Friday, July 16, 2010

I won't say Siyonara, I'll just say "farewell"

Today marks my final blog post from Okinawa, that little green fuzzy island on the other side of the planet. What a time it's been! My paradigm was cracked open - worlds and people I never thought I'd be exposed to seeped in and became part of me. And I'm not just talking about the Texans.

"Sumeba Miyako" - wherever one lives, one comes to love it. It's all in the attitude, there's really no other way to to face a challenge like moving to Asia for 3 years.

When John got the call from the JAG corps, they offered him Dayton, Ohio or Okinawa, Japan as his assignment options. Neither were anywhere on the "dream sheet" he had submitted. (Dream sheets, as it turns out, are just that - 10 places you'll dream about but never get assigned.) We both went to work that day, totally bummed out. Sitting in our sterile air conditioned offices, we googled "Okinawa" and photos of the clearest blue seas and greenest jungles popped up. By noon, we were ready to give it a shot.

Living in Asia for a limited time forced us to seize every opportunity. How many experiences could we squeeze into 3 years? Turns out, quite a few. We each logged 5 new Asian countries onto our passports. We attempted a few new languages. We made more friends in 3 years than I've made since I was a kid. Good friends, too. The friends are what have made this the amazing experience what it was. I have no doubt that we will be close for years to come. The rub of it is, we keep meeting really fantastic and fun people up until the end - it makes it so hard to leave.

We climbed mountains (Fuji, Himalayas, Pizza in the Sky). Bore witness to Angkor Wat and the Taj Mahal. Met Generals and a Prime Minister, Peace activists and Buddhist monks. We mountain biked, we scuba dived - swam with sea turtles and out-swam a REALLY BIG MAN-EATING shark. We sank deep into the tunnels underneath the land-mined border of North and South Korea. Cruised down the Mekong Delta and the Holy Ganges River. We took innumerable airplane flights. John even hitched a ride on an F-15 for a bird's eye view of Japan. I planted potatoes and cauliflower in India and John planted a "Hollywood" sign on the sandy mountains of an undisclosed location in southwest Asia. John got his chops trying eight courts martial, and I knocked out a grad degree. Best of all, we got married.

But most of our memories will come from just bumming around the island. Crocheting and watching movies on Cortney's couch, dropping by the Bowman's for some Mad Men and home cooking, or running into friends at Uroko's and sharing a bottle of Awamori. Living on the Sunabe Seawall reminded me what I loved so much about college, and what I've missed since then: living in a walkable community, surrounded by friends who take care of one another. It makes life so much more enjoyable. Doors on the seawall are always open. I hope we find the same sense of community in Spokane.

We even had some international visitors, who will forever hold special places in our hearts for braving the journey. Andre, Masumi, Scot, Renee and Mark, I hope you loved Japan as much as we did! (BTW...Prestons & Lawlors, you had better make it to Spokane, because John's side of the family is out-representing you big time!)

I think about where we'd be if we'd said "no" to this adventure. Would we always lament what we had missed? Or like the people who stayed in Plato's cave, would we not even know we missed anything at all? I have John to thank for putting the fire under me to close my eyes and jump. I always thought seeing the world was something I would do later in life, on my two weeks of vacation a year. I'm so grateful that I was forced to move out of my comfort zone. I hope that I never get too comfortable, and that I continue to seek out adventure every place we go.

Off to Spokane at 5 am tomorrow. Gunner Bunner is hiding under our hotel room bed right now, dreading the inevitable 25 hours and 4 flights of travel. Eegads, so am I.

I will especially miss the Okinawans I've gotten to know. When you say "goodbye" in Japan, you say "Mata ne" which is loosely translated as "see you later". You never say "Siyonara!" because that means a final goodbye. "Siyonara" is what action heros utter before they blow up the bad guy. It is permanent. My Japanese sensai, Miyagi-san, told me I could say it when I finally left the island. So, the other day, after waiting for 2.5 years, I said it to my wonderful hairdresser, Rumiko, after my last appointment. She said "No! No Siyonara! You must come back to Okinawa!" Maybe some day we will. But for now, all that's left to say is:

So long Okinawa, and thanks for all the fish!