Saturday, June 23, 2007

Ya Snooze, Ya Lose

Well - we're in mourning. We decided to take the first place we saw, and as we were filling out the paperwork the agent called and said it was gone. Poof. Just like that. I'm trying so hard to be fatalistic about the whole thing; wasn't meant to be, was really too small for us, etc. But the fact is I'm highly disappointed. It was the only one we saw that we both really loved - we'd learn to live in a smaller place. Alas, it's gone.

We DID, however, agree to purchase a car today - a Toyota Vitz. A little tiny itty bitty coupe for Craig to commute to work in. Pictures to come after we pick it up on Monday morning. Then it's off to visit more housing. We bargained the guy down a bit and got a good deal on it too. Oh! And we got a cell phone too. Now we can go out in town and call people when we need to! What a concept. (Well, on the island - we're not using this sucker to call internationally, however, you can call US as long as it isn't between 9pm and 1am our time. I guess that's peak time out here!

Damnit, I'm just tired. I do NOT want to give in and live in ticky tacky base housing - but now I am realizing what a long commute Craig will have and feeling selfish about wanting to live in a more cool downtown area - and of course, every other place we saw in that area isn't quite right for some reason or another. I'm tired as HELL of living in a hotel with my kid sleeping on the floor and not able to do much in the evenings except quiet things b/c she's sleeping. Ok - it's a blog, not a bitch session, I realize. Sorry.

Tomorrow (Sunday) we're going to have dinner with a coworker of Craig's and his wife & son. Maybe we'll see what the base housing looks like on Courtney too - though I'm sure I'll be disappointed (great attitude, I know).

We went to Blue Seal tonight, which is a local ice cream shop.
Cute, eh? They sell a bunch of flavors (including mango tango and sanfrancisco- mintchip) and also pasta and seafood! Just the combo you were looking for, I know. It really was delicious ice cream - I'll let you know when I'm ready for potato flavor (not kidding).

STARBUCKS! This isn't the only one, but it's the only one we've visited thus far. The drive thru is interesting because we drive on the opposite side, so it's all very strange. I actually took this picture from the passenger seat in the car at a stoplight. They have other kinds of frappucinos, lots of good desserts and scones, but it's quite different. It's very neat & nice inside, and even the trash here is well-organized (if I haven't mentioned, we'll need a whole class in separating trash here - completely mind-bogglingly complicated).

That little yellow & green thing on the car up there? That signifies a new driver (driving for up to 1 year only) - and there's another one on the front of his/her car too. And an orange & yellow teardrop-shaped one of those means a senior driver. Hi - what congressperson do I need to write to get these going in the US?? Awesome.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

We Are Licensed Drivers!

I'm a licensed driver. Rich (who kindly took us to get these today) said, "Look at it, and put it in your wallet. You won't have to take it out again." I guess you don't use it for anything around here.

Oh - and autos here are insured by auto, not by driver- so I can lend someone the car and they're insured. Not that we'd have much need to do that, but it's rather nice.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Welcome Brief; Check!

Another day, another thing checked off the list. Kristina (mom of 2, wonderful saint) took care of Mia today while we attended the welcome brief. This was ideal because in a room full of about 75 people, there were at least 3 or 4 babies/toddlers getting cranky. I don't blame the parents; they had to arrange for childcare beforehand, and obviously didn't get a chance to.

The brief was at the "E-Club" (big 50's diner kinda bar with video games & pool tables, tvs and such) in a meeting room at the end of the hall. One guy ran the show, he was a bit dry, but very nice. After a quick hello and some interesting facts about the island (60 miles long, and less than 20 miles wide at its widest point), he sent us down the hall where there was a circle of tables set up and convention-style we picked up brochures and forms and booklets and keychains about everything from financial institutions to car sales and arts & crafts classes.

Then we went back to the room. We covered a bunch of informative topics:
  • the Personal Services Center (they make sure we have everything we need, and tell us everything we need to know about living here) - family support, personal financial management, coupons for the commissary (HEY - send me your grocery coupons that expired! They're good for SIX MONTHS past their expiration dates here at our commissary!), cultural programs, etc.
  • The Staff Judge Advocate (base lawyer, basically) gave a speech about laws on the island - we have no rights. Everything is our fault if it happens. But he was funny. They talked about snakes (poisonous and not) and flowers that if you even smelled them you could get sick - yeah, great.
  • Customs & Culture information- mostly they told us stuff we knew, but get this - when speaking with a Japanese person, making constant eye contact is considered impolite. You're supposed to nod occasionally and look away sometimes. Also, when someone gives you a business card, they hand it to you with both hands on the card, you accept it with both hands on the card, and look at it- DON'T put it in your back pocket right away. A very nice Japanese woman gave this part of the brief, she was really cute.
  • Substance Abuse Counseling - not something I have an issue with; yet. Though my daughter's addiction to grilled cheese is disconcerting and may soon be cause for me to seek help. But let me tell you, they were explaining that there are cocktails and beverages on this island that if you drink one, it's more like drinking 4 or 5 - I think I just became a cheaper date! Where are those beverages please? And there is no WAY you can drink & drive. A grown 200lb man can blow positive for a DUI at .03 - that's 4 ounces of beer. You'll see me walkin'....
  • MPs gave a chat (that's Military Police for you civilian folks). Basically a "scared straight" kinda thing - by the end of that chat, I was wishing they ran the whole US. It is totally unacceptable to misbehave here - loud music, mouthing off, disrespecting others- the man giving the brief said that this island is like a small neighborhood in the 1950's - people watch each other's kids, look out for each other. It's really nice, I'm liking it.
  • They talked about traffic violations, court, speeding, etc. Just don't do it, it's all so not worth it. And really, you don't go over 35mph on this island unless you're on a freeway, where the limit is 50. Between driving on the other side of the road & Japanese road signs, not to mention roads paved using coral (VERY slippery when wet - which it almost always is here), I'm fine with taking it slow for a while.
  • Commissary & Exchange info (they kinda suck here, but at the commissary they will order your favorite food for you if you aren't finding it - they do go out of the way to make it like home here). Basically, I'm going to be ordering LOTS of stuff online!
  • "Reality Check" - differences between Okinawa and your last duty station - LOTS of them. Mostly - we're here by choice, we have no rights. None. But it's ok, it's all a learning experience. Here they also spoke about rip currents, the dangers of swimming in the ocean without knowing what you're doing, and general water safety. Yep, scared again! But still wanna get dive certified :)
  • SOFA (Status Of Forces Agreement) - we get a SOFA license to drive, this was a brief about driving rules & stuff
  • And then we took the driver's test - Craig & I passed.

There are fitness centers with free classes (everything from power yoga to step and lifting, also FREE personal trainers!), bowling centers, tours, hobby shops, craft classes, libraries, and golf. Crazy lots of info. WHEW! Tomorrow we go to our housing brief (with Mia - I think it's only an hour long), then we'll actually get our licenses (passed the test today but didn't have Craig's orders with us, so we have to go tomorrow), and hopefully shop for & buy a car. Then we're going to check out more apartments. It's 8:10PM now - gonna hit the hay soon and get ready for another full day!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Out In Town

Went out in town today to look at apartments. 1 of the 4 was pretty good - we'll see. If they don't offer the broadband Internet there, we won't take it, but we're finding out. It's really small, but very new and clean and has an incredible view, and many shops & things to do in walking distance.

Here are a few shots of the area outside Camp Foster where we're staying at the moment. They had these really cute little cups of Haagen Dazs at the convenience store (think Japanese 7-Eleven) and even some take-out sushi and noodle bowls, curry-flavored Pringles, and a ton of iced teas & coffees. Pretty neat, but NOTHING was in English in there except the American products. I also got a shot of Mia next to a billboard for "Sam's Cafe", an American-style restaurant outside the base gate.

Monday, June 18, 2007


HEY NOW!! Finally! By clicking on all the Japanese links, I finally found a drop-down list with language choices! TA DAAA! Here is tonight's picturesque sunset on the way home from getting some ice cream. Another great day - say a little prayer - tomorrow, we house hunt!

Day 4. Wow. It's Only Day 4??

Yesterday (Sunday; Father's Day; the day when NOTHING is open here except restaurants that are a car ride away) it poured constantly for the whole day, and it was frustrating to be stuck in a tiny room for the whole day. Especially having been awake since 5am. All of us were stir crazy for sure.

It was BEYOND great to get OUT though- we went to a really cool little restaurant out in town called the Crocodile Cafe. I had lobster (which was soup, salad, a half-lobster with the meat pulled out with a creamy sauce served in the lobster shell, ahi poki over rice, veggies, and french fries - and Craig had a steak with veggies, mac & cheese, and black-eyed peas on the side; Mia had the sandwich I brought for her as there was nothing on the menu she'd even try. (Their kid's plate was pork & But they immediately brought her a magnadoodle to plaly with and the staff there was SO nice. It was a great little place! Good food & good company. Rich, his wife Kelly, their 11-year-old adopted son, Nicholas, and their older daughter (23) who graduated college and is looking to teach out here maybe (BIG BIG $$ here). They're adventurous eaters (Nick had alligator!), and told us they eat at a different place each time they go out. So far they've had good & great, but nothing horrible, and they all knocked on wood.

Kelly & I got to talk a LOT about everything - finding a place, shopping for food (the commissary was a big disappointment really). She said there's MUCH better produce in town at the markets and it's way cheaper too - another benefit to living off base! We talked about the parks, going to the beaches, getting dive certified, taking classes & tours, tons of stuff. I'm more excited than ever to be here & explore with our friends & family!

We got up to pay & leave, and I was pointing out the crocodile decorations around the restaurant to Mia. The rain had finally subsided and it was wet, but nice outside and the restaurant was half outdoors - there was a really cool bar out on a tile patio. We ate outside actually, under an awning next to a tall window wall that had waterfalls. I think there was some karaoke in the room, we kept hearing another party speaking in Japanese and they had a microphone set up at a stage.

Anyway, I was showing her the wooden crocodile, and then one wearing a suit in ceramic, and a waiter saw us exploring and in his broken English, said, "a crocodile is on other side of bar there..." and pointed. Since it was only wet & not raining, we walked around (I figured it'd be another statue or something) - it was a REAL crocodile in a cage! WHAT?! The waiter turned on a light in the cage so we could see it, and the little guy (probably only about 3' long) was in a pond in the small cage. Craig & Rich were paying for our meal at that point (try splitting a bill AND doing yen math...) and Mia was a bit wary but fascinated. The crocodile then walked out to the edge of the cage to greet us and Mia squealed with delight. As I saw Craig & Rich walking away from the payment window I summoned them over. Rich ran outside to get the girls & Nicholas, who were waiting for us out front not realizing we had been distracted. I took a few pictures, hopefully one came out - it was hard in the dark through a cage - but how COOL!

Mia was truly in her element, especially when she realized Kelly would listen to her stories - and then even more-so after dinner when she requested to sit next to Nicholas on the ride home so she could see his Nintendo DS and play Pokemon with him. I hear her say, "Oh, you're 11? I'm five and a HALF." That "half" had never been important until she sat back there with an 11-year-old boy.... oh jeez.

Kelly offered to bring us up to their apartment so we could see it, and we said yes. As I pulled Mia out from the van's back seat, she said, "Mama - can I hold his hand?" She was adorable - but man oh man, we're in trouble. I told her to ask him, and she did, and he said, "Sure!" and he led us to the elevator.

Their 5th-floor 3-BR apartment was a REALLY nice size - big living/dining room, nice kitchen, huge master b/r, and wood floors. Also a big balcony and a great view. She said almost all housing off-base has wood floors. Craig & I loved it there - I don't know what they pay, but if we can get anything even similar I'm game! We were excited after that.

Then we went downstairs to the parking garage for Rich to drive us back to our lodge, and Nicholas ran outside to hand Mia some crazy popsicle thing that she carried home despite the fact that it was frozen and making her shiver- he was SO sweet. The whole time we were up there she was playing with him in his room - basketball, DS, legos... and as she went to the bathroom before we left, she said, "Mama, can he come to our hotel?"Again - oh jeez. But I'm glad she makes friends easily and he was SOOOO sweet. She could do worse for a friend.

So now it's 6am, Craig is at his first day of work (Rich picked him up at 5 because he PTs before work) yeah, up at 4:15 to get ready and thankfully Craig didn't wake Mia who is sleeping on the floor right next to the bathroom sink! So he'll pick up our mail, check in, and hopefully get some immediate leave to find housing, etc. Rich said that shouldn't be a problem for him, which is good. Mia & I might call Jacqueline today (a friend of Armida's, a girl I worked with at Cabrillo). She offered to take us to a park or just hang out together. I'll probably do some laundry too. I'd see what Kristina was doing, but her daughter (Leah, she's 5) has a fever and we need her to get over that; she is going to watch Mia while we attend our welcome brief on Wednesday & subsequently get our driver's licenses.

So the good news is, tomorrow (Tuesday) we'll apartment-hunt, Wednesday we'll get a license, and possibly as early as Thursday or Friday - we'll have a CAR! AH, sweet independence!

A few interesting things:
-The trash situation here is totally different and I feel like I need a class to understand it; they burn trash (small island, no room for dumps!), so it's separated by combustible and non-combustible. They also recycle. If you live in a house, there are FOUR trash categories you have to separate your stuff into or they will not take your trash away! But in an apartment, you can just do the 2 categories, and Kelly said the garbage men (who drive trucks that sound like ice-cream trucks - jingly music & all - ha!) open the trash bags at the American apartment buildings and separate it out the proper way. Crazy.

-There is NO tipping here. Not at restaurants, not in cabs - only sometimes when you get a service like a manicure/pedicure. I took a cab with Mia back from the store with bags of stuff, and the price was $4.50- I gave him $5 and he shook his head and said "no no" and gave me back a $1 and said thank you. I defy you to find anyone who lets you go knowing you shorted them any money!

-I'd really like to learn some Japanese, and was surprised to find that the food at the commissary isn't labeled at all. What a great learning experience it'd be to go to the store and read the Japanese words for "apples", "noodles", "fish", etc. Right!? I think I'll make a suggestion.

-Don't EVER leave chopsticks sticking up in your food or share your food chopsticks to chopsticks with someone else- these are practices done only at funerals - not good. The major religion here is Ancestor Worship - the Japanese are very particular about their ancestors and the way they're cremated and their remains are handled. (there are TONS of cultural eccentricities like this - i find it so interesting!)

Ok, I'm going to go now, you've read & I've typed enough. By the way - you can leave comments here if you want to (down below the posts) - I will read them! Enjoy your day - wherever you are.