It’s July on Okinawa, which means it’s Summer Cold time! The humidity reaches such a high level that you literally need baby powder just to keep your clothes from sticking to you. Anyone from the Carolinas would feel perfectly at home here. In order to beat the heat/humidity combo, air conditioners are going at full capacity. Running in and out of the overly-temperate air conditioned buildings and contrasting that with the 90 plus heat always leads to the summer cold. Usually, I’m lucky enough to beat that dreaded illness until late in the season. But not this year, I got wiped out first round and have been spending the last few days putting lots of pocket money in the tissue companies’ owners’ pockets. The only thing good about it is that I know I won’t have to worry about catching it next month, when the heat/humidity reaches close to 100 degrees. So for now, I’ll keep my handy tissue box and trash can close at hand.
Recently, Taki and I had the pleasure of hearing a visiting band from Guam, the D.U.B. Da Udda Band. It seems the tropical cyclone system had rained-out the 4th of July celebration on-base, so they went looking for a local spot to perform at for the night. Since the 4th was on a Sunday this year, most of the Koza bars were closed. But luckily for us 7th Heaven was open. So we went there for the usual Peaceful Love Rock Festival 2004 after-concert party. To our surprise, there the band was! Kadena’s loss was our gain. They have a unique reggae-comedy style that is chocked full of humor about living on a small island, among many other topics. For us this was a great treat, because we had lived in Guam in the mid-seventies. Taki was so impressed with the music that he quickly scored one of their CDs, “A Day in The Life.” If you ever get chance check this band out! They were heading for Las Vegas the last we heard.
Question: How do you know you’ve probably lived somewhere a little too long?
Answer: You were there before McDonald’s!!!
It’s true; I was on Okinawa before McDonald’s, literally. I remember the first McD to hit island. It was in 1975 and located in Makimimato, or as it was known at that time Machinato. Back then, Okinawa was mainly a staging area for Vietnam and there weren’t that many dependents. However, both my father and uncle, along with his family, were stationed here. The yen rate was 365 to the dollar, most bases had limited recreational facilities, and the majority of people went off base for entertainment. There were no fast food chains on base, at that time. So when McDonald’s came to the island, all of us (father, uncle and families) headed for the Golden Arches. The parking lot was a sea of Americans. There was a half-hour wait, at the very least, just to get in the doors. Everyone wanted to get a little taste of home!!!
Why do some people think that grabbing or popping someone is going to increase the attacked person’s hearing capabilities? There are many situations where the noise level is so high that it is almost impossible to hear what a person who speaks softly or unclearly is saying. For a culture that is not suppose to be physical in their public communications, there are a large number of people who think grabbing the listener is going to help. For me, being popped or grabbed is a distraction from what is being said, because being physically assaulted draws my attention away from the speaker’s statement!
ShimaNaicha is a term used for mainland Japanese residents who decide to make Okinawa their permanent home, and is usually automatically declared when they change residence to the island. (It literally translates to island Japanese, but means transplanted Okinawan.) This is only one of many terms used in the local language to categorize people. Most Westerners romanticize the “noble reference” of the linguistic structure, declaring it as one of respect. However, it is mainly used to indicate what social position a person holds, having more to do with money and image (which equates to power over here because of the marketability) than age or accomplishment. This class system stems from a time when Okinawa was the Ryukyu Kingdom. In this system Westerners are merely declared as Gaijin (foreigners). After the Westerner has lived on island for a time and begins to go through the “islander” phase (a phase indicated by the person automatically responding to social settings in much the same manner as the locals) they are declared a HennaGaijin (strange foreigner). I have never heard any other phrase used in reference to a Westerner who has lived on island, even if it has been for an extended period of time. It is always the HennaGaijin term used by the locals to maintain a social class indication of how the person should be treated. Recently, I jokingly decided to declare myself, and a few other American women that have resided on Okinawa for more than 20 years, ShimaGaijin. Although the locals might not get the joke, most of the other resident Westerners do, and get a good chuckle at the inference.
If there is one thing Okinawans like more than eating and drinking, it’s the fine art of conversation. Most visitors to Okinawa never have the chance to experience the Ryukyuan tradition of story telling. The majority of people are whisked-off here and there as predetermined by the numerous packaged tours. These people are really missing out, because the art of conversation is not lost on Okinawans. Whether the tale is about great adventures, designed to instill a sense of awe towards the story teller; or sagas of great woes and misfortunes, designed to arouse cries of sympathy from the listener; or humorous anecdotes about a the mishaps of a fellow resident, designed to bring out choruses of laughter (usually followed with a shake of the head and some snide remark on the ignorance of the unfortunate resident, which, to me, dampens the pleasure of the anecdote) locals are masters at evoking emotions through their story telling. So if you get a chance, go off the beaten path and enter one the Mom and Pop type of drinking establishments – not the local hostess bars (the average man’s equivalent of a Geisha house). Order a drink and try breaking the ice by saying”Chaaganjuu, how are you?” (which will probably bring about a great amount of finger pointing and laughter). With some luck you’ll be able to spend time talking with and listening to these ever-vocal story tellers.
In May each year, Okinawan weather officials proudly announce the official rainy season has begun. This usually occurs two or three weeks after a daily onslaught of torrential downpours has pelted the island until it resembles an over-saturated sponge. And each year, around the beginning of July, they pronounce the”official end” of the rainy season. Still, Mother Nature with a mind of her own tosses several tropical cyclone systems our way to remind us mortals that we have absolutely no control over her power. At the end of each rainy onslaught, the creatures and critters that have been in hiding return. The air fills with a symphony of bird and locust duets. Along with these more pleasant reminders of nature comes Okinawa’s native dive bomber, the gokiburi – more commonly known to Americans as the cockroach. The local variety of this ever-present species is so large even Texans would be proud to claim it as their own! I remember my first encounter with these locals. I saw one scampering across the wall of our first apartment. With nobody else around to take care of it, I bravely (or at least I thought I was being brave) grabbed a broom and swung at the wall. This particular gokiburi must have found the whole thing extremely amusing, because just as the broom was about to make contact with it and the wall, the thing came swooshing down at me. There I was a grown human, ducking and screaming like a mass murderer was attacking me! Although I despise the native dive bombers, I’ve learned to accept that they are a part of living on Okinawa. So each year, after the rains, I grab my collection of gokiburi weapons and the battle begins.
Continuing on the subject of food, much has changed in the past 30 years as far a local cuisine. There are so many gourmet ethnic restaurants, I bet someone could dine-out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for well over one year and never use the same establishment once! Numerous mainland Japanese companies have brought their well-established restaurant chains to Okinawa in the past 10 years. Also, quite a few local chefs have shared their culinary talents, spiced with original local twists, by opening independent restaurants. Many of these eateries provide full-course dinners that make your mouth water at the thought of their delicacies. Several of the items offered by the chefs are not even available at local super markets. (The chefs grow their own herbs or have contracts with local farmers for the produce.) With all of this “gourmetization” Okinawans have seemed to have forgotten one of the truly scrumptious staples of local cuisine from the ’70s, Obaa Curry!!! Not the boxed type, the kind that is made from scratch with yellow curry powder and is crammed full of chunky vegetables like potatoes, carrots, onions, and bell peppers. It used to be found everywhere on Okinawa. But like many of the smaller Mom & Pop stores in the Midwest U.S., it is almost impossible to locate a restaurant that serves the staple anymore! It may not have the glamorous image projected by fancy steak and lobster dinners. It doesn’t even have the marketability of the ever present goya—you can’t make obaa curry juice for export, or obaa curry maracas for Japanese tourists, or even cute little obaa curry animated characters for TV commercials—but to see this particular item go the way of the dinosaurs would be, in my opinion, a great loss indeed.
Okay, what is it with people who seem to be totally oblivious to other customers who were there before them? The locals seem to be really bad at this one! Every weekend I get any number of reactions when I have to tell these inconsiderate people to wait their turn. Do they really think that their particular desire for a beverage is greater than the that of the other people who are patiently and politely waiting their chance to place an order? Do they really believe that acting like a little brat, by slapping the counter, yelling “Hey”, or even trying to come behind the counter is going to ingratiate thier presence in my eyes. Does it really have to be necessary for me to point out that they are being rude to the other persons that are there before them? Do they really, really think I enjoy interrupting service to other customers, it isn’t going to get them their order any faster!!!
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