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.

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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.





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





hey lizard, get outta my house.

9 05 2010

Remember that whole love/hate thing between me and this island I mentioned in the last blog?  Well, the tides have turned my friends.  Me and Okinawa?  NOT on good terms right now.  Well, at least me and the creatures of Okinawa….

A few nights ago I came home from work pretty late and immediately went upstairs to get on the computer.  Now, I have an extra bedroom that more or less exists as my “get ready” room.  I do my hair here, iron clothes, put on make-up, those sorts of things.  TB is currently on a trip which not only affects my mood most days but also affects how much time I spend staring at a computer screen.  I was on the computer hoping to catch him on Skype or chat before bed but to no avail.  I stood up from my giant floor cushion, start to walk towards the doorway and noticed a shadow on the wall.  Weird, my walls are all WHITE.  What’s that strange, greenish, brownish, thing up there?  Uhhhh, it has legs.  And a tail.  And little beady eyes.  That’s right, it was a lizard my friends.  My heart was pumping so hard I honestly thought I was going to pass out.  Stephanie, a lizard.  Who cares?  I can hear it now from you animal lovers, but here’s the thing.  It was taunting me.  Like, hey lady.  I’m not moving.  And since I’m hanging out above this doorway that’s seven feet high, you can’t get me down.  So now what are you going to do?

So we had a stand-off.  And at this point, this is where it got ridiculous.  I was honest to God standing in the middle of that extra room, arms crossed just staring at this lizard.  I would take a few steps forward to look at it, it would move it’s tiny creepy foot, and I would jump back about eight feet.  Then, I talked to it.  I honestly had a conversation with this lizard that went something along the lines of, “Look.  I need you to be out of my house.  I need you out because I won’t sleep well until I know you’re gone and the slightest ruffle of the wind will have me convinced you are in my sheets.  So please, please just go.”  Nothing.  Not one world from that lizard.  What a pompous bastard.

Then I started realizing there was a LOT of stuff on the ground.  Like, a whole lot.  Which also made me nervous.  In the moment I was worried that there was a whole family, a whole lizard community living under my baseball hat or behind the mirror I have yet to hang on the wall.  So I started cleaning.  I picked up everything that was on the floor with the most rapid motion you have ever seen.  You know, just in case the community actually existed.  Nope, still just the one. So my next move?  Just get outta the room and close the door.  The lizard found his way in, he can find his own way out.  And that’s exactly what I did.  I walked slowly towards the door, made a small leap out the doorway, and slammed it closed.  I’ve seen too many movies where people end up with animals on their heads.

But no, of course I couldn’t actually be okay with a lizard just hanging out in my house.  Good lord.  I tried to convince myself for about 15 minutes that it would be fine.  But every time I walked up the stairs my heart started beating so loud I swear I could hear it.  So I grabbed a jar.  I figured I could just scoop him up close the lid and then take him outside.  I never had any intention of killing him, (again, information for you animal lovers out there).  Besides, can you imagine the potential mess and clean up of killing a lizard? YUCK.

I slowly opened the door with my free hand, jumped back into the room and spun around to find…..nothing.  The damn thing was GONE.  MIA.  SHIT.   Wait, this is what I wanted right?  I wanted to abandon the lizard so it would find its own way out.  Only, somewhere in the back of my head, I KNEW that thing was still in the house.  Only now it was in a better hiding spot.  Either behind the basket of hair supplies, on the leg of the iron, in the curtains, or wait……behind the stupid baseball hat.  I see your skinny little head lizard!  Come here!  I moved the hat towards the jar thinking he would just waltz right into the jar, I could close the lid and then take him outside.  But no, of course it’s not that easy.  That little sucker was fast as lightning.  He started darting all over the room.  From one corner, to the ceiling, to the opposite wall, back to the corner.  He finally stopped on the curtains, and I had my chance.  I picked up a small cardboard box on the ground, jar in my right hand and trapped him from both sides.  Unfortunately, success only lasted about 3 seconds.  The lizard quickly realized that the jar and the box were not the same size, thus leaving an opening on either side of the box.  He crawled out, I dropped both jar and box out of a terrifying mix of shock and fear (Yes, of a gecko.  Shut up back there in the peanut gallery).   Are you freaking kidding me?!?!  I was so frustrated, so annoyed.  Then what happens, the phone rings.  TB is finally able to call from his trip, at 2am mind you, in the MIDDLE of my lizard crisis.  SO not okay.  But.  What’s this?  The lizard is now on the wall next to a window.  Stephanie, just open the damn window.  So I did.  I talked myself into reaching within 4 inches of that thing and opening the window.  It was like he trusted me again, back to stand-off mode.  I prodded him along with the box, slowly so he didn’t freak out again because I really couldn’t handle anymore of the running around the room.  He paused for one tiny moment as if to say, really?  This is all you wanted?  And then walked out of my concrete house, cool as a cucumber.  I on the other hand, with sweaty palms slammed the window closed and sank down on the floor and cried.  The combination of the lizard, the phone call, the lack of TB and the adrenaline finally did me in.  I’d had quite enough of the animal kingdom, thank you.

Except.  That it wasn’t enough.  What is this ridiculous karma I have with island creatures?  Sheeesh.  Fast forward about 20 hours. (I promise to keep this story shorter).  My friend B and I had recently been discussing bats and how they are everywhere on Okinawa.  Not just the little ones either.  We have big ugly fruit bats and they are NOT afraid of people.  They go zooming around at night around the bars, restaurants, and military bases.  Now I have a small yard with a lot of trees.  Big trees at that.  Tall with big floppy leaves, flowers, the whole bit.  So, I need to go out to my car, get my book.  Open the door and BAT FLYING AT MY FACE out of one of the giant trees.  I swear, I just stood there and sighed shaking my head back and forth while I lost another 6 years off of my life.  I feel like smoking would be less detrimental to my health these days than all of this animal nonsense.  The bat flew in between my front door and the columns on the porch.  We’re talking a space of about 3.5 feet friends, seriously.  That is too close for a bat to be to my house, let alone to my face.  I went back inside, talked to B, drove to her house and proceeded to split 3 bottles of champagne with her and ate a big bag of Popeye’s.  I had earned it over the past two days, don’t you think?

Now, some of you may be thinking, seriously Stephanie.  Cut the overreacting, cut the drama.  But I’m stressed.  TB is out-of-town and I have animals running amuck in my house and flying at my head.  I’m exhausted, I’m on edge, and I don’t like animals enough to say oh well, fly at your own speed, even if it means crashing into my face.  You go live by yourself in a foreign country and let me know how it goes when a bat flies at YOUR face or a lizard decides to take up residence in YOUR spare bedroom.  Until then, you may laugh at my misery but you may not judge me for it, thank you very much.

PS – Happy Mother’s Day friends and family.  Especially to the one and only Gail who supports all of my crazy ideas with never-ending love and boxes of supplies from home.  I don’t know how you do it, and I’m forever grateful for your generosity and go get ’em attitude.  You remind me to be strong on the days that I want to throw in the towel with your positive attitude and Bailey’s Irish Cream.  I love you, G dog.

xo





ziiiiip! lining.

2 05 2010

Well, what do you know.  I have completed an actual adventure!

About 6 weeks ago, TB (“the boy”) and I said we were going to go ziplining that very weekend.  Clearly, that didn’t work out.  Turns out we like to drink too much.  We would stay out until ungodly hours of the night and then fail to get out of bed until noon the next day.  Oops.  On the few occasions were we decided, okay, no drinking tonight so we can zipline tomorrow and not puke all over everything, it was raining the next morning.  See, Okinawa and I have a love hate relationship about my days off.  I love them and plan fun things around them, and Okinawa hates me and manages to produce rain for several hours on said day off, thus crushing all of my hopes and dreams.  Okinawa 1: Steph 0.

Last weekend though, all of the stars aligned.  TB and I managed to have a nice dinner on Friday, a few drinks, and called it an early night.  I woke up at 9 am – no alarm, thank you very much, to a cloudy yet beautiful day.  Alas!  Ziplining could happen.

We drove north to Onna Village to a place called Forest Adventure Park.  Just finding the place is a little ridiculous considering there is a small shop, convenience store size, where you have to first stop and pay (along with sign your life away).  From there you drive across the way to park your space shuttle, ahem, I mean car, and then finally board a Forest Adventure Van that takes you to the actual park.  I was out of breath from the 200m hike up to “the lodge” where you get all of your gear.  Great.  This should be super fun running around in a forest all day…..

So.  What do you call employees that watch over people zipling?  Like the beach and the pool has lifeguards, right?  What do you call those that watch over zipliners?  Because whatever they are called, apparently the people of the Forest Adventure Park feel as if they are unnecessary.  I was quick to realize we were about to be on our own for this.  Granted you do have to complete a safety course before they just let you out into the park.  Let us discuss.

First of all, we’re in Okinawa.  Can I just remind you how many Americans live here?  I’m all for learning the language of the land, but when it comes to a safety course, don’t you think you could have an instructor that can say more than “danger” in English?  Eek.  So our safety course consisted of this: 4 Americans and about 10 Japanese standing around watching a lady demonstrate the proper ziplining techniques.  It was a lot of show and tell, with the four Americans not understanding the tell part at all.  The woman would speak in Japanese for a good minute and a half and then would look at us, point at the rig she had set up and simply say, “Danger.”  The actual zipline and the safety facing the same way?  Danger.  The safety being in front of the other apparatus? Danger.  The safety not being on top of the ziplining thing?  Danger.  So you see my point perhaps.  I’m all for doing ridiculous things, but when there are no lifeguards (for lack of the proper word) on this zipling course, I would like a better explanation of my gear than “danger.”

Of course being Mr. Army that he is, TB volunteered to go first across the safety course, thus volunteering me to go second.  Great.  I’m already scared as hell, would have been happy watching 20 people go across this safety thing, and now I’m second with a bunch of Japanese people staring.  I managed to hook the safety to the correct rope (you have to climb up rope ladders and sketchy wooden ladders to get to the platform you actually zip from), climb up the ladder and then I failed.  I unhooked the wrong thing first.  Then I was standing on the platform not hooked into anything.  Big no no in ziplining world apparently.  Somehow I managed to cross the first obstacle without falling off so I was gaining some confidence.  I guess my smile and the fact that I was with TB cleared me for the course because I definitely should not have passed the safety course.  I probably did 3 out of 5 possible things incorrectly.  Who knows.  Maybe TB slipped the safety lady a 20 to let us on our way.  More of a, look, I’ll take care of her.  Don’t worry.

So doing something like this with someone in the Army is hilarious.  The first thing you have to do is walk down this pathway to get to the first zipline.  TB though wanted to be ahead of everyone else so we wouldn’t have to wait in line behind them since only one person can zip at a time.  So instead of walking down the pathway, we ran.  TB, boot camp style and me tripping over my own feet.  We had a quick chat about, hello, do you remember how clumsy I am?!?! and we slowed down.  Though only slightly.  We got on the first line, he hooked my apparatus up (probably since the safety lady could still see us) and away I went: zzziiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiipppp across a jungle!

ziiiip!

How much fun is that?!?!  The answer is real fun my friends.  I couldn’t stop laughing for a very very long time.  It was absolutely imperative to make a silly noise every time I stepped off of a platform to zoom across another section of the forest.  It was either that or get a running start and fling myself over the edge.  I went with the former.  Check out these other crazy things that were randomly spaced out across the course:

Tibetan bridge

sketchy bridge

The best/weirdest/craziest part was at the very end.  There was an obstacle course that started with you JUMPING off of a platform, on a loose line, and throwing yourself into a giant rope net.  Imagine how people swing on a trapeze line, that was similar to this only you’re not grabbing on to another person that’s going to take you with them, you’re slamming yourself into a rope net.  I earned a nice hip bruise from this one.  It was very American Gladiators which I thoroughly appreciated.  You continued on this course through swinging logs (30 feet off the ground), a wire that had zigzagging wires running through it, thus making you step around them (again, 30 feet in the air), and yes.  Yes, my friends it’s true.  Even the rings from American Gladiators.  Only instead of swinging back and forth like a monkey from your arms, you had to get your FEET in each one before you could move forward.  By this point I had had enough so I opted for the shortcut.  TB took the long route, clearly it wasn’t going to get the best of him, and it was definitely decided I had made the better decision.  One last zipline and away we went.

I have recently come to appreciate the difference between adventuring with friends and adventuring alone.  While I do enjoy both, with friends is way better in cases like this.  We laughed so much – at ourselves, at each other, and at the tiny Japanese girls who couldn’t stop their nervous giggles.  I was so thankful to have someone to share this kind of thing with, doing it alone just wouldn’t have been the same.

Last thing, I swear.  After all the adventuring was done, we were driving and saw THIS.

Holy giant statue, holy giant bell.  The bell had one of those big ass round pieces of wood hanging next to it, perpendicular to the bell to ring it with.  There was a thought there for a few seconds of, shoot.  Do we ring it or not?  Is it only for sacred days?  Sacred ceremonies?  Funerals?  Births?  GOOOOONG.  The pressure was too much, we had to ring it.  And the statue was awesome.  I need to decipher who the guy was, I’ll get back to you on that.

And that ladies and gents concludes this edition of awesomeness in Japan.  Jaa mata!

xo