Monday, January 28, 2008

Band of Bros

Friday night, John and I spent hanging out at the Chaplain Youth Center. John has volunteered, bless his heart, to help the youth of the neighborhood stay off the sauce. The Center sponsored an alcohol-free barbeque to lure the young enlisted soldiers out of the bars. The two of us walked around the dorms like tow-head Jehovah's Witnesses trying rescue 18 year-old service members from the tempting Japanese nightlife. We asked them to join a few men of the cloth, JAG lawyers, mentors, and sober fiancé (yours truly) for burgers, cappuccinos, scrabble and good conversation.

I didn’t know just how much I wanted a drink myself until I realized that these boys were literally only 1/2 a year older than my second youngest brother, Francis. Francis is a 17 & 1/2 year-old boy whom I still call “cutie”…. whom I still picture as a little boy, whose diapers I changed...for whom I babysat when he was only one week old. He is presently about 4 inches taller than I and a junior in high school. See the carefree cutie below:

It was hard for me to relate to these 18 year old boys…. fresh to the island, never been away from their families. (And I’M the one who needs a drink?!) I have 6 brothers… you’d think I’d be at ease with them. With my own brothers (ages 14-23) I dance a fine line between irritating, irrelevant older sister and cool, been-there-done-that aunt (the latter is probably just my own deluded self-perception). So I went with the cool, "Aunt-Barb" vibe and regaled them with stories of escapades in Tijuana, Polar-Bear jumps into freezing New Hampshire lakes, bonfires and Homecoming Carnivals. Okay, perhaps these impressionable "yutes" were not the best audience for those stories, but I definitely convinced a few guys that college life was worth looking into. Perhaps if the GI Bill paid for more than 60% of a public college education these days...and if they had the time and means to while away the best years of their lives on sunny San Diego campuses, they would have taken me seriously. They come from a very different paradigm than I or my fortunate brothers do.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The "In" Crowd

When I was young, I wanted nothing more than for my mom to go to PTA meetings. I didn't know what happened at PTA meetings, I just know that all the moms were there, and my mother was not. Never mind that she had anywhere from 3-6 other children (besides moi) at home to take care of, I wanted her to be part of the "mom crowd." Maybe just hang out in the parking lot after school? "Come on Mommy, there's ______'s mom, don't you want to go over there and talk to her? Maybe she can fill you in on the PTA meeting you missed." My mother is not a joiner - far from it. The more I wanted to assimilate, the more she stood apart from the crowd. This is not to say she was uninvolved in my school life. It's just that when she gets involved in an activity, the sheer force of her personality and abundance of talents usually has the gravitational pull of Juptier. Like when she volunteered to help us create a school newspaper in 8th grade. Under her tutelage, we invited over 10 schools for a valley-wide catholic school seminar on how to interview, write articles, proofread, layout, art direct (all taught by her). Then, all the students went to lunch, and she went to Kinko's. 2 hours later, she had 200 copies of our finished product ready for the kids to take home. Mom does not need committees. Jupiter works alone.

However, priorities in my juvenile and insecure mind always came back to assimilation. I didn't want my mom to be different (although, admittedly, better), I just wanted her to be the SAME as everyone else. It disturbs me how much I used to want to just fit in, just be like everyone else. Maybe this is how most young girls are? As destiny would have it, I've turned into my mother (shocker) and I avoid "joining" like the plague.

And here we've arrived at our current problem. There is one group open to me on this island, and that group is "wives." It's actually my group by default, I have no choice but to join. We were at a restaurant the other night and I asked one of John's female coworkers "who is that woman" and she said, "oh, that's a wife." Like that's all she gets to be. She does not have a job in the military, therefore, she is just a "wife." I never realized what a feminist I was until I entered a situation where my identity was defined so completely by my future husband's place in the world. I had my first "JAG wives luncheon" at the officer's club today. Yeow. It was actually not the fantastic, blog-worthy disaster that I would write about in a novel someday. (Sorry kids, I know you were hoping for Stepford Wives meets Army Wives.) The women were very nice. There is only one other woman (besides myself) that does not have a child, so birthday parties, grammar school supplies, and crying babies were definitely hot topics. They all live on base and prefer it that way (meaning, why be immersed in Japan when you can live in an American enclave?) They move every two years. They are all very conversant in the acronyms of military life that are as foreign to me as Japanese. One of the wives is actually a licensed lawyer. I had to bite my tongue to keep from asking her how she gave it all up to follow her man to Japan.

And here I am again. Same girl as the 8th grader, although my knee-jerk reaction is to separate myself from these joiners. "I am actually not a military wife, I actually take Japanese, I eat with chopsticks not a fork, I am still earning a living while I'm here, I have no current plans to procreate.....(thankfully I fought the urge and did not say this out loud.) From where do I get this insecurity? Needing to "define" myself as NOT a joiner is just another form of caring what people think about me, isn't it? I often wish I could visit my 13 year old self and say "chillax girlfriend... your mom has the right idea, just go with the flow, stop trying so hard to fit in." What will my future self wish to say to me? "Hey, you So-Cal Liberal Feminist know-it all.... why don't you shelve your opinions and take it all in before deciding who THEY are so as to define who YOU are not." That's the funny part of being a Californian... we are sooo open-minded and yet can't understand how the rest of the country lives the way they do. And yes, sometimes Californians do need a reality check. And maybe I could use some friends the likes of whom I would never meet at home?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wax On, Wax Off

John and I began our Japanese class last night, along with friend Clayton. Brandon Walsh will be happy to learn that we are attending his alma mater, University of Maryland. Go Terrapins. Our teacher's name - no joke - is Mrs. Miyagi. The Japanese language is both quite easy and pretty difficult. I was not blessed with Camilla's ear, and when called on to read, I can barely get the words out. We are going to learn Hiragana, which is one of the THREE writing forms that the Japanese use. Sentences contain all three writings, so I have no idea how learning Hiragana is goign to help me read anything.

The funniest part is the "helpful hints" that she gives us to help us learn the symbols. According to Miyagi Sensei, the symbol for the letter "Na" resembles a nun on her knees in front of cross. "Na" for "Nun." Bit of a leap, but okay, maybe. Now get a load of the symbol:

Really? Do you get cross and praying nun from this? I have some serious work to do.

In addition to learning how to communicate in Japanese, and writing Hiragana, we will be learning how to properly wax cars, catch fruitflies with chopsticks and defeat a school bully in Karate despite a broken foot.

Monday, January 21, 2008


MLK Eve, we went to see a Japanese jazz band play at a local club called "Niche." The band was outstanding, the place was intimate, very mod, and it was a pretty great time overall.

The jazzy-swankness of it all inspired some expirimental photography....

Niche is the first place I've been to on the island where flip-flops were considered "underdressed."
"Booster," an airforce pilot, was our award-winner for fashionista of the evening.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Singapore Sling

Our buddy Clay informed us last night that we are all taking a trip to Singapore in March. Sounds good to me! I'm looking at to learn more how to make the most of our trip, but I was hoping to get some personal insights. Have any of you been to Singapore and have "must-see's" or "must-miss's" for me?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

So Sorry

John has a habit of apologizing for things that are not his fault. Like the fact that the US Postal Service is holding three fifths of all my worldly possessions hostage. Or that I ordered something to eat that turned out to be less than delicious. He is very sincere about it, and truly concerned. Like if he'd only had the foresight to guide me away from that ordering that dish, I would have had a more enjoyable dining experience. Then he offers me his dish to make up for his blunder. The idea that he takes my happiness to heart even in the smallest details makes me happy.

The Japanese are similar in a way. Apologies run amok in dialog with the locals. "Please forgive us, so sorry, so ashamed, full of disgrace, that we ran out of rice for your sushi order....please accept our sincerest apologies and our first born." Something similar happened to me the other night at Zen Sushi, and while consoling this poor waitress, I assured her that it was no disgrace, and I would happily have the sushi, sans rice, sans child.

Verbal apologies were never much a part of our household growing up. We just sulked until the other party forgot, and then the egregious behavior dissipated over a good family meal. It's good to not hold grudges, but sometimes words can be necessary, admitting you've done something wrong can often completely cure the harm you've done.

The Japanese use the term "gomen nasai" to apologize, which actually means more along the lines of "I'm so, so sorry - but it ain't my fault." Well it's probably not quite like that, but it is an apology without claiming to be the cause of the injury. It seems excessive, but now makes me wonder if I'm being rude by NOT offering such condolences. There was a German girl I knew as an acquaintance who seemed so cold and unfeeling because she never offered any sympathetic words, and it made me feel that she couldn't care less how my life was going. But now I think it may have just been cultural. Cultural relativity if you will. I think sympathy in any degree is welcomed, as long as it's genuine.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

North of the Island

John and I took a little drive up to the north of the Island, which is a lot less developed. If you stare at the mezmorizing blue sea for long enough, you can almost forget that your fiance is wearing black socks at the beach.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Why do They hate Us?

Why do they hate us?
Stupid question asked by simple people looking for feel-good answers.

Okay, I'll fall on the sword and proffer this:

No, they do not hate us for our freedom, for “Dancing with the Stars” or for Beyonce. “They” are not jealous of us - so stop feeling so superior. They hate us (okay hate is a strong word, and Okinawans are gentle people)…they dislike us because we are all up in their biz with FREAKING LOUD NOISE. Did you hear that? Because I didn’t. Not over the ABSURDLY LOUD planes that fly over my head every 3 minutes. Oh. My. Lord.

The F-15s have been grounded since I arrived on the island and now they’re baaaaack. I woke up this morning to rip-roaring engines, and the high-pitched whistle that usually precedes bombs exploding. I thought to myself, “this is it, we’re under attack, I cannot believe Kim Jon Il waited till I got here, just my luck.”

Thankfully, it was not the North Koreans, only my friendly neighborhood fighter squadron.

It’s an odd feeling to walk around amongst the natives, as I am so clearly affiliated with the US military. What do they think of me? I smile, bow, and say “Konichiwa!” – the subtext being “I’m sorry for the noise my people are causing, please don’t hate me.” But that’s just my liberal-self-loathment talking. Inevitably when you bring a bunch of 18 to 22 year-old boys anywhere, more than a few are going to be offensive. Laws will be broken, property will be damaged, messes will be made. I know this. I have many brothers.

But in the eyes of the Okinawans, I am the same as that Marine who just threw a glass bottle into someone’s driveway. Yes, I saw this happen. Thankfully, this idiot was an exception, as most every American I have met here is very respectful, and aware that they are guests here. Pretty much every American in this area is affiliated to the military in some way. We have been here since WWII. What must it be like to have a foreign military intrinsically part of your town for over 50 years? I was told by an Okinawan that the US military offers valuable protection that the Japanese military could not offer. It’s a complicated question I am not able to figure out just yet, but I realize that the answer is not so simple. Meanwhile, I will act like the good girl my parents raised, respect the laws here, and tread lightly on the Okinawan soil.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The mini-drive

[painting by Mary Helmreich]

It's been exactly one month since I've arrived here. I think I've earned the right to be homesick for a few entries.

It's rainy here tonight, and the first thing I always want to do in the rain is take a death-defying drive north on Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu. (Even if I had a driver's license here, you couldn't pay me to drive these streets in the rain - even in a bright yellow armored Hummer. Topic to address at a later date: Japanese drivers.)

DD and I cultivated the fine art of the mini-drive early in our freshman year of college. There is something soul-stirring about wet roads, a diet coke, a cigarette, and a mixed tape and no particular destination. Oh how angsty we were back then. Nikki and I then perfected the art of the "drive-by" - another topic for another audience. The mini-drive was created for Los Angeles, and vice versa. It is not considered odd to drive destination-free around the city, clocking absurd mileage on the odometer and consider it an evening out. It's all about the journey, man.

Some great things I miss about SoCal:

the warm smell of gasoline when you fly into LAX
Del's Cash-Only Saloon
great neighbors only an alleyway away
Bagelworks coffee
English speakers
Spanish speakers
Santa Monica Farmer's market
the drive to Del Mar

Now that I read this list, I'm thinking to myself, this is not enough to be homesick for a place. Yet, I think that's what the Sumeba Miyako is about. You love it BECAUSE you live there. That's what makes it home.

Mini-walks do no have quite the same horse-power as mini-drives. However, that's what's open to me right now, so I'm going to mini-walk my self down to the seawall. It's not torrey pines beach, but it will do for now.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Adventures in supermarket shopping

Poor John worked 6:00pm to 9:00am this morning. He's still zonked out. I've been researching some good raw recipes on the internet so I thought I'd go to the supermarket today alone and see how many of the ingredients I could find. Wow, i'm lucky to have made it through one recipe worth of ingredients. I think some things are just going to have to wait till I get back to the states - wheat berries? groats? I'm not even going to bother trying to translate those. However, I did find everything I needed to make some really tasty coleslaw.

Package design in Japan is amazing. While unfortunately, packages rarely say anything in English except "YUM!" or "SUPER GOOD!", they have mastered the art of visual clues.

What do bees make......honey!

This one was a little bit trickier. I needed Apple Cider Vinegar. This was in the vinegar section, and it has those pretty apples....although it's in a box that resembles apple juice, and those kids look like they're drinking it straight-up.....ah HA! There it is! The word VINEGAR. (It actually tastes like an apple juice/apple cider vinegar hybrid.)

So here you can find the recipe to the Psychedelic Slaw:

And here's a photo of mine!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tsunami protection

This being tsunami country, I'm pleased to report that the locals have taken preventative measures. There is a 10 foot high seawall that is artfully colored by local "artisans." Beyond the seawall , there are GIANT cement tinker toys that are meant to cut the pressure of the waves in a large storm. Each must be 4 feet high and i can't even guess how heavy. The tide was so low this afternoon that we walked out onto the coral reef (past the tinker toys). We saw crabs the size of lobsters, sea slugs the size of cucumbers, and lots of of beautiful occupied shells. I'll be sure to bring my camera next time.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

John is on his way to work. He is working nights this week. 6pm to 6am. Hence the reflective belt. I really don't know what to say about this photo. He left his gas mask in the car. He swears he's a lawyer, but I have yet to see proof.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Happy Birthday Mom!

John has a little garden on our balcony. We are hoping to have a full salad someday. Our neighbor Lauren feeds her garden with a super-secret Barry-Bonds elixir, and she has already had some fruit! We are going the organic route.




our salad may have to be pepper-free

Monday, January 7, 2008


When I moved to Hanover, New Hampshire, my junior year of college, I gained about 20 lbs in three months. There is something about being in a new place that cultivates the hunger in me...I like to explore with my palette.

Accordingly, we have been eating out...a lot. Meals in Okinawa are generally "family-style" and individual dishes run about 500 yen - about $5, so it's not a bad deal to eat out once a day. Except for my waistline. So, I started cooking. Or, more precisely, UN-cooking.

As a devotee of Raw cuisine, ever since Camilla worked for that crazy nameless raw food chef in Santa Monica, I love to create raw dishes. I found a great website of a raw food chef named Ani Phyo:
She has a DVD, and you can even see her prepare some recipes online.

This is a pic of my version of her apple pie recipe, which I've been eating all day - uncooked, vegan, delicious. Here's the link to the video on how to prepare it:

(Nikki, I know you feel the need to post something degrading to vegetarians - please resist if you possibly can)

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Last night, we were joined for dinner by Eri, John's friend, and a native of Okinawa. Her English is quite good (having lived in Hawaii for several years). I didn't realize how rife with idioms and slang my speech was until trying to communicate with Eri.

We ate at Chatan, a restaurant that overlooks the East China Sea. She wanted us to experience some real Okinawan food, because as it turns out, we've been eating Okinawa-Japanese-American-hybrid food all this time. For example, "taco-rice," a local favorite, is really just taco fixin's served on a bed of rice. DOH! I should have known.

So, we had her order some over her authentic faves for all of us to share. The papaya salad was pretty tasty, so was the bitter melon and tofu dish. For dessert, we had an ice cream parfait with okinawan cookies, which taste like a less-sweet version of really good gingersnaps. Yum.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Apparently the tropics are not always....tropical. It got quite chilly here over New Years. As you can see, it took a fuzzy ear-warmer and Uggs to get me out to the driving range. John and I took videos of our respective golf swings, but I don't think that I'm ready to upload such embarrassment just yet. However, Captain Ron and Corey will be happy to hear that my swing has much improved since my Thanksgiving 2006 foray into ice-golfing. By the time Corey and Andre make it out for a visit, I might be able to keep up. John, however, had some fantastic shots, despite his Happy Gilmore-style swing (that’s what happens when you play hockey for a decade and a half).

Here’s a lovely shot of the rough seas by our house.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Greetings From the Future

We've already been riding the "2008" wave for about 11 hours now. Kids, the future is bright. I'm seeing sun, fun, and adventure with an East Asian twist. Don't forget to sip your champagne at midnight so you can join us in 2008!