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