Friday, December 31, 2010

Things I'll Miss About Okinawa

Having written about what I miss in America (and dislike about Okinawa), I suppose it's only fair that I write a bit about what's good about Okinawa.  Don't mistake my eagerness to return to the States as disgust toward Okinawa.  While there's certainly things that I dislike about this place, there are also many things that I like.  Here's the short list:

Low crime rate.  There's not much crime here, and the little bit there is can mostly be classified as petty.  Okinawans have no worries about letting their small children walk the streets, day or night.  Criminal behavior brings dishonor to a person's family, so it just simply isn't done (for the most part).  The locals are peaceful, by nature, and very polite.  It's not uncommon to see cars and homes left unlocked here, with no real worries of theft.  I would worry more about theft on base than out in town.  There is a nice display of ancient urns (the type that hold a decedent's ashes) outside of a nearby museum, and they're simply left sitting there unguarded.  I remarked to my wife that if they were left out like that in America, they would be stolen or vandalized.  

Polite people.  The people here are very polite, and quite helpful.  I'm not saying that there are no polite Americans, but let's be honest; if you go to any city in America, you are bound to encounter rude people.  That's not the case here; the only rude people you are likely to encounter here are Americans.  It's sort of embarrassing actually; we're perpetuating our own stereotype.  

Great local cuisine.  There are a couple of restaurants that I'll certainly miss when I leave here.   One place is a little izakaya near our house (like a neighborhood bar and grill) that serves a variety of Okinawan and Japanese cuisine.  If you want good sushi, there's no substitute for being in Japan!  I'll also miss the "sushi-go-round" restaurants when we leave; they have little plates of individual pieces of sushi circulating the entire restaurant on a little conveyor belt.  You can just reach out and grab the dishes as they pass by your table.  That way, you only have to purchase one piece at a time; if you don't like what you grabbed, you've only spent a couple of bucks on one small dish.  

Amazing scenery.  I'm living on a tropical island; the scenery here, particularly the beaches, doesn't get much better.  The towns and cities are appalling, but the rural areas and beaches are absolutely beautiful.  I'm talking postcard perfect tropical views.  The buildings here ruin many views, since they're all drab concrete structures (even the smallest houses are concrete), but that's the price you pay when you live in typhoon alley.  

Living here has been a positive experience in many ways, and I'm glad that my family and I have had this opportunity.  I'm particularly thankful that my kids have had this experience.  I am, however, more than ready to head to my homeland. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Things We Take for Granted in America

Having spent the last six years living in Okinawa, Japan, I have been compiling a list of things in America that I miss.  The amazing thing about my list is that so many of the items on it are things that I took for granted while living in our great nation.  Now that I'm in a place where I cannot have or experience these things, I truly miss them.  How many of these things would you miss if you couldn't have them for a while?

One of the most overlooked luxuries in our country is the wide open space that we enjoy.  Living on an island teaches you the value of space in a big way (pun intended).  Everything here is small: the roads, the cars, the houses, the stores, the people, the towns...The list is endless.  Most of the people on this island cannot fathom looking across a never-ending landscape with land from one horizon to another.  Don't get me started on the tiny roads and ridiculously low speed limits!  I can't wait to hit a truly "open" road again, or see the mountains, deserts, and plains.  Here's a few more items from my list:

-Food and restaurants.  I never thought I'd say that I miss various fast food joints, but I can't wait to get back and get me some Arby's and Carl's Jr.  Good Mexican food?  It's non-existent here.  Real barbecue?  Forget about that in Okinawa.  A decent steak?  Nope.  Fresh ingredients that are actually recognizable?  Not here.  Well, that's not entirely true, but for the most part, you cannot find fresh produce like you can stateside, and the meat here sucks too.  The fresh stuff out in town is ok, but the selection is very limited and quite expensive.  I will say, however, that the farmers' markets in town are MUCH cheaper than on base!  We just have to go on the internet to try and figure out what some of the produce is.

-Considerate drivers...I know what you're thinking, and you're wrong.  Keep in mind that there's a difference between being rude, and being inconsiderate.  American drivers might be rude, but they're not nearly as inconsiderate as Okinawans.  Okinawan drivers are not only disgustingly unskilled, they are the most inconsiderate drivers I've ever encountered.  They are completely oblivious to other vehicles.  It's routine to see a little bongo truck puttering along the highway at 30kph (about 20 mph) with 20 or 30 vehicles lined up behind it, unable to pass.  Pull over?  Nope, not here.  Okinawans are very polite, but they are not considerate of others.  They might smile and wave, but they'll do it right before they pull out in front of you, stop in the middle of the road, or take half a day to turn through an intersection.  I'll take rude American drivers over this in a heartbeat.  That punk American kid might flip you the bird, but he'll at least get down the road at a reasonable speed.

-Reliable and speedy mail or shipping.  In America, we gripe if we order something online and it takes longer than two days to get to us.  Over here, it's not a matter of days, but more like weeks (or even months) before that small package from Old Navy gets here.  If a company ships via UPS, forget about it.  Letters and packages to and from family are a crap shoot.

-Digital cable, and high definition broadcasting.  I was blown away when I visited my parents and saw HD programming on their television.  The crappy, snowy picture on our TV here is downright annoying.  Old VHS tapes play a better picture than our cable company does.  I don't watch much television, but it sure would be nice to count on a real schedule, and be able to make out all of the details of a sporting event.  I'm also looking forward to enjoying the football season again; I just can't bring myself to get up at 2 AM on Monday morning to watch the games on my crappy cable here. 

-Shopping choices.  My wife and I have become real pros at shopping online; this has grown out of necessity, not choice.  We pretty much have one place we can shop, and that's the base exchange.  Shops out in town are interesting, but not of much use.  Neither my wife nor I can fit into the clothing that is sold out in town, and we wouldn't really want to anyway (they'll slap Hello Kitty on anything over here). 

-Vehicles that don't feel like they'll crumple in a strong breeze.  Vehicles that meet American safety standards will be nice to experience again.  Our tiny little cars here were a novelty when we first arrived, but now they're just crap.  You can't even find a pickup truck here.  What kind of country doesn't have pickup trucks?  I know what you're thinking, but Toyota seems to only market their pickups to other nations.  The 4Runner is what's popular here (called a Hilux Surf here).  

-More than one radio station.  We have exactly one radio station that broadcasts in English, and that is AFN, or Armed Forces Network.  Depending on the day of the week, or time of day, they might be playing rock, country, or R&B.  There are no other choices for radio programming that can be understood.  There aren't even any decent Okinawan stations.  There's a couple of Okinawan AM stations that seem to be talk radio, but that's about it.

There are certainly more things that I miss about America, but this is the short list.  If you think your neighborhood sucks, or that you don't have much to choose from where you're at, try doing without all of it for a couple of years!