30 01 2010

Things I get asked a lot and the general response that are given:

1. Are you a dependent of someone in the military?

A: No, I’m here by myself.  Like a real life female capable of surviving in this scary, scary world.  No, not really, I don’t say that though I would like to.  I’m the anomaly here in Okinawa.  So far I have not met one other non-military American woman that is single.  If you know of any, please let me know.  It would be nice to have someone to go out with.

2. Will you take our picture?

A: Hai.   (yes.)

3. Why did you move to Japan?

A: I was bored.  Why did you move to Sacramento?  Exactly.

4.  Do you drive on the wrong side of the road?

A: No, though I do drive on the opposite side of the road.  The steering wheel is on the opposite side as well and the windshield wipers and blinker are reversed.  Just because in the States you drive on the “right” side of the road does not mean that we drive on the “wrong” side.

5. Are the menus in English?

A. No, not unless you luck out and the English version is available, much like anything else.  Maps, road signs, electric bill, food, directions on packaging, Japanese only my friends.

6.  How’s it being surrounded by service people?

A. Honestly, most the time it’s fine.  They are respectful, young, dumb kids that have been taught to call everyone ma’am and to pull my chair out.  Which is awkward when you work at a restaurant and you’re trying to do it for them.  But besides that, it has really opened my eyes to the military, what they do and don’t do, and what they actually have control over.  They believe in their country more than anyone else, enough to give their life for it, so time to stop talking shit and figure out how to change what needs to be changed.

7. Have you had any problems at the restaurant?

A. Well problems how exactly.  We have jerks that come in.  The usually calm and respectful group can still get drunk and rowdy.  Before I worked at the store, there was a young marine that came in and caused a HUGE scene.  His commander found out and made him come bus tables for a week with no pay.  That’s the kind of world I live in.  Don’t screw up or be stupid because who knows who’s watching.  The other massive issue at the restaurant is the communication barrier.  I’m learning fast, but not fast enough.  How are you, what’s your name, good, bad, left, right, 1 2 3 4 5 6 only get you so far with a staff that is primarily Japanese.

8. Do you eat sushi and drink sake everyday?

A. No and no.  Though I do eat a LOT of sushi.  It’s delicious and fresh and more often than not comes to you on a conveyer belt.  What’s not to love.  The legal driving limit here is .03 – which is about a beer.  So a drink with dinner?  Not unless you want to go to jail.  And man, are they serious about it.  We’re talking cameras in the bars, linked to the police stations so they can get your ass as soon as you turn the engine on.  None of this for me thanks, I’d like to keep my license that I worked so hard for (hahahahaha – not really.  I took a 30 question test).

9. Are you going to marry a Marine? Or a Japanese man?

A. These are not my only options here on this island and no, I don’t plan to do either any time soon.  Though I have had to deny 2 people my hand already.  No joke.

10. How do you make friends?

A. Slowly.  On the Japanese side of things, it’s helpful that I have blonde hair and am from Texas.  They love both of these things.  On the American side of things, it’s very slow going.  Most of the Americans here are men.  The only thing they say to me is excuse me ma’am, here let me get that for you ma’am (at the grocery store, seriously.), Where’s my salad ma’am and sometimes a smile.   Now, I would like to believe that they don’t talk to me because they assume I’m married or here with someone, not because they think I’m hideous.  The other issue here is that I’m not allowed to hang out with employees.  Yea, well.  We’ll see about that.  My favorite new friend story thus far is from New Year’s Eve.  Beije and her husband both ran off for a few minutes at the same time.  Ed asked, “you’ll be okay for a few minutes?”  I turned around and said, “Yea, I’m going to make this guy talk to me.”  Thankfully, the nice gentleman obliged and we are actual friends now.

11. How long are you staying in Japan?  What are you doing after?

A. My contract is two years, so at least until September 2011.  There is an option for a 3rd year, so we will see.  After?  After what, tomorrow?  I don’t do plans well.  Never have.  I think that’s part of why I can pick up my life and move to Japan sort of on a whim.  Maybe someday I won’t want to live my life like this, I just hope that day isn’t any time soon.

12. Don’t you get scared being there by yourself?

A. Of course.  Especially when I’m taking a nap and am woken up because my house is shaking violently, thanks earthquake.  Or when I can’t remember if I’m on the correct side of the road or not.  Or when I’m going to a place that is far away from my house and get lost.  A GPS in all Japanese tends to not help in this case.  Moving to any new place is scary.  I’m pretty thankful though that I was shipped off to a small Japanese island where I can still communicate with some of the inhabitants and can mostly figure out the meat aisle at the grocery store.

13.  Don’t you miss home?

See, here’s where it gets tricky because I don’t want to offend anyone.  Yes, of course I miss my friends and family.  Who wouldn’t.  At the same time, I do not miss Texas or the States in general…yet.  I’m sure the day will come.  I adapt to places at an abnormally fast pace, which can be both good and bad.  I never get into the tourist feel of things saying, “Wow, look at that huge old building, church, castle, national monument, etc.” My body does this neat thing where it goes, yea of course that’s there you idiot, you’re in (insert country name here) and it never seems out of the norm to me.  When this happened in my life, I have no idea.  I’m sort of thankful for it otherwise, I would have been back on a plane to Texas about 5 weeks ago.

14. Do you have an ID or mailbox yet?

A. YES. Well, to one of those and I think you probably know which one.  I’m not going to post my address on here, but if you would like it, feel free to e-mail me at steph1912@gmail.com.  As far as the ID thing goes, I try not to get too down about it.  Some of my friends have been dealing with this for 6 months and I’ve only been at it 8 weeks.  Though, to be fair, it looks like they will have gotten two free vacations out of the deal by the time it’s all said and down so I’m not sure how awful it really is (just kidding Willett’s, I know you want an ID like you want a Moscow Mule on a hot summer day).  Once again, I’ve been told they will be ready Monday and once again, while this news is exciting I try not to get my hopes up.

And that is that, love you guys.



See ya later stop sign.

10 01 2010

So as you may have gathered by now, I’m mobile! I officially bought a car on the 4th of January and so far so good.  It’s called a Toyota Will Cypha.  It comes with GPS that cannot be turned off or understood due to the Japanese writing.  It’s light blue and fabulous and before you ask, yes.  The steering wheel is on the other side of the car.  The blinker and the windshield wipers are also opposite.  This is probably the quickest way to tell if someone is new on base.  They are slowing down to make a turn and yup, sure enough, wipers on.  That and just driving on the wrong side of the road.  That’s a fairly large indicator as well.

Something that the Japanese are doing 100% correctly is they issue magnets to kids that have just started driving as well as to those over 65.  They are different shapes and colors but they are to alert other drivers to be safe because the people operating these vehicles might not be 100% sure of themselves.  Love it, someone in the States, please make this happen.

Being pulled over by the military police is usually another sign of newness on base – that or you’re just an idiot. Or both.  Especially if it’s before you ever get through the gate guard.  How do I know this?  It might have happened to me a few days ago.  It went something like this:

(driving down 58 getting ready to turn into the commissary gate on Camp Foster.  I see a yield sign, no cars coming so I go.  I immediately see a military police car, suddenly with flashing lights and just assume that I did something wrong.  In fact, yes, I did.)

Military Police: Hi Ma’am.  We pulled you over because you ran a stop sign.

Me: What stop sign?

MP: The one on 58 before as you’re turning into base.

Me: Oh, sorry.  I thought it was yield.  At least I looked to make sure no cars were coming?

MP: Well that’s a start ma’am.  Can I please see your ID card, license and registration for the car?

Me: You can see my license and registration but I don’t have an ID card.  It’s a long story.  Do you want my ITO, SOFA status paperwork, or work orders?

MP: Um, okay, sure.  All of it I guess.  I’ll be right back.

After a few minutes talking to the other officer….

MP: Ma’am, so you lost your ID card?

Me: No.  The marines refuse to issue me an ID card.  Do you want to hear the story?

MP: Um, maybe the short version

Me:  I’m a third party contractor.  The Marines changed the ID policy without telling MCCS so now here I am with an ITO and paperwork saying I’m SOFA status but can’t get an ID card.

MP: Um, okay….um…hang on another second.

Me: Sure, no worries.  (When in fact I was very worried.  At this point I’m throughly convinced I’m about to have to go to the military police station and explain what I’m doing here.  Play it cool Steph, play it cool)

MP: (after going back to his car, gathering all of my paperwork he has taken, which at this point is: my passport, ITO, license, work orders, registration and car insurance and my 10 page packet of SOFA information)    Ma’am we’ve decided to let you go today.

Me: Is it because I’m not in the system without an ID?

MP: Off the record, yes.  You’re in the system but it would be near impossible to document this.  And honestly, we saw you look back as if you were at a yield sign.  Just remember there’s a stop sign there, please.

Me: Okay, sounds good.  Thanks.  Come say hi at the Macaroni Grill.

MP: Yes ma’am, I’ll do that.  Drive safe now.

Me: gunning it – see ya later, sucker!

I saw my new friend again last night when I was leaving the PX.  He asked me if I had an ID yet and I told him no.  He just shook his head and said, “Ma’am on behalf of this organization, I truly apologize.”  How sweet is this guy?!

So anyway, I guess I’ll be paying more attention for stop signs.  And yield signs.  Which are the same shape.  Narisa, another manager at work, got me one of those “new driver” magnets.  While before I thought it would be funny for an American girl to be driving around with this, I’m now thinking it might be smart to actually use it.  I embarrass myself enough already, what more can a magnet do?


Happy New Years

10 01 2010

Happy New Year friends and family! And the one dude in France that reads this (I appreciate you greatly by the way).

I’m currently sitting on the floor in my empty tatami room waiting on the furniture store to bring me my goods.  I’m more than a little concerned I will never see my couch or coffee table due to the phone call that I was just a part of.  From what I can gather, the delivery people can’t find my house.  This is not surprising, no one can ever find this house.  Though, most of those people, speak some English and can eventually find it using my terrible directions.  To the Japanese furniture movers, my directions just now were:

Moshi, moshi.  330? towards Koza music town? Hai, migi at Awase golf course go go go go go until dead end? Hai?  Umm, you have to go left or migi, go migi.  Pass Hotel Hawaii, migi at the windy road.  Pass some apartments and then house on the left, no migi to my house, other way.  Hotel Dai-ichi?  On migi on my street, but too far.  Turn around.  Hai, okay…..see you soon!

Seriously, I will never see that furniture.

So anyway, happy new year!  I hope everyone had a great time and a good hangover cure on the 1st.  Things here were great for New Years.  I decided to break all rules management and go out with one of the girls from the store and her husband.  A few other kids from the restaurant had asked me to go random places with them but I decided Beije was a safe bet since she is usually the most low key and responsible one at the Mac Shack.  We went to dinner at a hotel which was very nice.  It would be a great spot for lunch as it was on the 5th floor and overlooks the ocean.  Still very nice for dinner just minus the view.  You should know that restaurants in Okinawa have buzzers on all of the tables so when you need something you literally buzz the server.  It is the only time they will visit the table so you better feel comfortable doing this.  Beije made the comment that she felt like she was at Pancho’s raising the flag every time she “buzzed” someone.  HA.

After dinner we went to this cute martini bar called Niche (that everyone pronounces neat-che here, no idea why).  They had champagne, party hats, meat trays, enough Orion beer for the whole island, and of course, balloons and noise makers.  The place is only big enough to hold about 60 people which I thought might get claustrophobic but worked out quite nicely.  Midnight came and went relatively quietly and THEN the madness began.  Some dude’s wife started trying to make out with Beije.  Ed, Beije’s husband was just laughing the whole time.  I thought we should do something but he said no.  Another girl from the restaurant had shown up and was trying to play mom to Beije.  Beije was having none of it.  Really, she probably would have made out with drunky before she wanted help from this other girl.  Well, next thing you know, maybe 10 minutes later, the drunk wife is puking – everywhere and on everything.  Beije somehow gets a drink spilt on her and is NOT happy.  Drunky wife is now in a cab puking.  I decide it’s time to call a cab and get the hell out of there.  I’m not entirely sure who, besides the nice gentleman that ran two blocks and came back with a cab for me, I told goodbye.  At that point, no one would have remembered anyway.  Seeing those girls at work the next day was funny funny funny.  They both looked like they wanted to fall over and die.  And it was 5 pm.  Happy New Years indeed!

Beije and Ed on New Years

So along with the American tradition of getting ridiculously drunk and starting the year with a headache, Japanese people also go to temple for the New Year.  This is a MAJOR holiday in Japan.  Businesses are closed from the 31st of December through the 4th of January to give people time with their families, friends, and time to travel to a shrine.  Now, I had heard and read about this temple thing before and figured it would be a good cultural experience to go.  Generally people go the 1st through the 3rd of January and I figured, oh what the hell.  I’ll go on the 2nd.  Which was a Saturday and a mistake.  There were cars lined up on both sides of the road for 2 km in either direction of the temple.  Seriously.  The street vendors selling candy, bracelets, good luck charms, and face masks were lined up at least this far.  I went in (bypassing the handwashing line, oops), got a good luck charm, threw some money and wished for good things this year.  I roamed around for a few minutes and then left.  I didn’t know what else to do and I was the only American there.  Not like I could ask anyone.  Thankfully, I was telling Rina at work about this and she thought 2 things: 1. I was insane for going to Japanese temple by myself without knowing what was going on and 2. that I needed to do it right if I was going to do it.  She invited me to go with her after work on the 3rd, thank God for Rina.

temple #1- Futnema Temple

We went with a few other people from work – there I go, breaking rules again.  This time things went much smoother.  I waited my turn in the hand washing line, bought a few other good luck charms (one of note – good luck for driving.  this was a must), and again waited to throw money.  Yes, throwing money sounds tacky and the girls were horrified when I asked, “Are we in the line were we throw money in the box?”  But I mean, seriously.  It’s what you do.  Yes, it’s an offering and it’s more fun than a church offering but essentially, it’s throwing money.  You toss some coins, clap twice, pray, and bow.  I LOVE it.  We also got some food at temple #2, pictures to follow.  I think the biggest thing that I had missed at the Futnema temple was the grabbing of the fortune.  You stick your hand in this HUGE box of fortunes, we are talking thousands of pieces of paper, and grab your fortune for the year.  They can range from very good to very poor.  The very poor fortunes can be left at temple by tying them on a fence as Rina will now demonstrate:

Rina with her less than stellar fortune.

People also bring their fortunes from last year to leave as well, a very superstitious bunch the Okinawians.  Fortunately (ha), my fortune was “very good”.  Is says things like, “Speculation: It will be changeable, so try all possible means.” “Illness: It’s just a slightest illness.  No problem.” “Now is the time when you try anything. But be very careful of everything and concentrate your mind on what you’ve decided to do, and you’ll be successful.”  Engrish at it’s finest.

Temple #2 - Narita temple

Harumi, Rina, Eriko, and Manami - going to throw money 🙂

food lines at temple

holy cotton candy

So the holidays have come and gone.  I thought I would be more homesick by now, but frankly, I’m enjoying my 60 degree days.  See ya later 14 degrees in Dallas! Eek!  Christmas came and went without any fanfare.  I had to work which was sort of a bummer but really it was probably good so I wouldn’t be thinking about missing Christmas at home.  Cynde and I did have an adventure and drove down to Itoman City for the light festival that the town holds during the month of December.  We quickly realized it was for little kids so while that was disappointing we did get free passion fruit wine samples.  No complaints there.

Itoman City Lights. turns out 1.3 million lights isn't all that much.

me, some lights, and the ever present peace sign.

Again, I hope everyone is having a great start to their year.  Eat a tangerine – apparently they are good luck.  Akemashite omedeto u gozaimasu!

edit – the truck did finally show up with my furniture.  I might have chased it down the road after watching it pass my house 2 times.  But now my tatami room looks like this: