Sunday, October 26, 2014

The First Week of Classes and Other Events

Hello Again!

Now the first week of classes of the second fall term has passed already.  In 7 weeks I will be back in Nebraska for over 3 weeks over the Christmas break before I move on to Korea for Spring 1 and probably Spring 2.  I have enjoyed and  am enjoying my teaching very much.  Students are motivated, in general, and our classes are lively from the beginning.  I suppose one reason for that is that there is no language barrier here.

I kept dropping topics into the blog post so I would remember them and now must choose a few topics and a few pictures to share otherwise, it won't get written at all!

The whole issue of driving here is multi-faceted.  First of all, one must somehow learn to drive on the left.  Since I'm never really certain where that is, I try to follow traffic, which has worked out rather well, unless I'm first in line and turning a corner.  I do know that it's never good to find myself going alone in one direction. Whether I'm right or not does not matter.  The panic that I'm on the wrong side is instant.  On the military bases, there is a certain amount of understanding with nods and smiles.  That wouldn't be so, off-base, where traffic moves fairly swiftly and motorcycles are unregulated, as far as I can tell. They weave in between the lanes which is entirely legal.  The rules of the road are fairly standard but a vehicle homicide would financially destroy you because you must make reparations to her/his family for whatever s/he would have earned over the course of her/his life! 

I did have a new experience during a time of base action (or something like that). Apparently, everyone must participate so the traffic folks get in on the action by creating roadblocks to check...whatever they want to check.  This time, the 2 military guys approached my car and asked me if I would submit to a breathalyzer test.  You can't really refuse so, of course, I said yes.  The problem is, I didn't have enough breath to allow them to get a reading.  As traffic backed up behind us, the young man at my window said, on the 6th try, "One more try ma'am, please."  His colleague had, by this time, run away, hiding his face. Actually, we were all starting to laugh.  I don't know if my final effort was any better than all the others but he did let me go. My students were highly amused.

Manners: In traditional shops as you give your card or cash, it is proper to do so with both hands and a slight bow.  It is also correct to receive your card or change in the same way with, "Areeghato gozymaaahs." (Okinawan accent).  I never realized how full my hands were and what a hurry I must be in, already holding car keys, etc., etc. Salon services here are so gentle and respectful.  There are tiny ear covers for hair coloring, warm eye masks for reclining back into the shampoo basin or eyebrows, and your head wrapped in a towel while you wait.  I never saw women waiting for their hair color process with uncovered heads.  The massage therapist I found has kept me upright and moving and always begins on her knees, in front of me, washing my feet in warm, blue bath salts.

My apartment is as lovely and comfortable as the pictures were that I posted last time and I've been very happy here.  Chopin plays in the lobby, ALL the time, the security is absolute, the apartments  so well-built that they are completely quiet with the balcony doors shut (and that included typhoon wind sounds), and the conveniences are very....uhmmm... convenient.  The one thing that might distress some folks is that there is not one English channel on the TVs.  This doesn't bother me since I have always gotten the bulk of my news from NPR and NET.  I also subscribe to multiple podcasts, have an endless supply of music on my iPod, and so really have not missed the lack of a TV. I didn't grow up with a television; Jamaica eventually had 1 channel that came on at 5 pm and went off at 10:30 pm and I never developed the habit of watching it. For whatever important news that is not on NET/NPR there is always Facebook to tell me what the Huskers are doing (or not doing) and what has been happening in the World Series.  (Weird name for it since other big baseball countries--Cuba, Japan--are not there, as I understand it.)

I will be moving mid-November because the university has decided (finally) that they need to provide furnished apartments that will be less expensive (and certainly less trouble for them).  I will save several hundred dollars in one month alone. 

A Break in Work: The week before last was a "break" but with grades to turn in and preparations for the next classes, I only took one day off for a tour to the north of the island.  I am going forego comments and just caption the pictures.

Nago City and The North

The stone walls are not stable and falling down the sheer drop on the other side  would be fatal

Flower+Butterfly :-)

Castle Walls, rebuilt
China Sea

The Glass Factory

I took pictures of a colleague who did the same things I did when we went. I too made a glass but have no great dream that it will arrive back in Grand Island intact.

Finished product

Orion Beer

I drank the tea.  It was OK.,
This beer is only made here though it is exported around the world.  Okinawans are proud of the fact that good beer can be made from their fresh-water springs here.

Back to Work
I really don't do much but work and, outside of class time, spend hours and days alone preparing and marking papers.  However, thanks to Skype, iMessages, email (So Old School! :-), and, of course all the Nebraska news I get on NET, I sometimes feel more connected there than here.  I am never bored though I sometimes wish there was someone physically present as almost everyone else's spouses have arrived by now. I have taught only writing and more writing as of now. Shouldn't they pay to have one of my family or friends come over since I don't have a spouse?  Yes, I think so.

I am looking forward to being with some of you soon!


Friday, October 10, 2014

Typhoon #19--Vong Fong

This one appears to be headed our way  It will hit us on Saturday-Sunday our time, Friday afternoon-Sunday morning CDT.  People here are fairly used to them and are doing all the normal things to get ready.  Of course the commissary (grocery shop) was crammed with people stocking up.  The problem is not the 2+ days of rain and wind but the aftermath of power/water loss. I have cloroxed the bathroom tub and filled it.  The shower/tub room can still be used without disturbing the water in the tub since the whole room is waterproof and meant for showering outside the tub.  I will draw filtered water for cooking (gas) and drinking, later on.  I have pulled the balcony furniture indoors since I am liable for any damage caused by flying items from my balcony.  I have closed the air vents and put the magnetic covers over the keyholes in the outside door, protecting them from saltwater.


 Those of you who have followed this blog for several years have seen the pictures of the power lines I have taken--especially the ones in the inner city of Tripoli, Lebanon that were all strung dangerously together, people grabbing power off the grid however they might, legally but usually illegally. It is not as bad here but all, I mean ALL, the power lines are above ground.  The chances of losing power are fairly high, I would think.

The military base has just issued a directive that all nonessential types (like I am) leave and go home. I'm already home and the "hatches have been battened down."  (Not sure what that means--sounds like a submarine term.) Speaking of which, the loss of the 3 upper-level airmen last weekend was altogether dumb and maddening. They were on the road, close to the ocean, taking pictures!  While the typhoon of last week did not come here, the sea was rough and the waves grabbed them and washed them away.

I have taken time out of my marathon marking to send this update as I may very well be offline until Sunday or later, your time.  I am confident that all will be well.  The wind is already howling, the water is choppy, and further out, the waves are getting higher.  However, Okinawa is in typhoon alley, right in the path of most of the typhoons (exactly like hurricanes but in the Asian Pacific), and their buildings are build of coral and cement--to weather this weather.  I have no doubt that it will be interesting to witness and completely safe.

I will update this when I can.

(Jamaican for "No worries!")

My current schedule: 1 week "break" and then Fall 2 Session starts.  Back in NE on Dec. 13th, evening, leaving on Jan 8th for Seoul, my next posting.


Friday, August 15, 2014

First Impressions: Okinawa

Orchids greeted us at the Okinawa airport. I know these are probably not orchids--but there were lots of these flowers too. I hadn't realized how different Okinawa would be from Japan.  I love seeing hibiscus, palm trees, and beaches. But another greeting was the guard at the door to the baggage claim area.  He bowed with each new wave of debarking travelers and, as I rode down the escalator, I watched him, smiling and bowing, smiling and bowing, smiling and bowing.  Either he has an excellent back health or heads for his chiropractor at the end of every shift.  It was such a stereotypical Japanese sight that it was hard to believe it was real.  Upon leaving the baggage area, the champion handball team was being greeted with flowers, signs, and the media.  It was all very exciting.
The weather here is not unlike Jamaica's.  It is so humid that about 2 gallons of water must be emptied from the dehumidifiers in our rooms every day. There is no way the AC would keep up without them, I imagine.  However, the season is already changing and the evening temperatures seem to be lowering.  We are in the typhoon season until Nov. 1 so there is intermittent rain at the moment but the cloudy days help keep the temperature down and the sea breeze is welcome.

  Our first introduction to life with the military had begun in Japan, on Yakota Air Base where coming and going is so highly regulated that one of our number asked today if I thought he'd get back on base by himself if he left.  Because we all will be traveling to various bases by next week, I sincerely hope so! I suspect he decided not to leave. Our "unescorted passes" are tied up somehow, somewhere.  I hope to get a lease car by the weekend so I can drive my colleague and I, with whom I'm sharing the lease, to Foster, to our intended flats in a high-rise on the sea, and to Kadena, where we live now and will be teaching, at least for Fall 1.  Otherwise, Monday will be very, very exciting (and not in a good way!). The cars available are usually very boxy-looking, not aerodynamic but space-saving for their size.
Yellow Tag- 2-cylinders!

One of my colleagues got a great deal on a wonderful car.  I'm sure he's excited for his wife to get here to drive it! It's baby pink and very cute.

Despite the probability that someone will get stuck outside a guard gate at one of the many bases where we teach, by next week we're all supposed to be driving our own cars to all the bases where we're scheduled, in our own cars.  Getting through security check-points is not my biggest fear however.  I will be relying solely on GPS to prevent my being lost.  I hate being late to class, much more than I hate being lost.  Another acclimating element is missing too.  I generally have enough of the language to be polite but I have not had the kind of focus time and energy language learning requires.  I plan to spend the weekend reviewing the basics, in between prepping for classes. I have started using "Ahr/lee-gato Gozymas!" with a small bow, hands in front. (Men, hands at sides.)  People seem very appreciative so I guess they understand my "Thank you" is being understood and well-recieved. 

I have slowly recovered from jet lag but it has been a much slower process than usual with 14 hours difference between CDT and here. I knew it would be.  However, I've been here 2 weeks now and my internal clock seems to have adjusted completely.

For two weeks we have been doing things in herds and I've had quite enough! I am desperate to be on my own and out of this need to do things together.  (I guess I've always been that way.) I'd rather figure things out on my own, and alone, even if it takes a bit longer.  I don't think that the things that are left to figure out are beyond my ability to cope.  For one thing, there's the web-course orientation. A faculty member here has generously offered to run a group help session next Friday.  I will not be attending.  My experience with "The Phone Lady" was ample opportunity for me to see what happens with this group and technology!

Living/Dining room
I have finally reserved an apartment and will move around the first week of September when I have time.  It is within my housing allowance and has the wonderful convenience of being within walking distance of almost anything I might need (and several things I don't). Here are some pictures:
Living room--Please note, everyone--the
large ottoman/futon/bed possibility!

Tatami Room, If you are Japanese, you
would consider this a must-have
sleeping area.  Any guests are welcome
to try it!


Bedroom--Please note, female friends--2 beds!

Bathroom with washing machine. The "dryer" is a
setting in the bathroom that dehumidifies the laundry
until dry!

Toilet/Bidet This is a genius arrangement and
demonstrates Japanese fixation with


More lobby

Outdoor Patio

Pool-My favorite place!

I will be here until December, as far as I know.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

A Long-Overdue Update

World Traveler?

A little over a year ago
Began this year here, in Japan.
People have often introduced me as a "world traveler," an appellation I often question.  Aren't world travelers people who go to the most remote places of the earth, endure many hardships, and bring back tales of foreign cultures?  I realized though that I might just qualify.  I hardly think I bring back tales of foreign cultures--these places become my home, the place where I work, make some friends, and deal with daily life.  Different, probably, from the way things are done in the US and other places where you live, but not "foreign" to me.  This time I feel less prepared to manage life in a new country.  I have spent very little time studying common phrases in Japanese.  I plan to take Beginning Japanese when I start teaching. 

Upon leaving Lebanon a little over a year ago, I met a friend in Rome and spent a wonderful 2+ weeks seeing the sights of Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, Venice, and Cologne with her.  While I came to the States, she remained in Germany visiting godchildren and friends.

This year has been a roller-coaster ride of job applications, interviews, multiple visits with my mother, substitute teaching assignments, and involvement in church music, chances to visit with friends, and the birth of a great niece.  I am grateful for each moment, each conversation, and every opportunity to play music.  Though the year was stressful in many ways and certainly one of the stresses was the fact that I was not working full-time  However, it was also very fulfilling.

I couldn't have done it without the help of my many friends.  One in particular invited me to live with her.  She said she was lonely but I also know that she has a very generous heart.  I will remember the fun we shared because of her intelligence and sense of humor.  She did everything she could to make me feel physically comfortable. Other friends showed me many kindnesses all year long.  In that sense, the year was far, far too short.  But, I was getting spoiled!  I was surrounded by friends, getting to see my family whenever I wanted, driving around as I pleased, without the fear of chaos and mayhem on the road.  

So, when UMUC (University of Maryland University College) hired me to be one of their traveling faculty, I was very pleased.  UMUC's mission is to provide college courses to active  military.  Traveling faculty teach 8-week sessions and are possibly moved from one country to another depending on which bases require which courses.  I found out today that the main sites are in Okinawa, Japan, and S. Korea.  Guam is not counted because it is an American territory and served by resident faculty.  The demographics of the military change and that changes the needs for faculty.  It is obviously a very unique and fluid situation.  Flexibility is critical.  I also found out that many of the new faculty are seasoned travelers, many have non-American spouses, and some have lived overseas longer than they've lived in their home countries.  Overseas experience is a premium in hiring.  I understand they have had a few disasters with a few who couldn't understand why things couldn't be "done properly!"

Overall, I have been impressed with the enthusiasm, diversity, and accomplishments of the new faculty.  All the military protocol is a bit onerous for me, as you might expect! But, as it's all digital, virtual, and so on, I guess it cannot be called "paperwork."

After a morning session of information and a lovely Sunday brunch at the Naval Hotel here, we had a walking tour of a Shinto Temple  Here are a few images.
Just outside our hotel elevator

A place to hang prayers

Ritual Purification (but I think it was because we were
all so very, very HOT!

After the wedding

The Entrance to Jeiji, Shinto Shrine