Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Learning the Rules of the Road

One of the many things we have had to learn since coming to Okinawa is how to drive around the island. This was made apparent last Friday night as we were taking a drive around the area (we were checking out the Love Hotels near our house, but that will be another blog). As we made a right turn down a major street, it soon became obvious that we had erred and were about to head into on-coming traffic. Luckily it was far away and no one was behind us. We backed up 10 feet and corrected ourselves. While driver error is something we have to be mindful of at all times, there are some unique things about driving on the island.

1. When the light turns red, the other lights stay red for a few seconds. This means that the lane that just got the red light will still continue to go through the intersection for a while. It means that we now sit tight when our light turns green for a few seconds.
2. Roads are made using coral. When it rains here the roads become pretty slick.
3. Much slower pace on the roads. The maximum speed limit on the island is 60km, a little over 30mph.
4. Mopeds and motorcycles. California motorcycles have nothing on these guys. They like to come up along side you and then pass you no matter what speed you are going. They will also run red lights if they think they can make it.
5. Road layout. Gone are the nice square blocks that we are use to in the states. If you pass your intersection, it might not be easy for you to take the next one and then make one turn to backtrack.
6. Road signs. What are those? There are very few road signs here. When you get directions you have to get a good landmark to judge how close you are to your destination.
7. Okinawan drivers just pulling over to the side of the road and stopping. This will happen without warning and it does not matter if you are on a 4 lane road or a tiny residencial road.

It has been interesting learning to drive here. Something else that we get to see are cars painted in an assortment of different colors. We thought we would share some that you normally would not see in the states.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Barrel of Fun

Our friends Chris and Amy took us to a great place last night for dinner. The restaurant is called Tonneau, which in French means cask or barrel. As you can see from the photo it is shaped like a giant barrel. Once you enter the restaurant you discover that it is two stories. Most of the restaurant is made out of wood that resembles the exterior of the building.

Before being shown to our table we were asked to take off our shoes and place them in a rack. After storing our footwear we walked to the back of the restaurant and sat down at our table. The tables are made in the Japanese style and are about six inches off of the floor. This would have posed a problem for the less flexible of our party, exepct that the area below the table dropped down far enough to allow those with longer legs to sit normally. We were handed two Japanese/English menus and was brought an appetizer that appeared to be a large, green and semi-translucent radish that had menced beef or pork that had been spiced. After we had finished our appetizer and made out dinner selection, Sean used the telephone at our table to inform the waiter that we were ready to order our meal. We decided to try a few different things on the menu. Our order included a garlic salad, a California roll (here it comes with tuna instead of crab), a cheese spring roll, and tuna with tomato sauce. We had a pleasant time talking and getting to know more about Chris and Amy (both of whom went to Texas A&M) while we waited for our food. The next thing we knew plate loads of food were being delievered to our table, and before you knew it there was no more room left. All of the food was delicious. At one point we were afaid that they had forgotten about our tuna with tomato sauce order, which was almost a good thing since we were stuffed, but it appeared and disappeared quickly since it was so good. This place is certainly a favorite of ours now and we can't wait to take others there.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Neighborhood Find and Restaurant Blunder

We have discovered a little gem in our neighborhood. Two doors down from our apartment highrise is a little Japanese mom and pop restaurant. The building is two stories with the restaurant one the first floor and the family dwelling on the second. The place is very small. There are three tables for guests and a sushi style bar that can seat about 8. The restaurant is in the Japanese style and when you sit at a table you must take your shoes off before being seated on the ground. There are little mats on the ground for you to sit on and the tables are very low to the ground. Since there was just the two of us, we sat at the sushi bar. We did not know what to do about our shoes, so we decided to play it safe and take them off. As we were taking them off the little Japanese woman who wound up taking our orders tried to tell us something, but we did not understand her. We later figured out that the woman was trying to tell us that we can leave our shoes on if we sat at the bar.

The menu was broken down into diferent sections; sushi, fried food, and a few other choices. Lucky for us the menu was in both Japanese and English. We decided to try the yellowtail, tuna and yams, yokisoba, and buttered asparagas. At the sushi bar we could see into the little kitchen. The preparation area was very small and instead of stoves or ovens they used woks. The first two dishes to arrive were the yellowtail and tune and yam. The yellowtail was still mostly frozen and the tuna and yam dish was very strange. The yams looked pureed but when you ate it you discovered that it more closely resembled slime. After letting the yellowtail thaw a little, it was very tasty. The tuna was very good but the yams were slimy and tasteless. We were getting a little concerned about the rest of our meal, but when the yokisoba and asparagus arrived we discovered that our fear was unjustified. Both of those dishes were well beyond our expectations.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

If you think the price of gas is outrageous, ...

Shopping one day at the grocery store, I spotted this cantaloupe melon! $21 for a melon!

The Quest to Explore

We decided that it was time to break away from local area and head up north. We picked Onna Village to be our first little outing. We didn't have any really destination, but we were thinking about checking out the glass factory we had heard about. The drive up to Onna Village was nice. We paralleled the beach for the most part after we got away from Kadena. On our initial pass through Onna Village we didn't see any signs that pointed to the glass factory so we decided to keep heading north. We drove for about another 30 minutes checking out the scenery and noting a few nice looking resorts that we might want to come back and check. We decided to turn around and head back to Onna and explore a place that looked interesting.

As we approached the establishment we were not sure what it was. Upon entering we discovered a pantheon of little desserts, snacks and other assortment of knick knacks. The thing that surprised us the most is that all of these things were made from the local sweet potato. This potato is unique in that it is purple in color. We had a great time walking around trying the different samples and watching the mechanical assembly line make a specific kind of little cake. The machine went from the initial squirting of the purple paste into shells, all the way to the wrapping of the little pastries. After a while we became thirsty and decided to head over to the Blue Seal booth, the local ice cream dealer, and order a drink. We decided to be adventuresome and order the green drink. It was the only one we were not sure what exactly it was. We thought that it was most likely a green tea of some sort. We were smart enough to observe that everyone went up to a machine and purchased a ticket before going up to the counter. We bravely made our selection and handed the woman behind the counter our ticket. About a minute later we were handed our green drink. Lucky for us there was a table for two available right next to the Blue Seal booth.

The look on our faces say it all. First, you experience a very subtle taste that is kind of grassy. Just as you are setting the glass down, the back of your tongue is assaulted by a very bitter taste that catches you by surprise. We could not for the life of us figure out what we were drinking. Luckily we were right by the booth and could look behind the counter and see an employee pull out a bag of chopped up goya. Goya is a local specialty. It is known as the bitter melon. Upon seeing that bag everything became clear. We pushed through our initial feelings and finished our beverage. We kept telling ourselves that the drink was probably really good for our bodies. We left the sweet potato pastry factory happy that we had found another fun adventure.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Japanese Curry

We decided to venture out and try a Japanese restaurant we had heard about, Coco's. There are about 5 Coco restaurants around the island. We invited two new friends, Chris and Amy, who are also new to the island.

The fun thing about this restaurant is that every order is customized. You get to select the type of curry you want, the amount of rice, the spice level and ingredients. The menu provides all the information you will need with valuable pictures. In case you are not sure on which spice level is for you, you can easily check which depicted face you feel most comfortable with that evening (even Marines can figure this out).

We must say that they are efficient in this place. The waiter came to our table and took our order on what appeared to be a large palm pilot. All of us enjoyed our dinner, but if you are expecting it to taste like Indian curry you will be a little disappointed. The curry they serve is a little sweeter.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

First Day and Night in new Apartment

We have survived our first day and night in our new place, and we discovered some unusual things about the area.

1. At 5:00, 5:30 and 6:00 pm music plays and a woman's voice makes an announcement from a loud speaker somewhere. I am not sure what she is saying since I don't speak Japanese.
2. At 8:00 pm the opening bars of the theme song from Beauty and the Beast plays twice.
3. We have a roster living near us that likes to crow starting around 0500.
4. At 6:00 am the famous bars from Close Encoutners of the Third Kind plays twice.
5. In the morning you hear what sounds like the ice cream truck. It is actually the trash man driving around making his rounds.

The gentlemen from NTT (internet provider) came to our place and wired the apartment so we could use the internet. After he was finished we were informed that it would take two to three weeks before our service would be activated. We then decided to go for a walk around our new area. We discovered a new group of stores that had just opened that same day. There were three stores and two food places in this very nice area. The first store reminded me of Bed, Bath and Beyond. It had nice kitchen items, rugs, pillows and some furniture. The next place we went to reminded me of Ethan Allen (expensive furniture). The last place was a Japanese version of Ikea.

It was getting late so we walked home and ate our first Japanese meal on our balcony. We had sashimi, sushi rolls, gyoza and Kirin beer. It was a great meal and we had a gorgeous view of Okinawa City in the evening.

Here are three pictures from our Master bedroom.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Moved into Happy Mansion

Mary and I have moved out the Westpac Inn and into our apartment in Happy Mansion. We have received our express shipment and have been given furniture from the government. The only beds the military offer were one double or two singles. We decided that getting two singles and pushing them together was a great idea. Unfortunately we forgot that the beds come with head boards. Because of that we have a nice little gap between the beds. This caused us to go out and buy a queen size bed from the base today. It was that or sleep like Lucy and Ricardo. No matter how many times that Mary tells me I should be living in the 50s, that is even too much for me.

As I am typing this post the NTT representative rang the bell and is installing the fiber optic cable for our apartment (no more moving the laptop around looking for a signal). This will also mean that we can start putting more pictures into the blog. The low transfer rate has kept us from doing that.

This is the view from our balcony. More pictures of our apartment soon to come (including our gorgeous government furniture which Mary already loves)!


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