Now, I Know.

I took off for a weekend last month
Just to try and recall the whole year
All of the faces and all of the places
Wonderin’ where they all disappeared
I didn’t ponder the question too long
I was hungry and went out for a bite
Ran into a chum with a bottle of rum
And we wound up drinkin all night

It’s these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes
Nothing remains quite the same
With all of our running and all of our cunning
If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane

Reading departure signs in some big airport
Reminds me of the places I’ve been
Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure
Makes me want to go back again
If it suddenly ended tomorrow
I could somehow adjust to the fall
Good times and riches and son of a bitches
I’ve seen more than I can recall

These changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes
Nothing remains quite the same
Through all of the islands and all of the highlands
If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane

I think about Paris when I’m high on red wine
I wish I could jump on a plane
So many nights I just dream of the ocean
God I wish I was sailin’ again
Oh, yesterday’s over my shoulder
So I can’t look back for too long
There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me
And I know that I just can’t go wrong

With these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes
Nothing remains quite the same
With all of my running and all of my cunning
If I couldn’t laugh I just would go insane
If we couldn’t laugh we just would go insane
If we weren’t all crazy we would go insane

* * *

As part of his “I Don’t Know” tour, Jimmy Buffett gave a free concert at Camp Foster on Friday, October 28th.  It was my first time seeing Buffett in concert and, likely, my last.  (He’ll turn 70 years old on Christmas Day.)  We arrived at 2 p.m. for a 3:30 start time.  Although the sun beat down with only a sliver of shade in sight, the wait was worth it.  Ambassador Caroline Kennedy briefly introduced the singer and his band and then he played for 90 minutes.  As an island lover and dweller, I connect with his Caribbean-themed lyrics and his fondness for a refreshing beverage to beat the heat.  As for his performance for U.S. troops, I couldn’t have picked a more apt performer–he’s as American as apple pie.

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Ambassador Caroline Kennedy introducing Jimmy Buffett.
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Free beads, leis, and sunglasses were given out.
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Enjoying the Caribbean-themed tunes.
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Fins. Watch out for the landshark.
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My tiny landshark.

A Child’s Place

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[S]’s breakfast at Seaside Cafe Hanon, Okinawa, Japan.
I have never been one to eat breakfast out.  Perhaps it’s because I’m frugal.  Why spend $10 on eggs and pancakes when it costs pennies on the dollar to make at home?  Perhaps it’s because I loathe leaving the house early on weekend mornings.  How is it a lazy morning if I must put myself together to leave our house?  Or maybe it’s just because I enjoy breakfasts at home–the smell of coffee brewing, the sound of eggs being cracked, and the unrestrained giggles of a two-and-a-half year old.

Living in Okinawa has not changed my feelings on eating breakfast out, but it has given me a reason to embrace when we do so:  the children’s breakfast set.  Here, one typically orders a meal set.  Sets often include a choice of beverage, the main course, and a dessert.  For breakfast, children are routinely offered ice cream, chocolate, or whip cream to accompany pancakes, in addition to syrup.  And the creativity of eating establishments is bemusing when it comes to children’s plates.  One cafe provided [S] with a liquid chocolate pen to decorate her own pancakes.

At Seaside Cafe Hanon, [S]’s meal included three types of ice cream, pancakes, and a mini-cream puff.  The restaurant substituted the egg-based cream with whip cream on the ears and in the cream puff without us asking, given [S]’s egg allergy.  (I only requested that they leave the egg-cream off the plate.  But that wouldn’t fit the aesthetic, would it?)

I find joy in the pride and creativity of restaurant workers here.  One’s job is not merely to prepare and/or serve a meal.  Rather, it is seen as an honor to do so.  And it shows.

How was my meal?  It was beautifully presented and delicious.

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Eggs Benedict, steak bacon, and whole wheat pancakes, served with a salad.

Treasure Hunting Amid Plastic

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Gems from our day at Sea Glass Beach, Okinawa. #NoFilter.

Last Saturday, our family packed a cooler, plenty of beach towels, and several plastic bags, and headed back to Sea Glass Beach.  Despite the hour-long drive, the aptly named beach is one of my favorite places to spend the day.  I’ve been told that the best time to find sea glass is early morning post-storm–and the tip paid off.  We have a bag of mostly light blue and green hued glass sitting in our laundry room.

This was our third visit to the beach to find its sand-worn treasures.  The sun was bright, the sea was rough, and the wind refreshing.  Like our previous visits, there were plenty of Americans strolling the beach searching for unique and personal reminders of Okinawa.  And there were a handful of local nationals enjoying the waves.

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Sea Glass Beach, Okinawa, Japan.

After Russell set up our tent, we spent the day exploring our surroundings both in and out of the water.  [S] helped us find shells, stones, and sea glass, picking up whatever caught her fancy.  As we walked the beach, one couldn’t help but notice the plastic bottles littering the beach.  Like our previous trip, I grabbed another bag and began picking up plastic bottles and styrofoam bits dotting the shoreline.  By the time we left, the bag was filled.  For the most part, the bottles collected to be taken home for recycling were old.  They were filled with water and some had barnacles on them.  They had traveled the waters and landed here, in Okinawa.

While trying not to judge others, as the day wore on and more bottles were collected, I became annoyed.  I was not the only person seeing the garbage on the beach, but I was the only person picking it up.  Why was that?  I watched as men, women, and children walked past empty bottles searching for sea glass without giving the outward appearance of acknowledging the litter.

I began wondering why it was that everyone wanted to take the beach’s gems and enjoy the surrounding clear cooling waters, but no one could take the effort to give back to nature.  This, despite knowing that the world’s waters are being suffocated by plastic waste, adversely impacting food sources, communities, and commerce alike.  As a Girl Scout Brownie, I learned early on to leave a place better than it was found.  I wondered what our beaches would look like if everyone took that mantra to heart.  While my efforts did little to stem the worldwide plastic problem we face, I take comfort in knowing that my actions made a small difference to one beach.

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Sea Glass Beach, Okinawa, Japan.

#DoSomething

The Beach Life

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Onna Seaside Civil Park, Nabee Beach, Okinawa, Japan.

Those with a keen eye may discern that the massive hotel behind us is an InterContinental.  The InterContinental ANA Manza Beach Resort is a stunning property, boating manicured lawns, palm-lined roads, and a pristine beach with ocean obstacle courses for adults and children alike.  That was not where we were.  Rather, we were at Nabee Beach, located one stoplight south of the InterContinental.  Indeed, it was an InterContinental staff member who provided us with the simple directions when Google Maps continued to bring us to the entrance of the Manza Beach Resort.

As I’ve written about previously, Okinawa is full of beaches, many of which are free to access, while several are not.  I still recall being shocked that one may have to pay to access a beach.  Then, I was a young girl visiting her Grandparents in New Jersey.  And while I appreciate all of the varied–and valid–reasons access to beaches may be pay-to-play, I tend to prefer spending my time at no-fee beaches.  Judging from the crowd at Nabee Beach, so do many Okinawans.

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Nabee Beach, Okinawa, Japan.

Nabee Beach is more than a beach.  It has one lifeguard, who also was in charge of putting up umbrella rentals.  It has activity rentals (think banana boat rides, kayaks, snorkeling and fishing excursions).  It has barbecue rentals.  And it has an Okinawan restaurant.  It is a busy place, with a steady flow of people consistently arriving and departing.

The swim area is netted and no snorkeling is allowed.  However, a short walk towards the InterContinental will land you at a small beach, without amenities, lifeguards, or restrictions.  We spent time on both beaches; both were equally beautiful, but the small beach was quieter and intimate with the added bonus of schools of fish swimming about.

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We appeared to be the only Americans at Nabee Beach yesterday.  The handful of non-Asian people we encountered likely were European or Australian.

FullSizeRender(274)Aside from the clear waters and carefree environment, my favorite part of the day was when [S] demanded to get out of her panda ring while in still in the waters of the East China Sea.  She delighted in being motor-boated from one parent to the other, despite the splashing of salt water in her face, laughing out loud the entire time.  Perhaps my second favorite part of the day was knowing we saved a c-note by bypassing the InterContinental and finding this gem of a beach.

A Great Day.

<b>Daikon no Hana</b> | Okinawa | Pinterest

Today was spectacular.  No, it wasn’t a fireworks and jumping for joy kind of a day.  Rather, it was one of those unexpected perfect days that comes every so often in life.  There is no doubt that getting to the gym this morning helped to jump start the day.  Earlier in the week I declared that after two weeks of non-stop running around we were going to stay home for the weekend.  Russell agreed with my plan wholeheartedly.  But by the end of the week my plan had changed, albeit slightly.

Perhaps it was cabin fever from the past rainy days.  Or maybe it was just a craving for something different.  But I thought it would be a good idea to go out to lunch.  At first, I suggested the food court at the mall.  Inexpensive.  Convenient.  Known.  But then I started looking for a new dining experience.  And we found it:  Daikon no Hana.  Daikon no Hana is an Okinawan buffet style restaurant.

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From back left to right: goya champeru, white fish, goya tempura, fried chicken, nori rice, eggplant tempura, roasted veg, salad, and a bowl of curry.

As we drove north towards Camp Courtney, we found the large restaurant across the street from an A&W.  Daikon no Hana opens at 11:30 a.m.; we arrived at 11:50 a.m.  The place was packed.  We were promptly seated in the back of the restaurant, by ourselves.  Russell was the only Caucasian at the restaurant and, for a brief moment, I wondered if that was the reason we had been seated out of the way.  As the back room quickly became filled with Japanese diners, it was clear that was the not the case.

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From back left to right: bowl of unknown food, spaghetti, fried chicken, tofu, corn, pickled goya, roasted veg, salad, marinated veg.

The buffet offered anything one could want.  Ramen.  Soba.  Curry.  Rice with seaweed.  Fried goya (bitter mellon).  Salad.  Tofu.  Pickled goya.  Fried chicken.  Salad.  Roasted veg.  Fish.  And a few items we were unable to identify.

[S] behaved perfectly.  She sat on my lap and dined on roasted sweet potato, pineapple, chicken and curry.  She enjoyed the curry so much that she cried out, “Yum, yum. yum.”  And she ate most of my curry as well.  Dessert was various cookies, custard, and fruit.  We left satisfied.  And happy.  It was a great find and I left feeling more connected to Okinawa’s culture.

Upon leaving the restaurant, Russell continued driving north without explaining why.  A few kilometers later, he pulled into the parking lot of Petits Four, a French bakery we have passed several times.  “I thought we should take a look,” he said.

IMG_5050(1)We walked out with a bag of pastries and baked treats, including various flavored macarons, black sesame encrusted cookies, short bread treats and meringues.  Perhaps blasphemous to some, the baked goods here rival those found in Parisian patisseries.

FullSizeRender(234)How did our day end?  Even better than it started.  We took [S] to the base pool located a stone’s throw from our home.  She splashed and played in the small wading pool for an hour, daring to put her face in the water several times.  We met new people and we spoke with neighbors.

After her bath, [S] tucked into tuna fish on toast points with abandon.  And then went to sleep.  Today was one of my favorite days on Island.  It was relaxing.  It was unexpected.  It was simply delightful.

#MayEveryDayBeLikeToday

A Case of Cultural Infusion

After living in Japan for almost one year, I have now become accustomed to having brief conversations entirely in Japanese.  Be it at the commissary, exchange, or out in town.  I am able to discern what is being asked of me, typically responding with an enthusiastic, “hai!”  At base gates, guards are greeted with konnichiwa and a quick, hai, upon receiving permission to enter, followed by arigatou gozaimasu.

At the store, I am typically asked for my identification, how I will pay and whether I have coupons.  I anticipate such questions and respond, often in a different order than asked.  But no English is spoken, regardless.  As a result, hai (yes) has become a common word in my vocabulary, oftentimes paired with a slight bow.

I had several client appointments today.  Midday, one of my clients began asking several questions requiring a yes or no answer.  I noted that, in response, I said hai three times, bowing slightly each time I used the word.  I’m sure I blushed.  After all, like me, my client is American.  And we both speak English as a first language.  My client gave me a second glance when he first heard me use the word, but didn’t appear to think anything of it as I continued.

When I collected [S] from day care today, I inquired how she did.  Our caretaker started laughing.  She continued, “I asked [S] if she wanted a toy; she said hai and bowed.”

#LovingJapan

#AlwaysLearning

Sea Seedlings, If You Will.

I love planet Earth.  This is not an unexpected sentiment considering I am one of its estimated 7.4 billion inhabitants.  I would expect that most of my fellow humans love this planet.  That said, civilization and humanity have taken its toll, leaving us with significant environmental challenges.  Take global warming.  First, yes, it is real.  Second, it affects the structure–and composition–of our planet.  Higher temperatures result in more severe and frequent weather (floods, droughts, heat waves, and storms); higher death rates from heat-related illnesses; increased air pollution; higher wildlife extinction rates; and, rising sea levels. Each of these issues produce multiple knock-on effects.  And so it goes.

When I speak about living in Cayman, someone will talk about its waters and diving.  Often, that conversation will take a turn to the dark side, discussing development, commerce and reef destruction.  It’s not a new topic.  But it is a sad one.  Last month, scientists reported that 93% of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was affected by a bleaching event.  And the only tropical reef in the continental United States, Florida’s coral reef, is disintegrating faster than scientists had predicted, in part, as a result of acidic waters.

Coral bleaching occurs when the algae living it its tissue leaves.  While it isn’t necessarily fatal, it leaves the coral vulnerable to disease.

 Coral Bleaching Infographic

Given the current state of the world, it should come as no surprise that Okinawa’s waters are not faring any better.  According to one study, at least 90% of Okinawa’s coral reefs have been damaged or destroyed.

Last weekend, during our trip to Yomitan, our family crossed a road to take in the view.  Upon looking closer, I said, “Oh, that’s Sea Seed.  I’ve wanted to go there.”  I had seen photos of the unique white structure online and was aware the place allowed children to touch starfish, but had no idea what it was.  As we started to make our way down the hill, Russell noted that we had to purchase tickets at the village across the street.  As he did so, [S] and I started the trek.

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The Coral Farm is a self-described man-made coral reef boasting approximately 50,000 coral nubbins growing in controlled water, four to five degrees lower than the open seas.  The Coral Farm cultivates and transplants coral into the sea, hoping to restore reefs.  Because the coral is indigenous to Okinawan waters, there is no risk of introducing invasive species and the nubbins are raised at the site until they are ready to be affixed to artificial bases.  Once the coral is full-grown, it becomes home to other marine life and, in two to three years, it will spawn, bringing new life to the sea.

I don’t understand the science behind the coral growth and transplant process and I don’t know success rates, but the before and after photos we were shown are impressive.

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#ThereIsAlwaysHope

A Stunning Mother’s Day

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Nago, Okinawa.

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance.

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