around. Really pretty!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

First Exploration!

We moved into the apartment on Friday night and by Saturday we had unpacked all of our 6 bags of clothes that we had brought with us. Things are pretty dang empty in here so far, and it definitely doesn't feel very "homey" yet. Correction: The walls are not concrete. This is good. But the place really does look like it was converted from a school. The floors look like the floors throughout my high school, and both bathrooms resemble locker rooms, meaning they have those tiny little tiles all over the floor and up the walls. The place is pretty large- 1200 sq ft. which is much needed with our crazy large dog. At least I don't have to worry about him damaging the floors ;)
On a happier note, there is a TON of freaking storeage in this place. I have more cabinets than I know what to do with, and same goes for closet space throughout the house. I'm sure once we get our shipments from the states we'll have more than we are remembering to fill it up with though! At the moment, we are using government furniture (I think the name describes the look) and some not-very-good pots and pans. I miss my kitchen stuff the most! I did buy my first wall art and area rug though, which I was pretty excited about!

Today we ventured off base for the first time (actually, it was the second. The first time was by accident when we drove waaay past the gate to another base and ended up too far North and very lost. Note to self: if ever lost, find the yankees and follow closely!). We headed over to American Village, which has some American-like shopping and dining. The first stop was at a Jusco which basically was like a Japanese Mall/Walmart/Grocery store all rolled in to one. I was happy to find some nice curtains (the base selection is terrible) and toooooons of places that I wanted to buy some clothes. We ordered some french fries and the McDonalds and were thrilled that they tasted just as they do in the states. Don't ask me why, but I expected a difference. Turf experienced his first encounter with a mini fish market and was completely grossed out at the fish bodies for sale in the same building that sold electronics.
I was actually on the hunt for this fabric store that I had heard about, but we never did find it. The whole place seemed very different from being on base (obviously) and out in town. We almost felt like we were in Disneyland, minus the abundance of rides. We found some of the alcohol we had heard about that has the Habu snake bodies inside, yes- inside!, the bottle. Turf hates snakes a threw a minor tantrum when I tried to buy it. We didn't hang out for too long, but we did walk around most of the village and plan to go back and stay longer in the next couple of weekends.
On our way home, we stopped at a "tropical beach", which was tropical but not the white sand tropical that we just experienced in Cancun. The sand was more coral and shells than actual sand, but the water was clear and blue and there were these tiny little bright blue fish swimming all around the reef that extended past the beach. Pretty cool place, but I'm hoping to see some more beach action in the future.
I had my first awkward run in with some Japanese girls leaving the beach. As we were sitting in our car getting ready to back out of our parking space, this Japanese girl started smiling and waving at me like crazy. I smiled back, turned around to make sure she wasn't waving to someone else, and then waved back. But she didn't stop waving. She stared at me and waved as we were reversing, and her friend came up and started smiling and waving too. I had no idea what was going on, until the second girl started pointing at her head. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but I'm pretty sure this was about my hair. They continued to stare as we drove away, me with my nervous smile plastered on my face.
More to come next week!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Boomer, We're Not In...Oregon Anymore!

Wow, what a crazy week!
Obviously, we made it to Okinawa safely. The 11 hour flight was LONG, but the entire travel aspect was really easy and I was so proud of how well boomer did! Everything worked out for housing- we will be living in a pet friendly apartment in a tower unit, 1st floor. So, Saturday is moving day, and most likely painting day!
I will post pictures once I get everything set up, but basically we are living in a cement block that looks like it was built in the 50's. The walls are concrete white and there are old-school tile floors. The kitchen countertops are all stainless steel-like. I'm sure to have fun keeping that clean ;)
Wednesday we went to a newcomer's brief. They gave us a lot of information for different things on base (Family Readiness, Safety, Etc). I don't know that I learned a lot, because there was a SCREAMING 2 year old the entire 8 hours. Seriously, this kiddo did not stop. And mom wasn't much help. At one point she told him he was "such an asshole". NICE.
Here's what I did learn:
In Japanese culture, it is customary to offer money as a sign of sympathy and apology. For example: If a service member is caught trespassing on a Japanese person's property, that service member is advised to go to the home and offer money (maybe $50). This would be seen as an apology and the Japanese person would in turn not pursue legal action. Sounds like a bribe, right? But I guess in Japan that's normal.
No matter how a traffic accident takes place, it will be my fault. Awesome!
Service members get drunk and stupid. And the military HATES dealing with it (duh). It was definitely a "come to Jesus" warning to not do anything ridiculous and illegal.
All in all, the brief was pretty boring, but we did get to take our driver's tests afterwards. We both passed and are now licensed drivers in Okinawa. However, my first experience driving was rather terrifying. I keep wanting to drive on the right hand side, I keep hitting the windshield wipers instead of the turn signals (they are on the opposite sides as well), I hit the WRONG turn signals (you push down to signal right and up to signal left. REVERSED!), and I have no idea how I'm going to negotiate intersections. YIKES!
We bought a car, and its nerdy. Turf had a hard time fitting his 6'3" body into the vehicles over here, and  we ended up buying the car that was most comfortable for him. We now are the proud owners of a Toyota Specia (I think). Its a smaller than a van, larger than a station wagon. And Turf totally looks like he should be toting 5 kids around.
Fun Fact: There are yellow and white license plates over here. Yellow plates are usually what the Japanese drive, and they have smaller engines. White plates have the larger engines, and many Americans drive those. A lot of the white plates also have a "Y" on them....which stands for YANKEE. Racism much??
The Japanese also decorate their dashboards out like an 8th grade locker. They love furry dashmats and cuddle animals.
So far, I haven't had too much of a culture shock. We've been cooped up on base in temporary lodging (experiencing many false fire alerts) without a car. Now that we have a car, we will be practicing driving on base as much as possible before venturing out into those crazy Okinawan streets. Did I mention there are also crazy moped and motorcycle drivers that weave in and out all over the road? And that if they run into me, its still my fault? The weather also hasn't been excellent, but is starting to warm up.
Speaking of weather- I experienced my first earthquake today! There have been 3 since we got here, but I didn't feel the first two. Today as I was sitting on my couch and watching my shows that I am used to watching at night time, I started shaking. At first, I thought I was going crazy, because it was very small. Then, I looked across the room, and all of the chords were shaking as well! Turns out it was a 6.4 mag earthquake! Lucky for us, the buildings here are "built to withstand" strong quakes. As we will be living on the bottom floor with 8 stories of concrete on top of us, we can only hope.
Can I just say that I love my friends who have kids? I have no problem having friends with children, I love kiddos, but seriously, every person I have met who is also staying in temporary lodging has kids! One girl at the newcomers brief has a baby and "one on the way"....which I later found out meant that she wasn't really pregnant but was actually trying to get pregnant and was waiting on some test results. Hmmmm, I didn't know you could claim to be pregnant if you weren't yet pregnant? Anyway, she was completely appalled when I told her that Turf and I are not planning on having babies for quite some time. She looked at me like I was crazy.
I'm hoping to meet some good friends without babies to add to my group of friends with children :)
So, to close out, I promise I will post some pictures soon! We are still adjusting to jet lag, so being awake at 9:00 pm is a big step forward- but I'm exhausted!
Thank you everyone for the prayers!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Prayers Please

We have travel dates.
Please don't let anything go wrong for Boomer, please don't let anything go wrong for Boomer.

We are praying he has a safe flight and doesn't get too stressed out. That he will just sleep through the long flight and land as happy and healthy as he is when I drop him off.

We are praying for everything to go well with his import at the airport, that they will let us continue on to Okinawa from Tokyo with him and that nothing unexpected happens.

We are praying for 95% housing occupancy so we can live off base, and keep him with us.