Saturday, July 31, 2010

Friday Night A La 1986

Oh how fast time passes us by...

It seems like just yesterday, I was hanging out with my friends at a mall in Huntsville, Alabama, wearing my favorite outfit discovered at Salvation Army- a gray suit vest and a flowered mod skirt from the 70s. We ate at the food court at the mall (probably Arby's with curly fries) and then went to see a movie like Pretty in Pink.

Well, last night I was transported back to former days.

Sean and I had a date we would have had in high school had we known each other back then.
We went to Burger King on the base for dinner and then to see Eclipse.

It occurred to me sitting in the dark that we could, given our ages, hypothetically be the parents of any of the teen fans inside the theater with us. What a strange thought... Are we really that old?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Scenes from the Weekend

Had a nice weekend here in Okinawa... I had to do tour guide stuff, but other than that, not much at all. Just a little coffee on our balcony, facing the Pacific Ocean. Then walked around Gate 2 street and took photos...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Okinawa Good Eats This Week

What's so great about looking at pictures of what other people eat?

I can't really articulate the answer, but I do know that I LOVE gratuitous food blogs. I could browse sites like Last Night's Dinner, Smitten Kitchen, and Scanwiches (you have to check this one out) for hours. You too?

Here's what we ate this week. (yes, I'm still on the Okinawa Tortoise Diet)

From Zazou Bakery, sour cherry tart (above) and oreo cupcake.
From Roguii Restaurant, healthy brown rice salad plate and stewed pork in tomato sauce.
Chinese sanpin cha (Jasmine tea)
Shima Restaurant, Maguro and yamaimo, rosemary chicken, tako (squid) salad
There are so many great places on this island, so fellow Okis get out there and eat...

Retro Okinawa

Do you like to take chances? We like to take chances.

In fact, a few weeks ago we took a chance wandering into Porky's Live Bar in Okinawa. I'm so glad we did because we stumbled into a very fun retro scene.
Would you believe on this tiny Japanese island way out in the Pacific there's a place where American 50s culture is thriving? At Porky's, Elvis is still King, servers are straight out of Greased Lightning, and Oldies draw in the crowds.
You know the famous song Greased Lightning? As children, my sister and I loved to sing the lyrics without really understanding the lyrics. You catch my drift, right? We just thought that it was funny meaningless adult language. These days, I'm a little bit shocked by the innuendo...

I wonder if the servers at Porky's understand their work attire. The mechanics uniform curiously has red patches on the each arm that read "F-k you. " (except the actual word, not censored like I've written it here).

Hmm, I think there must be a language gap somewhere as saying "F-k you" to your patrons is not exactly a friendly business tactic encouraging repeat customers...
The best part about our night at Porky's is the Oldies band that entertains the audience. They sing all the classic songs from the 50s and 60s, in charming Japanese accents. The hit of the night was Blue Suede Shoes.
This place made us happy...

Due to popular demand from fellow Okis, here are driving directions:

Take a left turn out Sgt Major gate on Camp Foster (where Westpac is) and keep going downhill. Turn left at the 329 intersection and go straight. You’ll pass Living Design Square on your right as well as Comprehensive Park. You’ll come to a big intersection with McDonalds on the right side and Hotto Motto on the left. Turn right at that intersection and go straight to the end of the street. You’ll pass the Toys R us shopping center and an organic market on the right. At the end, turn left. You’ll see a Family Mart on the corner. Porky’s is in a building near the Family Mart. There is limited parking in front of the bar.

Have you ever discovered a retro 50s venue in another country?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Okinawa Tortoise Diet

Did the title grab your attention?

Over the next month, I'm engaging in what I call the tortoise diet.

No, I'm not going to be eating tortoise stew. But I AM babysitting three tortoises for a friend who is traveling for a few weeks.

Confused? Here's the deal.

My friend lives about a mile away from me, so I'm planning on walking to his house every day, either early in the morning or early evening. That's 2 miles of exercise right there.

And since tortoises eat lots of green leafy things, in our household, we're also going to be eating a lot of green leafy things in order to feed the beasties the fallout.

So, there you have it. The Tortoise Diet Plan.

Here's a funny side story (and not about tortoises).

My friend also asked that I pay his utility bill for the month of July. In case you didn't know, Okinawa is a subtropical climate and the summers are muggy!

He handed me an envelope of cash, and said, "This should cover it. 100,000 yen."

Shocked, I inquired, "You mean 10,000 yen?" (about $100 US)

"No, 100,000 yen." (About $1,000 US)

Can you believe it? He handed me almost $1,000 US to pay his utility bill!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Friendship and Awamori on Zamami Island

When we landed at the tiny port on Zamami Island last week, we had no clue where to stay.

At the tourist desk, Sean randomly chose a local guesthouse, The Patio House Reef. I let him do the choosing because I tend to go as cheap as possible, mostly with dismal results. We weren't disappointed with Patio House Reef at all. It had colorful plants, a communal meeting area, and most importantly, air-conditioning.
Patio House Reef is located on the eastern side of Zamami, a 5 minutes walk from Ama Beach. It's tucked away behind sugarcane fields and off a paved main road. We loved how isolated it was.
The problem with the isolation on an island like Zamami, however, is that there weren't streetlights. We discovered the potential hazards walking back to our guesthouse in the dark after getting dinner in the port area. The 20 minute walk in pitch black was interesting to be sure. Bats overhead, strange noises in the dark, dense island foliage.

"Did I ever tell you about the first time I saw the Blair Witch Project?" Sean asked a few minutes in.

"Don't even!" I yelled.
Later, he tried again.

"Do you know what I think about when I pass a sugar cane field?"

"Stop it!" I yelled again.

Needless to say, we did find our way back unharmed. Arriving back, we stopped at the vending machine for water.

A lively group of Japanese people were sitting at a table outside.

"What are you drinking?" they asked.
"We don't have water, but we do have... awamori!" they cheered and invited us to join.

Sitting down, we learned more about them. Most guests were from mainland Japan, but also at the table were Kazu, the diving instructor and his parents, owners of the Patio House Reef.

"Today is my birthday," Kazu said and made us each a strong awamori cocktail.
Soon after, things got lively. Plates of snacks were brought out and passed around. Someone handed me some beer nuts, which I spilled all over the place.

When we told them our names were Mary and Sean, they got all excited.

"Sean Connery!" they exclaimed. "Mary Hopkin!"

(I didn't know who the singer, Mary Hopkin was. I had to look her up)

The conversation led to Kazu and why he didn't have a girlfriend, and then a discussion of SONY products. Eventually, the night led to singing.

Yes, what is a birthday celebration without singing? It started with some mild sanshin banjo playing, and quickly elevated to full out singing by everyone except for us, which despite the awkwardness of not really being able to understand Japanese, was pretty cool.

When they brought out the birthday cake and shared with us, the man next to me said, "You're timing is good tonight. You are lucky to have some cake."

I agree. Our timing was good that night.
Our new friends waving goodbye to us at the port the next morning

Travel Tips

Zamami Island has 20 or so guesthouses to choose from. The tourist desk at the port has information about each one and they will make the reservation for you. The Patio House Reef cost 6,000 yen (~$60 US) each including a fabulous breakfast. (Pricey, but this is Japan, right?) We opted out of dinner at the guesthouse, but we regret that decision since offerings in the port area were slim.

There are more budget friendly options available too ( as low as 3,000 yen per person), including camping on Ama Beach for about 1,000 per night, provided you have your own gear.

Love and Expat Marriage

Calling all other expats, check out my latest publication about being married, living abroad, and being a trailing spouse.

I'd love to hear your own experiences with adjusting to your new life overseas!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Exploring Zamami Island

I have a new travel obsession.

I want to visit as many Ryukyu Islands as possible. We only have one year more in Okinawa, so there's quite a bit of work to do. We've only set foot on Yoron, Iejima, Ishigaki...

And recently, we added Zamami Island to the list. See picture above. Isn't it gorgeous?

Zamami is simple and unadorned. There are no large resorts, little infrastructure, and few streetlights. Oh you know there's a story to come about the streetlights, don't you? There are, however, small guesthouses which cater to diving enthusiasts and plenty of friendly locals.

We took the 2 hour ferry from Naha on a clear breezy day when it wasn't pouring as usual. We still got sprayed from big swells, but it was great fun to sit on the deck and observe people, secretly snapping photos.

Here is the girl with the dragon tattoo. Can't you just tell that she's beautiful? We watched her unsuccessfully try to enter the restroom for about half an hour. Each time she got close, a faster person slipped by right in front of her. Her bad timing was comical actually.
Here is the first of many napping men we observed on this trip.
Arriving on Zamami, we found pretty much what we expected. Quiet. Relaxation. Contemplation.
Ready to jump in?

The best part of our Zamami getaway is what happened that night. Stay tuned.

Travel Tips
Zamami Island is an easy day trip from Tomari Port in Naha. The Queen Zamami (~5900 yen RT) is 50 minutes long and has three departure times. The Ferry Zamami (~4,000 yen RT) is 2 hours, departing at 10:00 am. Check out the ferry schedule here.

In our case, we took the slow ferry in the morning, spent the night, and then returned by fast ferry home the next day. We paid about 5,200 yen (~$54 US) in fares.

Zamami Island has two beaches good for swimming and snorkeling, Ama (more secluded) and Furuzamami (more touristy). You can rent snorkel equipment, bikes, mopeds, and kayaks in the port area. Consult tourist desk upon arrival.

We moved around Zamami on foot mostly, but in the heat of the day, we broke down and took a taxi for 250 yen (~$3 US). The taxis, which look more like small busses can be hailed at the port or Furuzamami Beach. If you get desperate, you could probably just wave down a car and get a ride that way. Locals were super friendly.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Best Restaurant in the World

Here's a question, and you have to answer honestly.

Look at the sign below. How can you not be curious about THE BEST ALL GUESTS RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD?
What with rainbows, four leaf clovers, and that enticing white duck (thingy), this place is just begging for investigation, right?
So last Saturday night, we found ourselves at the door...

Walking in, we discovered a Bali/Thailand jungle interior. Our waiter gave us a tour of both floors. The restaurant had a series of large round pods to sit in, traditonal tatami style seating, and tiny little intimate booths.
In our case, we were placed inside this tiny little booth seating two people. Our table was so small, it couldn't really handle more than 2 drinks and 2 plates at a time. Don't you love the red silk curtains to shield yourself away from the world...
We ordered a prosciutto salad, California roll, and Okinawan spicy minced pork noodle dish. Everything was tasty, though I wouldn't go so far as say it was the best we've had in our lifetimes.
The interesting cultural discovery of the night, however, were Okinawan turmeric tablets.

Ever heard of them?

For a long time, I've been familiar with the yellow spice, found in many savory Indian dishes. But it just so turns out that in Okinawa, beer and turmeric go hand in hand. (Another strange business combination here like zoo/cream puff bakery and coffee shop/fortune teller.)

Orion beer company, which is the local beer brewery here produces these tablets and sells them in bars and izakayas.

Bewildered by the yellow pills, we asked our waiter to explain.

"Turmeric is healthy for your stomach when you are drinking beer," he said.

But then he looked thoughtful, made a face, and grabbed his stomach.

"But probably it's better just not to drink so much."

Well said, my man!

The best thing about THE BEST RESTAURANT FOR ALL GUESTS IN THE WORLD was the price. Here's the breakdown:

Drinks: 2 mixed drinks, 1 large Orion beer
Food: salad, sushi, noodle dish
Total: 2,500 yen (about $26 US)

Directions for fellow Okis: This restaurant is on route 329 a few blocks away from the Botanical Gardens. It's next to a pharmacy across the street from Blue Rabbit.

Have you ever heard of pills, elixirs, or other remedies to aid beer consumption? Have you ever taken one? Okinawa can't be the only place in the world with this concept...

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Funny Story About Clean

In my last post, I discussed my new cleaning strategy and how it's been working for me. Still working, by the way...

Well, writing about cleanliness reminded me of a funny thing that happened while I was in the States a few weeks back.

Wanting to enjoy the nice So Cal weather, I went with some good friends, a married couple to a park near their house. The park had hiking trails, some small mountains, and a babbling creek. It was a perfect day- no clouds, low humidity, and fresh cool air.

The wife showed me her favorite side of the park and we walked around there a bit. But the husband ensured me that his favorite side of the park was better.

So, we ventured that way to "his" side and he started walking across the mossy rocks that were nestled in the stream.

So, you can see where this is going, right?

Of course, he slipped and fell in to the water. And not just up to his shins. He fell entirely in up to his neck, and even splattered his glasses a little.

Okay, but that's not the funny part.

He's OCD about cleanliness, so he was upset by the moss, the microbes, and other possible contaminants on his clothes and infecting his body.

But there's more- we'd ridden over to the park in their brand-new beautiful BMW. So, driving back to their house, he refused to sit in the car with us and contaminate it with the dirty creek water which had soaked into his clothes.

Instead, he climbed into the trunk and we drove home that way.

How I Learned to Clean My Expat House

I have always admired people with pristine houses. You know, those people whose homes have hairless floors, sparkly appliances, and gleaming fresh bathrooms. How do they do it?

Incidentally, lots of Japanese homes are like that...

I have always despised cleaning. I'm not good at it. What's more, I easily get overwhelmed by it.

Can you relate?

I can never really understand how other people manage. In my mind, there are finite hours in the day and an array of modalities (grocery shopping, laundry, exercise, reading, Internet time) that we have to juggle. Cleaning is usually last in my list of priorities.

Recently, I vowed that I have to make better use of my expat free time in Okinawa. When else in my life am I going to master the cleaning demon if not here while I'm childless and working part-time?

For the past two weeks, I've tested a cleaning strategy that is ACTUALLY working. My trick is to focus on different tasks each day.

Monday- organize clutter and throw things out day*
Tuesday- bathrooms
Wednesday- dusting
Thursday- kitchen
Friday- floors
Saturday- laundry and cars
Sunday- ironing, balcony, and windows

*throw things out day is my favorite- I get a huge burst of energy from getting rid of junk. Try it and you'll see what I mean.

Not only have I kept up, but I've already realized several benefits.

First off, it eases my anxiety to know that each task has an assigned day. There's no more depressing 8 hour cleaning tirades in which I have to do every thing. Also ordinarily before when I noticed a dusty table or whatever, I felt a spasm of stress to the effect of "okay, when am I gonna do that?" Now, I just calmly remind myself of dusting day and I know it will get done.

Next, things get cleaned more regularly so they don't get as dirty or take long to maintain... enough said

Finally, it provides much needed structure on some days when I'm feeling expat wayward.

Are you one of those people who actually likes to clean? Got any cleaning tips that work for you?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Easy Photo Editing

Are you like me? Do you feel challenged by using Photoshop to tweak your pictures?

I usually end up frustrated and give up half way through. I know there's a learning curve to that program, but who has the time?

Recently, I've been resorting more often to Picnik, a free photo editing program you can do straight from your browser. There's no need to download anything and it's super easy and fun to use. You can resize, crop, brighten colors, adjust exposure, add different frames, add text, make collages, and so much more.

Today I was playing around on it with a picture I took of a sculpture in Balboa Park in San Diego.

Here's the original...
Here's the photo cropped and more saturated...
Here's the photo with holga effect...
Finally, in honor of America's Independence coming up soon, here's red, white, and blue...
Picnik is loads of fun to play around with, and it's perfect for amateurs (like me).

What other photo editing programs do you use? Has anyone used Picasa? I heard that was also good.


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