Sunday, May 31, 2009

My Month of Living Dangerously

Okay, call me crazy, but I am giving myself a little challenge. 

For every day of the month of June, I'm attempting to do something that I've never done before. Should be easy when you live in a foreign country, right? 

Well, I'm not so sure... 

In any case, not every day will involve a monumental life-altering experience (the post title is somewhat dramatic, I know). Some days will be more mundane or typical such as eating something I'm afraid of or venturing into a unknown place. Obviously as my husband pointed out, it could get expensive, so I'm looking for inexpensive options too. Finally, not everything will have a cultural angle to it. 

Why do this, you ask?
1) I was inspired by an NPR piece once about a woman who resolved to do something new every day for an entire year. 
2) As an expat, I sometimes feel limited because of lack of understanding of language or culture. Can you relate?
3) I want to squeeze everything I can out of living here
4) I think I'm getting a case of Island Fever (just being honest)

So, I invite you back for the updates. And since I haven't exactly worked out all the details yet, I welcome your fun, inexpensive or off the beaten track ideas! 

Weekend Last Look

Lazy relaxing Sunday afternoon at the Sunabe Seawall facing the East China Sea. What a wonderful life Okinawans lead. No wonder they live forever...

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Kat in a Cup

Recently while walking around our neighborhood one night, we saw THIS in a vending machine. It's a KitKat drink. Wow, I always knew Japanese were innovative, but what could this be like?

Excitedly, we put our money in to try it out...only it was SOLD OUT! So disappointed.

Anyway, it got me thinking, what other favorite sweet treat might taste good as a drink? What about a Little Debbie Swiss Cake Roll milkshake? Any other ideas? 


Thursday, May 28, 2009

New Loves

Last night at the Kumon school where I teach, one of the little girls said to me at the end, "Mary sensei, tanoshii katta".  Translation: "Mary teacher, it was fun!" 

Wow...I never got such positive feedback from SDSU students. From them, it was always, "She's a communist" or "She wears funny outfits."

Anyway, these children are so adorable! Look at the three in the front row!

In addition to the cuties, another benefit is that Michiko-San, the owner, always gives me cakes to take home from her daughter's bakery. Best job ever!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Twins, Parrots, and Cocktails (Honolulu Part 2)

It's official! They are now 40 years old! We celebrated this milestone event with a family reunion in Hawaii. 

The remainder of the week's activities included beachside sunset Lava Flows...

Visits to the Blowhole, Pineapple Plantation, and USS Arizona Memorial...


and lots of gorgeous scenery...

In the mood for some sun and wind in your face? Watch this short video along the North Shore. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Blue Hawaii Blue Monday Part 1

We arrived back from Honolulu late Monday night after a very active trip. Thanks for all your suggestions about places to go and things to do! We tried to get them all in! It's nice to be back on our little island, but seriously, Oahu has special beauty! 

Highlights of the first few days included rainforest hiking at Manoa Falls, some fun on the beach, and a seaplane ride around Oahu. 

The plane ride was one of the coolest things ever--you take off and land in the water and then fly all over the island seeing major landmark areas such as Pearl Harbor, The North Shore, Hanuama Bay, and Diamond Head among others. We even flew over Giovanni's Shrimp Truck! We highly recommend this experience (and dramamine!)

Slipping and sliding around the rainforest

Huge leaves!

afternoon on the beach...

If you ever get the chance to get a bird's eye view of the island, check out Island Seaplanes. It's a family business and the owners are the most interesting couple. The husband's grandfather received pilot license #8 signed by Orville Wright, and flying has been a family love ever since.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Access Permitted

Remember a few weeks ago when we wanted to eat at a neighborhood restaurant and were denied for the second time? Well, that only strengthened our resolve to get in to that place. I mean, what could all the fuss be that it's so busy not only random night, but two? 

(On a side note, my Okinawan friend suggested we go there right when they open. If we were turned away again, that means they didn't want our business). 

So determined to infiltrate, we set out early and were finally finally granted access into its inner secret world.

The restaurant's motif seems to be that angry looking pink ghosty thing, which we don't quite get. Anyway, from the picture, you can see the outside is pretty non-descript. 

BUT... prepare yourself to walk inside. Once you enter and pass through the dark foyer, you are immersed in all this:

Cherry blossoms, votives, and red chinese lanterns

More cherry blossoms and lanterns
Stepping stones leading to secret dining areas

and drawn curtains hiding the restaurant clientele

They seem to really like anonymity in these places....has anyone else ever noticed that? Can someone in the know about Japanese culture explain that to me?

So, the ambiance was amazing and the food was good too. We ordered a few things including a spinach salad and a sizzling plate of beef, but the winner was a toasted custard french toast thing topped with vanilla ice cream and syrup. We've seen this on menus in other places and never tried it, but it was excellent.

Gratuitous food shots

This kind of restaurant in Japan is called an Izakaya and it's somewhat like a pub in England. Big groups are welcome including children and people stay for hours (and I mean all night). The menu is huge with everything from appetizers to dessert. Unfortunately, I never found out the name of it, but if you're in Okinawa and want to go there, I can give you the directions.

***Directions: It's near the Toys R Us in Awase Shopping Center. To get there, take the 81 and make a left on 329. Go past the Living Design Square and continue straight. At the McDonalds, turn Right and continue. Toys R Us will be on the right, but keep going to the very end of that street until the next big intersection. On the Left, you'll see two restaurants side by side. This restaurant which has a Japanese name is the one to the left of Agariya Global Dining(you'll see a sign for it). Parking is in front of the restaurant. 

Do you have a favorite local hangout restaurant?

Hamburger Restaurant Review: Part 3

Always on the quest for the best Okinawan hamburger, we recently tried yet another wonderful place called Freshness Burger. Located in American Village near the Ferris wheel, it gets plenty of business.

We tried 3 kinds of burgers-- the classic cheeseburger (top left), the negimiso burger with Japanese leeks and a miso sauce topping (intriguing)(top right), and the salsa burger (bottom).

There were lots of things to appreciate about these burgers. First off, the classic burger (top left) was exactly that- a juicy tasty burger that you might grill in your own backyard. Delish! Both of us loved this one. As for the other two, we thought the buns were really good. See how the buns are a little bit orange? That's because their special ingredient is pumpkin! Aren't the Japanese clever? We also thought the quality of the meat and toppings was very good. 

When it came to overall enjoyment, Sean and I competed over getting the last bite of the classic burger! Negimiso and salsa were good, but somehow the variety of tastes didn't come together for us, though you'd never guess that by how fast we plowed through them...

They also sell a Veggie Burger that looks great, which we didn't try, but we think it's worth a visit for another time. It has a big hunk of tofu and lots of avocado and fresh veggies.  

So, we need more ideas for burger places. Send us your recommendations!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Where's your favorite beach?

Continuing the birthday festivities, Sunday was the perfect day to explore Zanpa Beach. Can you believe we've been here nearly a year and this is our first time? No swimming was allowed, but we did wade in the crystal clear water and hung out. We're definitely coming back to this one.

From there, we went to the lighthouse at Zanpa point and enjoyed the brilliant scenery-- bright green foliage leading to gray cliffs overlooking the turquoise ocean. This was such a peaceful spot, you could feel stress just melting away. 

Wherever you are in the world, where's your favorite scenic spot?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Honolulu Bound

We've already started celebrating Sean's 40th Birthday early, but the real celebration is our trip to Hawaii a week from now. We're staying at the Halekoa in Waikiki Beach and we need ideas for things to do!

Please send your recommendations! Where do you go there? What are your favorite restaurants and experiences?  

Flying through the Sky

This week kicks off Sean's 40th Birthday festivities. (I know, I'm married to an old guy) First on the list was a visit to Forest Adventure Park. Been wanting to try out a zipline for years and it was fun!

The park overlooks the ocean, so throughout the whole course zipping over tops of trees, you can look beyond and see the gorgeous crystalline ocean.

Birthday boy

Safety harness, I love you!

The course had 14 challenges ranging from easy and relaxing and low key to more difficult, intimidating, and strenuous. We made our way through low and high zip lines, swinging bridges, and even a scary free fall (which Sean forced me to do).

Watch this video to experience the rush...

This one is to laugh at my hard landing...

If you live in Okinawa and have not visited this park, go there now! You won't regret it even if you're afraid of heights.

So, now we've caught the outdoor adventure bug, we're hungry for more. Please send us your ideas for other cool things to do! How do you enjoy the outdoors where you are?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Martini, anyone?

Japan has such a vibrant night culture. Things really come alive after dark when the neon is out in full force. Japanese congregate in bars and pubs after long work days and let loose. Moreover, if you drive around, you notice places that you never even knew existed during the day. 

Most nights, we go to sleep early (my fault most of the time- I wish 8:30 were a respectable bed time), so we miss out on this whole nocturnal experience. Lately, we made a resolution to venture out more in the late evenings. 

This week, we forced ourselves to stay awake by watching a terrible movie checked out from the library and then randomly selected a bar called Big Tomorrow, which was slightly off the beaten track. (That means, not in Chatan, the normal happening night spot for Americans around here) Off the beaten track is often hit or miss here, but we were feeling adventurous and figured the drinks would be way cheaper. 

And the verdict was... we liked it. No bar fight between drunken Marines broke out, we witnessed a budding romance between a mature man and woman at the bar, the ambiance was cozy, and we didn't spend $40 bucks for two watered down drinks. Also, we got to watch Brian Adams and Billy Joel in concert in Rome on the TV. 


Cinco de Mayo Sushi Roll

Saturday night, we walked around Okinawa City looking for dinner. We tried AGAIN to visit one restaurant we're interested in and were denied access AGAIN! Too many people with this being Japanese Golden Week (national holiday week) and all.

In any case, we ended up at the place next door. It's one of those places where the outside reflects absolutely nothing about the inside, but the name "Agariya Global Dining" seemed like it could be interesting. 

I always feel like we're entering a secret world when we go in some Japanese places because we just never know what to expect. The plain wooden exterior looked sort of boring, and if we were in the states, I would guess they served baskets of fries and chicken fingers. But here, who knows? It turned out that inside was decorated in a cool balinese / kyoto cherry blossom motif.

Throughout the entire restaurant, long pink flower garlands hung from the ceiling. 

Every table had its own private cubby area with curtains.

We ordered several different things including a seafood salad, fried camembert, and thai spring rolls, but the best surprise was a sushi roll made with spicy taco meat and wrapped in prosciutto. They do the most inventive things with food...

Happy May 5!


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