Sunday, February 14, 2016

Okinawa in the Winter


I arrived back here on the 14th of January, having left Nebraska and the States on the 12th. However, de-icing took so long in Chicago that there was no chance of making the Tokyo connection. By the time we arrived, United's agents were at baggage collection, waiting with our hotel accommodations, meal vouchers, and shuttle bus. The number of Americans returning after the Christmas holidays was more than the number of Okinawan-Japanese. I was so exhausted by that time that as soon as I saw that the tap water was safe to drink, I didn't bother with the meal voucher for dinner. It was time to shower, wash out and start drying some clothing, easier than unpacking and packing for an early flight the next morning. I thought I was rather loaded down, bringing back some teaching materials and a few warm things but that was nothing compared with the solo mom and 2 young children, stroller, bags, luggage.  Her husband had remained in the States for some training and she returned by herself. Together, with two luggage carts and two tiny children we walked about 3/4 mile between terminals in the cold but the sack lunch/breakfast the hotel provided wasn't bad and by the time we arrived in Okinawa,  I was very, very grateful to be home.

It has been cold, rainy, and cloudy since returning. I realize that this is weather most of you would be happy to have but our tropical homes, cement block, are made to be cool, not insulated against the cold. Thus, here I am, attempting to get warm, indoors! The temperature has dipped into the 30s F and frost was reported somewhere on the island. What happened to our tropical island? Is Jamaica this cold?

The term has gone well, despite the constant driving--Mondays and Wednesdays to the south for 45+ minutes or more and Tuesdays and Thursdays up the toll road to the north for about the same length of time though the distance is further. Driving here has it's challenges and can be stressful. I have taken listening to books to help me stay calm. For sure the news wasn't the answer!

I have enjoyed the "only" 2 classes, one of Writing 101 and the other, a writing-literature mid-level class, both small. Over the Christmas break, I asked a friend, a writing specialist prof. to help me get a grip on my marking issues. She did and I can report that for the first weekend in too-many-to-count I have had the time to update this blog and rest. (Thank you Marty!)

Driving on the toll road, most drivers exceed the speed limit by over 20 kph, traveling at 100 kph. However, that is only a bit more than 60 mph. The reason it feels so very unsafe here is that I'm convinced my fellow drivers still believe they are on kamikaze missions. Why else would they zoom in and out of lanes, even when a cautionary sign denoting a construction zone looms? And this has nothing to do with the fact that we drive on the left here. (Because everything else is backwards on the steering column, the "Okinawa Wave" is the windshield wipers going in full sunlight rather than the turn signal. So embarrassing!) I have never seen motorbikes on the toll road but they are endemic to every other road and the rules simply do not apply to them. They thread themselves between fast-moving multiple lanes of heavy traffic so they can be ahead of everyone else when the traffic light turns. Being granted a SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) license includes dire warnings of what happens should you injure or worse, one of these daredevils. Apparently, much more than hospital costs are involved. Any income lost, the amount depending on whether the victim was the sole breadwinner, must be paid and should the victim die, his/her potential lifetime income is included in damages to be paid. So, as annoying as they are, I make sure they have whatever space they want to claim on the road.

Yes, I have been told I will be in Europe beginning on August 1. As most know, it was my first preference though I have had some great experiences here in Japan and Korea and been privileged some sights, sounds, and cultural education I have appreciated. I have no Korean to remember but do have some basic Japanese phrases that have kept me on the right side of polite. Here, in short paragraphs are the things I will miss (and some I won't!)

Japanese politeness
This could actually be a lengthy section if I went into detail about each and every common practice that is considered correct for avoiding the behavior of a cultural clod! I will miss many of these little niceties.

  • Money--The giving and receiving of money, bills, credit cards is a matter of great importance and is only, ever done with both hands. This is tricky for Westerners who are always attempting to carry more than they can hold, never mind attempting to have both hands free. The other challenge is that when approaching the toll booth, with a real person, one must twist in the driver's seat to get both hands out the window at the same time, or at least appear to be trying. This is accompanied, always with a slight head bow, when seated, or torso+head bow when standing. 
  • Driving--Drivers will zoom forward into what will become an obviously blocked lane and then jump the line to get back into the open lane. You must let them. One set of rude behaviors is not repaid with another. Construction zone signs include one with a worker, in hardhat, bowing, as if asking permission for the inconvenience of needing to slow down, block a lane, or whatever else bothers you about the zone.
  • Recycling--Detailed descriptions of exactly what and how each category must be recycled in full-color brochures--are provided tenants. I have heard dreadful stories of Americans having their recycling refused and so it is with some trepidation (and in the dead of night, around midnight) that I take the elevator downstairs to leave my recycling and trash in the little covered area out front that is, otherwise, spic and span. This includes all milk, cream, etc cartons that have been soaked open and laid flat with the plastic spouts trimmed out, tied together in a neat parcel; all paper and boxes bundled together in a parcel and tied with string; #1 plastics in a clear, plastic bag; glass in another clear, plastic bag; cans in another, and burnable trash in a clear bag with red printing denoting the area of the island where it was collected. Unburnable, non-recyclables are put in another plastic bag. Of course, when it is raining, as it has almost every day since January 14th, paper recycling is out of the question. Thus, last Monday evening, with everything prepared, representing several week's worth, I stuffed myself and parcels and bags of "this and that" into the elevator, praying that none of my fellow apartment dwellers, who are so proper, and who would never think of putting the trash out much before the the trucks actually arrive in the early morning, wouldn't see me. 
I will miss the Seoul Arts Center but not kimchee or the smell of it. 

UMUC has created the Collegiate Traveling Faculty in order to be adept and agile, matching faculty to military movements throughout the world. I do not know, really, where I will end up next year. Europe and the chance to attempt more than minimal communication, as well as the opportunity to see my many friends who live there, the lower expense and shorter time of getting back to the States would be great, of course. 

I am apologizing for the lack of photos. I rarely get out but, in 3 weeks, during my week off, I plan to take one of the many tours provided by guides and bus companies that work with the military bases. The reason for that is that my car needs to go back into the shop...again! I've never had so much trouble communicating basic information! More than $700 later, and 3 trips to 2 different mechanics, it is again lurching (or creeping) forward during acceleration. One never knows. It idles so roughly I think it's going to shut down altogether! This time, I'm going to get my brother-in-law to give me the best words he can for describing this issue and send it to a professional translator. The car, a Honda Air-Wave is literally "lost in translation."

I do not apologize that most of the pictures on my phone and computer are those sent to me (or purloined shamelessly off of FaceBook) by my nieces and nephews of their children who are all gorgeous, intelligent, and delightful...of course!