Ganbaro Nippon.

1 05 2011

Maybe it surprises some of you that I haven’t written about the earthquake yet.  Others might just assume I’ve fallen back into my time lapse that can consume this blog.  The truth is I’ve thought everyday for the last 6 weeks about how to write this.  I open the site, I type a title and I just sit staring at the screen.  When I started this blog today, I deleted 8 drafts of previous attempts.  Please keep in mind this was my personal experience, and that I’m not speaking for anyone else…

Four days before the earthquake hit, I had been in mainland visiting some of my best friends.  I had gone to visit Brandon and Jewell Willett and meet their new addition, Ella.  I hadn’t seen the baby yet and it was time for a trip.  I planned it so it was in the middle of Jesse’s “army vacation” so that way there was no chance of me missing him if he came home early.  Well, well.  So much for planning.  He did in fact come home early and was only going to be home for 5 days before he left again.  That put him leaving on May 11th, flying through Tokyo.  I was at work and had no idea of what was going on in mainland.  A Japanese man, came running in the restaurant saying there had been a huge earthquake in mainland, please turn on the TV.  Sign 1 something was horribly wrong – he was panicked.  The Japanese do not panic.  We got the TV on a Japanese news channel and it was an ungodly sight.  It was like a horror movie had come to life.  My entire staff was standing around the TV so focused on what was going on, no one thought to turn on the big screen TV for the next 40 minutes.  There it was, ESPN playing in the background like nothing had happened.

Suddenly there was yelling on the TV and I was asking my staff what’s going on, what are they saying.  They just kept saying tsunami, they say a big tsunami is coming.  We were all standing there in shock.  We’ve had tsunami warnings a few times since I’ve lived here, and nothing has ever happened.  They are frequently issued as a safety precaution after a sizable earthquake.  No one knew if it was really going to happen or not.   Then came the wave.  Watching a natural disaster hit on live television is unreal.  The water was black and looked to be moving very slowly.  It’s hard to imagine how fast a tsunami really moves until you consider how high in the air a helicopter has to be to be getting the entire thing on film.

My immediate thought was thank god Jesse is off the ground.  Their connection had been due to leave before the earthquake hit.  I was thinking about his sister and her family who all live in Tokyo and of course Brando, Jewell, and the baby.  I tried calling Jesse a few times for reassurance that he was indeed in the air.  I was relieved for once when the phone went straight to voicemail.  I assumed the phone was off because he was in the air.  I was not even considering the possibility that the phone lines were jammed.  I ended up getting texts from him saying they had been taxiing out when the first earthquake hit and that they were getting lots of aftershocks.  They wouldn’t let them off the plane because Narita Airport was closed so there was no where for them to go.  No one on the plane knew the gravity of the situation.  Jesse made several comments about, “It’s just another shaker, ” or “Here we go again!  Hang on for a ride!” when the aftershocks started hitting.  They finally got off the ground 8 hours later and when they arrived in the States, they were greeted with the reality of what they had left behind.

And the aftershocks.  To date there have been 1117.  My question is when are they no longer aftershocks?  When are they their own earthquakes again?  I really hope that anyone reading this will go to this link.  The video is a map of all of the quakes they’ve had since March 11.  It’s truly a great visual of what’s going on in mainland Japan.  You see all of these little pings pop up of the earthquakes and you think, wow, those are really big!  Until of course you get to the big one.  The main earthquake ping literally takes up the whole screen and the amount of dots after that are unbelievable.

“Ganbaro Nippon” can roughly translate to do your best or try your hardest, Japan.  And my God do they ever.  There has been no looting, no rioting, no anything negative.  Turns out in Tokyo, people were so adamant about helping conserve the power, they were going to work early and leaving early so they wouldn’t have to use the lights so much in the evening times.  Things seemed to be as calm as they possibly could be.  With the exception of batteries and toilet paper, people were finding what they needed.

I don’t pretend to know what it was like to be there that day, or any of the subsequent days either.  This was simply my experience with the events on March 11.   In Okinawa, we literally felt nothing from the earthquake.  We’ve only had one earthquake since all of this began and I believe that most didn’t feel that one either.  My friends that I had been visiting in Yokosuka had been planning to visit Okinawa in the fall and decided to move up their little escape a few months to help put their family’s and friend’s minds at ease.  It was heartbreaking that while they were trying to take care of their family, they were getting backlash for leaving.  “Flyjins” I believe they are all being called, all of the foreigners that left.

It’s amazing how quickly people here stopped watching the news channels like CNN and MSNBC and turned instead to things like Twitter and Facebook.  We truly are the social media age.  It’s a little concerning to feel the need to call your parents and say, please, tell anyone that’s watching American news channels to please stop.  The sensationalizing and the fear based reporting was unreal.  Of course it was a dire situation, and frankly, I don’t think it’s getting enough coverage now.  I know there are disasters happening all over the world, but if it is possible to not, I don’t think that one can really replace another.  Whether 10 people or 20,000 people die in a disaster, it’s still a disaster.  They all need help, they all need to heal.  What kind of world do we live in if something is forgotten simply because something worse came along?





さくら….or Sakura.

14 02 2011

You’re pretty impressed with my Japanese there aren’t ya?  Juuuust admit it, I know you are.

Disclaimer:  If you are not a White Stripes fan, I apologize in advance.  I’m hoping you’ll read this and just not ever know what’s going on.  For those of you who waited hours to see Jack White live (forever damaging your ear drums in the process) and those of you who cried when they cancelled the aftershow at ACL,  read on.

*****

When I arrived in Okinawa last year, I planned to essentially conquer the island and  do it fast-like.  I wanted to do everything, and do it NOW.  Much like my Houston adventure plan that dream fizzled out quickly.  Between real life and settling into a foreign country, I only had time for a conquest every so often.  I’ve finally realized it’s better that way.  No need to go bone broke trying to see everything in a short time.  So then (and now) I take it slow. Figure out the roads, see the little acorns, feel the air near my fingers, and thank St. Andrew I can live somewhere that castles still exist.  And it’s working out nicely I’m proud to report.

One of the activities that I failed to get to last year was the Sakura festival, otherwise known as Cherry Blossoms.  It’s one of those things that really creeps up on you around here.  The trees only bloom for about two weeks so if you’re going to do it, you better make it fast – like a 300 MPH torrential outpoor from the sky fast – and get your behind to a good flower-viewing site.

Cherry Blossoms are the beautiful, sometimes stubby trees you see that have thousands of little pink or white blossoms all over them.  They only bloom for a few weeks out of the year and climate drastically affects when that will be.  The trees are mostly found in Japan, Canada, the US, the Philippines, the Koreas, and Germany.   Okinawan cherry blossoms are special for two reasons – 1. Opposite to mainland Japan, the flowers here bloom North to South on the island, mainland being South to North and 2.  our cherry blossoms are pink.  I mean PINK.  Okinawa is famous for many things – Shisha dogs, Ryukyu dancing, blue orchids, a massive aquarium, and their PINK cherry blossoms.

DC Cherry Blossoms:

Okinawa Cherry Blossoms:

 

Like I've been saying…..PINK!

While I’m not really into it the background of the Cherry Blossoms, perhaps you are so I am willing to explain. If Jolene rang my doorbell and asked for the story, I would tell her, “The legend goes something like this.”  Way way way back in the day, it was considered good luck to have “hanami” –  a picnic – under a Sakura tree.  Initially, this practice was only allowed to the elite, those of the imperial palace, but eventually it was an activity that all were allowed to participate in and a tradition that is still carried on today.  The Japanese Meteorological Agency monitors the cherry blossom season, called the “sakura senzen (translation: the cherry-blossom front),” and annual festivals are scheduled around the predicted dates of the front’s arrival.  The “front” always starts in Okinawa and works it’s way to to the North of mainland by April.  If you ever visit Japan, you’ll see cherry blossoms plastered all over everything and a pure overload of the flowers arriving during the early few months of each year.  They can be found painted on plates, t-shirts, mugs or stationary, used in anime and manga, and sewn onto kimonos.  The flower is also represented on the back of the 100 yen coin and used as a flavor in Starbucks drinks for a while: think, the sakura latte.  Seriously.  The Japanese are a culture of symbolism and not to fret, the cherry blossom was not left out this tradition.  Because it is only in bloom for about 2 weeks before dying and falling off of the tree, the flower can sometimes represent mortality and the preciousness of life.  It’s an omen of good fortune to come and the beginning of spring.  They were even painted on the sides of WWII suicide bomber planes as a sign of intensity and get this – there was actually a unit of air raiders in Japan called “Yamazakura” or cherry blossoms.  Pretty scary stuff right?  I don’t know what I’d do if I saw a cherry blossom plane of the seven nation army flying over me…..

Anyway, enough history don’t you think?  I mean, I’m bound to pack it up and call it done if I have to type much more of that, sorry.  Back to the story at hand.

Somewhere near Nago

So I missed the festival last year, we’ve clarified that.  And as shocking as this is going to be, I, little Jimmy the Explorer, I missed the festival again this year.  I had the schedule, I had the dates, I had a staff alerting me that the flowers were blooming.  I just don’t know what to do with myself sometimes, ya know?  Thankfully, my Cherry blossom death letter had not been written quite yet.  I was talking to one of my employees about wanting to go and being sad that I missed the festival and she mentioned she wanted to go as well.  Now, Miki is one of those people you meet and you just think, we’re going to be friends.  We’re always trying to plan things and nothing ever works out.  But it sounded like this was going to work!  There was a festival still going on down in Itoman (the town furthest South on Okinawa) which happens to be Miki’s hometown.  It was a night festival so the trees were adorned  with little lanterns and beautiful lights.  With the backdrop of a full white moon, it was going to be a perfect night.

Miki came to work the morning before our little plan was to take place and let me know that the festival was over.  The little bird that told her it was still going on had lied, it had ended two days before we planned to see it.  I think it was her baby brother so you can’t really be too mad at the guy right?  Or maybe we can…I mean, he does LIVE in the city.  Oh well.  Never fear, we had a new plan.  We were saying screw the festival, who needs a festival with lots of little lights and tons of people and absurd amounts of fried dough balls of octopus?  The new plan was to meet at the restaurant the following day and we would just make our own festival.

I woke up the morning of said event in my little room and immediately started thinking of ways to bail.  For starters, it had been a cold, cold night and I had the beginnings of a killer headache.  It felt like little Suzy Lee was throwing broken bricks at my head.  I mean really Okinawa, why can’t you be nicer to me? Let’s shake hands and make a pact to show each other some love.  On top of that, I was pretty sure I was wasting my time – I mean, I’m not a huge fan of flowers, not going to lie.   I strongly considered the passive manipulation approach but as I was deciding my game plan,  I got a text from Miki. “The weather is perfect, I’ll let you know as soon as I’m off work!  I’m so excited!”  Shit.  Stop breaking down Steph, there’s no home for you here negative sakura thoughts, time to get on board.  I made a pot of coffee, hopped in the shower and prepared for our little journey.  Miki was off a little earlier than expected so I slammed one more cup of coffee (when I really wanted to slam a screwdriver) and off we went.

Things to know about Okinawa: 1. There are no street signs.  Like….none.  It’s like every man’s nightmare and every woman’s dream: directions MUST be based on landmarks.  2.  When you do see a sign it’s one of those that says how much further to your destination; they are never right.  On this trip we passed 3 signs for our destination starting at 11 km away, then 7, then 4.  We travelled 16.  And finally 3. The highest posted speed limit on island is 80 kph and that’s on the expressway.  For those of you who won’t take the time to do the black math – that’s 49.7 mph.  Forty freaking nine.  Okinawa is a continuing, never ending lesson in patience, ladies and gents.

This is what it can, but did not, look like. at least when we were there.

Miki and I are slowly (as there’s no other way) making our journey up to Nago and we start to see the cherry blossoms.  Just a few at first dotting the expressway shoulders and then more and more as we can see the hills the further North you went on island.  Miki hadn’t been acting completely thrilled with this trip either as the weather had turned a little nasty on us, but now we were really getting excited.  I was thinking I can’t wait, I just don’t know what to do with myself.  The trees were beautiful.  When the expressway ended our little journey led us onto a two-lane road that we followed all the way up to Mount Yaedake.  This is where the trees REALLY started.  They lined both sides of the road and leaned juuuuust enough to give you a tunnel effect.  It was like the trees were mocking us, thinking, Sure.  It’s MY fault for being famous. I’m allowed to slouch a little.  You idiots drove all the way up here to see me!

You know how there’s always the hardest button to button on your favorite peacoat ladies or gentleman on the cuff of your sleeve?  Well that’s what it was like trying to find this last turn.  This was the 16 km journey that we were told was 11 and then 7 km about 8 km later.  Did you get all that?  Yea… exactly.  But alas, we found our turn and we found our cherry blossoms.

Miki-san!

the holes for your head were SO big!

I think we squealed just as loudly around every corner as we had around the first corner as these things seriously make you think you don’t know what love is until you’ve see them.  They can truly hypnotize you.  We were practically doing hand springs, and I have to say Miki was adorable.  Even though she lives in Okinawa, it had been forever for her since she’d been to a Sakura festival.  In the end, we decided it was much better that we went by ourselves and missed the actual festival.  The amount of people that were out at 3 o’clock in the afternoon on a Tuesday was amazing – I can’t imagine what it would have been like over a weekend.  And not to worry, there was one hold out family still making fried dough balls of octopus.  We opted for the ice cream wagon instead.  Miki had sakura flavored and I had a choice to make between the apple blossom pie, a little cream soda, or the hot chocolate.  The day was clearly a success and I was SO glad I hadn’t bailed.  Oh, and I went with the hot chocolate.

Sugar never tasted so good.

All for now friends, have a good day.

xo

steph

R.I.P White Stripes.  You did us good.





An explanation.

9 02 2011

I almost deleted this blog about 15 minutes ago.  You’re probably thinking, ohhh great, here we go again.  Another reason why she never updates this thing.  I don’t blame you at all if that’s where your mind is at when reading this.  I mean let’s be real, I finally finished telling the SCUBA stories that happened TEN MONTHS AGO last week.  That’s ridiculous!  But friends and family, I offer you an explanation – yes, another one.  This is different than the others as this is the honest-to-god truth.

It’s gotten incredibly difficult for me to write and keep up with this blog the way I had originally intended.  From the beginning of this, I wanted it to be about the adventure of moving to a foreign country, the trials and triumphs of that process and the crazy things I got myself into once I was in Okinawa.  And I did that fairly well.  I blogged about my time in Houston during training, about the painstaking process of learning the military ways and the fun I was having in the meantime.  It’s easy to write from an adventure standpoint when everyday brings you something new.  Then of course I met TB, Jesse, and my life changed even further.  We’ve had lots of adventures together: ziplining, traveling to Kyoto and Hawaii, furniture stores (yes, it’s an adventure), roller slide parks, casing the beach for sea glass, and making our own version of the holidays.  But eventually those days slow down and real life sets in.

Don’t get me wrong, real life is great.  Real life is better than it’s ever been.  I’m so happy with Jesse and the life that we are building together.  But I didn’t want to write about it.  This life was private, it was ours and I held very closely to my heart.  Maybe too close.  I was afraid that writing something overly personal would mess something up with us, or somehow push us apart.  Like if I was putting everything out there on the internet, it would be for everyone else instead of for us.  I talked to him about it, finally, after it had been bothering me for several months.  He simply told me, Steph.  Don’t waste your talent as a writer.  Write what you need to write, what you want to write.  That’s what makes you you and I love you.  And I said, well yea, I want to write about my life, but you’re a huge part of my life.  What if I write about us?  How do you feel about that – if I’m writing about the great times but the maybe not so perfect times?  And god bless him, he said, So?  Just. Write it already.

So here I am at a crossroads, realizing the way I write this blog has to change.  It has too be more about my day to day life, our day to day life, rather than just when we do a BIG adventure day.  What the hell’s an adventure anyway?  Webster says: “an exciting or very unusual experience; a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome.”  UUUUUHHH, what?  Hey Webster, I didn’t sign up for uncertain outcome.  And hazardous?  I got my fair share of hazardous with the SCUBA don’t you think?  No, my idea of adventure has always been a little less awesome (or a little less dramatic) than all of that.  I just want to have a good time.  I want to love life and live it to the absolute fullest.  I want to share it with someone I’m madly in love with and someone that can share in my happiness and sorrows and vice versa.  I want to do things that maybe other people wouldn’t dare try, and I want to write about all of it.

So there’s my long winded, roundabout explanation.  I haven’t been writing because I’ve been avoiding.  I wasn’t writing about what I really cared about these days, so I wasn’t writing at all.  Lame?  Maybe.  But now at least you have the information and you can decide what to do with it.  I’m going to write more personally, more from the heart.  I hope that you all still read and enjoy, but if you just can’t stand another mushy blog, I won’t take it personally.  Not to worry though, I’ll still write about the “cool” stuff, too.  Thanks for stickin’ with it….

 

In the meantime, here’s a few more pictures of my life these days.  We are truly so happy.

 

 

There's nothing to do but love these two.

Happy Thanksgiving, Pufkin.

 

Daddy teaching little lady pants about fish.

We love angry birds. She can beat levels…she's 2.

Korean BBQ. The owner's gave us a Christmas present. Must have been for most frequent guests.

Adorable child. Her future boyfriends are already in trouble with Daddy.

Merry Christmas! from our little family to yours...

xo

steph





SCUBA. part 3 – my final dive.

2 02 2011

We’re not even going to talk about how long it’s been since I’ve posted a blog.  Eek.

I left off with me getting the bends.  I had them, they were not fun, and I’m glad to report that my new fancy international health insurance covers scuba related accidents.  Too little too late?  Some might say, especially after reading this next (and final) part of my scuba adventure…

I had decided that the bends incident was a one time thing.  Beginner’s (bad) luck.  I learned my lesson, I would do better next time.  To prove my point, that this was a one time incident, I asked Cynde to go dive with me again at the same place.  Maeda Point is a beautiful area of Okinawa and a great place to dive or even just snorkel if that’s more your style.

It’s always crowded, but once you get in the water, you hardly notice the other divers.  The water is that color of blue and aqua and turquoise that mixes together and you don’t really even know what color it is anymore.

Cynde and I once again suited up and got going.  We decided to dive along the reef wall which is a pretty safe area.  She knew I was nervous after the last time, and I fully appreciated that she was willing to ease up a little bit.  We were diving down to depth, and for whatever insane reason, I decided it wouldn’t be a big deal to go below 60 feet.  Again.  And it wasn’t a big deal until right around 70 feet when it started to feel like my eyes were being sucked out of my head.  I cannot even begin to find the words to explain the feeling in my face, in my sinuses.  I was terrified.  It was a battle to blink and reopen my eyes.  The pressure that was pushing against my eyes was unbelievable and was growing with every inch that we swam deeper into the ocean.  I had been trying to chase Cynde, she was leading our dive, and finally I just stopped knowing she would turn around eventually.  Once again, I was in panic mode – holding my regulator to my mouth, forcing myself to breathe and to keep blinking.  Even after all of these months have gone by, I remember at the time thinking I should try to clear my mask, but could I somehow blind myself by doing that?  Now let’s be real for a moment.  Could I have actually blinded myself?  Doubtful.  But at that point I was scared to mess any part of my equipment.  I can’t imagine the insane fear I would have felt if I had tried to take my mask off or what it would have felt like to have cold saltwater rushing to and burning my eyes.  But imagine if you will, having those kinds of thoughts while being 80 feet underwater.  Somewhere in the madness of these feelings I remembered that we had to do the safety stop this time around so at least I wouldn’t have the bends along with being blind.  I didn’t even bother putting air in my BCD, I just swam myself to the top with one hand on my weight belt (in case I freaked out and needed to throw it off) and one hand on my regulator so I didn’t spit it out.  When we finally broke through the top of the water, I’ve never been so happy to be breathing in fresh air.

Cynde was great through all of this.  I told her I was feeling weird, explained about my eyes and how my sinuses were feeling crazy and she said it was totally fine not to go back under.  She kept saying this is supposed to be fun and I kept thinking, when are we going to get to THAT part of this so called “recreational sport?”  We continued snorkeling around for a little while, seeing beautiful tiny fish, half of their bodies sky blue and the other half neon pink.  We saw a school of angel fish and a few Nemos.  I wasn’t enjoying this at all, none of it, and I decided that that was enough for the day.  We finally went back to shore after what felt like a lifetime and I truly can’t remember ever being so thankful to get out of the water.  I had sinus problems when I was a kid (I’ll mention here I checked “no” to the box that asked that specific question in dive class – the questionnaire that if you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you should not scuba dive) and I chalked it up to a mixture of that and the weird weather on Okinawa.  I was going to live to dive another day.

I had to work the night of that fateful dive.  No big deal.  I got home from Maeda, took a shower, ate some lunch, went to work.  Work was fine, went off without a hitch.  Got back to the apartment and Jesse was still awake, I remember he was brushing his teeth.  He was just staring at me from the bathroom.  I thought he was upset with me about something from the way he was looking at me.  He spit out his toothpaste, rinsed his mouth as usual, took another squinted look at me and said, “What the hell’s wrong with your face?” and grabbed it between his hands.  I suppose I should have been offended, it’s not usually smiled upon when your boyfriend asks what’s wrong with your face.  But I figured I already knew what the hell was going to be wrong with it before I ever looked in the mirror.  Hello fear, old friend, welcome back!

Earlier in the day I had talked to Jesse about the dive and how bizarre my eyes and face had felt.  He had told me that that maybe it wasn’t a good idea if I continued diving.  I thought he was being a sweet, overprotective boyfriend, and I reassured him I would be and was completely fine.  I was just having a few strange dives.  I was thinking about our conversation right before I turned to look in the mirror.  I don’t know if it was the lighting in the restaurant or that people were just being nice by not saying anything, but I looked awful.  Tiny freckle sized blood bumps had appeared all over my eyelids and under my eyes.  From a distance, they truly looked like freckles, but up close there was no mistaking it.  Again, Jesse politely said, maybe that’s enough for your diving career huh?  We started googling dive injuries and found some really awful pictures of far more unfortunate people than I.  Here’s a good example.

Looks pretty awesome, right?  This guy had apparently gone so far as to pop the blood vessels inside his eyes, at least I managed not to do that.  I went to bed that night feeling sad and discouraged, scuba diving was NOT supposed to be this much of a buzzkill.  And oh it gets better.

By the time I woke up the next morning, I had what’s known as raccoon eyes, you can imagine what that looked like.  Now added to the blood bumps were bruises all around my eyes and  on my cheeks.  Again, thank goodness, they weren’t so awful that you would think I had gotten into a fight with a butch Marine.  Jesse just shook his head and on his way out the door to work told me, more or less, I should NEVER dive again.  I was finally starting to believe him.  If you’ll remember from my previous blog, our kitchen manager Dana-san had been a rescue and master diver.  He took one look at my face at work the next day and basically repeated what Jesse had already told me.  Stephanie-san!  No more diving, ne?  Hai Dana-san, yes.  No more diving.  He told me in broken English and a little Japanese that I was lucky.  The blood bumps I DID have were a sure sign I was on my way to popping the blood vessels in my eyes.  Can you imagine doing that ever in your life?  Let alone underwater?  Ugh.  Jesse was relieved this hadn’t happened because he was afraid people were going to start thinking he abused me.  Given my clumsiness and my affinity for developing bruises by barely bumping a chair, it was a legitimate concern.   I refused to let him take any pictures of me with the blood bumps and bruises, but here is the one picture I have from my short lived diving adventure :

 

yes, it's really me under all of that mess.

Needless to say, I haven’t been diving since all of this happened.  I wouldn’t just come out and say I would never dive again, so Jesse and I made a deal.  I promised I wouldn’t go diving while he was away with work.  That way if something serious did happen, at least he would be on island and would be able to know immediately instead of finding out two weeks later in some incredibly underdeveloped country and not being able to do anything about it.  I figured fair enough.  Given that my success rate was now somewhere at 33%, I couldn’t really push the envelope with that one.  And if we’re being honest, I wanted nothing to do with it anymore.  Of course I couldn’t just say that at the time – no way.  I had to be proud and stubborn and a little bit annoyed that my loving boyfriend asked this of me.  But truth be told, I’m glad he made me promise and he really didn’t have to twist my arm to do it.

And here we are again, as spring is fast approaching in Okinawa.  I’m hoping to dive again – someday.  For now though, I’ll stick with the snorkeling and the life vests.  What could possibly go wrong there?  Trust me, if something can, I’ll find out soon enough and you can expect a report back.  Thanks for being patient with my lack of writing.  While you may not care for an explanation, one is coming.  I’m just trying to figure out how to word it without being whiney or obnoxious woe is me.  Love you guys, thanks for keeping up with this.

xo.





SCUBA part 2.

8 12 2010

Sooooo, I said I would write this the day after I wrote part 1.  We can all see how that worked out.  By “check back tomorrow” I was REALLY saying, “check back in one month.”  Yikes, sorry friends and family.

Subject at hand: Scuba.  And why I will never do it again.

So I think I only went scuba diving three times after I was certified.  Time number one was fine.  Cynde and I went together kind of as a practice, do we really have this down when we’re on our own or not, run.  And we did.  We put all of our equipment together just fine, we had air, the air was getting to the regulator, we entered the water, dove, no trouble.  Saw a few neat fish, saw a few not so neat sea snakes, done and done.

Time number two.

Before we get going on this particular dive, let me remind and/or tell you about a few things.  I am certified to dive down to 60 feet and 60 feet only.  The reason for this cut off number is that at 60 feet, you can shoot to the top and not do any damage to your body.  At 61 feet, you have to do a three minute safety stop at 15 feet to ensure that your body corrects it’s nitrate levels before you go all the way to the top.  If you don’t do this, you get decompression sickness otherwise known as the bends.  The safety stop is just that.  It’s to ensure that you have made your ascent it a slow and controlled manner.  It’s possible to go up slowly enough that the safety stop isn’t actually 100% necessary but it’s wise to do anyway.

This time around it was me, Cynde, my friend Brooke, and Cynde’s new friend Shawna.  We were all pretty much brand new to this “sport,” so we just decided to play follow the leader.  Cynde was our leader as she had the fancy schmancy new dive computer that told her digitally how much air she had, the depth, and it even beeped at her if she was going to the top too fast or not.  Because it had this beeping mechanism, we didn’t need a safety stop.   Hahaha, brilliant, I know.

At some point during this dive I realized we had been underwater (and deep underwater) for a while and I decided I should check my air levels.  I only had 1100 psi left (out of 3000) and I miiiight have panicked slightly.  Or a lot.  I had to hold my regulator in my mouth so I wouldn’t spit it out.  This is when the realization of man, I am doing something so, so, SO unnatural with this breathing underwater thing.  Now, 1100 psi is a lot.  You use the air much faster the deeper you go and I had myself convinced that I was about to run out.  I started to calm myself down and rationalize that Stephanie, we’re around 60 feet, you’ve got at least 20 minutes worth of air.  Except I didn’t because we weren’t at 60 feet.  We were at 95 feet.  ?!?!?!?!?  When did this happen?!?! How did I not notice?!?!  Back into panic mode.

Now, panic mode isn’t good when you’re scuba diving for a lot of reasons.  My main concern, as we’ve established, was that I was low on air.  Well now being in panic mode, I was breathing very shallow and very fast thus using my ever dwindling air supply at a rapid pace.  I raced my little fins over to Cynde and motioned for her that I needed to go up.  We started our slow ascent by putting a tiny bit of air in our BCDs.  Now here’s where things went from panic mode to actually not a good situation.  Instead of letting air out as I rose towards the top, I continued adding air.  This is bad.  This makes you go to the top faster than you should.  Even a tiny amount of air will expand when you start to rise.  Things compress when you go down, and go back to normal when you come up – even air.  So now, rather than let some of the expanded air out, I’m adding air to the already expanding air that’s shooting me towards the top.  So now I’m panicking about that.  I had so much going on in my head that I didn’t even have time to realize that I was about to pop my head out of the top of the ocean.  And then that’s exactly what I did.  Once I was there I realized I was fine.  I still had about 500 psi and Cynde’s computer had only beeped at us once that we were going to fast.  Other than a quicken heart rate I was okay.

The next night, now about 36 hours post dive, my elbows started hurting.  I didn’t really think anything about it since I used to get tennis elbow when I was into rock climbing.  By the time I got home that night from work, my ankles were swollen and so sore I didn’t want to move.  Then it was my shoulders and my knees, and finally my neck by the time I woke up the next morning.  I still just thought it was from swimming, using muscles that I didn’t normally use.  Silly, silly me.  Do you see where this is going?

Our kitchen manager the next day (now 48 hours post dive) asked me, “Daijobu des ka? ” Which is, “Are you ok?” in Japanese.  I replied with, “Hai hai, I’m just sore, that dive really took it out of me yesterday.”  I explained to him what happened and well, well.  Was I ever in for a surprise.  I forget that Dana-san was a rescue diver for the Japanese government.  He’s so overqualified for dive master and dive instructor it’s ridiculous.  He starting shaking his head and asking me questions.  “How long were you at 95 feet? How many times did you ascend and descend again? How much air did you use? Did you get lightheaded?” I answered these the best I could.  Dana-san grabbed my shoulders and shouted about 4 inches from my face, “You have bends! Bends! Bends!”

Now holy crap.  I have what?!  Ohhhhh yea.  It makes sense.  They did tell us in that class that your major joints ache and that you could have joints that swell as an early sign of the bends.  Oops.  Every hour that night Dana-san made me sit down and let him look at my ankles while I put ice on them.  He just shook his head and laughed at me.  At least he wasn’t saying, “Hospital.  Now.”  like he was before.  Thankfully my ankles started going down and my shoulders stopped hurting.  My elbows had gotten worse, the pain had spread all the way down my arm through my pink finger on both hands, but eventually it all went away too.

Scuba success rate: 50% FAIL.

I said originally there would only be two parts but as you can clearly see, this is going on and on and I still have one more scuba experience that MUST be shared.  Part three, and truly the final part is coming at you TOMORROW.  For real.





SCUBA – part one.

9 11 2010

(don’t worry.  there’s only two parts.)

 

How did I never write about this?!  Want to talk about a mis-adventure?  Here you go friends….

 

I found out over a year ago that I would be moving to Okinawa, and one of the first things I did was start researching SCUBA diving.  Several websites as well as books include the waters off Okinawa in the top 5, if not the top 3, SCUBA locations in the world.  Sounds promising, right?  Everyone has seen the amazing underwater photographs of ridiculously marvelous creatures, coral, and other life forms that you can’t quite decide between they are breathing or if they are just a really big piece of kelp.  And here  I am, little Miss Adventure, ready to take it all on.  I love the ocean, I love to swim, I love being near any body of water on a hot day.  How much more perfect could this new hobby be for me?!

 

Fast forward about 6 months to February of 2010.  My boss and I had been talking about getting PADI certificated since we met.  It’s the thing you MUST complete before anyone will rent you any diving gear (or at least, they are supposed to check my fancy PADI ID before renting me gear.  To this day no one has ever asked for it).  Finally (praise her), Cynde just signed us up and informed me I would be going.  Two of our managers were leaving and while I was the technical replacement for one of them, we had no replacement  lined up for the other.  After they left we would be busy busy at work and who knows when that would calm down.  She decided for both of us that we would do this before they left.  Hey, sounds good to me.  Let’s do this!

 

And do it we did.  We took on the bookwork and daily quizzes with gusto.  We were going to rock this SCUBA diving like there was nothing else in our lives that mattered.  We had two full days of nothing but videos, quizzes, and tests.  None of this was excessively concerning until we got to the pool days.  All of a sudden, I couldn’t remember if I was supposed to attach the octopus (regulator) to the tank before or after I put my BCD (or was it BSD? BDC?) on the tank.  Do I carry the tank with the air spicket spouty thing away from me or facing me?   Does the zipper on this wetsuit go in the front or the back?  Dilemma after dilemma.  Thankfully we were only jumping into about 4 feet of water the first time we were breathing underwater.  We had already practiced the breathing with our regulators in our mouths outside of the pool, mostly to make sure that our regulators were working, so we had that going for us.  Our instructor told had told us several times already, “you will never forget the first time that you breathe underwater.”  And about that, boy, was she ever correct.

 

Breathing underwater the first time was TERRIFYING.  My first instinct was to shoot to the top of the pool, take off all of that equipment, leave it in the water, strip myself of the wetsuit and go to my car.  Actually, RUN to my car.  Instead I stayed underwater with my heart beating about 5 times the normal speed.  I really thought I was going to pass out.  Now, of course I got used to this sensation.  But you gotta realize, my whole life (and I’m sure yours too…) I’ve been told you can’t breathe underwater.  It was always a challenge to swim to the bottom of the pool, touch it, and get back to the top before you had to gasp for a fresh breath.  And now all of a sudden, after 25 years of knowing something is literally impossible, you’re telling me with this stupid thing in my mouth, I can do the impossible?  Yes.  And once I got my head wrapped around that, I was more or less okay….for a while.

 

The pool days were ok.  Kind of boring really.  You get out all of this equipment, put it together, take it apart, get a new tank, put it together, take it apart over and over and over.  You start to do things like take your mask off underwater and swim around – reminding yourself breathing through your nose would NOT be a pleasant experience.  You learn to put the mask back on and clear it of water.  You also learn to breathe off of someone else’s regulator in case yours malfunctions for whatever reason or you unexpectedly run out of air.  I was good with all of these things, and then I freaked out.

 

We were practicing running out of air which by nature is not enjoyable.  You are swimming around under 12 feet of water with your “buddy” and your instructor comes up and turns your air off to simulate running out of air.  Now, you know all of this is happening, so does your buddy, so it shouldn’t be a huge deal.  Well, well.  Turns out it scared my buddy more than it scared me.  All SCUBA regulators actually have two regulators so that if your buddy runs out of air, you have a back up to “share air” with them.  So in this case, I was to quickly signal I had no air, grab my buddy’s extra regulator, and then we would slowly make our ascent.  Well, I ran out of air as I was exhaling.  First not awesome thing – I now had no breath to do all of this signaling and grabbing with.  But that’s okay, I can hold my breath for a while.  So I signal, I grab for the regulator and as I’m about to put it in my mouth, my buddy smacks it out of my hand!  WHAT!?  So I am fumbling around, she’s realizing what she did, we’re both grabbing for the regulator and finally I just stop.  I just stare at our instructor like, now what lady?  And man, she was fast, praise her.  She grabbed her extra regulator and shoved it in my mouth before I ever knew what was happening.  I thought she had grabbed my buddy’s regulator it had happened so fast.  She held onto me as she turned my air back on and handed me my own equipment back to put in my mouth.  Now, I’ve just had to give up my own air supply to have another withheld from me to have another shoved in my face.  And you want me to go back to square one?  NO.  Absolutely not.  So we just swam around for a few minutes, me attached to her (and her air supply) like there was nothing else happening in the world.  I finally got back to my own air supply with no further ado.  Later, the instructor informed me she was shocked that I hadn’t shot straight to the top of the pool.  Honestly, the though never occurred to me.  I was supposed to be in the pool and underwater, that’s where I was to stay.  If only I followed directions so easily in the rest of my life…

I think one freak out is expected, you know?  But two?  Maybe it’s a sign…

 

We finally got to the ocean.  We were doing easy dives, nothing too big of a deal.  What sticks out in my mind during the whole thing was that I consciously knew I could shoot to the top without hurting myself in case there was any danger.  Anything above 60 feet and you’re alright.  No exploding ear drums, no getting the bends (yes, its a real thing), no popping blood vessels.  We were at 55 feet.  I suppose this is another point in this training that I really should have stopped and thought, I’m already figuring out how to bail out of this, should I really be here?  But there I was, pushing through my fear.  I’ll take yet another moment to recognize the fact that this was supposed to be FUN.  This was not fun.  I wanted this week to be over.  Get my certification and get the hell out of there.  Again, what was I thinking?!?!

I digress, let’s get on with the trial and tribulation, shall we?  We had to practice gaining buoyancy in the water.  We had to lay on the ocean floor and fill our BCD up with just enough air that when we breathed in, we rose just a little and when we breathed out we went back down just a little.  The goal was to be able to lay flat but never crash back to the bottom of the ocean floor or to float away far enough that your fins left the ground.  Quite an awkward experience if I do say so myself.

 

More awkward?  The sea snake that swam up to me in the middle of all of this.  There I am, bouncing around on the ocean floor more or less under control and then a sea snake swims right up behind me.  Now, we’re talking his body was paralleling my body.  So I didn’t know this was happening until IT WAS HAPPENING.  Did I tell you sea snakes are poisonous?  Well they are.  You have to provoke them first but I feel like laying about on the ocean floor maybe wasn’t my best bet.  I got out of there and FAST.  Strike two, SCUBA.  Strike.  Two.

 

I made it through the certification process(and through all of the underwater drama).  I received my very own ID card saying that I am responsible enough to take on SCUBA by myself. HAHAHA.  But alas, this post has gone on long enough.  Just to keep you interested though…you should know that I do NOT dive anymore.  Mostly by my own choice but also because of a promise I made to Jesse after he saw my face after the last time (literally, the LAST time) I dove.  I went diving three times and I hurt myself twice.  Check back tomorrow friends for that little gem of a tale….   :)

 





sea glass

17 09 2010

It’s always a good way to start the day when, as you’re rolling out of bed, your boyfriend delivers Starbucks and a cinnamon roll as if on cue.   NOT a good way to start the day when the creme brulee macchiato is meant for you to get your butt in gear; you have to leave in 10 minutes because you need to take your boyfriend back to the base.  To be fair, I did this to myself.  Not the  him leaving again thing, but the driving to the base at 9 am thing.  I’ve needed to put my car in the shop for a while now.  Better that I drop him off and use his car as my “rental” rather than his car sit on base for a few weeks while he’s gone and me continue to put off the car maintenance, right?  Somewhere between the espresso and the rushing, I realized I was headed to one of my favorite spots on Okinawa.  Time to get ready.

Let’s paint the picture shall we?  Here it is 9:15 am.  My hair is in the same braid it was in the night before, I’m wearing a brown polka dotted bikini, I’ve got a flight suit thrown over one shoulder.  In one hand my coffee, in the other my beach combing bag.  I’m holding a backpack full of god knows what kind of Army gear….wait.  Did I just say beach combing bag?  Indeed my friends, indeed.  I have become THAT lady.

Why did I need a beach combing bag at 9:15 am?  On a Monday?  Or at all to be fair?  Well let me explain before you judge any further.

Dropping off your boyfriend at the airport sucks.  Dropping him off at a base sucks even more.  I was going to be sad and I knew it.  I knew I would be in need of something to cheer me up.  Thankfully, Torii Station is home to Torii Beach, one of the best places on the island to search for and find sea glass.

I was intrigued (and hooked) the first time I saw it.  My friend that I was with kept yelling back, “Be careful!  There’s a TON of glass around here!”  Little did she know (until our other friend explained to us) that this is actually a treasure of sorts.

Sea glass is formed when glass bottles tumble around in the ocean for years, decades even.  The bottles eventually break apart and get rolled around in the waves, knocked against rocks, sand, and the ocean floor.  The edges of the glass are rounded because of all of this clambering about and the actual face of the glass is usually frosted.  The salt water eats away at the coating on the outside of the bottle giving it a rough texture.  A lot of sea glass is formed because people throw their glass bottles overboard on cruises, fishing trips, etc.  Sea glass in this area is thought to have come from ships that were sunk in the war, GI’s throwing empty medicine bottles in the ocean out of frustration, things of that nature.  More war, less tourist.  Sea glass in general is becoming quite the collector’s item now that so many things come in plastic bottles rather than the colorful glass of yesteryear (I’ve always wanted to work that word into a story!) as well as the push for recycling.  Who knew that my liberal tendencies would pay off in way of a hobby someday?

The most common colors of sea glass are brown and white.  Amber green is a little more rare and then you have cobalt blue.  After that comes ice blue, red, purple, and orange.  These are the rarest of the rare colors of sea glass.  A pair of earrings made out of red seaglass the size of a pea go for $200.  Here in Okinawa we find a LOT pieces from brown, amber green and clear bottles.  Most medicines were kept in ice blue bottles and a lot of booze in the green and brown.  In one of the pictures, you can see part of the Coke-Cola symbol written out in cursive on a white piece of glass.

Still, this doesn’t explain the beach combing bag, I’m getting there.

Searching the island for sea glass is the most peaceful, relaxing thing I can imagine doing on a lazy morning.  It’s calming, and trust me, when you drop your boyfriend off for trip after trip, you need some calm in your life.  So I comb the beach for pieces of sea glass.  I walk up and down the same stretch of beach, 2, 3, 4 times or until the sun does me in.  I’m spoiled in Okinawa, particularly at Torii Beach.  There’s so much of the stuff that I can literally pick and choose which pieces I want to pick up and put in my bag (a ha!  There it is, the bag!)  and which I can leave behind.  That’s unheard of most places in the world.  Most places, you pick up every piece you find no matter the shape, color, or size.  Here, it’s easy to take for granted.  It’s fun too, if you go early enough in the morning, to watch the crabs dig their daily holes and watch the tiny shells crawling roughly across the sand with their little beings inside.  You get to pick up and examine the pieces, deciding if they would be good for your collection or for one you want to send back home.  If they are even worthy of being deemed true sea glass or if they need a few more years in the water (these pieces almost always get thrown in the ocean).

I cherish the mornings I get to do this.  When I am literally the only person I can see on the beach.  When I’m staring down between my toes trying to figure out to start left or to start right or if I should just sit and gaze out at the water for a few minutes.  I’m so interested in the stories of the bottles.  I wish they could tell me who threw them over, was it is rage or good humor or drunkenness.  Where did it break apart?  How long has it been here?

Something else I’ve started collecting with the glass is pieces of pottery I find.  A lot of this pottery is from dishes of cruise ships or from the war.  The island was completely blown to hell and stuff landed everywhere, namely, the ocean.  It’s neat to find pieces you think might be from the same set or that might be from some old Okinawans home.  If only THOSE pieces could talk….

Anyway, that’s all for this one.  While it’s not as exciting or entertaining as the other nonsense I get into, it’s pretty fabulous for me.  And see?  For those of you who might be worried my adventuring has taken a backseat to my new found love interest, you should be glad to know I’m still doing stuff for myself, too.  One of my friend’s husbands thinks it’s completely ridiculous that I love collecting sea glass and you might too.  That’s fine, to each his/her own.  But when your significant other starts wanting the stuff because they read this blog and see the pictures, don’t come around these parts asking for help.

xo








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