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.


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.



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

and alas, an update.

2 09 2010

So….. I suck.  I suck at updating.  I know this, I have embraced this.  I was so good for a while! And then, nothing.  There are so many updates I don’t even know where to start, but I’m going to give it a go.

For starters, I’ve moved.  I loved my house, absolutely loved it and I had finally even embraced the random animal noises at all times of day and night.  I liked my neighbors though I’m not sure they would say the same about me.  There was a little old man who always managed to be around when I got home from work in the middle of the day.  I never did figure out where he came from, he didn’t live in the house next to me nor the apartments on the other side, but I did finally figure out his name – Tomoya.  I know it’s silly but I miss seeing him when I get home from work.  When I first moved into that house, he was the constant in my life – always there with a smile and saying hello.

But now, I have a new man in my life.  While his actual presence on this island is far from constant, his smile and greeting are both far more important than Tomoya-sans.  TB and I have been together for going on 6 months now.  Things are great with us.  We have managed to fall into a routine…well, make that two routines.  One while he’s on island and one while he’s away.  And while that was not an easy adjustment, the constant travel, it was a necessary one.  At some point it became ridiculous that we were living in two different places.  We were together constantly, shuttling back and forth between two places in two different parts of town 20 minutes apart.  The yen rate was and is awful – I was losing about $200-$300 dollars in the exchange rate every month when I was paying rent.  I was talking about moving anyway and over enchiladas and pilaf, TB asked me to move in.  I was a little shocked and taken aback but quickly realized, OF COURSE.  You love me, I love you, let’s do it.  So here we are.  No more driving between two houses to turn on or off the dehumidifiers, leave money for the lawn guy.  No more 4 am PT wake up calls because the base was so far from my house (instead it’s an alarm going off at 5am…).  It’s cooking dinner, drinking wine, and hanging out on the balcony.  Watching an episode of Modern Family and going to bed – at 9 pm.  And I love it.

Alright, alright.  Enough of the sappy, moving on.  I have recently (and by recently I mean yesterday) survived my first typhoon.  It was a harrowing experience, one I never want to live through again, one I don’t think I could survive…. Wait, what?  Lies, all lies.  Lots of hype, not so much on the actual event.  TB is, as you can probably guess, on another trip, which means I really was home for this experience by myself.   I don’t know about you, but when I hear typhoon, my brain hears hurricane Katrina.  We found out about it on Sunday evening, heard we were probably going to get some activity on Monday night but that it would be a small one.  And it was, right up until it wasn’t.  Turns out if a tropical storm is moving fairly quickly and then hits a huge patch of warm water, it will essentially stop and double in size.  Our tropical storm (soon declared typhoon Kompasu) did this – not once but twice.  It slowed down so much that it arrived almost a full 24 hours later than what was first reported.

Was I scared?  Yes.  Of course.  Again, I’m thinking Katrina! Katrina! Katrina!  We live on the 6th floor of an 18 floor apartment building that’s on the ocean.  I was convinced the glass was going to shatter out of every ceiling to floor length window in the apartment, thus allowing water and wind to just blow wildly into our house, destroying all the electronics, making flying projectiles out of the coffee machine and laundry basket.  I was about to die.  You could say my imagination runs a little off track in a possible disaster situation.  I moved my giant egg chair, a satellite dish, a beach chair, 3 pairs of shoes and diving gear in from the balcony.  The egg basket portion of the chair ended up in front of the fridge so that when the windows violently exploded, it couldn’t fly.  The TV, xbox, Wii, and all other electronics were promptly removed from the living room.  I unplugged all other electronics and strategically placed them behind objects that couldn’t be moved by 70 knot winds.  Essentially, I overreacted.

By the time we went into TC-1E at 6 pm, I was more annoyed than scared.  We had been hearing about this “typhoon” since Sunday.  One would think awful weather, at least a little rain and wind, but no.  It was beautiful all day Monday and most of yesterday.  There were people out riding bikes, people at the ocean.  It was a sunny, beautiful day.  Because of my fear, I had now been cooped up inside this apartment with barely a light breeze outside.  Without going into the huge explanation of the typhoon condition system, TC-1E is the emergency level of the system.  It means yo, keep your butt inside, this mess is here NOW.  All of a sudden it was BLACK outside.  Huge, scary dark gray ominous clouds were rolling in off the ocean, I was literally watching this storm hit.  I literally watched the sea level raise about 5 feet and waves were crashing in the fishing port across the street.  Steps that usually lead down to boats had disappeared.  Something fabulous I discovered about the apartment last night was that somehow the architecture allows no wind to hit our balcony.  It was amazing.  I had a front row seat to this thing, clearly all of my fear had left me.  And what’s that?  Okinawians are still out driving around?  Yes.  Typhoons are like a joke to them.  They make fun of the scared Americans, put away the sun umbrellas, bust out the golf umbrellas and go to the grocery store.  Go surfing, go to the bar.  Activities as normal.  And while I wasn’t that brave, I was still going stir crazy.  I had now been in the apartment for 18 hours waiting for this thing.  I wanted a better look.  I opened the front door to go downstairs and get an ice cream cone….except, I couldn’t open the front door.  I checked all 3 locks, all undone.  I pushed all of my body weight against the door only to barely have it budge.  But that was enough.  The howling noise of the wind and the beating of the rain against the door was enough to make me give up and respect this thing a little more.

Eventually, the rain stopped and the wind died down.  The electricity never went out and thanks to our amazing builders, rain never even touched the wall-sized windows that were BOUND to shader at any moment.  TB made me promise to use his headlamp if anything happened and sadly, I put it away without ever turning it on (trust me, had I needed to use it, there would have been a self portrait for sure).

So now the apartment is back to it’s normal state of disaster – clothes everywhere, dishes to be done, my organizing projects strewn across every surface.  All outdoor furniture has been returned to it’s balcony home and the electronics have been plugged back in.  The coffee machine is back on the counter along with the  all of the picture frames.  Herbert the beta fish was lucky enough to sleep in our room last night but has since been returned to his normal space.  I have to work today after having an extra day off thanks to our typhoon, I had my morning skype date with TB and will have our nightly Google chat here in a few hours.  The laundry machine is up and running again regardless of not being able to read what cycle it’s really on (all Japanese appliances = instructions in kanji) and I’m back to typing on the couch staring at the ocean.  I appreciate that the only thing that shows there was a typhoon yesterday is that the ocean is a hideous color of green and brown from everything being churned up on the bottom of the ocean.  If nothing else, Okinawa is disaster prepared (need I remind you about the earthquakes?  NOT fun in a 18 story building).

I think that’s going to be all for now.  I won’t guarantee another update this week, but I will try.  Thank you for being patient with me while I work out how to have a normal life here and still keep in touch with the States.  You would think a year would have been enough time to figure it out, but hey.  It’s all I got.




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.



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!


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!