Cuisine, Critters and creepy crawlies

Our lives have been so busy it seems like I am sleeping better than ever because there never is a dull moment. On Friday I went to my tutor’s house for the first time. She is lives in a traditional Japanese home. As you walk into the house there is a long tiled area so that you can take off your shoes before entering the house. Then there are 3 steps up into the house. To the left is a rice paper screen for the tatami mat room. Traditionally this is a sleeping area but they have it covered so that the children may use it as a study room. To the right is their living room area. It has beautiful hard wood floors and the most amazing ceiling. There was a recessed area in the ceiling that was framed in the same dark wood as the floor. In the frame was a beautiful pattern that appeared almost like embroidery in rich cream and gold tones.  During our lesson we used her children’s flashcards to work on my grocery vocabulary. I am improving but I get frustrated at times because I revert to Spanish quite often when I’m searching for a word. G and my tutor both keep telling me I’m doing great. I’ll just need to keep practicing.
After my lesson I met back up with G and went to lunch with him, his coworkers and their wives. We had a delicious Thai lunch then did some running around. It’s nice to have a group that is willing to do things as couples, especially since they want to explore the island just as much as we do. Later that evening G and I had date night. We ate at our favorite Italian place where the appetizer special for the night was prosciutto wrapped mango slices. AMAZING!!! For dinner I had anchovy pasta, which is kind of like an alfredo sauce. It is not fishy at all, it’s subtle and delicious. When came back to the house and sat on the back porch, watching the sun set and listened to music. It was the perfect ending to the day.
 On Saturday we picked up my car from the shop then went exploring. We wanted to go snorkeling again but there was a caution sea condition warning for the East China Sea side of the island so we drove to the Pacific side. I had done some research on the best areas on the east side of the island but it’s hard to follow directions here sometimes because many of the streets do not have names. We drove over a long bridge and into the mountains. We found a beach called Ton hama. The beach was clean and staffed with very kind people. It is a smaller beach so only about 8 cars can park there at one time.  We geared up and headed in.  Since there were not any coral reefs the fish were few and far between, the only exception was there about 6 fish decided I was a good person to swim with and they swam at my side the entire time. J About an hour into swimming I almost swam into a jellyfish! I freaked out! I swam backwards as quickly as I could, which is not easy, and got G’s attention. All he had to say was “cool”. I wasn’t near as calm as he was. We swam around the jellyfish and to the other side of the beach. We saw another jellyfish on that side so I called it quits. From then on we stayed near the beach searching for sea glass and cool shells.
When I was too cold to be in the water any longer I we went back to the staff and told them about the jellyfish. 6 of the workers jumped into the water with pool nets and caught the suckers. When they pulled them out of the net they confirmed that they were box jellyfish, which are extremely dangerous and painful. One worker even got stung by it. He said it only itched; he poured vinegar on it and said he was good to go but I think he was trying to be macho. So we loaded up, and headed back to shower quickly and go to dinner with G’s coworkers.
We went to a Kobe beef restaurant, it is so delicious! Then we walked around American Village and indulged in melon and pomegranate raspberry frozen yogurt.
Sunday we worked on our cars for most of the day then ran to the hardware store for a few things. Before I even got out of the car G spotted a LARGE spider on my window. Thank goodness it was on the outside because his legs were about 4 inches in length. I have seen a few of these around here and I am told that they are not poisonous but they do give you one heck of a scare when you see one!  Since we were so tired and starving we went to a local sushi restaurant for dinner. I have never had salmon so fresh in my entire life. It quite literally melted in my mouth. For our shared main course we had a sashimi salad. It was varied salad greens, Japanese cucumbers,  tomatoes, salmon, tuna, squid, bream and some other fish that I have no clue what it is, topped with a house Italian dressing. With all of the great foods we are eating, I’m glad that we’re staying so active.
We are both very happy and healthy here. I am so grateful to have this amazing opportunity where we are truly living in paradise. I do miss our family and friends back home but I am so ready to have visitors so that we can share this beautiful place with you.


Life’s a beach

Since I have last blogged we have had some amazing adventures. We went to Zanpa Beach, a wonderful resort area with clean beaches and a roped off swimming area. Even the drive to Zanpa is amazing. There are 3 churches’ along the road that are white stucco with large windows facing the sea. When the light hit the largest church, which is nestled in large gardens of pink, orange and yellow hibiscus complimenting the gorgeous view of the blue green of the sea it quite literally took my breath away. I told G that I wanted to renew our vows there. It was truly beautiful and quite a contrast to what we saw once we got to the beach area.  
It’s funny to see the differences between what is appropriate swim wear according to where people are from. The local’s wear long pants, shirts that cover their arms and huge bonnets, sometimes with scarves to cover their faces as well. I have been told this is because they do not want to appear dark to the mainlanders. I do not know how they can stand the heat with all of that clothing. The Europeans wear Speedo’s and postage stamp bikinis, regardless of age or body type. We had a good time people watching. While at Zanpa we rented a water trike. This was so much fun! We pedaled out to the reef against the wind and tide while the gears were slipping; it was a workout but so much fun. The water was so clear you could see very far down and it was hard to not just jump in and explore. We played a bit more until we felt the midday sun getting a bit too warm then we went and explored the outdoor shops looking for snorkeling and fishing gear. The lures cracked me up. There was one about the size of my fist that was wooden, when you flipped the packaging over you saw stickers that you can apply to make your own scale pattern. For some reason this just made me giggle. I could just picture my father playing with stickers trying to make his own lure. J
For my Japanese lessons this week we went to the local farmers market and grocery store armed with my Japanese cookbook, shopping bags and plenty of yen. I have been quite curious about several items I have seen but had no idea what they were so my tutor helped me figure it out. Since she is from Sapporo some items were new to her as well. With her help I was able to find out from the farmers how to choose the produce since I had no clue if it was ripe or not. From all of the shopping I was able to make 4 new recipes, some are way better than others but it is all part of my cultural assimilation so I’m good with it.
The following weekend G took me dancing at the officers club on base where I got to meet more of his coworkers and their wives. Everybody was so nice and fun! We enjoyed laughing and dancing the night away, something we haven’t done in a very long time. The next morning we headed to Maeda Point to go snorkeling with our dancing buddies from the night before. I was a bit apprehensive at first since I had never tried it before. To get to the beach you have to walk down a steep, narrow set of stairs to the coral reef. We bobbed in the shallow waters struggling to get our fins on all the while trying not to step on the dozens of sea urchins at our feet. We waded a bit further out and I tried to use my snorkel. This freaked me out for a moment because I wanted to exhale through my nose but G stuck by me and I got things back under control. Then I was able to lose myself in the beauty of the sea.  The colors of coral, plants, fish and other critters were beyond my wildest imagination! Aquariums may try to emulate it but they pale in comparison to the real thing. We saw angel fish, a puffer, parrot fish, clown fish, a barracuda and several others that I have no clue of how to describe. One of our friends picked up a starfish for us to touch; surprisingly it just felt like another piece of coral. I can’t wait to get my own gloves so I can explore the bottom of the sea more. We also swam into a cave where you couldn’t see what was below you until you reached the back of it where there was an opening in the rocks where the sunlight peeked through. The swim in was scary but the swim back to the open sea was phenomenal! We got to see all the schools of fish we had just past.  They were swimming in circles almost as if they were one being, perfectly choreographed in an underwater ballet.
After 3 hours of snorkeling and very pruney hands we decided to go back home. I cannot wait to go again. Hopefully our friend will send us the pictures he took so that we can share them with all of you.


From Tornado Alley to Typhoon Alley

I have finally started my Japanese lessons. My tutor is an amazing military wife who has the patience of a saint. J We began with simple phrases that are commonly used in daily conversation the first day.  She has based her lessons on the communicative theory- where daily immersion into the culture along with application of language will build my vocabulary.  So far this has been great. I have been able to order in restaurants, shop and interact with native okinawans with minimal confusion.  Each lesson we work on grammar, culture, current Japanese events, food and arts & crafts. The second lesson we worked on creating sentences with the word “desu”. Which means “is”, for example, “ Kore wa watashi-no shujin dess.” Means this is my husband. We have also worked on pronunciation and phrasing of words, whew! It sounds like a lot but it is relatively easy since she is such a patient person. Every lesson she also brings a type of food for me to try. This week it was nata de coco (?). A flan or jello like coconut milk snack with lichee fruit in it. It was very good and her 1 year old daughter was more than happy to share it with me. Our first art project was origami, my former students would have been proud that I remembered some of it. We also read a baby book, this sounds funny but it was to illustrate how in Japanese everything has a word for a sound, from water dripping to snow falling. I’m fascinated with everything that I’m learning and loving the culture more and more with each experience.
Last weekend G and I had a daytime date at American Village. We went to a Thai restaurant where I was able to apply my “homework phrases”. I was very proud of myself when we got everything we wanted and I even got complimented on my pronunciation. Later that evening we went to a party with the international research student crew from 2 weeks ago. The Argentineans were giving tango lessons and cooking empanadas. The Brit who is visiting kept saying, “I don’t know what this is but it looks like a pasty, so that’s what I’m going to call it”. HAHA. I told her she can come over and I will make her pasty’s. Later in the evening another gent from England and the conversation wandered into American slang and British slang, before G and I knew it we were having a lesson in cockney slang. I felt like I was in a Guy Richie movie. But, I now know that the term “raspberries” came from cockney slang. It started with raspberry tart, which rhymes with fart which is why when we make the pthhh sound we call it giving raspberries.
On Sunday the typhoon warning was upgraded so we had to move all of the plants inside, thank goodness for a second bathroom- G now sings “Welcome to the Jungle” whenever he walks past it. Even though it was a pain I am grateful that we did move it all inside the winds whipped harder than I have ever heard in Oklahoma. While waiting for the storm to arrive we decided it still wasn’t too bad so we went to a yakiniku restaurant where you order the different types of meats and vegetables and then cook it at your table. Delicious! The best part is that I didn’t have any dishes afterwards. J The winds and rain finally hit here around 10 pm. All of our dehumidifiers were glugging trying to keep up, so we just snuggled down and watched in amazement how the winds whipped the rain and trees with such power.
Tuesday it was still raining quite a bit and G even had to pull a stranded motorist out of a huge puddle on the way home. The road had flooded so much that it was over his knees and soaked the floorboard of the Pajero. (It smells so great now-YUCK!) By the time we left on Wednesday for base all of the flooding had disappeared.
Wednesday morning I finally signed up for the driver’s safety briefing, took my test and got my “professional” drivers license.  I did drive a bit around base and a little off base; I was comfortable with driving on the left hand side of the road I just need to work on hugging the center line more since the roads here are so narrow. We did a bit of car shopping after I got my license, I climbed into a hot little 2 seater convertible that was in our price range then  looked more closely at the steering wheel- IT WAS COVERED IN MOLD! No wonder it was on sale, disgustingly fuzzy little car. So, needless to say, I’m still looking.


Life's a beach

Yesterday G was able to get off of work early so we went to Torii beach. The first thing I noticed was how different the beach was from US beaches. It was covered in pieces of coral and the sand was soft and clean. Since it was low tide we were able to wade out about a hundred yards without ever getting over our knees. As we waded out there wasn’t any plant life for the first 20 yards or so and it was so clear. The further we walked the more sea cucumbers we saw; initially this was a little unnerving since they are long and black with little orange/red knobs on their bodies and some were over a yard in length! (Not exactly something you see in Oklahoma lakes). But they didn’t pay us any attention so we just navigated around them. J As we continued to explore further we came across coral reefs where we could poke around tide pools. It’s amazing how much life is in each little area. I wish that we had a water proof camera so that we could share the beautiful sights. We walked the beach and picked up shells, G even found a 500 yen coin. There was very little litter on the beach and the smell was salty bliss, not stinky like the Gulf. I can hardly wait to explore other beaches.
Once we got home and cleaned up we met up with 3 other American friends and went to dinner. They wanted to go to the Italian restaurant that is around the corner, it’s where I got the fish dinner the other night. By the way I still do not know what kind of fish that was, except its native to the Okinawa area only and very tasty. Two of our friends had never been there we ordered several items that we love so that they would be able to sample quite a bit of the menu. For appetizers we had brushetta this is phenomenal here they do a variation in the ingredients compared to the states here it is a sliced baguette topped with tomatoes, capers, small slivers of garlic and fresh herbs; we also had marinated octopus topped with daikon, capers, fresh herbs and several other ingredients that I have no clue what they are except delectable. We also had smoked salmon and a cheese and fruit plate that had dried dates, kiwi and apricots along with 4 different hard cheeses. Amazingly enough we still had room for dinner. I ordered another new dish off the menu, anchovy linguine. The sauce was subtle and delicious, hints of spicy heat from small red chilies- I learned the hard way NOT to eat these! My tongue was on fire for about 5 minutes after I accidently ate one. Bellies full and the mild night air helped our conversation to flow for several hours. We discussed our experiences on the island, how warm and kind the Okinawans are and how many people on base are missing out because they are stuck on all things American, instead of exploring this wonderful opportunity. I have arranged for a Japanese tutor to come to my house this next week so that I can build my vocabulary, cultural knowledge as well as Japanese cooking techniques. I’m very excited to see how much more I will learn and be able to experience once I have a better handle on the language and culture.


The stuff that dreams are made of….

Last year at this time I was working two jobs during my summer vacation; this year I’m living on a tropical island, not working outside of the home, just enjoying quality time with my husband-wild. I never would’ve thought that this would be my reality. The longer I am here, the more I love the people, the culture, and the pace of life.  I do not think that I have been this relaxed in years, it is so nice.
For example, we went to dinner with some of G’ coworkers at a hibachi restaurant two weeks ago, we had a wonderful dinner with great conversation then walked around the area called American Village. One of his coworkers then took us to a friend’s business that was just opening. When walking in I was amazed at the difference between American lounges and Okinawan. There were only 6 stools and 2 L shaped couches, this is typical here. In fact, it is nearly impossible to get a restaurant to cater to a party of 10 or more. While we were at the lounge the owner/host was more than gracious, he tolerated my broken Japanese and was the perfect host. He offered us a snack of his mother’s homemade pickled gobo. This was delicious! The flavor was a bit like bacon bits. Bacon bit flavored vegetables, what’s not to love. After thanking our host we continued to walk the area, I have never felt as comfortable walking around at night as I do here. Everyone we passed said hello. It’s kind of like being in a country town at times.
Another evening G and I were trying to go to our local Italian restaurant but it was closed, so we ventured into a sushi restaurant across the street. Usually, the restaurants we go to have an American menu (one with pictures) this one did not, but surprisingly I wasn’t intimidated. We ordered sashimi and tempura, the fish was so fresh it melted in my mouth. I never realized sashimi could taste so good, what we’ve been eating in the states pales in comparison. Again the people here were kind and accommodating, they even smiled when I got out my Japanese phrase book to ask questions, they did not get frustrated or impatient with me at all. Because of this, I am more willing to continue to try speaking Japanese since I have been receiving such positive support from everyone.
Last Friday we went to our neighbor’s party. He is a Brit working at a local university and is also a concert flutist, which is lovely when we plays with the windows open the notes float down the hill and float into our house as well. This is so much nicer than the child who used to practice his trumpet in Dallas J
The people there were amazing. The university hires 50% Japanese researchers and 50% foreigners. As we walked in the host immediately ushered me in for pictures with the others, they were being silly and doing human pyramids. So we started off giggling and the evening continued on the same fun note. I had to step back a few times and digest that we were really discussing medical research with a Frenchman who has a patent on a new drug to treat the swelling in the brain for advanced cases of malaria. Some of the other guests were from England, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Argentina, and the Canary Islands, all over Asia and DelawareJ. Their research was just as fascinating, ranging from oceanography to physics. I was in awe that so many people are working on research that I have only read about and here I was listening to their theories and how they came to the point that they are at now. The whole evening was mesmerizing to say the least.
I am loving it here, tapping into the adventurous side that I had previously forgotten. I cannot wait to experience new things each and every day.


Johnny 5 need input!

I have begun to laugh at myself a lot more as of late. I am in overload in regard to the amount of new information, language and customs and trying to decipher everything. Most signage here is in the traditional Japanese characters, sometimes it is coupled with with English letters. G has told me over the years that a consonant does not stand along, it always goes with a vowel sound therefore I am reading every sign in my head trying to sound it out before saying it. We were at Aeon, the large grocery/mall, the other day and I felt like I was doing really well. I had ordered my own food, got a tea refill, figured out the money and checked out in the grocery store. On the way home I was reading all of the signs, off in my own little world, when I came across a sign that when sounded out according to Japanese alphabet rules would have been Po Pee Ye. I was confused for a moment because those aren’t sounds that I am familiar with in the language. I tried again with the same results-then promptly burst out laughing because the signage was PoPeYe- flippin’ POPEYE! When I told G he shook his head and just laughed along with me. I said that I wasn’t going to be an American that misses out on the culture but maybe I need to dial it back a bit and remember my English language rules as well. J
Tonight, we went to dinner at a Hawaiian restaurant it was phenomenal! I ordered the cobb salad which had smoked salmon, avocado, boiled shrimp and egg and topped with a citrus vinegar dressing that was to die for! We also ordered dessert, Okinawan cheesecake. It isn’t as dense as American cheese cake and it was served with a small purple berry (not a clue what it was besides delicious) and mint leaf. Eating a little of the mint leaf with each bite coupled with the creamy cheese, berry and decadent crust was perfection in your mouth.  When you come to visit remind me and we will for sure go back. They also offered a better dollar to yen exchange so we were able to pay with dollars which is cool when the normal exchange has been 78 Yen to the dollar and they were offering 80 Yen to the dollar. It was a $47 meal so not bad on our part. Every Ichi adds up J


I'm finally here!

Okie in OKA
The day I was leaving I was a bundle of nerves. I had spent so much time packing and trying to wrap things up that I never really processed that I was moving out of the country. It only hit me as I had to say good bye in Oklahoma. I cried a bit with Mom and Dad then made Mom promise that we wouldn’t cry at the airport.  The TSA at DFW was slower than molasses on a cold winter’s day. Shuffling along, waiting for people from many different countries to understand shoes off and empty your pockets. Once I finally passed through there and got onto the plane it was another waiting game. Maintenance was working on the plane to ensure we were safe flying across the pacific-that took another hour. (Not that I was complaining about safety at all, especially since my seat mate kept asking me if I had ever seen Castaway and he was pretending to yell “WILSON” for a bit). *side note, I was very proud of myself for not telling him to shut his mouth or slip him a Benadryl while he wasn’t looking* While we were waiting the flight attendants did pass out the customs and declaration forms which helped to pass the time. Then we were off.
You know mentally that it will be a long flight-you forget to tell your rear end. I had planned for boredom, had my nook fully charged, crocheting, the option for several TV shows and movies, a regular book and 2 different sets of earphones (which I recommend when flying overseas. One set was a regular iPod set the other was a larger, outer ear noise canceling set. This helps with ear fatigue and soreness), as well as my pillow and blanket. Then I couldn’t sleep. I did take 2 Benadryl and didn’t even yawn. I literally watched every movie and tv show they offered, listened to my seatmates wedding plans in the Philippines and tried not to giggle when the toddler two rows up kept slipping away from his mother and running between the bulkhead and last row of seats hiding from her.  The food on the flight wasn’t bad either but once again, I have a traveling recommendation- eating the fresh and perishable first that way if you don’t eat t it all you can stash the packaged food for later just in case. We had a total of 3 meals. The first was a beef and rice something or other, with salad, 2 sushi pieces, a roll, cheese wedge, soda crackers, bottle of water and chocolate brownie. The second was a ham and cheese on a small roll with biscotti. The last meal before landing was a choice of chicken or pizza-for future reference don’t take the pizza unless you’ve doubled up on Prilosec, more veggies and a dessert. Then we finally landed.
G and Daisy had both told me to have the customs forms filled out before landing, check. Only had 2 hours to make it through customs in Tokyo then recheck my baggage and find my gate. What G forgot to tell me was that I had to go through immigration first then customs. Since we were late getting in and several other passengers had connecting flights that were sooner than my own the airport staff was busy helping others. I followed the herd of passengers, hoping to find the right place. After being lost for about 10 minutes, I finally boarded a tram and got to immigration. They had no issues stamping my passport with my visa and then I was off to collect my bag (which was the last one off) and head to customs. The customs agents were courteous and efficient. Finally got to the Japanese airlines gate for Okinawa, rechecked my bags and by the time I got to the gate, I was exhausted. By the way, the Tokyo airport is humid and hot-don’t forget to wear layers when traveling here.
Once on the flight from Tokyo to Okinawa I was entertained by the Japanese flight attendants. Everything is so respectful and precise. The airline had upgraded me to the first row aisle seat so I was able to really people watch as the attendants offered drinks and ice cream. I don’t know why, but ice cream on a plane struck me as being funny, maybe because I was so exhausted. 2 hours 45 minutes later we landed.
Okinawa’s airport is even more humid than Tokyo. There were beautiful orchids blooming and thriving everywhere. The fragrance was indescribable. At the baggage claim I found out that you cannot meet your family until after you have retrieved your bags-good thing I only had one carryon and one big bag. Then I saw G’s beautiful face, then and there I knew the months of packing, stress and worry had all been worth it.
Getting into the car and watching people drive on the opposite side of the road was wild. Especially since the car that G bought is closer to an American size car whereas most vehicles in Okinawa could fit two to one parking spot in America. G took me to a local ramen restaurant and we ate dinner. It was delicious, larger spaghetti sized noodles in broth with meat, corn and eggs. We also ordered an appetizer of Gyoza (potsickers) which were phenomenal! The whole meal cost around $20. He finally drove to our new home. It is pretty, in a farming district where there are only a few apartment buildings and a modest amount of family homes.
G walked me around the house and was showing me how to use all of the Japanese appliances and gadgets. I was exhausted and overloaded/overjoyed to be here so I barely registered what was being said. We watched the sun come up over the East China Sea and I slipped into a dreamless sleep.
The next day we got up and went to base, I couldn’t believe after months of packing and shipping and storing that I was ready to buy more crap for our house! I got to see his office and we ran around a bit more. The traffic and streets still do not make sense to me but I was proud that I was a willing passenger who was able to just sit back and rubber neck. Friday we went to dinner with his coworker’s family and a friend. It was a nice little Italian restaurant with amazing food. They invited us back to the house but I was so delirious with exhaustion that I had to decline. G went over then went to work, I slept for about 3 hours then I popped up out of bed. My body still doesn’t know what to do here.
Since G is working nights it is difficult for me to register what happens on what days, so forgive me if I get things out of order. One day we went shopping for furniture and stopped at a restaurant called Bikkuri Donkey. With my Americanized hearing I kept calling it hickory donkeyJ. They specialize in hamburger steaks stuffed with cheese or mushrooms with a Wild West décor. It was pretty good food then I excused myself to the restrooms before leaving. The toilet was similar to what we saw at the Japanese restaurants in the states so I thought no big deal. Then came time to flush-no handle just buttons with Japanese characters. I tried the first button and nothing happened, the second turned on the bidet the third and fourth-who knows! I finally hit one that turned off the bidet but still nothing would flush it. 7 minutes later I walk back to the table and G asked if I was alright. I explained the toilet situation, shook my head and blushed with embarrassment because I didn’t want him to have to translate that his wife couldn’t flush a toilet. Oh well, lesson learned.
Two days ago we went to a mall of sorts; the main store has a large grocery store then a level and a half of clothing. Once again I had to use the restroom. This time the first thing you see is a miniature urinal with a picture of a little boy urinating, the second stall had a traditional Japanese toilet i.e. a rectangular hole in the ground that you are supposed to hover over, I opted for stall number 3, it appeared to be normal. Once I sat down jungle bird sounds filled the restroom along with the rushing sound of water. I guess it was their way of helping you along. What can I say-restrooms are an adventure here.
Some things are so different from the states that it is quite an adjustment. You cannot turn on red, motorcycles and scooters can drive up the side of the road or the dotted line to the front of traffic, the larger vehicle has the right of way on smaller roads. When paying, you place the money in a tray and if they are to give you change they give you “big money” first, then the coins. Trash trucks play music as they drive through the neighborhoods, children actually play and exercise outside.
All in all it is a beautiful country, with kind helpful people and good food. I am hoping that we will be able to explore more soon so that I can share with all of you. I’m sure there’ll be more toileting adventures to come.