Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Reader Mailbag!

So... I'd heard this rumor. There were people saying you could save LOTS of money by living in Okinawa. And today I got a comment on the blog from Ms. Lowe...

"So hey, i'm a marine wife and we are about to have to make a decision about where we wanna be stationed. i found your blog and wanted to ask you some questions. rumor has it that there's mad cash to be made or to be SAVED with cola and housing allowance. just wanna know what you think and if you have any advice bout whether or not we should choose japan. email me...

I thought this deserved a public answer because she is not the first person to email me asking about being stationed here. And she's not the first person to think there's "mad cash to be made or to be SAVED". Don't believe the hype! But the benefits are a'plenty - so read on for my response if you'd like.

Hi there, Jesslyn!

Just got your comment on my blog, and I'm not sure how the rumor got started - but Japan is very expensive. Coming here you will save money if you're a clothes shopping addict (not much to be found here except online!) or if you live on base and eat mac & cheese all day. However, if you plan to live out in town you do not get the difference between your housing allowance and what you pay for rent (which sure isn't much anyway) and all summer long your electric bills take up all of your utility allowance in this very hot and humid tropical place. COLA isn't nearly enough - and we're still waiting for the latest survey to kick in. (side note: Does ANYONE know when that's supposed to be settled for heaven's sake? We took the survey in March!) Produce is ridiculously expensive and must be bought out in town because the commissary stuff is pretty terrible (and even more expensive than in town).

Also, if you're a dual-income family, likelihood is, unless you're a certified teacher and willing to go through DODDS applications, or a dual active duty family - you (as the spouse) will either not work or make very little money if you do. So you're down one income. (That's what happened to us.)

Also - do you plan to travel? Well- no savings to be had if you want to take flights anywhere from here (that is definitely the most expensive part) unless you do all space A, and that is a hassle. Even then you're still going to pay for hotels, food, etc. - so vacations cost money.

Now - that being said, it DOES depend on your husband's rank. (you could save/make more if he's more senior in the service.) But coming here - the decision shouldn't be made based on "saving mad money". It should be based on the experience.

You learn about foreign cultures, you dive in some of the bluest clearest waters with some of the most incredible sea life, you eat exotic foods and learn to shop in a Japanese grocery store for things like yuzu cha and onigiri. Your children learn Japanese and get to snorkel in those same waters, and they visit WWII battle sites and Ryuku Castle ruins...and it's an incomparable experience for them! You take shorter flights to visit Vietnam, Cambodia, mainland Japan, Thailand, China, and so many other incredible places. You make friends with some of the most interesting and fun people you'll ever meet. You live in a 1950's style neighborhood where everyone knows each other, takes care of each other, and helps each other - and you can let your child go to the restroom or bike to the park with friends or -gasp- ALONE. It's totally what you make of it.

Come to Okinawa for the experience and adventure of a lifetime - not to save money. Honestly, as a military family, the best way to stash cash is for your husband to go to Iraq for 6 months or more. But having been through that three times - it wasn't worth it to us. (Thankfully, my hubby won't deploy from here... knocking like mad on the desk as I type...) Okinawa is priceless.

Hope that helps :) And you know what? I'm going to post this on the blog, because I do get a lot of emails asking about the money situation here.

Thanks for the question, and thanks for reading, Jesslyn!

Monday, August 25, 2008

First Day Of First Grade

Well, today was the first day of first grade for Mia. She handled it with the independence and general sassiness we expect from her. No, she did NOT need me to drive her to school on the first day because she will take the bus - and she PROMISES to tell me ALL about it, so don't worry. Ok then.

A quick flashback to one year ago. On the left, first day of kindergarten. On the right, well - darned near adulthood.

A much larger and more weighed-down backpack, that's for sure - REAL school supplies. We read and write now. And no more of that extra underwear business (though I still feel I must TELL her to pee when she's dancing).

I picked her up from the bus stop and was eager to hear about her day. She was sitting next to a very nice new girl on the bus (new to Okinawa, anyway) and they seemed to have had a lovely ride home. The bus was quite late, but I would imagine most kids had no clue which bus they belonged on at the end of their first day.

We walked home and I grilled her, and she gave up some good info; she had a Japanese class, and will be having that class once a week. She had reading time, and NO naptime, and recess on a NEW playground with SWINGS and many of her friends from last year.They read a book about the first day of school, and something about toads and lizards, and she's at seat #2 and she handed me her folder that contained a pretty extensive homework calendar among other things.

We were walking in the door and after talking about her day she said, "There was a lot of work. All day was work work work. Even in our free time we have to read or write! I like kindergarten."

Did you hear that? That creak.... the door to REAL SCHOOL has now been opened. Welcome to the world, Mia. It isn't all naptime and playing dress-up. But Mama's here for you - we can still do that stuff at home.

The Okinawa International Women's Club

I hope you'll check out the post I contributed at Okinawa Hai concerning the amazing local group, the OIWC. Please consider coming to the welcome coffee this Wednesday if you're here and looking for a way to donate a little time and have a lot of fun! I hope to see or meet you there.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Night At Plaza Pool

I was on my way to join Mia and Craig at the Plaza Housing Pool on base here for a night-time pool party some friends were having. The phone rang.

"Hi, baby, what's up?"
"Are you coming? You have to go in the POOL with me because I can't go in the big pool without you!"
"What? Why?"
"There's a TEST!"
"So take the test."
"You have to be 10 years old to take the test Dada said!"
"Put your father on the phone...."

I established with him that there's no age limit on the test, and she's perfectly capable of passing it as a level 4 swimmer; ahem.

I arrived at the party with my camera and after saying hi to the adults, I spotted Mia in the pool.
I asked Craig if she got some kind of sympathy vote, and he said, "Nope. She took the test, passed it, and now she's welcome to do whatever she wants in there." My confident kid jumped right in - swam the LENGTH of the pool (not across, the length - this is a big pool.) and floated for a minute and tread water for a minute. Now she has a bracelet to wear at any of the USMC base pools.

You can see her bracelet and her still fantastic diving form here:

It was pitch black outside, the pool itself was lit underwater, but the outside lighting made for some interesting exposures here... so bear with me at ISO 3200 and 50mm at f1.2 for this stuff. (if you care... if not, move along)

I was pretty impressed at the stopped action here.

Much more light when she was under water. Look at my little fishie!

Hello there.... Dara, eat your heart out!

It's too bad she hates swimming. Torture, I tell you. They literally turned off all the lights when it was time to get out and 9 and the kid was STILL whining about having to leave.

Side note - there were a few corpsman on the sidelines of the pool, not swimming. I asked why and they said, "Small pox." They had been vaccinated that day for an upcoming Iraq deployment. Seriously. They STILL think we're going to get small pox in Iraq? Annoying. And just plain unfair. But thanks to you guys - for staying out of the pool and for your service. I appreciate it.