Thursday, September 26, 2013

So now what?

"It's not, what you thought, when you first began it..." -Aimee Mann "Wise Up"

This song lyric has been running through my head for the past few days as I recovered from a cold and jet lag.   My trip overseas was absolutely amazing and yet was nothing like I thought it would be.  So now I begin the next phase in my life, the next adventure, the next journey.

Who knows what life has in store for them, but if you open yourself up to all the possibilities the world has to offer; you may just surprise yourself.  In my meager existence  somehow I have always ended up exactly where I needed to be even if I wasn't always aware that it was the place I needed to be.  Every experience teaches us something new about the world and about ourselves.  For a life long learner, that is the most rewarding part of any adventure.  Just like my adventure in Okinawa, there is always more to see and learn about the world around us.  Here is to seeking out those new things!

Speaking of my Okinawa trip- I must state that I am eternally grateful for the hospitality of my hosts in Okinawa.  I am very blessed and lucky to have friends that are so willing to accommodate a crazy, last minute traveler like myself!   There are not enough words to express my sincere appreciation for them as the trip would not have been so packed full of awesome things to do- on my own I would have never known where to begin.       

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Long Trip Home

DAY FIFTEEN: Thursday September 19, 2013

So it was time to depart Okinawa and fly back to the states.  I did not want to go.   There was something magical about being in Okinawa that I knew I would miss the minute I got on the plane.  The pace of life in Okinawa is more laid back, less rushed, seemed like no one was rushing around; of course there were likely people rushing around but they were the exception not the rule.  Everyone seemed so pleasant, kind, understanding and willing to help ensure communication success.   It was surreal to be in an environment where the language is completely unrecognizable- the characters of the written language are unknown.  Definitely opens your eyes to the struggles of communication with people who do not speak a native language.   However, it was time to go.

We arrived at Naha Airport about an hour and half ahead of our flight as was recommended by our hosts.  However, it was not a typical day at the airport and there were a sea of people filling the ticketing area.  Standing in line a very nice employee approached us and asked "International?" to which we nodded yes. "Gate D please" so we headed to the other end of the ticketing area where there were many Americans standing in line.   Wait.  Wait. Wait.  Although no one seemed worried, or concerned about the pace of the line.  So we waited.  Finally we approached the counter and within in a few minutes had our boarding passes and were on our way.   As we waited for our flight to board, we were informed that it was a bit late arriving so we would be 5-10 minutes late boarding.

After boarding there was a delay on takeoff but we got into the air and we were on the way to Tokyo.  I was very unaware of the time and evidently we were a lot later arriving to the airport than I was aware.  So we park on the tarmac and get on a bus to take us to the terminal.  Evidently some people on our connecting flight got flagged through the disembarking lines but I was blissfully unaware.  Suddenly there was an employee asking if we were on the flight to Chicago, and yes indeed we were. However, they indicated that we should just stay in line.  Then, when just a few people from the counter, suddenly the employee pulls me and ushers me quickly to the counter for processing.  What followed felt straight out of the movies.

On the other side of the door was a friendly lady asking "Chicago?" after I nodded, "Gate 31" as she pointed to the right.  Continuing down the terminal hallway about twenty feet later is another friendly lady saying "Chicago?" again I nodded yes, "Gate 31".  So we continued on and in about twenty feet there was another employees, this time with a clip board in hand, "Chicago?" we nod yes "Names please" so we stop to tell her and she says "No, no. keep walking, I will walk with you" after giving our names, "Gate 31".   Now I was starting to panic.  I picked up the pace and started jogging through the airport.  Again in another twenty feet was another employee and the race was on.   As I am almost running, I see one of the "walk-ways" on my left and bolt for it, hollering to a man on the walk-way "On your Right" as I jet past him and launch off the walkway, gate in sight- FINALLY.  So we arrive, out of breath, and hand over our tickets and board the plane.  Amusingly we were not the last from our flight to arrive on the plane so we probably did not need to run, but oh well.   There was also a clear difference once on the plane- the American mentality was rearing its ugly head much to my dismay.  People were sitting in random seats regardless of what the ticket in their hand said.  Then they were ticked off that anyone would challenge the fact that they were sitting in the wrong seat.  As a family with kids arrived on the plane even the flight attendants seemed to roll their eyes and grumble about kids on the plane.   I finally found a place to put my luggage (as putting your luggage in the bin which goes with you seat is somehow still a mystery to people) I plugged into the in seat entertainment system and proceeded to watch five movies and pass the time.

The flight was a bit more bumpy than it had been on the way there, but I had seen on the weather channel the day before that there were several systems moving through the flight path so I was not surprised.  However, I was surprised with the landing where it felt as if the plane skidded sideways briefly.  So we get off the plane and get in line to go through the port of entry customs and head for the connecting flight to Kansas City.  As we get through the line of grumpy people, line cutters, impatient complainers our check bags are scanned- "Your flight has been canceled".  Huh?  Yes, there were a line of thunderstorm that came through and messed up all sorts of flights.  Well, since our flight was cancelled, we knew there was no rush for us, so in the re-ticketing line we went.  Our turn was coming and we thought it would be better to go together since we were traveling together.  Glancing at the board we knew the shot was long of us getting into Kansas that day- but you never know.  We informed the agent that we could also fly into Wichita if there was a seat available.  Indeed there was one.  I told my friend that she should take the seat because she had business to take care of on Friday and I had nothing.  I was not worried about getting home or waiting till tomorrow if I had to.  It would all work out.

As we stood there waiting to get everything squared away another agent arrives and seems surprised that our agent is still there.  Out agent states that he hasn't taken his lunch break yet (it was 3pm) because of the weather issues.  I look at my friend and explain that I am going to go get in the line for another agent so this guy can go to lunch when he was done with her ticket.  The line of people who just watched me do this then try to go up to his counter, I took pleasure in telling them that maybe you should just be glad I did get back in line in front of you as I very well could have!  When it was my turn again the absolutely wonderful ticket agent was more than happy to help me get squared away- Kindness goes a long way!   So I got put on the standby list with a back up ticket held for the next day.  

Then it was onto the trolley, over to terminal two, back through security (oh yeah I have to take out the quart bag of liquids and take off my shoes- we are back in the states) and on to our gate.  For anyone who has been in the Chicago O'Hare airport you know that in the center of the hallway is no mans land.  You do not stop, stand, stare, or slow in this area.  This area is only for movement, and usually fairly quick movement.  This was how I knew that whatever storm system had come through really messed up the schedule- cause everybody was standing and staring and no one was moving quickly at all.  In fact there were even flight crews standing around at gates. Everyone was just waiting.

At this point I have been awake for 24 hours, even though according to the clock it is only a few hours after I left Okinawa (left at 12:45pm and it was 4:00pm in Chicago).   Admittedly I was getting a bit slap happy.  When the flight finally started boarding, I waited. I decided to go stand by the gate since I was stand by.  I waited.  Then I heard my name called, no exaggeration, I hollered "Oh yeah lucky lottery winner number 4!" and those around the gate giggled.  However, as I was standing there waiting to get the pass to board the flight, another person walks up who had a ticket already and I said "Or maybe not" with a sad face.  Those close to the gate said I should have just gone, but I stepped back and waited patiently. After the guy gets through the ticket guy turns, smiles, and hands me the boarding pass.  I hop on the plane and my friend says "yeah you made the plane" to which I reply "I MADE THE PLANE!!!!"  

So we arrive in Wichita and my friends mom was there to pick us up and drive us back to Emporia.  It was an eventful day full of chaos which in hindsight was probably good.  We were so busy with travel stuff, I was unable to dwell on the fact that I was not in Okinawa anymore.  We arrived safe and sound back in Emporia, exhausted, jet lagged and I with a very annoying cold; but home none the less.

Day Thirteen and Fourteen Okinawa

 Tuesday September 17 and Wednesday September 18, 2013

So the last two days were a bit slower in general, mainly because the cold got worse.   We did manage to get in a few things though- like an awesome pedicure!   So in a very nondescript building, up a little side stairway, on the second level is a lovely nail salon. We are ushered to lovely overstuffed recliners looking out at the ocean, covered with a soft fleece blanket and offered a cool herbal tea.  Then the technician hands me the "book".  This is a 2" three ring binder that is full of various nail designs.  There are also a stack of nail boards set beside the chair in case you need a 3-D picture to get an idea.   After sitting comfortably while my feet were cleaned and then massaged, I finally decided on a lovely little cherry blossom design.  I could not see the process but about 15 minutes later, you can see the results below.  AMAZING!  These gals are very talented and did an awesome job.  They even painted apples on each of the 6 year old's toes.

Then it was off to dinner at Arashi that offers a variety of Raman, Soba, and Rice dishes.  The coolest part about this restaurant was that you order on a vending machine! After you select your dinner you receive a ticket which you then take to your table.  The waitress collects the ticket and then a little while later, returns with your dish.  I had the Special Fried Rice which was served in a hot skillet still sizzling.  It was delicious!

On Wednesday some last minute shopping was on the agenda for the day.  While wondering around the department store I snapped some pictures of the economy sized fridges and washer/dryer combos.  I kind of wish I saw these in the states.

This sign shows you some of the translation issues that occur.  While it is clear what the sign is trying to get across, the exact phrasing is a bit awkward. (Second dot "Excessive rubbing of engines")

This is a story called Drugstore Mori, very similar to a Walgreen's but very bright!

We wrapped up our last night with a little Karaoke and Teppanyaki Dinner.  Now- Karaoke in Japan is not the same as Karaoke in the States.  There are several of these Karaoke houses around where you can get you singing style on.  You go in and rent a soundproof room for a block of time.  In this room you can get food delivered as well as various types of drinks.  You and your friends get comfy around a table and start entering in the song line up.  Although the controller was in Japanese, after a quick tutorial we were ready to rock and roll, literally!  Some of the songs are set up similar to rock band and rate you on your accuracy, so you can even compete among your friends.   It was a blast!     

 Teppanyaki is the same thing as the Japanese Steakhouses found in the states.  They cook the food at your table and do a little of the tricks as they do in the states.    After the entree was selected it was time to sit back, eat delicious food and enjoy conversation with our friend that we would be leaving in the morning.   It was a grand night that will always stick out as a rockingly good time!
 Cream vegetable soup, salad with Japanese dressing

 Tenderloin, Onion/peppers/potatoes, Bean sprouts


The night was topped off with a trip to Blue Seal for some ice cream.  I selected one of my favorites- Green Tea ice cream.  

Took a quick pic of the array of flavors I am not likely to see in the states anytime soon.

So this is it.  The end of the trip and it is sad. Tomorrow it is the long trip home.

Day Twelve Okinawa

DAY TWELVE OKINAWA: Monday September 16, 2013

On Monday we headed to a historical site called the 'Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters' that proved to be an educational and emotional site.   This particular site was renovated and opened to the public in the 1970's.   As a student I took several classes on World War II but they largely focused on the European front.  My knowledge of the Western offensive is largely relegated to the large key battles that occurred.  Okinawa had been an independent island that was taken over by the Japanese and this led to their involvement in the war.  In fact, according to the brochure, "the Okinawa Islands were the only populated Japanese home islands to experience large scale land battle" (Site Brochure).    After climbing up to the peak of the exterior hill you see this lovely yet haunting memorial.    

After you enter the initial entryway you pass by many photos from after the defeat of the Japanese Navy by the American forces.  The pictures are of surrender and suffering of the Okinawan people.  You proceed down a flight of stairs to the Museum and entryway to the tunnels.  In the museum you get the background of the Japanese Naval forces that had dug into to defend the area of Naha City when the American forces landed on April 1, 1945 (Site Brochure). The tunnels that were created for this headquarters were dug by the Okinawan people using hand tools.  Later you will see the pick ax tool markings that still score the walls of the tunnels.  

This exhibit in the museum area highlights the high cost of war.  This is a snapshot of the lives lost in this one particular area during the three month offensive on the island.

Although blurry, this is a photo of 1000 origami cranes that adorn the entryway to the actual tunnels.  The cranes were created to "represent grief and pray for world peace for those individuals that lost their lives during the war" (Site brochure).  

The descent begins.  The long tunnel appears to go on forever when you first begin the descent underground.  The walls seep water onto the stairs and the air begins to cool as you move slowly lower into the damp and musty air.  The first room is the operations room.  An artistic impression of the now empty room hangs on the wall to explain what would have occurred in this particular room. 

The original socket electrical systems remain on the wall (though not longer used).

As you move further into the tunnels you are taken next into the staff room.   This room hits you in an unexpected and unforeseen way.  It was in this room that commanding men pulled the pins from grenades for an honorable death rather than surrender to the American forces.   The small plaque on the wall that informs you of this fact also states that the pitting on the wall is from those explosions. 

The next few areas show the Commanding Officer's room and Code Room.  You can almost make out the tree branches/trunks that were used as support beams in the Code room.  There is also another artistic impression of how the dirt was removed from the tunnels by the Okinawan workers.

The next area was a Medical Room, which really was just an alcove off of the tunnel.

This is one of three generator areas where you can still see the original foundation supports for the generators.

Next was the Petty Officers Quarters, which again was a very small alcove.  In fact the plaque stated that often there was not enough room for the men so they would simply sleep standing up in between the bunks. 

This exit, which is the only daylight that comes into the tunnels, was where the last stand occurred.  It was this tunnel exit that poorly armed men would have streamed out to fight the final battle against the American forces.   

The last room is the signal room which holds great significance for the Okinawan people.  This is where Admiral Minoru Ota, the commanding officer of the Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters, sent his farewell telegram to inform the Japanese of the battle situation.   This telegram was highly important to the native people (as evidenced by the posting of the entire text in the Museum, in the Tunnels, In the brochure, and parts repeated on many signs and plaques) as it commended the Okinawan people for their efforts to support the war.  

This is an excerpt from this highly important telegram:

             "The Okinawan people have been asked to volunteer their labor and conserve all their resources (mostly without complaint.)  In their heart, they wish only to serve as loyal Japanese.  Finally, ----.  This battle is nearing its end, the situation of the island of Okinawa -----.
             There are no trees, no grass; everything is burnt to the ground.  The food supply will be gone by the end of June.  This is how the Okinawan people have fought the war.
            And for this reason, I appeal to you to give the Okinawan people special consideration from this day forward."  (Site Brochure)   *Note ---- are words that could not be deciphered

 This last picture is of the informational board that is at the end of the tunnels (that are open to the public) the pictures show Japanese commanders, US commanders and what the area looked like at the time of the battle.    

"On June 13, 1945, Admiral Ota, with many of his officers and men, died and honorable death inside the underground.  According to the intelligence section of the Sixth Marine Division, 175 bodies were found." (Site Brochure)

Perspective is something that is taught in school and it is a hard concept to learn.  Even as an adult it is hard to look at these historical sites without being influenced by previous knowledge and the American perspective.  However, I tried to look at this with the perspective that we must remember the horrors of the past so that we are more encouraged to avoid those horrors in the future.  

Okay, so I did not want to end this post on a downer so I snapped this lovely picture of a Slot and Pachinco palace called the "Faroh"   :)