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My Way-Less-Than-Glamorous New York Arrival

Our “Home Goods” shipment arrived in Japan today (i.e. everything that we own that wasn’t put in storage before we left). Two big trucks pulled up in front of our not-so-big apartment, and 6 Japanese Moving Ninjas jumped out to unload the eight pallets of stuff that followed us over here.  As they ran up and down the stairs with boxes and furniture, and I stood there with my coffee ticking things off of the 10-page list, I couldn’t help but be reminded of how much differently my last “big move” went down. Call me sentimental, because sure moving to Japan has been a big deal, but that move from Florida to New York will go down in history as the most significant move of my life. There is just something so special about making a move like that on your own. Not to say I wouldn’t have appreciated a Ninja’s assistance at the time!
 
I landed at JFK with two huge suitcases, a small rollaboard, and the requisite sorority girl Vera Bradley duffel bag thrown over my shoulder. I had arrived. I felt like the budget shoe-clad version of Carrie Bradshaw as I confidently stepped toward the luggage carousel, ready to grab my bags and dart off to my new apartment in midtown. I wrestled the first suitcase off of the conveyor belt and stood it up. I took in the cat scratches the bag had acquired over the last decade in my parents attic. Maybe I wasn’t quite Carrie Bradshaw material just yet. Ahhh… but Holly Golightly! She’d certainly run into something like this along the way that no-named cat of hers. I kept my head high, thinking pearls might have been a nice touch. The second suitcase came into sight. Not so bad, I thought. It clearly hadn’t weathered nearly as many years. I yanked it off of the belt and then just stood there for a second.
 
How do people roll three suitcases at one time? I wondered. Examining all of my bags. I hadn’t thought about this. The taxi stand was at least 300 yards away. I couldn’t very well do relays, or could I? If your first thought is to wonder why I didn’t instinctively grab a luggage cart, then I would say you are clearly not a seasoned backpacker. I’d never traveled with more than I could carry before, and the truth is, it really just never occurred to me that the carts were an option. So here was my solution: I half-balance the rollaboard horizontally across one of the suitcases and pushed it ahead of me, while I pulled the second one behind me, the duffel bag on top of it. Good enough in theory, but not functional. I could push/pull this way for about 10 feet before the rollaboard would start slipping and I’d have to readjust everything. I felt a little bit of my Golightly-resolve draining with every step.
 
“This is ridiculous.” I remember thinking, and luckily (I guess) for me, I was not the only one who thought so. After about 50 yards, an older couple who had been on my flight asked if I would like any help. I quickly sized them up, decided they were unlikely to take off running with my cat-scarred suitcase, and nodded sheepishly.
 
“Yes, I would really, really like your help,” I told the lady, and her husband took one of the larger suitcases from me. We made our way over to the taxi stand, and bless their hearts, they never even pointed out that I could have gotten a luggage cart. (In fact, it wasn’t until nearly a year and a half later when I landed in Tokyo with my husband that I realized what an obvious solution it would have been to my NYC-luggage predicament.) “You stay with the bags, I’ll grab a cart,” he said. “A cart!” I thought. “Of course!”
 
I pulled the card from my pocket and memorized my new address while I waited for a cab: 455 West 34th Street. That should be easy enough. I got in the cab and said, “Midtown West, please,” hoping I at least sounded like I new where I was going. I could feel myself glowing with excitement as we drove down 34th, past Macy’s, past the New Yorker. I could see the Empire State Building lit up patriotically at the end of the street when he stopped the cab and finalized the meter. I got out of the cab and looked around like a little girl who had never seen the city lights before. “I live here,” I remember thinking, wanting to pinch myself. I gave him a fifty dollar bill for the forty-something fare. He helped me get my suitcases to the sidewalk, then turned around and disappeared. I stood there, on the sidewalk, in exactly the same situation I’d been in at the airport: more suitcases than hands, and now, in the middle of midtown Manhattan with absolutely no idea which building was mine. 455… 455…I scanned the buildings for numbers, and there it was. Nothing fancy. Right over a deli. But home.
 
By this time, I’d accepted that my suitcase situation made me look stupid, and I just didn’t care anymore. I’d move one suitcase closer to the building, then relayed back and forth to catch the others up, yard by yard. When I made it to the stairs, the doorman came to my rescue. It wasn’t until my next move to a walk-up in the Upper West Side,that I realized just how much of a luxury that doorman had been.
 
Maybe I hadn’t arrived with nearly as much style and finesse as I would have liked to, but I had, in fact, arrived.

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Yomitan Pottery Village: Yachimun no Sato

There is something very thrilling about moving to a country when you don’t speak the language and you don’t know your way around. You feel almost like you are the first to discover each place, as you slowly explore and uncover its secrets. When you stumble upon a restaurant that makes the best  yakisoba you have ever tasted, you feel like you have earned it. When you sit down somewhere and realize they only serve cow tongue and intestines (more on that later) you chalk it up as an experience.

With that said, there is also something immeasurably convenient about knowing someone who has already done all of the exploring and can just tell you how to get to the best fish markets or where to go for a great pedicure. For me, that person has been Callie. And last week she took two of us newbies to “discover” the Yomitan Pottery Village, or Yachimun no Sato.

This adorable little village is comprised of a series of small houses,  kilns and shops that sprawl over a small hill in Yomitan, just north of Kadena Air Base. Upon arriving, you park in a well-marked lot, and then meander by foot along the single paved path that connects all of the shops and studios. There are about 45 practicing potters and glass artists who work in this little district. Near the bottom of the hill is a glass blowing studio. Visitors can watch as these glass artists turn old bottles (and all kinds of other things) into beautiful works of art that are then sold in one of the shops. I could have stood there taking pictures all day. It’s hypnotizing to watch them work.

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As you continue along, you pass lots of little shops and several red-roofed kilns, including one unique looking structure in the center of the village that we joked resembled a dragon, crawling down the hill. After further research, we discovered there is a pretty good reason for that. This building is actually an old style “climbing kiln” or Noborigama. Several times a year they still fire it up, and the glow produced as it works its glazing magic only serves to enhance its dragon-like appearance. These glazed pieces are sold alongside the more traditional Tsuboya pottery, which is the signature Okinawan unglazed pottery, so the more shops you explore, the more you will find something for every taste.

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Pottery prices start around $10 and go up (and up, and up) from there. I found a darling little tea cup and saucer that I just couldn’t walk away from for 2800 yen, or roughly $30. All three of us had said we were on the look out for Shisa1, but didn’t find any that were quite in our price ranges, although I put considerable pressure on Kelsey to spend upward of 5,000 USD on a pair that were pretty magnificent.

  1. Shisa are the traditional Ryukyuan 2 statues that resemble a lion-dog, and are often found on rooftops or outside the doors of homes and businesses. They were introduced to Okinawa by the Chinese in the 14th century. Generally you find Shisa in a pair, said to be one male and one female. While I had originally been told that the male had his mouth open to ward off evil and the female had her mouth open to keep in the good, I’ve recently read that some believe it is the other way around, and the female opens her mouth to share goodness. One way or another, Shisa are meant to guard your home or place of business and are such a fun part of the Okinawan culture, that we want to find a pair while we are here.
  2.  “Ryukyuan” refers to the culture of the Ryukyu Islands or the Nansei Islands which is the chain of islands south of mainland Japan, which Okinawa is a part of. The culture of these islands is heavily influenced by both Chinese and Japanese customs.

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Whether browsing or buying, I’ve added the Yomitan Pottery Village to the list of attractions I am going to recommend for everyone who comes to visit. We had a blast just walking around and exploring these beautiful shops. Plus… I walked out with a piece that makes me feel like I am sipping nectar straight from a flower every time I use it!

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2014 Has Been a Trip (a lot of trips, actually) And Such an Adventure!

I get lost every time I try to tell the story of this past year. It’s been a whirlwind that took me all over the United States before finally dropping me off in Japan. I started the year happily dating my best friend and ended up as a military wife living abroad.

This year has sent us driving across the U.S. (or at least half of it) 5 times. I can’t tell you how many flights I’ve taken or suitcases I’ve packed, but I think if I could, the number would overwhelm me. This year has been miserable and magical. And while the magic has greatly outweighed the misery-  I’d be lying if I pretended that this 2014 was a walk in the park.

Last week I got a reminder email that the photobook coupon I purchased through RueLaLa was about to expire.  Although I should probably have used it for wedding photos, I decided I would do a “quick recap” of the  Stateside portion of our year instead. HA! There is nothing quick about it, but gosh, what a beautiful adventure it’s been. I’d love to have a post on every city we visited, and who knows, in time maybe they will come, but for now, I’m just really glad there was an expiration date that forced me to record it all before I forget just how crazy this year really was!

On January 1, I lived in New York City. On February 1, I lived in Wichita, Kansas. On April 1, I lived in Tampa, Florida. As of October 1, I now live in Okinawa, Japan. I rang in 2014 surrounded by boxes, and as of November 14, 2014, I have yet to unpack them. I’ve been living out of one suitcase or another for almost a full year, and I wouldn’t change a single thing.

What is it that Helen Keller is always quoted saying? “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”? Well: at least I can live confidently in the fact that 2014 was not nothing.

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Japanese 101

One of my goals when we moved to Japan was to learn the language fluently enough to converse comfortable and someday to be able to teach our children. I immediately enrolled in the free Japanese class offered on base that meets on Monday and Wednesday night, bought a stack of note cards and told myself I was on my way! I’d be communicating in no time.

False.

So far I am comfortable with exactly three phrases:

  • Domo arigato gozaimasu
  • Sumimasen
  • Yoi ichinichi o

Translation: thank you, sorry and have a good day.

I was at lunch with a friend yesterday and a Japanese man asked me if I knew where a certain hotel was. He made an effort in English, and I so wanted to return that by trying out Japanese. “Hai,” I said. Which means yes, but was a lie. I didn’t know where the hotel was. “Hai” just sort of popped out.  I started shaking my head. “Sumimasen. No. Umm… Maybe that way.” I pointed and shrugged as if to say, “I apologize for being completely useless”. He smiled and bowed and thanked me anyway. I bowed and thanked him back because other than “sorry” it’s one of the two other things I can say.  As he walked away I looked at my friend and said, “Ah!! I just learned how to say good luck! It’s on a note card in my purse. This would have been a perfect opportunity to practice!”

I reviewed my note cards on the way home: Ganbatte Kudasai. Damn. So close.

When I took French in high school, I don’t remember it being difficult to learn the basics. I remember having conjugating issues, but I don’t remember stumbling over the most basic of vocabulary. When I took Spanish in college, I remember it coming really easily and sticking with me. This was my expectation when I moved to Japan. I imagined myself laughing with the locals in their native language, being witty and I’ve been here for a month and a half now and I basically just walk around saying, “sorry”.  This morning I woke up motivated. No more two days a week for me! Today I was going to conquer hiragana! Watch out Japan.

There are three different writing systems in Japanese: kanji (which are the Chinese symbols that are sounds/words with meanings associated with them),  hiragana, and katakana. The latter two are the two sets of characters that have corresponding sounds and build words in Japanese (the alphabets, for lack of a better word). Given that a college educated scholar knows about 6000 kanji and there are approximately 2000 kanji characters used routinely in Japanese, most non-native speakers don’t study kanji (or at least not in the beginning.)

There are 46 characters for basic syllables in both the hiragana and katakana “alphabet”. They both expand from there with modified syllables for consonants plus vowels, and modified syllables for consonants plus ya, yu, yo. Example:  ba, bi, bu, be, bo, bya, byu, byo. Not to mention double consonants and long vowels.

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A very basic sentence, can use characters from all three writing systems: kanji, hiragana, and katakana. Example:

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My goal this morning was to familiarize myself with the 46 basic hiragana characters.  It’s noon now and I have been at it for about 4 hours. Dane went to the hardware store to buy lumber for a table he is building, and he’s already back with groceries and lunch. In that time I have “mastered” 26 characters according to my software program. (And as you can see, I’ve decided to take a blogging break.)

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At this rate, it is likely he could build an entire house before I will be speaking Japanese well enough to teach our unborn children. But I’m not going to give up. The next time someone asks me for directions, I doubt I will be able to help them, but I’m at least going to be able to wish them luck.

To Teach or Not Featured

The Most Important Rule In Scuba Diving: Never, Ever Hold Your Breath

I love to breathe. I know for most people this goes without saying, but I like breathing so much that I often do say it. I even thought about having the word “breathe” tattooed on my wrist once, for about 15 minutes, before I realized how many blonde jokes it would set me up for for the next 70 or so years.

I like activities that promote breathing like yoga and… I don’t know…  blowing up balloons. I don’t like feeling restrained and I do not willingly enter confined spaces where I might be likely to run out of air. Basically, I don’t like anything that impedes my ability to freely breathe on my own terms. I wouldn’t call myself claustrophobic exactly, but I am claustro-aware for sure.

So when Dane asked me how I felt about getting scuba certified, I answered with very little hesitation: no, thank you. I grew up swimming. Like many Florida babies, I could literally swim before I could walk.  We spent our childhood snorkeling around the beach or the backyard pool looking, not for fish, but for those equally exciting neon weighted rings that were a staple in every pool in the early nineties.   When we hit 13, a good chunk of my peers got scuba certified. Not me. I just wasn’t interested. Even throughout college, while everyone I knew was getting certified and going on weekend diving trips, I remained comfortably breathing my own air. No tanks for me.

However, Dane is nothing if not persuasive. The more he talked about this giant coral reef in the middle of the Pacific that we were going to be living on, the more I warmed to the idea. He talked fondly about this hobby we would share as husband and wife, as if it was something I had actually agreed to. By the time he started showing me pictures of sea turtles and whale sharks and clown fish, I finally caved and said I would try it. Not necessarily do it, but “try” it. To say I was hesitant is to put it mildly. Right before we paid for the class I warned him, “If at any time I start to feel like I can’t breathe: I will walk away. You will have to finish the class on your own.” I think I hoped he would give me an out now that money was on the line, but he just said, “I think you will be okay,” and swiped the card.

We signed up for a class that started our second week in Okinawa. A typhoon kept us from starting on Sunday as planned, but on Monday we walked into the classroom where one of the first things our instructor said was: “The most important rule of scuba diving is to never, ever hold your breath.” I immediately liked this guy. Clearly I had been misinformed, but I had always assumed that regulating your air would involve a great deal of breath holding. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.  I took a deep breath and found myself yawning. An involuntary response I have (as it turns out) to conversations that involve breathing. I pretty much yawned through day one and two in the classroom- not because I was bored but because my body decided to start hoarding air while we talked about oxygen tanks.

Day three was our first day in the pool. I had no concerns about the swimming test, (200 meter swim or 300 meter with snorkel and fins, and a ten-minute tread) though I wasn’t crazy about how cold the water had gotten after the torrential downpour of the weekend’s typhoon. Following the swim test, it was time to strap into our kits and my breathing anxiety kicked in. I brainstormed excuses. I thought about faking a cramp, or a headache, or telling them all of a sudden I felt like I had a cold. (Another rule of diving is to cancel the dive if you are congested.)

But I looked down at my rented flippers and reminded myself, “The most important rule in scuba, is to never ever hold your breath.” I repeated it like a mantra. Besides… if it turned out I couldn’t breathe through the regulator, I was going to be in exactly 5 feet of water. I could always  just stand up.

We took knees at the bottom of the pool as we worked through some of the drills. After about 30 minutes in the 72 degree water, this Gulf of Mexico-raised wimp, was shivering through her 3mm suit. I was shaking so violently that I simply forgot to worry about breathing through a regulator. On our drive home that night, I admitted that Dane had been right that I wouldn’t drown, but I still thought I might sit this one out until next summer. Never wanting to be dramatic, I told him that I intended to soak in a hot bath until I was warm again, which might  take all week, so would he kindly spoon feed me lasagna if I started to waste away?

I think I knew that if I waited until next summer, I would, without question, talk myself out of ever getting certified, and the truth was, it really hadn’t been that bad. So the next day I repeated my new mantra as I drove back to the dive shop and tried on a 7mm wet suit. They looked at me a little funny and the girl behind the counter told me that she had never heard of someone diving in Okinawa in a 7mm, but my mind could not be changed as I shimmied my body into almost a centimeter of neoprene. I couldn’t bend my arms or legs, but that seemed like a small price to pay for all that warmth.  That night while everyone else continued to shiver in their 3 mms, I was triumphantly, albeit buoyantly, warm in my 7mm.

And would you believe it? Another night passed without any anxiety about breathing. That night I found myself dreaming about the next day’s open water dives, and not in a “wake-me-from-this-nightmare” way. I was actually really looking forward to getting out of the pool and into the sea. And the next morning… I did. And I was warm and happy and never once held my breath.

To Teach or Not to Teach. No, Really That’s My Question

…And your thoughts and feedback are both welcome and encouraged! When we arrived in Okinawa, I made a list of the goals I had for my time here. I love lists in every form, but this felt like the kind of list that should be made in a new journal with pink gel pen. (Unfortunately I only had my planner handy and a boring black pen in my purse, so I had to make do.)

The next three years are so full of pink-gel-pen-worthy possibility! I feel so blessed to have this unique opportunity to spend the first years of our marriage on the other side of the world with my best friend. Getting to do all of the things I always make excuses not to do back home.

The list included things like learning Japanese, finishing my book, getting certified in graphic design, perfecting my photography style, building a cake decorating portfolio, learning web design, etc.  I haven’t had an opportunity to do so much learning since college, and let’s be honest, there is no way I appreciated having that time back then as much as I will now.

The other, very high, priority for my time here in Okinawa was to get a job. I don’t do well with too much free time and we have always really appreciated having two incomes. Before arriving, I had made another little list in my head of potential job opportunities. There is a Tiffany & Co. on the island, which felt almost fate-like, given how much I loved my job in New York. There are a couple of marketing avenues through the Marine base, though no positions were listed at the time. Or… I could be a substitute teacher. There are dozens of DODEA schools on the island, and subbing would give me the chance to use that teaching certificate I worked so hard for and have never taught with. Plus I could work on my book and have time to pursue a side income with photography and cake decorating. I was absolutely in love with this idea.

The second week on-island, I walked into Bob Hope Primary School with my 40-page application filled out, a stack of teaching references, and orange earrings that matched my orange purse. (I thought that would be a nice touch.) I sat and chatted with the secretary as we went through all 40 pages, making sure that it had been filled out according to government policies.  DODEA doesn’t mess around.

For the next couple of days I ran around getting finger printed on one base, getting a background check at another. And then at the beginning of last week, the secretary called me. “Our principal looked over your application and was really impressed” she told me. (Read: You are a certified teacher and we need teachers more than we need subs).  I told her that as much as I loved the idea of teaching full time, I have a huge list of hobbies that I’m really anxious to get going on, plus a sewing machine that I haven’t really learned to use yet. (Okay, those were not my exact words, but I think she knew what I meant). I mentioned it to Dane later that evening while we were at the hardware store trying to figure out what we should build so that I could paint it.

Around 5:30 p.m. I got a second call. This time it was from the principal herself, and she had the assistant principal with her. I was immediately both flattered and impressed and really glad I’d taken the time to match my purse and earrings… as I am certain this played the biggest role in their decision to pursue me.

We talked for close to thirty minutes about everything the job entails and the class that I would be taking over: kindergarten, (I love kindergarten). We talked about my qualifications, I am reading endorsed and have ESL experience, all things she was looking for. We talked about the salary, about 1.5 times more than I would make teaching in Florida, plus our COLA (cost of living allowance) would double.

Suddenly, I was not so sure that I really needed to learn to sew after all. Rather than building anything that night, I sat down with a glass of wine, while Dane managed to hang our new bamboo window treatments and spent 3 hours filling out yet another application.

I’ve attached all of my documents, provided copies of my certificate and transcripts, listed phone numbers for all of my references. T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted. Now I just have to decide if I really want to take on a kindergarten classroom in the middle of the year and give up my freedom to travel until June. Subbing is still an option, and every day I seem to be going back and forth. Feel free to weigh in, my loyal friends and blog readers! To teach or not to teach?

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Halloween Okistyle: Costume Parade in American Village

I was wondering which version of thank you was most appropriate when leaving a restaurant: “Domo Arigato Gozaimasu” or “Domo Arigato Gozaimashita”.  However, the topic of our Japanese class seemed to just keep coming back to the most important question on everyone else’s minds: “Do they celebrate Halloween in Japan?”

Correct answer: yes.

Our teacher explained that they do not celebrate the way that we do in the States or go door to door asking strangers for candy (we can’t vouch for this as we were not at home) but after our experience last night, I feel confident in answering the question by saying, yes,  the Japanese absolutely celebrate Halloween.

Our scuba instructor had advised that if we had the night free we should walk over to American Village for the Halloween Costume Parade. This “parade” turned out to be a pageant of sorts with about 300 entries, over 30 judges with laptops, and a couple of thousand onlookers. The costumes ranged from predictable to downright brilliant, and I’m going to plead some Japanese ignorance for the ones just went right over my head.

Here are a few of my favorite pictures from a night of celebrating Halloween Okistyle.

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They weren’t messing around when it came to judging these costumes! There were several tents full of people with laptops scoring the contestants.

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He is really frustrated that our “family” didn’t have themed costumes. There’s always next year, Dane.

Dane Gets a Tramp Stamp. Car Buying in Okinawa

“Okinawa is where Japanese cars come to die.” Those were the exact words our sponsor used when he was giving us the lay of the land on our drive from the airport to base on the night we arrived. “They are going to run you between $2,500 -$5000, but if you spend $5,000 we will definitely make fun of you behind your back.”

Noted. Love the honesty.

One of our first priorities upon arriving in Okinawa was to purchase cars. We were still staying at the TLF (temporary living facility) so we were on base and close enough to walk to and from the initial briefings, but there is something to be said for the freedom of going to the grocery store without needing to ask for a ride. After about 36 hours, Dane needed wheels more than Dane needed anything.

Luckily, the “Lemon Lot” (aka the Auto Resale Lot if you refer to the map) is within walking distance of the TLF. I doubt this is a coincidence. On our first full day in Okinawa we scoured the lot, taking in all of the “creative” shapes and colors of the Japanese vehicles. For a culture that doesn’t value individualism, these cars would not seem to communicate that.  On our second visit to the lot, we were ready to buy a car. We found a cute little Mini Cooper, listed slightly under the tease-worthy price point, and called the number in the window (with our new Japanese cell phones).

The owner met us at the lot later that afternoon, we drove it around the block a couple of times, and made him an offer. Much like house hunting in Okinawa, car buying moves fast on the island. In order to officially transfer the title, the three of us went to the on-base legal office, where we provided them copies of our SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) drivers licenses, a copy of our orders, and our military IDs. It really was just about that simple. We wrote the guy a check, he took a picture of it on the spot to deposit into his account, gave us the keys, and we drove home.

Freedom at last. So we went grocery shopping. (It’s a theme in our lives for celebrations of any kind!)

With one car down, Dane felt he could really take his time picking out the perfect vehicle for himself… And his heart was set on the most hideous (but practical) car he could think of: a Nissan Cube. There’s a sentence I NEVER thought I would say about my Michigan-bred, truck-driving husband. But there you have it. When in Japan, I suppose.

He spent the next couple of days visiting the Lemon Lot, checking Okinawa Bookoo (which is the Craigslist of the Far East), and searching the surrounding car dealerships. We’d already bought a vehicle from an individual, so to get the full Okinawan-car-buying experience,  we thought why not try a dealership?

Like so many other things,  car dealerships in Okinawa are a bit different than they are in the States. There’s no chance of getting swarmed by a flock of overly helpful salespeople the moment you step onto the lot. In fact, I wish you luck finding an employee at all. The cars fill small parking lots where they are all left unlocked, parked mere feet from one another. You just kind of open the doors and hope you can squeeze behind the wheel.

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Another difference, is that they all have a price in the window, but none of them have the year or the mileage listed. You have to specifically ask if you want detailed information like this while making a decision. After walking around the lot for a while, and sitting in several smoke-stained Cubes, a little Japanese man finally came out of the building next door and approached us. “You want car?” He asked us without bothering to remove the cigarette from his mouth.

We walked around the lot, as Dane pointed at vehicles asking how much, what year, how many miles. I was mostly concerned that we find one that wasn’t going to leave me smelling like smoke every time he gave me a ride. We finally settled on a white Cube that was backed up against the wall. It smelled the freshest (though I wouldn’t go straight to “fresh”) and it was a 2007. Believe it or not, that was actually the newest car we had looked at. Most were 2002-2005’s. They wanted $4000. Dane offered $3000. They refused, and we left. A few hours later, they called us back and said they would take the $3000 if we paid in cash that day.

Another super fun experience is visiting an ATM a dozen times (because we don’t have a bank branch) to pull out $3000 in twenties. $3000 in hundreds looks normal. $3000 in twenties looks like you are about to get arrested for something. We thought it would be fun to throw it all up in the air or spread it on bed and roll around on it, but we were on a time crunch, so we postponed those fantasies for another time, and drove back to the dealership with what felt like drug money tucked into my purse.

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We sat across the table from three Japanese car dealers as they counted our cash, spoke quickly to one another in a language we couldn’t understand, and then started stamping papers furiously. Dane might have just bought a car. He might have just sold his wife. It was really hard to say. But in the end we signed some papers (in English) and they gave us the keys to our brand new Cube. We walked around the building to pick her up where we were greeted by seeing the back side of the vehicle for the first time. I groaned, Dane could hardly contain his glee. His “brand new” cube, had a tramp stamp. And not just any tramp stamp… but a diaper-clad baby wearing sunglasses and sucking a binkie.

I knew the answer to my question before I even asked, but I had to appeal to the side of him that used to hand wash his truck because he didn’t trust the people at the car wash to “do it right”.

“You are going to take that decal off the car when we get home, right?” I asked him. He just smiled and said, “I would have paid extra for that.”

I could see the wheels turning in his head the whole drive home, for how he might be able to make his tacky Japanese Cube just a little bit more colorful. Later that night I went on Amazon to find furry dice, a hula girl, and a steering wheel cover were already in our cart.

IMG_0205IMG_0207Hysterics. Agreed. I couldn’t have said it better, Japan.

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Celebrating at Awase Fish Market

I’m very lucky to have a husband that can turn almost anything we have in the kitchen into meal that’s instagram-worthy. But even with his knack for pairing spices with unlikely ingredients, you can only do so much without a decent pan. One of the hardest things about our first month in Okinawa has been trying to cook with the loan-locker kitchen. Even butter could find a way to stick to the pan we’ve been using.

So we were thrilled last week when they told us that our unaccompanied baggage* had arrived on-island. Although the majority of our stuff is not due to arrive until mid-November, our essentials are finally here! And by essentials, I mean things like:  four place settings, silverware, two pots, two pans, four pillows, and two coffee makers. Yep. While packing with a very strict weight limit I guess we decided we needed both the Keurig and the coffee maker. We were surprised to unpack both, but we aren’t complaining.

So what was the first thing we did? Actually the first two things we did were make coffee and wash dishes. But the third thing was to celebrate with a trip to the Awase Fish Market. We’ve been told it’s  best to get there in the mornings when the fish is fresh off the boat, but, let me tell you, even an after work trip will not disappoint!

Our diet was pretty fish heavy in the States, but after just one visit to this Okinawan fish market on the Pacific coast, I’m sure it’s a drive we’ll be making at least once a week.

I thought he was a pretty remarkable chef even after a quick trip to Dillons in Kansas– I can’t wait to see what he comes up with all of this as inspiration!

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*Unaccompanied baggage (For my non-military readers) This is the first set of luggage that was shipped separately to arrive on-island faster. It is usually supposed to take about 2-3 weeks to arrive after it leaves a port in California. Given that ours was coming from Kansas we had no idea how long it would take, but it arrived just shy of a month after we did. Not too bad all things considered.

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Ice Cream Colored Cars

Before we moved out here, a friend suggested that I write down everything that seems surprising at the beginning. “Pretty soon, all of those things will feel normal and you will forget that they ever seemed foreign,” she advised me. As usual, she was right.

Yesterday while driving, I looked over at Dane and said, “People don’t drive orange cars like that in the States, right?” We’ve been here for a little less than a month, but already I’m having trouble remembering if something seems normal to me because I am getting used to it here, or if it seems normal because I’ve seen it at home.

That experience inspired this post, because I never want to forget that these ice-cream colored cars were not normal to me several weeks ago. In fact, it was not so much the shapes (although that has taken some getting used to as well) but the colors of the vehicles that I found most shocking when we bought cars in Okinawa.

I think the best way for me to describe the color choices in Japan is by using “flavors” rather than “shades”. In fact, I imagine you would have better luck asking for a mint or bubblegum colored car if you asked around than you would looking for something in dark green.  So rather than wait three years until “Easter eggy” cars seem normal to me, I thought I should snap a couple of pictures now. And suggest that today, we all be the strawberry ice cream colored car among a sea of silver. (What, too much? Okay, just look at the pretty colors.)

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A Blog About Life Being Pretty Magical