As civilized humans, most of us are raised to believe that it is the “high road” to ignore or be polite to other people’s rudeness. But what happens when you live in a society where it is expected? You end-up with a percentage of the population exploiting the good heartedness of those who follow the rule. Yesterday was a good example of this observation. We were experiencing one of the most beautiful summer days we have had in a while. While driving down the main strip in Mihama, a local female pulled out of a side parking lot into the middle of the oncoming traffic. I don’t know where she thought she was going to go. The traffic in the lane going the opposite direction was stacked-up and at a total stop. Instead of backing up and waiting for a clearance, she just sat there in the middle of our lane, blocking us and all the traffic behind us. As she sat there, all she did was flash a smile in our direction. This in itself was irritating, but within the next five minutes and four blocks two more local females pulled their cars halfway into the oncoming traffic lane, all the while just sitting there with smiles on their faces. It is almost as if they were saying, “I’m smiling so you have to excuse my rudeness!” It got so ridiculous even my husband, an Okinawan, stated “What is wrong with these women? They just sit there with smiles on their faces, every single one of them!” Has the belief that the recipient is suppose to take the “high road” given rise to a smile as the passport to rudeness on Okinawa?
One of the best things I ever did for my self was getting my first computer five years ago. Life on a sub-tropical island can become pretty monotonous. It was as if a whole new world opened before my very eyes. One problem though was the lack of English language system support on the island. Somehow, my husband and I were able to stumble through all the novice mistakes without too much chaos. With the beginner’s bug at me, I decided to try my hand at a website. Now, with the help of the internet, I am finally beginning to learn html, css, and a virtual cornucopia of new terminology and techniques. I don’t know how I ever lived without a computer all those years!!!
Each week we have people who try to use the club as their personal repayment bank. These people try to bring in a snack or soft drink for employees out of “‘friendship” and then expect a free drink as repayment. First, if you give someone a present out of friendship, it is suppose to be with no strings attached. Otherwise it’s not a gift. Second, we do not pay other people’s’ personal debts. If a favor is done for someone, it is their responsibility to pay their own debts, not ours. If they owe a debt, they can always pay it back their self and shouldn’t expect us to pay it for them! If an employee owes someone a drink, then they can always buy a drink for that person. Taking a beer from the club stock is not the same as paying back a debt. It is the same as us paying the employee’s personal debt.
On Okinawa, it isn’t uncommon for people to let their dogs run loose at night or early morning. These people do so to let the pets relieve their selves in someone else’s yard. This is one on the laziest and rudest behaviors a neighbor can perform. Because of the sub-tropic climate, most home owners spend quite a bit of time on yard work. It isn’t very amusing to have someone else’s pet dump on your clean yard. Many of the locals use pets as nothing more than status symbols. We have one neighbor that has two very beautiful and energetic black Labs. These poor animals are kept on extremely short chains on a concrete carport. Very seldom are the animals taken off the chains, and when the animals are it’s the situation I talked about earlier. If someone can’t take the time to care for an animal properly, they should really consider getting a robot pet!!!
We had a mild earthquake, 6.4, a couple of days ago. This actually was stronger than usual. Earthquakes, no matter how small, always send my heart racing. ( I was in the Alaska earthquake in the early ’60s.) Whenever we have a “tremor”, it reminds me of my first week on island. There we were, living in a Quonset hut. A typhoon was hitting the island. An earthquake hit as well. And to top things off, there was a murder of a babysitter on Kadena. Police dogs tracked the suspect through the empty hut next to ours. All I could remember thinking was, “what kind of place have you brought us to Dad!” Luckily, tremors are rare and murders even rarer. Typhoons are just a part of the yearly cycle and usually not that bad, at least not anything like Typhoon Pamela (May, 1976) which totally demolished Guam. And you guessed it, I was there!!!
Okinawans have a saying, “Once we have talked, we are friends.” The saying itself is a nice sentiment, but is it a romanticized idea. In my many years of experience, I do not think I have seen a relationship between S.O.F.A. status personnel and locals that doesn’t include some form of monetary benefit. Whether it is the ever-smiling and “enthusiastic” local girls squeezing a few free drinks from hard-up and lonely G.I.s or the ongoing “friendship” that includes a favor entailing the use of a few base privileges. The local idea of friendship is primarily a business relationship masked as friendly banter between persons of two cultures. I honestly ask if you are a S.O.F.A. status person who does have a friendly relationship with a local that never included the use of any base facility or privilege, please let me know. I would love to hear your story.
One of my favorite times of the year is Okinawa in the middle of the night during summer. We are lucky enough to live on a hill with a decent view of the ocean from our balcony. In the middle of the night, at about 2 or 3 in the morning, there is usually a light breeze blowing away the heaviness of the humidity. A few cars are still rushing by the house, but not so many that the smell of gas fumes becomes obnoxious (which happens in the daytime). Every once in a while a fruit bat glides past a nearby tree. The lights from across the bay gleam and the stars in the sky twinkle. It is a very peaceful, but not dead quiet, time when a person can sit and let all of their thoughts just wander undisturbed. This is the time of year that Okinawan island life is at its best.
Why do some people insist on using the phrases “I didn’t know” and “I’m sorry” as a passport to get out of jail free. Every week I deal with adults who perform behaviors at the club that a ten year old knows is inappropriate. Such as spitting on the floor, doing back flips or karate kicks, running at full speed in the club, jumping on couches, trying to sing in the microphone (It is not a karaoke bar!), jumping on stage and trying to play the band equipment at break time without asking the owner of the equipment, standing on the bar stools and tables, etc. etc …
When told to refrain from these behaviors I inevitably get “I didn’t know” or “I’m sorry” as a response. Well “I’m sorry” but people know better than to behave in such manners by the time they’re adults and catch phrases are not acceptable excuses for rude and outrageous behavior. If you are going to have to say you’re sorry for something than you know better than to do it in the first place!
One thing that most locals take very seriously is the recycling of trash. Paper products, such as magazines, cardboard, and magazines are separated and collected once every two weeks. Recyclable plastic is picked-upon another day, by another company, once every two weeks. Cans and bottles, which must be separated from each other and well-rinsed, are gathered by yet another company again once every two weeks. Metal products are separated from everything else and collected by still another company on still another day once every two weeks. And finally, there is the “regular” flammable trash, which must be placed in a specific trash bag supplied by the city government and purchased at local supermarkets, picked-up twice a week. There are no exceptions to these rules, place the wrong item on the wrong week and it will sit there until the next collection day. The trash collectors take this system very seriously. Once we had a B-B-Q party and three bottles accidentally ended-up in the middle of loads of paper plates, cups, and napkins in the regular trash. We had no idea the bottles were there. One afternoon following trash collection, someone came knocking on my door. I opened the door only to find two men standing on the front porch with a torn-open bag of trash. One man grabbed a piece of trash from the bag that had my name and address on it and stated, “This is your trash isn’t it!” I confirmed that it was. At which point the other man grabbed the three bottles from the bag, while frowning and shaking his head. The two of them then proceeded with a twenty minute lecture, along with a chart, on the proper manner of trash disposal on Okinawa. I think this may have been this best example of the over-exaggeration of many situations that is so common on Okinawa. But I also must admit that it worked to a point in that we have never made the mistake of mixing our trash products again. I really don’t want to have to spend twenty more minutes getting lectured by the Okinawan trash police!
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