Posts Tagged With: Travel

The Other Side of the Road

I recently came back to Japan after a 7-week-long trip to America, in which I watched two of my best friends get married and met another one’s new baby girl, among many other things. I am just now adjusting to my own life here in Okinawa again, and am finally ready to get back to blogging!

The most difficult thing this trip forced me to unlearn and relearn is driving! There are so many differences related to driving in Japan and America. First of all, in Japan, we drive on the left side of the road. When we moved here almost 9 months ago, Casey and I had to take a written test in order to receive our SOFA-status drivers’ licenses. We had to learn the laws of the road, but no one held our hands through learning how to navigate this place. The switch to the left side of the road was difficult because (duh), we had been driving on the right side since we were 15! I was so terrified to drive out here, that Casey had to force me to start driving about 2 weeks in. (We went out with friends and he decided to drink, meaning that I became the de facto designated driver. I wasn’t happy).

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Some things to “unlearn and relearn” along with this transition:

1. In Japan, there is no “right on red,” and there are actually different laws out in town and on certain military installations for taking a “left on red.”

2. Fast lane, passing lane, bus lane: all different.

3. Where to look when making a turn at a stop sign: right left right, or left right left? This one still confuses me. 😉

4. Parking lots. Yes, they are backwards, too.

5.The driver sits on the right. Sometimes, I still try to get in on the wrong side. (It’s been 9 months).

6. Most difficult of all: the wiper blades and turn signal are on opposite sides of the wheel. It is common to see new people on Okinawa turning on their wipers when they mean to signal that they are turning. We call this the “Oki wave.”

Fortunately for me, I’ve had an adorable car in which to learn all of this. This is “Turtle car.” She is a 2003 Daihatsu Naked. Yes, Naked. (The Japanese love English words, and often show little regard for the meaning of the word when they choose it. More on that in another post)! She has a whopping 750cc engine, which for you less mechanically intelligent (like myself) out there, means the engine is smaller than the one in Casey’s Harley Sportster. In short: tiny. She has a difficult time making it up hills, or going over 60km per hour, which for you Americans out there is only about 37 miles per hour.

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She is like a mini Hummer, complete with golf cart tires, a rubberized interior, removable backseats, retractable side mirrors (very common in Japan because the roads and parking areas are so narrow), and lots of love to spare. You might be able to see Casey’s Toyota Camry Gracia parked next to Turtle car. As you can probably see, the Camry is much larger, which is why we do not often drive it around Okinawa. While not a large car in America, in Okinawa it is like driving a boat. It has a normal-sized engine, but a bad turning radius and we often have a hard time finding a parking space big enough for it! Also, my car is much cheaper to drive because it is awesome on gas and the road taxes are so cheap because the Japanese government subsidizes efficient cars! Small, or “kei” cars with yellow license plates are common in Japan because the road taxes are about 90% less than that of more American-sized vehicles, like the Camry!

Learning to drive here was much easier than I expected. However, a few things will continue to be difficult, no matter how long we stay here. Roads can be so tiny that you will have stop and sometimes back up in order to allow cars to pass in the opposite direction. The Japanese often do not name their roads and highways, so we rely on landmarks when giving directions. Sometimes, highways have the same name. For example, there are two highway 58’s on Okinawa. Sometimes, the signage can be pretty confusing:

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Overall, however, it can be a beautiful place to drive.

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After spending 6 months in Okinawa, it was time for me to go back to the states for a visit. The idea of driving back in the states was terrifying to me for a few reasons.

1. I would need to relearn to drive on the right, and Americans would be much less forgiving than the Okinawans, who are used to Americans driving on the wrong side when they first arrive on island.

2. Everything moves a good deal faster in America. The fastest speed limit I’ve seen on Okinawa is 80 km, which is about 50 miles per hour!

3. American drivers are significantly less courteous than Okinawan drivers. Okinawans are much better at merging because they actually let people in, and then they often thank each other by flashing their hazard lights quickly in a gesture of thanks. (This is my favorite thing about driving in Japan). 🙂

4. America is much more dangerous than Okinawa. In Japanese culture, it is very uncommon for women to get kidnapped, raped, or mugged. I was going to be driving by myself through some cities which are known for the frequency of these crimes, and could not help but be worried after feeling so safe on my little island.

5. Worst of all, I would need to stop at red lights again. In Okinawa, it is safer to go through a red light than stop short because everyone behind you is already planning to run it. Yeah, sure, you have to wait a few seconds before driving when the light turns green, but it feels so good to run those red lights!

To be fair and balanced, for all you Fox News fans out there, America does a few things better than Japan:

1. Turning lanes. These are important, and Japan should install them.

2. Roads sized large enough to fit cars. It’s easy to forget how nice this is.

3. Fair arbitration of car accidents. In Okinawa, an American involved in an accident will always be at fault. The accident would not have happened if you weren’t on Okinawa, period.

4. Road and highway names make life so much easier.

5. Motorcycles aren’t… terrifying! Out here they drive like maniacs in flip flops with unbuckled helmets! They do wheelies at stop lights, drive in between lanes to speed past traffic, and drive up to the front of the line at stoplights. To deal with them safely, you have to view them as suicidal so that you remember to steer clear of them, literally.

6. Shoulders, bicycle lanes, HOV lanes, parking lots for businesses, and the Jersey Turnpike. (Just kidding, folks. Seriously, it was a joke).

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I dealt with all of my concerns, but in end I made it through my travels. I drove over 3000 miles in my parents’ trusty Subaru Forester, only breaking down once. I sent Americans the “Oki wave” a few times, resisted the urge to thank/thoroughly confuse courteous drivers with a flash of my hazards, and kept the doors locked at all times. I dealt with stop-and-go traffic, speed demons, and road rage just like the old days. And then I came back to Okinawa and learned it all over again.

Love always, Amanda

PS. The turn signal makes so much more sense on the right side. That is all!

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Categories: Okinawa Life, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

A Light Stroll in a Japanese Garden

One of our first outings here on Okinawa was to this beautiful little garden nestled into the city of Naha: Fukushu-en  Garden.

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It was as peaceful as they come, with calm waters surrounding beautiful ancient Chinese architecture. Constructed using material from its sister city of Fuzhou, China, Fukushu-en Garden was built to celebrate the role of Chinese influence on the history of the island.

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We enjoyed feeding the turtles and coy (living symbols of longevity and wisdom in Chinese culture) in the ponds, although the fish were so aggressive that the poor little turtles did not get their fair share of the food, despite our attempts to aim it right at them.

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I am sure we will be back to visit, when we need a moment away from the hustle and bustle of the busy Okinawa streets.

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Where do you go to find peace? I hope there are turtles there, too. 😉

Always, Amanda

Categories: Okinawa | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

From the End of the Earth

Over a month ago, before Casey left for an exercise in Thailand (which he returns from today!!!!), we witnessed quite possibly the most beautiful place on the planet. While I am unqualified to make that statement, as I have not in fact visited every location on Earth, I can honestly say that of all the places I have been, this was the first to take my breath away. Hedo Point is at the northernmost tip of Okinawa; so as I stood on the rocky, volcanic cliffs looking out at the ocean, I was overwhelmed by the limitless expanse of clear blue waves.

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May all be well in your world today. May you find peace wherever you are in this beautiful world. I know mine is on his way home, and I could not be happier.

Always, Amanda

Categories: Exploring, Okinawa | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Lives Lost Underground

It is no secret that the relationship between the United States and Japan is a complex one, but living in Okinawa has provided me with a new perspective on the alliance. Okinawa has had a fairly rough history for such a peaceful people. On their own they lived in relative peace for many years until the Japanese stepped in and claimed them. With such a strategic location, it is no wonder Okinawa has for centuries now been a popular geopolitical asset. The impact this has had on the people here, however, has at times been no less than tragic.

I will save my international political rant on the current state of affairs for another day. Living in a foreign country while on orders from the US military has revealed things to me that I would never have found in a history book or on CNN. I have seen first-hand the results of international politics, but being an American has still allowed me the naive comfort of being sheltered from some of the worst stories history has to offer. Until I ventured underground in Okinawa.

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This is the monument outside the Japanese Naval Underground, where the Japanese forces dug a tunnel system towards the end of World War II. The Americans were winning the war, so the Japanese Navy literally went underground. These tunnels were by far the most ominous place I’ve been in my life.

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This is the room where the Japanese Navy decided that committing suicide en masse was preferable to surrendering to American forces. You can see the marks the grenade shrapnel left in the walls where many men met their deaths. It is a strange thing to be an American in a place such as this, but forcing myself to witness these places has helped me come closer to understanding the complex dynamics of the relationship between these countries that now mean so much to me. May we not forget those who came before us and the sacrifices they made to bring the world where it is today.

-A

Categories: Culture, History, Okinawa | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Our First Year of Marriage

One year ago today, I married my best friend. He is busy flying planes in a land far away from here right now, but that gives me the opportunity to reminisce when I would otherwise be snuggling with him in front of our wedding video. In the year that we have been married, much has changed. It has been by far the most difficult year of my life, and I am lucky that I can say it has also been the best. This was our year:

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On February 18, 2012, we got married in a beautiful outdoor ceremony near Corpus Christi, Texas. Our wedding went by in a whirlwind, but the important part is that I woke up the next morning beside my husband and we began our adventure together. At the time, we were living in Corpus Christi while Casey went through the multi-engine portion of flight school, and I worked for a local staffing firm.

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Several weeks after our wedding, Casey received the lovely golden wings he had worked so hard for, and then he went off to California for two weeks of survival training. Shortly after that, he moved to New Bern, North Carolina, for the final stage of flight training (this time in a simulated C-130).  I did not accompany Casey to North Carolina because the military would not pay for us to move there, I wanted to continue working at my job, and we had recently learned we would be moving to Okinawa. While the Marine Corps had separated Casey and I before, the pain of saying goodbye to him and remaining behind was something I was somehow unprepared for. I was lucky to have kind and generous co-workers; but being only recently married, I was mostly isolated from the military community. It was a trying time for both of us, and I was forced to learn many new things I would have avoided had I had the choice. I did not enjoy caring for the lawn, repairing my car when it broke down, running Barley and Hops to the emergency vet when they consumed poison or got stung by scorpions, or dealing with our neglectful landlord when our AC and appliances broke. I’d like to think that all of that and the sushi dates I had with myself made me a stronger person; but I would be entirely dishonest if I said that I enjoyed the overall experience.

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I was able to visit Casey once in the lovely little town of New Bern, where they have these adorable bears all over town. In August, Casey and I began our Farewell America tour. We had already said goodbye to my friends and family in Virginia; so this time we met in Vermont, where we spent some wonderful time with my family. Saying goodbye to my father and baby sisters was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

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From there, we flew down to New Bern and packed Casey’s things into Brandy (his precious Mazda Speed 3), and headed home to Corpus Christi. We stopped in Meridian, Mississippi, to visit some of our awesome jet pilot friends before we made it back to Corpus. We spent a week or so there, moved out of our home, and packed our fluffy children into the car. You’ve already heard of our road trip to San Diego to say goodbye to Casey’s family, followed by our trip to Seattle and then epic plane ride to Okinawa. Long story short: we moved across the planet. Nbd.

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Once in Okinawa, we lived in a hotel for a week (separated from Barley and Catbeast), then moved into our concrete palace in a tower on Camp Kinser, in the southern part of Okinawa. It took awhile for our belongings to arrive, (most of which will remain in storage in Texas until we return to the US) but we have done our best to make Okinawa home. I’ve been adjusting to life here and trying to figure out in which direction to take my career. Casey has enjoyed flying the C-130, and has already had the opportunity to travel to Hawaii, mainland Japan, Thailand, Korea, the Philippines, and the Marshall Islands. I miss him while he is gone, but I am so proud of all his hard work and am so happy to see him finally reaping its rewards. In between those trips, we’ve tried to take advantage of his free time to explore the wonderful food and beautiful sites Okinawa has to offer. I promise that more on that will come in the next few weeks.

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Spending holidays, birthdays, and an anniversary apart has been difficult, but I never take our time for granted. The little moments that we share cooking dinner together, watching him wrestle with Barley and Hops, exploring this wonderful island together: all of these I have an acute appreciation for, knowing the feeling of a cold bed and an (almost) empty home. Marriage is not easy, and we have much to learn about how to deal with such important issues as cold feet in the bed and where exactly we should place our wet towels. I’m just lucky that I have Casey to share this amazing, at times chaotic, life with. I am sure we will continue to face obstacles in the years ahead, but I know that together (or not), we will make it through this adventure and come out stronger and more prepared for the next one. Happy anniversary, babe.

Always, Amanda

Categories: Marriage, Military Life, Our Story | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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