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?


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.


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.


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!