Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tatami and Tanlines

I'm sitting in my clean and packed up apartment waiting for the utilities people to come by and after a final lunch with my teachers, I'm off to Naha for the night. Then tomorrow morning I start my long trip home. I'm leaving Okinawa in a state of denial. Denial that my travels are done for the timebeing, denial that everyone at home was moving along in life as well (doesn't time freeze when you leave?!), denial that I will never set foot in my Zen apartment again, denial that I just spent a year in Japan (that's still really weird!)...

But I'm also leaving fulfilling my blog address: I have tanlines (thanks to Bridgit and Aquarius) and I've lounged around in my tatami room for hours on end. Okinawa had its ups and downs, that's for sure. I can't say it was a perfect year. But at the same time, I'm proud of myself for overcoming my initial unhappiness with the situation and sticking with it. I am incredibly thankful that I'm leaving the island with a positive view and happy memories rather than the bitterness I had at the beginning. I wish I could bottle up the smells (some of them), the sounds, the food, the sunshine (or about 50% of it), and everything that made up my experience in Okinawa. I'm trying to soak things in, but know that in a few years, the visions won't be clear and that I will forget events and places. And that makes me incredibly sad. Unlike England, I'm pretty sure I will never set foot in Japan again unless I suddenly become independently wealthy. I can say "I hope to see you soon!" to students and Okinawan friends, but know that I will never see them again.

So, before I make myself incredibly depressed, I'm going to watch Sesame Street, enjoy an Okinawan donut, and maybe do a final dance around my apartment with broom in hand.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Full Circle

I've looked at the thing for the last year. I've seen it from my apartment, from school, and have enjoyed Thai food next to one of its legs. Tonight was the night. Time to finally jump in a booth and ride the ferris wheel... and time to view the magic of Mihama from above. And one last print club and azuki bean frappuccino with Bridgit. We will miss you, Mihama.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The final farewells

Things I will shed a tear for:

Mihama Village, zenzai, azuki beans, Pucca chocolate, onigiri, miso-flavored stuff, the beach, the Union supermarket and theme song, kids staring at my eyes and nose, beautiful flowers, people covered up completely a la Michael Jackson in the sun, kawaii kids, cartoons for everything, my apartment, the mushroom cookies, mochi, ginger ale at every restaurant, AFN and award-winning commercials, the gym and naked conversations, 100 yen stores, Blue Seal ice cream, seeing geckos and huge butterflies on my walks, the joy of conbinis, feeling like a novelty, fun stores, cell phone emoticons, Nihonglish everywhere, vending machines at every turn, beautiful green/blue water, cute little Japanesey things, riding in a bus and watching people, quirky Kokusaidori, friends, genki students, lunch sets, having interesting things to blog about, Starbucks on Thursday nights, print club, taxi cab chats, massage chairs, Mr. Donut "crack" coffee, sashimi, ice coffee with sugar syrup, sliding doors and tatami mats, the urinal

Things I can't wait to kick to the curb:

infuriating parking tactics and defensive driving, kids staring at my eyes and nose, the heat, walking in the rain, only having one TV channel, talking about the weather, blank stares from students, teachers who are the only ones in the room repeating after me (and with the wrong pronunciation), listening to people answer the phones behind my head, the grunting, paperwork, snorting/spitting, 1600 yen movies, pizza with mayo, the same questions over and over and over, listening to the annoying math teacher talk during morning meetings, the stairs at my apartment building, sleeping on the floor, the threat of cockroaches, feeling like a novelty, back and tummy sweat at all times, heat and sun stroke, humidity, sitting in the metal building baking, trying to waste six hours at a desk each day, not being able to bake/cook anything because I can't read labels, glares from the man downstairs, bloody politicians with their megaphones, saying "Ohayo gozaimasu," not being able to find trashcans anywhere, stairs at school and apartment, military folks everywhere, the weird grey/brown paper at school that smudges ink, not knowing what people are saying about me, feeling like a child that has to be looked after, bad imitations of American food, Spam, slippery sidewalks, generally not knowing any details ever, mold

"It just got warm. Did you pee?"

I'm exhausted! I feel like I keep running and running and adding to my lists, while rarely crossing anything off. But it's also been an excellent weekend although it flew by a bit too fast.

On Friday, I had my last class (which was one of the best all year) and gave my speech in front of the school to say good-bye. Then my homeroom grabbed me and ran me up to the AV room to watch our video from the stage festival. After laughing at the performance, we ran up to the classroom for some Mr. Donut donuts and a very nice speech from one of the students. They also presented me with a collage of photos and good luck wishes (which were hilarious and thoughtful at the same time). It was exceptionally nice and as the summer break began, the students were reluctant to leave the classroom. A multitude of high fives were thrown and I sadly walked away.

The evening was spent with my teachers at a sushi restaurant where we chatted and enjoyed each other's company. Theresa, my predecessor came along and can now vouch for the strangeness of some of the new teachers. Quote of the night came from one of my teachers who told the crazy teacher who wears the crepe outfits that she liked her pants fringe. Quote from crazy teacher: "Yes. Thank you. The theme of this outfit is 'cicadas.'" Ha.

On Saturday I grabbed my beach towel and headed to Tropical Beach with Jamie, Theresa, and Bridgit. It was extremely hot out and we spent most of the afternoon in the bathtub water ocean. There were plenty of people to watch and after having our fill of the sun, we made our way to a cafe for some more chatting. I spent the evening wandering Mihama at night and watching "Harry Potter." There were mostly Americans in the theater and I didn't know how to behave socially around them. It scared me to hear them talking and I felt completely uncomfortable in their presence. I wanted to talk to the Japanese couple wearing yukata sitting a few seats down instead.

Today was yet another beach day and besides soaking in some sun, the highlight was when Bridgit's car got pinned in by two vehicles and some helpful Okinawans tried to be good Samaritans. Thankfully, the owners of one of the cars appeared and moved out of our way. It would have been sort of funny except we were sweating bullets and just wanted to get moving.

Tomorrow begins "Errand Week" as I try to tackle some of the tasks that must be done before departing on Saturday. As my time in Okinawa ends, it's time for reflection... I'll pen my summary sometime soon.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Photo Ops

My homeroom class... hands down the best class in the school. I found out after the party that they are throwing another party for me tomorrow afternoon. I thought my sad little good-byes were over!

My three "Spiderman" boys who wanted to take a "Japanese" photo. Ummmm.....

My best first year girls... They love to speak English and have already sent me emails since this morning. (Also their names are some of the only ones that I could really get down.)

It was a rough morning. I had 4 classes and rewarded myself with another afternoon on the rocks. Better than a drink on the rocks at 1 pm, I suppose. :)

I got one hermit crab photo. They were a bit more elusive today, but I could still see them once in awhile. I did see one do a somersault which was quite funny. Maybe I need a pet hermit crab for when I get home.

And the beach ... sorry about the wind noise.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I *heart* my life

Today I left school at 12:30 saying, "It's too hot! I.Can't.Take.It.Any.More!"

I went and grabbed lunch at a Thai restaurant down in Mihama where I noticed that the restaurant had two giant poles in the middle of it from the ferris wheel. The food was delicious and I was immediately transported back to my first meal on Koh Sanh Road. By this time, the sun was finally coming out after some dodgy weather the last few days. I had my Paul Theroux travel book and decided to head to the beach to read. I walked out to some rocks along the ocean and near the Sunabe Seawall where I could read and listen to the waves. I was concentrating on my book when I heard a strange little scratching noise next to me. I turned around and was confronted with a moving hermit crab. He was as startled by my movement as I initially was of him. He shrank down into his shell and we sort of played hide and seek. He was cute the way he kept getting his shell caught while reversing. And then a few minutes later he had a friend who was almost on my lap before he realized that I was a human and not a rock. I was greatly amused, but unfortunately didn't have my camera. :( Down by the water, there were giant regular crabs skidaddling along the rocks. I left my spot greatly amused and sunburned one hour later. I hope to return tomorrow afternoon.

After my time along the shore, I headed to my favorite little cafe for some more reading and met Bridgit for a bit. Then I decided to go to the gym even though it was fairly late. As I signed in, this smiley man says, "Have I asked you before? Who sings this song?" and immediately starts humming an old tune and singing the last line. I knew the song, but couldn't place the band. Then he says, "Someone told me...maybe Bay City Rollers?!"

It was the kind of day that I will miss in 10 short days. And tomorrow I have to say so long to my favorite homeroom class. I saw some of them in Mihama today and they took pictures with me. *Sigh*

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"I think I'm a cross between Miranda and Carrie..."

So maybe I should have updated my blog before now since people are thinking I was swept away with flying shiisas and palm trees with the typhoon.

My four-day weekend (thanks Man-yi and Marine Day!) was fantastic. On Saturday, I headed to Naha with Bridgit to survey the damage and everyone and their mother apparently had the same idea. We ended up at a shopping center with the entire population of Okinawa. Later that evening, I met up with Amy, Paul, and Gabrielle who had also ventured south from Nago, but only made it to Chatan. We grabbed some Indian food and after some gentle persuasion, I was packing my bag for a trip up north. I spent my Sunday at Amy's, complete with print club, shopping, gorging on breakfast rolls, eating pizza with Gabrielle in Motobu, and some girl time with "Sex and the City" and Cadbury chocolate. Sounds like my kind of weekend! I enjoyed my last trip to the northern lands of Okinawa and was sad to say goodbye to Nago and the beautiful ocean along the highway.

But the highlight of my weekend? The true highlight?! I went with Amy and Gabrielle to a curry buffet along the Sunabe Seawall where we met Theresa, my predecessor. We hadn't seen each other in quite awhile and she politiely asked how things were going at Chatan. I told her and then she made the most amazing, beautiful, fantastically affirming comment I have heard all year. She said (paraphrased), "You know who infuriated me every single day?! Mr. So and So (name withheld)! The SNORTING! He transcends disgustingness! I used to slam my books down, glare at him, and move desks!" I almost leapt across the table to hug her. Finally! My hatred of the snorter is verified. I'm not overly sensitive. The dude was truly that foul and annoying. I am normal! And he is not!

Today I didn't have any classes and spent my morning cleaning out my desk. I also bought a new camera and will have to test it out in the next couple of days. I have also been eating every single thing made with azuki beans in sight in anticipation of my looming departure.

And that's life after Man-yi.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Do we have school today? (Updating a la Tom Skilling)

That was at nine or so. Here's the view at noon----

I'm not pulling an Al Roker and going outside. Sorry, folks.

Man-Yi mania!

It’s Thursday afternoon. I have taught two classes this week. I’ve graded some tests. I had Indian food and shopping time with Izumi yesterday and right now, my vice-principal and I keep exchanging worried glances as the building shakes with giant gusts of wind. And I am choking on the dust that is taking flight. Why is the wind so powerful today? Well, since I didn’t get to properly enjoy an Okinawan typhoon, Mother Nature has decided to throw one at us as a parting gift. It’s supposed to arrive sometime today and get progressively worse in the next couple of days. And it’s supposed to be a biggie… the worst in a few years. While I need to run around this afternoon and get food (as I have none at my apartment), some water, maybe a flashlight, and plenty of movies, I am fairly excited at the prospect. This could be fun! I asked Takako if I needed to put my storm shutters on and she said I’d probably be okay without them. Since I don’t know how to work them, they’re staying off. Also, school might be cancelled tomorrow! It’s like anticipating a snow day. I hope I’m not disappointed like when they call for 8-10 inches of snow and you end up with a dusting.

What else is new in jolly old Oki? Well, the other day I got my plane ticket at a Plane Ticket Ceremony and spoke a bit of Japanese to get it. It was a bit like making a dog do a trick for a treat. Speak Japanese and you get your tiiiiicket. Good, puppy. In the process of inkaning forms like crazy, I had a mystery that has been perplexing me solved. There is a teacher here (and I seriously need to get a picture of this lady) who came from another ALT’s school. She only wears brightly colored (purple and turquoise usually) crepe material outfits. They are something else and usually there is a matching scarf around her neck… even on sports day! I think her head is being held to her body by the scarf. Anyways, so these crepe outfits… I’ve never seen anything like them and said earlier that I would find out where she gets them. Well, according to the ALT at her other school, these outfits are really expensive (talking $400 for a pair of pants) and this lady flies to Tokyo when they go on sale to stock up. She flies to Tokyo! For crazy purple crepe pants! The lady is a loony. Certifiable. And yet I think I might miss her and the other crazies a bit.

Last weekend I went to a Peace Love Rock Festival in Okinawa City and unfortunately don’t have any pictures because they confiscated my camera upon arrival. I went with Izumi and there were many other ALTs listening to plenty of J-Pop music. It was nice to watch the other concert-goers and to enjoy some live music. Izumi was nice enough to lend me some CDs of the acts that we saw and although I’m not sure I’ll be listening to the music much, it’s nice to know I can have a dose of syrupy Okinawan music whenever I want it.

I am saying my goodbyes to classes, people, and places. Yesterday, Izumi and I had some delicious zenzai for dessert and I had a moment with my shaved ice and azuki beans. “It’s been fun, zenzai. Thanks for making me happy in Okinawa.” It’s a strange realization to walk into a store, drive down a road, eat a certain food and realize that in all likelihood I will never be back again and this is it. This is the end.

With that--- I’m taking off from school and am going to get my elbows out to beat poor little old folks to the bottled water and yummy ume candy!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

28 days

In exactly four weeks, friends from all over will be invading the Griggs Family Farm for the yearly bash! Mark your calendars for August 4th! Who knows what mischief awaits... keg throwing, rake tossing, chicken chasing, skinny dipping ... See you soon!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Holidays are never the same abroad...

Bridgit and I chose to head to the US Consulate in Okinawa for some 4th of July festivities. In true Okinawan spirit, there were plenty of long speeches, Hawaiian stuff (isn't that all of America?!), and kariyushi wear. The food was apparently delicious, or so I heard since I was battling sickness and couldn't taste it at all. The party was a disappointment as we talked about what we would be eating/doing at home. I wanted some "sprinklers" (just for you, Mom) and kids running around barefoot with the smells of BBQing and little poppers going off. We took what we could get. And then on the way home we saw the firework show beginning at Kadena so we parked on a random street and watched from afar. It just wasn't the same as trying to find your friends among endless numbers of blankets and families, peering in the dark trying to locate who you came with. Oh, well. Hope everyone had a great 4th!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I'm a sucker for old ladies

Yesterday, I skipped out of school early (legally using nenkyuu so I wasn't being bad) and headed down to Naha to run some errands. I have a list of things to buy before I leave Okinawa and hoped to knock out some great shopping. I had quite a hilarious afternoon full of strange encounters, including a random marching band playing their way past me as I sat and ate ice cream. They came out of nowhere and completely messed up traffic on the hugely busy Kokusaidori. I think it was a Sousa tune.

But the best part was when I decided that I wanted to start looking for an Okinawan version of a yukata. I didn't have much cash on me so was also searching for an ATM machine that would take my card. I hoped to find money before finding something I really wanted to buy. After having no luck on the main street, I headed down the market street of Heiwadori and stumbled across a yukata shop with exactly what I was looking for. I asked the kind lady how much it would set me back and she gave me a figure that I was willing to deal with. But, alas, I had no money. I asked (in Japanese) where there was an ATM and before I knew it, I was following this lady through the maze of the market, passing old ladies selling old lady clothes, random food stalls, zigzagging through various passageways, and all the while gibbering in pidgin. We "discussed" how I am an English teacher, how hot Okinawa is, that Chicago is big, that it's really hot in Okinawa, that the market was confusing, that I live in Chatan, that I am leaving at the end of the month, and that it is truly really exceptionally hot in Okinawa. But the lady delivered! She was a shrewd one...knowing that if she delivered me to an ATM, she would be benefitting from some of those yennies being thrown out of the machine. And she had a golden day because I followed her back to her little shop and got to discuss all of the above things with her little old lady friend at the stall next door. They dressed me up in the yukata, exclaimed "kawaiiiiiii!!!!!", and threw in a little belt for free, plus instructions on how to wear the robe. All of this happened in about five minutes and by the end, I was swooning a bit. I stumbled my way out with cash burning a hole in my pocket, the heat going to my head, and many other spontaneous purchases on the horizon.

It was a fantastic day.

Hope everyone has a great 4th of July! I am hoping to see some firework extravaganzas from the bases surrounding my apartment. You'd think that this would be the one day when my view of their ugly barracks would have benefits.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Sizzling times

It's hot. It's really really steamy fantastically beating-down-on-you hot. I'm guzzling liters of Aquarius Sports Drink and using all sorts of funny blankets to cover my windows to try to keep it cooler in my apartment. (My neighbors still have their windows open. Lunatics.)

Yesterday, Bridgit and I braved the heat and headed to Tokashiki Island (eleven months after we were supposed to go). Tokashiki is a 30 minute Marine Liner/60 minute ferry ride from Naha and is visible from the mainland. But what a contrast to my part of Okinawa!

We arrived at Tomarin Port in Naha bright and early and after hopping in line with scads of other people, we found out that the Liner at 9 was completely booked, but thankfully there were seats available for the ferry at 10. Although it initially put us in a bit of a sour mood, our spirits were lifted by this wonderful treat, which served as dessert for my breakfast. Yummo!

Zenzai is a fantastic treat and this one was no exception. It has shaved ice, azuki beans (LOOOOOVE THEM), mochi balls, coconut shavings, and sweetened condensed milk. It was absolutely delicious. Our moods were lifted despite being harrassed by some old dude who wanted us to skip Tokashiki and head to Aguni Island with his wife and friends. Ummm...sure.

Our boat loaded up with tons of schoolchildren and I was expecting the worst, but actually it was a pleasant ride and I didn't feel sick at all, which is a minor miracle with me. Unfortunately as we were disembarking the boat, Bridgit had a bit of an accident that left blood gushing down her head (I thought she was going to need stitches for a second) and also left us wondering if snorkeling was a possibility. (Salt water and open wounds = not so much fun)

We bought our Liner tickets for the evening and hopped in a bus for a 10 minute ride to Aharen Beach, which is famous for its clear water. It was apparent even in the bus driving through the island (where I saw billy goats! with beards and everything!) that the water was going to be amazing. Once we arrived at the beach, we were accosted by hawkers who we had to deal with to rent chairs, an umbrella, and snorkel gear. Although they were annoying, having all of the stuff was necessary. We spent the day swimming around the reef where we saw amazing fish. I don't really know any fish names but we saw some schools of fish that were tiny and shiny and appeared out of nowhere. There were also big white ones with purple and yellow stripes, some white/clearish ones, and all sorts of beautiful reef material. We had one leaky mask and somehow Bridgit didn't drown using it. I tried it for about 3 seconds and quit. It was a tiring day and we were ready to be back in our own beds/air conditioning by the end.

Here are some amazing photos of the beach. Unfortunately, cameras can't quite capture how blue/green the water truly is.

I have been spending time shopping like a madwoman lately and eating at restaurants that I've been meaning to get to or revisit. Today, Amy was down from Nago for the afternoon and we had some Thai food in Mihama right under the ferris wheel. Here are some more photos of my little part of Okinawa ---- I have been going to Manni Cafe a lot lately to read, escape the heat for awhile, and people watch.

I really need to take a ride on that wheel before I leave Okinawa. I have been taking afternoons off from school and am quickly filling my remaining days on the island. I can't believe that this week I'll start saying goodbye to some of my classes. My apartment is getting packed up and I am trying to maximize space in my bags. Amy was the lucky recipient of shampoo and some clothes today. Four weeks and I will be playing with Izzy and Endicott. It's a lovely thought. Scary, but great.

Also---- this is a long entry---- HAPPY 30TH ANNIVERSARY TO MY EXTREMELY GENEROUS, LOVING, SUPPORTIVE, FANTASTICALLY HIP PARENTS! (Who produced some pretty super girls and memories...)