Offshore Okinawa: A Scuba Diver’s Paradise to Lose


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“Water is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty.”  ~ Zoolander as The Merman

“Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)….”  ~ from big-hair metal band Cinderella’s most successful power ballad single

“He who would search for pearls must dive below.”  ~ John Dryden

One of my favorite pearls of the underwater world:  Praying Mantis Shrimp

One of my favorite pearls of the underwater world: Praying Mantis Shrimp

“No scuba diving,” the Doctor said as he leaned in with some measure of compassion.  “At least not for six months…maybe longer.”  It seems I mysteriously had come down with Portal Vein Thrombosis (PVT), a pretty rare condition in healthy, active guys like me, which negated, for the time, much of my normal day-to-day life.

This is how I felt.  Except I was dry.  And not a girl.  And drawn more in the style of manga....

This is how I felt. Except I was dry. And not a girl. And drawn more in the style of manga….

office_spaceOkinawa Oct 2013, IDC OW Dives, Elvis in the waterThe ironic thing, though, is that I’ve been meaning to blog on scuba diving in Okinawa for quite some time.  I have a whole slew of specific blogs to write on specific dive sites out here that I’ve come to know like the back of my hand.  Okinawa is the locale and setting where I came to embrace diving with an emotionally deep-seated affection.  It is where as a Divemaster I helped to teach both my children to dive, and it is where I have entered the enticing depths of the open water over 400 times, each in search and anticipation of yet another of nature’s pearls.

Earning my PADI instructor ticket with my Course Director Ken

Earning my PADI instructor ticket with my Course Director Ken

Diving is also my livelihood, and Okinawa is the spot where I finally became a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer (instructor).  Between January and early May I was able to complete over 70 certifications!

Jody on the High Seas, the East China one

Jody on the High Seas, the East China one

Okinawa Oct 2013, Scuba Diving Dung Steps, Jody geared up in her new 5mm wetsuit and ready to go!Scuba Diving Mar 2014, AOW Maeda Point, orange cup coralScuba was perhaps the predominant reasoning for convincing Jody to take an overseas Asian tour with the Navy instead of retiring. Well, that and living and traveling throughout Asia.  To be honest, though, Jody before she met me admitted she had little interest in Asia.  I hope that I’ve changed her mind!  I’m sure the 20-odd dives we’ve done together here have helped.  Read more about how I feel about Okinawan scuba diving!

Flying Gurnard in the Kerama Islands

Flying Gurnard in the Kerama Islands

Scuba Diving Okinawa Mar 2014, Toilet Bowl, beautiful nudibranchScuba Diving Okinawa Apr 2014, Deep Specialty, spotted eel at HorseshoeThere is, not just in my opinion mind you, world-class scuba diving around the entire Okinawa Prefecture.  When I often compare the diving here to other more recognizable renowned diving destinations such as the Great Barrier Reef, Bonaire or Palau, people often balk.  And that’s okay:  it helps keep Okinawa a safely hidden divers’ paradise, found literally at our condo’s front door.

Low tide from our condo balcony

Low tide from our condo balcony

Okinawa Nov 2013, Scuba Diving Horseshoe, fire sea urchinScuba Diving Okinawa Nov 2013, Maeda Point, fish and anemone wavePart of the southern Ryukyu chain of Japanese islands, Okinawan waters are fed by the warm, northward flowing Kuroshio Current, which helps sustain an enormous variety of marine life.  Okinawa, in general terms, shares the same latitude and sub-tropical climate as Miami.  Although the Gulfstream there brings warmer waters and stronger flows, South Florida lacks the barrier reefs that are present around the majority of Okinawa, which make the Ryukyu island chain one of the largest coral habitants in the world.  We are heading to one of the remote islands, Ishigaki, for the long July 4th weekend, originally to dive with the summer migration of huge manta rays.  While my wife dives, I may only be snorkeling from the boat.

Porcelain Crab

Porcelain Crab

Diving in the spring here, one hears the distant but enticing songs of the transiting and breeding humpback whales.  Octopus, cuttlefish and decorator crabs all abound, and night diving here is even better than experiencing the underwater world in the heated sun of the day.

Another of my favs:  Cuttlefish!

Another of my favs: Cuttlefish!

Scuba Diving Okinawa Mar 2014, Toilet Bowl, cat-like eel

Anime scuba divers, of course.

Anime scuba divers, of course.

Although this island chain is made up of over 160 islands, only 48 are inhabited, and then only a few significantly so.  It is a remote area which marks the break between the Pacific Ocean and East China Sea, stretching for over 600 miles.  The reefs thriving around the Kerama islands, just a few miles and a relaxed boat ride from Okinawa, are most renowned for their splendor:  “The most beautiful and diverse coral reefs that I have ever seen anywhere in the world were in Kerama,” once said French marine biologist Jacques-Yves Cousteau, author of “The Silent World”.  Now who’s gonna argue with THAT guy??

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More mysteriously, near Yonaguni Island lays an underwater ruins site that has been only recently discovered, the Yonaguni Monument.  Famous now for both its implications in archeology and as a dive destination for sharks and pelagics, it has been featured in National Geographic and on the Discovery Channel.  While high on my dives “to do” list, unfortunately I haven’t yet made it out to this location.

Jody at Maeda Point, perhaps Okinawa's most famed dive site

Jody at Maeda Point, perhaps Okinawa’s most famed dive site

The World War II destroyer USS Emmons, rediscovered only recently in 2001, is found not far offshore from Okinawa, resting as a war relic and underwater grave after being pummeled by five kamikazes in 1945.  It too is a dive I have not had the pleasure to experience…YET.

Jody greets a friendly sea turtle

Jody greets a friendly sea turtle

Like Zoolander, I may have to find a new line of work.

Like Zoolander, I may have to find a new line of work.

Frappuccinos don't help.  And could result in disaster.

Frappuccinos don’t help. And could result in disaster.

Cinderella was not entirely right about not knowing what you got until it’s gone.  I believe that I did, and it makes this temporary injunction from inner space much harder to accept.  I’m not one to quote big-hair bands from the 1980s, but honestly, that song almost instantaneously came to mind with the delivery of the bad news.  I’ve been moving through the grieving process, and while to some this may seem overly dramatic, for someone who used to dive up to 10-12 times a week, who likes to ride motorcycles, and who still has more skydives than scuba dives in his logbooks, anticoagulants and blood clots are just not congruent with life.

Taking my meds makes me feel like I'm taking CRAZY PILLS!

Taking my meds makes me feel like I’m taking CRAZY PILLS!

At least not for now.  I have yet to reach fully the “Testing” or “Acceptance” phase of the process, the good news is that at least I’ve given up on bargaining for a way to balance diving with my condition.

5-stages-of-grief-kubler-ross-22

okoptimism-funny-demotivational-postersThat just leaves me with Depression to move through, and that’s why I finally have gotten around to this blog on diving in our Far East Fling.  My life remains full of pearls; I just have to refocus on the ones found in more terrestrial settings!

Okinawa Oct 2013, IDC OW Dives, Kadena North entry

Should the Rising Sun Finally Set?


“When the sun rises, it rises for everyone.”  ~ Unknown

Apparently there is no limit to Cosplay in Japan

Apparently there is no limit to Cosplay in Japan

Who would ever wear a swastika T-shirt?  No one would who has a basic knowledge of recent history and a common sense of decency.  Although perverted by the Nazi party, the swastika has become permanently representative of a political regime that committed acts so horrible that their flag became the very symbol of crimes against humanity.  Put another way, the Nazi flag is not just offensive to a few, but has become to be one of the most recognizable insults to the very ideal of human rights that we in Western democracies (mostly, at least) hold centrally sacred.

There is no good Nazi, especially true for these G-Men.

There is no good Nazi, especially true for these G-Men.

But the peoples in those same Western democracies, for whatever reason, do not apply the same logical justice or even emotional reaction when it comes to the symbols of Germany’s fellow Axis power – and partner in crimes against humanity, Imperial Japan.  It’s hard to explain why it is so easy to find contemporarily popular images of the Rising Sun in Japanese pop culture, given the memory of Nazi German that persists elsewhere.  Don’t get me wrong, the Japanese people underwent a complete paradigm shift in their beliefs and culture at the end of World War II, and they are perhaps the most peaceful, non-violent society to which I have been exposed.

Nothing says "party" like dressing up as a Nazi.

Nothing says “party” like dressing up as a Nazi.

But think about it another way:  we in the West are taught clearly about the atrocities of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party.  Reflect on just how many books, documentaries, movies and memorials are dedicated to the holocaust, and how much it remains in the forefront of our collective consciousness.  It’s an impossible reality to escape…unless you happen to be the President of Iran.  But how many of us were ever really educated about what happened to many Asian countries during the war in the Pacific, all of which occurred during the exact same timeframes that the Nazis were brutalizing Europe, Northern Africa, and Russia.  I ask you this:  how much do you really know and understand about Japan’s sexual slavery of hundreds of thousands of Asian “comfort women,” the Japanese government and military-sanctioned human experimentation program call maruta, and the “Rape of Nanking” where upwards of 300,000 Chinese civilians were tortured, murdered, and mutilated?  Perhaps if we all were better informed….  But more to the point, I think, things would be different if Japan, from the inside-out, was more ashamed of their decade of horrific war crimes, and if they outwardly acknowledge events of the 1930s and 1940s instead of constantly attempting to skirt the central issues, more and more poeple would all equate their barbarisms with those of Nazi Germany.  But what country wishes that upon themselves?

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The national flag of Japan, officially called Nisshōki (日章旗, “sun-mark flag”), consists of a white rectangular flag with a centered large red disc representing the sun.  It is, however, more commonly known as Hinomaru (日の丸, “circle of the sun”).  The flag has had a troubled past since the end of World War II, but in 1999, “The Law Regarding the National Flag and National Anthem” was passed which designated the flag Hinomaru and national anthem Kimigayo as Japan’s official national symbols.  Although no earlier legislation had specified a national flag, the sun-disc flag had already become the de facto national flag of Japan for many decades.  But this is really not the flag in question.

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Perhaps the most well-known variant of the Japanese flag is the sun disc with 16 red rays in a star formation, historically used by Japan’s military, but especially associated with the Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy of the first half of the 20th century.  The ensign, known in Japanese as the Jyūrokujō-Kyokujitsu-ki (十六条旭日旗), was first adopted as the Japanese War flag in 1870, and remained in use until the end of World War in the Pacific.  This is the genesis of Japanese being referred to as the “Land of the Rising Sun.”

How can this connection ever be broken?

How can this connection ever be broken?

Use of the Hinomaru was severely restricted during the early years of the American occupation of Japan after World War II, but these were quickly relaxed.  The Jyūrokujō-Kyokujitsu-ki, however, took much longer to be re-accepted.  After falling out of use and favor (for a whole slew of really good reasons), modified versions were none-the-less re-adopted in 1954 with the re-establishment of military defense forces in Japan.  It is now used as the war flag and naval ensign of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), respectively.

Flag_of_JSDF

The modified flag currently in use by the Japanese Self Defense (Ground) Forces

The naval ensign (modified) is also incorporated into many commercial products and advertisements throughout Japan.  However, as the flag was used by the Japanese in the conquest and occupation of much of East Asia during the war, it is considered offensive in South Korea and China where it remains forever connected with Japanese militarism, imperialism, and brutalities.

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This situation, in my opinion, is very similar to our (America’s) struggle with the Confederate battle flag, popularly referred to as the “Stars and Bars.”  Much like the situation in Japan, while the flag remains associated with aggression, repression, racism, slavery and militarism, it was not the national flag of the break-away Confederate States of America (CSA), referred to by North and South alike collectively as “the rebels.”

We too have dealt with use of questionable symbols in our pop culture.

We too have dealt with use of questionable symbols in our pop culture.

Although the Rebel Flag is often displayed in the Deep South as a “proud” emblem of Southern heritage, it is almost impossible to escape its deep association with and as a shameful reminder of slavery and segregation.  For many years some Southern states flew the Confederate battle flag along with the U.S. and state flags over their statehouses, while others incorporated the provocative emblem into the design of their state flags.  As is to be expected by all sides, the display of the Confederate battle flag remains a highly controversial and emotional topic, owing to charged disagreements over the nature of its intended – and resulting symbolism (the road to hell is paved with good intentions).  And we in American have largely banned official government-sanctioned use of the flag.

At one time Japan did dream of war....

At one time Japan did dream of war….

Germans also has faced their own flag-inspired demons.  In particular, Germany maintains a keenly watchful eye over the public use of Swastikas and other nationalistic emblems to help forge against any reemergence of a militaristic or overly nationalistic regime.  In general, at least in so far as appearances go, Germans seem to be much more regretful and weary of their past war crimes, and have been proactive in attempting to make right of their many wrongs.  The same can’t be said or seen about Japan.

These are real pictures from a real marriage.  Wow.

This is a real picture from a real marriage. Wow.

Why is it then, that here in the West, symbols or banners that relate back to Nazi Germany or the Confederate States of America are subjects of public debate and legal sanctions, while Japan’s use of their imperial, militaristic symbols go, not unchallenged, but without change.  As recently as the Beijing Olympics, Japan was warned not to stir fervor over (horrific) war crimes in China committed by Japan by using sun-rayed flags, but the practice was common and the Japanese government unapologetic.  In fact, the Japanese Prime Minister recently officially stated in 2013 the government’s position on use and display of the flag as “no problem”.  No one would ever allow the hoisting and waving of a Swastika at an international sporting event in Europe!

I guess it's possible to make even Nazis...loveable.

I guess it’s possible to make even Nazis…loveable.

If humanity is to truly abide with the lofty notion of human rights being universally inalienable, we – all of us – must be true to these utopia ideals.  While personally I can see past the historic and ill-conceived use of such symbols and can appreciate them as part of history and even heritage, it is unfair to the collective human race that we selectively remember war crimes and atrocities in an unbalanced West versus East fashion.

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But then again, the flag that was the symbol of slavery on the high seas for a very long time before the American Civil War was not the Confederate battle or national flag.  It was, sadly, often the Stars and Stripes of the United States.

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Now where does that leave us???

Divinely Proportioned


“The good, of course, is always beautiful, and the beautiful never lacks proportion.”  ~ Plato

“Without mathematics there is no art.”  ~ Luca Pacioli

Contemplating the Divine Proportion (Ryoanji)

Contemplating the Divine Proportion (Ryoanji)

The Rev. Kawakami, on our private tour of the Shunkō Buddhist temple where we were staying and had taken our first Zen meditation session, continued, “When you examine the ratio of the sides of the garden, you find….”

“The divine proportion!” I eagerly interrupted.

Buddhist Temple Rock Garden

Buddhist Temple Rock Garden

Pausing while turning to look at me, the Reverend smiled, “Yes, the golden ratio.  It is also here in this room, and in within the three rooms combined overlooking the garden.”

Golden Spirals are rampant in nature.

Golden Spirals are rampant in nature.

135598Another unlikely connection, but this one not as surprising.  At the time I was re-reading a book I decided to drag along with us to Okinawa entitled Divine Proportion:  PHI in Art, Nature, and Science, by Priya Hemingway, which I highly recommend.  As someone schooled in the hard math and sciences, but also as an inquisitive soul constantly searching for deeper meaning and the spirituality of life, I am astonished at the manifest interconnectedness between math, nature, and aesthetics.

Golden Rectangles of the Parthenon

Golden Rectangles of the Parthenon

nautilusshellThe golden ratio has fascinated intellectuals of science and philosophy for millennia.  Some of the greatest minds of the ages, from the Greeks Pythagoras and Euclid to the Italians Leonardo of Pisa and Fibonacci, have poured their hearts and minds into this simple ratio with the most complex of properties.  Plato considered it the most binding of all mathematical relations and as the key to the cosmos.  It is exactly because of ratio’s inescapable ubiquity that this fascination endures; modern biologists, artists, musicians, historians, and architects alike continue to ponder its relevance and appeal.

The Artist Hokusai meets the Fibonacci series....

The Artist Hokusai meets the Fibonacci series….

And, of course, the Japanese have their own understanding of the “true” divine proportion…which they call Absolute Territory.  Unsurprisingly, even this sexually obscure, anime-based ratio of 1.6 approaches closely that of Phi.

A truly Japanese take on the Divine Proportion.  It too approaches closes Phi.

A truly Japanese take on the Divine Proportion. It too approaches closes Phi.

taj-mahal-1The ancient Egyptians, while leaving no real record of Phi’s knowledge, used it in the construction of the great pyramids and in the design of hieroglyphs found on tomb walls.  In another time, across thousands of miles of globe and gulfs of culture, the ancients of Mexico encompassed the ratio while building the Sun Pyramid at Teotihuacan.  While some may claim that we today find the ratio where we want to and well after the fact, I remain convinced that even without direct knowledge, and whether by design or unsophisticated intuition, even the ancients could not escape the universality of such a proportion.

Golden Ratios calcified in our Bodies!

Golden Ratios calcified in our Bodies!

a0b564da61f4f5f20ac317248f01fd66Initially the “Golden Ratio” was first studied because of its frequent appearance in mathematical geometry, particularly in the creation of “regular” pentagrams and pentagons.  It has a relatively straightforward definition, which is best graphically represented (see below):   when a line is cut just so, as the whole line is to the greater segment, so is the greater segment to the lesser.

golden-section

buddhaIt’s odd that I couldn’t find any analyses of Japanese gardens or temple architecture in terms of the Divine Proportion.  It is, however, easily found all around us, from the spirals of galaxies and seashells, to the symmetry of architecture and the human body, to the beauty in art and the human face.  The Rev. Kawakami was clearly versed on his own temple’s basis of design.

The Divine Proportion of the Mona Lisa.  Doesn't explain the attitude.

The Divine Proportion of the Mona Lisa. Doesn’t explain the attitude.

CaptureThe idea that Phi appears to be fixed in nature has led to another designation:  that of the “Hand of God.”  However, like all else we contemplate around us, the Golden Ratio is simply an interpretation, even after being run through the aged filters and lenses of our collective human condition.  But it is in this very elucidation that this humble mathematical ratio becomes one of Divine Proportion.  It can be seen as the very essence of the harmony and beauty found throughout the cosmos.  In this way, WE have come to endow this symbol with a wholly spiritual presence.

Proportion is not just for nature or art.

Proportion is not just for nature or art.

And it can be found in the simplest of gardens in a remote corner of Japan, tended in part by the Hand of Buddha (or the god of your choice).

What is your experience with Divine Proportion?

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Placenta: Prescription or Placebo?


“Thin people and fat people are the difference.”  ~ loose (machine) translation of a Facebook advertisement for Fasty Placenta

Fasty Placenta - not anything like a delicious chilled bottle of wine!

Fasty Placenta – not anything like a delicious chilled bottle of wine!

This one is hard to…uhmm…swallow:  Japanese women (and a few men, I guess) ingesting placenta to stay blemish-free and thin!

At first when seeing the commercials on our Japanese satellite TV channels months ago, I thought surely that using the word to product name containing “Placenta” was a way to differentiate and market yet another vitamin/dietary supplement, which it appears from the frequency of such commercials that the Japanese adore (and buy) on a scale I could have never imagined.

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But real placenta?  Like in tissue from animals…or humans??  Sounds horrific, and let me assure you, the goo they show on TV that actually goes in the capsules being peddled, looks equally as bad.  So, it appears I may have stumbled onto the mystery of how here in the Far East, sexy young-looking women still wearing their high school sailor-girl uniforms are actually in their 40s and 50s, due to the magical life-sustaining power of pig, horse, or lamb placenta.

Placenta to the rescue!

Placenta to the rescue!

Actually, when you stop and think about it, consuming placenta, no matter from what type of mammal, is more akin to one of the horror movies where zombies roam the countryside hand out-stretched, moaning away for brains.  Or, maybe to be more culturally current and hip, conjure up an image of vampires in their tormented and undying search and constant consumption of warm, thick blood.

Maybe it can give you blue eyes as well....

Maybe it can give you blue eyes as well….

Think I’m kidding about placenta?

I’m not.  Placenta, human and animal, has been used traditional Chinese and other Asian traditional medicines for thousands of years, usually to treat infertility, impotence, or as a dietary supplement for certain wasting diseases.  Like the longevity of booze and smokes (used in moderation), we probably shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss a millennia of culturally medical knowledge; if a behavior has survived that long as part of the human condition, there is probably something beneficial to it.  Oh, and many animals do eat their placentas after giving birth.  But, as we homosapiens are generally more well-fed (and easier grossed-out) than our animal brethren, the animalistic example and reasoning of eating “after birth” (pun intended) doesn’t really apply.

I would've used GREEN apples, you know, to avoid any resemblance to blood

I would’ve used GREEN apples, you know, to avoid any resemblance to blood

Here in Japan many companies (Check out the FB page for Fasty Placenta!) are hawking a plethora of porcine (pig) placenta products, varying from jellies, to facial skin masks, to soaps, to easy-to-swallow capsules, to what I can only assume are less easy-to-swallow drinks.  Most of the claims are for weight loss and general health (for the ingested formats), and for younger, more beautifully radiant babyish skin (for the soaps and topical treatments).  There actually is some casual evidence that the hormones contained in placenta tissue can help treat postpartum depression and menopause.  Men would certainly pause (there’s a pun there too) if they knew their wives were consuming placenta!

Eating it probably shouldn't be one of them.  Neither should making a creepy stuffed bear....

Eating it probably shouldn’t be one of them. Neither should making a creepy stuffed bear….

Nihon-Sofuken offers a full array of placenta products.  What’s impressive about most of the placenta prerogatives are the numbers associated with just how much “ingredient” one derives from a dose.  Claims of 100,000, 270,000, or even 300,000 milligrams abound, which sounds impressive…as an advertising ploy.  Converting to grams, though, and the numbers come way down into the 10’s of grams, equivalent to an ounce or less.  Think of it as a shot and knock it on back.  A beer chaser is highly encouraged.

Wow 270,000 is a big, impressive number!  Too bad it's placenta.

Wow 270,000 is a big, impressive number! Too bad it’s placenta.

Why?  Because although one of the selling points online translates to something like “completely remove blood which cause bad smell and rot via a special extraction method,” you know that it just can’t be appetizing!  Although one company touts that they “erase the high-density animal smell of the pig placenta (it does not smell like ham, bacon, or pork chops!) with a peach or apple flavor,” I’d still much rather have it taste like bacon.  Bacon goes with everything!

A martini glass of horse placenta extract?

A martini glass of horse placenta extract?

In spite of the Japanese claims, I can find no real peer-reviewed and published results showing any health benefit efficacy, and in the West, such claims and treatments are best considered pseudo-science.  I have read that even here in Japan there is enough concern about adverse effects from placenta tissue that some of the more invasive treatments preclude people from donating blood as an additional safeguard to help prevent transmission of pathogens.

As a Domestic Engineer, I draw the line at cannibalism.

As a Domestic Engineer, I draw the line at cannibalism.

But of course it’s not just a Far East Fad.  Check out this placenta cookbook…available on Amazon, in English.  I’m not kidding.  At least in this form the tissue is cooked, and apparently, served with stewed vegetables…but it’s 100% human.  The FDA in the United States maintains that placenta extract may be potentially hazardous and its use is subject to restrictions and requirements of warnings.

No matter.  It appears that people ‘round the world will do – and eat most anything to remain youthful and trim.

Thank goodness no bad smell!

Thank goodness no bad smell!

How far are YOU willing to go??

Far Eastern Engagement


“あばたもえくぼ, Even pockmarks seem as dimples.”  ~ Japanese Proverb about the timeless nature of Love

Naomi's Wedding 2014, today's event at the SOBE hotel

Naomi's Wedding 2014, grand entrance for the newlywedsNaomi's Wedding 2014, my daughter the bride and I“I noticed no one has toasted to the newly married couple yet, so please, raise your glasses.  Although the standard toast in Japanese is Kanpai, meaning “cheers,” instead I chose to toast with banzai!  [see my related banzai blog]  Contrary to popular belief, banzai! is not associated in Japan with death and destruction.  Literally it means “10,000 years,” but is most often used to imply something like to live forever.  So, to Adam and Naomi, may your love for each other live on forever.  BANZAI!”

Naomi's Wedding 2014, me and my peaceful daughter on her big day!

Naomi's Wedding 2014, the bride with her father and brother (my kids and I!!)Naomi's Wedding 2014, the couple cutting their cakeSo went the toast at my daughter’s wedding two weeks ago in South Beach, Miami.  My daughter, having lived for four formative years in Okinawa as a child, tween and teen, retains a very strong affinity for the Far East and my current island home.  As a youngster, her name “Naomi,” a common Japanese name, and her inherited Asian-Pacific-Islander traits made her look the part.  She had wanted to marry at South Florida’s famed Japanese Morikama Garden in South Florida, but the venue turned out to be much too expensive and difficult to schedule, let alone work with.  She remained, however, intent on keeping an Asian flare to her nuptials.

Kokeshi Japanese Wedding Dolls

Kokeshi Japanese Wedding Dolls

japanese-events-eventy-imprezy-w-stylu-japonskim-wypozyczalnia-dekoracja-scenografia-aranzacja-rekwizyty-lalka-sayonara-doll-03japanese-events-eventy-imprezy-w-stylu-japonskim-wypozyczalnia-dekoracja-scenografia-aranzacja-rekwizyty-lalka-sayonara-doll-02In Okinawa, due to the constant turnover of the military personnel here, the Japanese have translated their traditional kokeshi dolls into “Sayonara Dolls,” where the body of the doll is wrapped in a large and long scroll for people to scribble their farewells on as someone readies to transfer away from the island.  Well, there is wedding version of the “scroll doll,” a Japanese bride dressed in white and silver wrapped with the same type of scroll, which is just about the perfect guest book for a Far-Eastern inspired wedding.  We hand-carried one home (although I failed to get a photo), and even though the scroll is over 70 centimeters long (well over two feet!), the entire parchment was filled with love and well-wishes by the end of the evening!

Naomi's Wedding 2014, geisha kanzashi hair ornament for the bride

Naomi's Wedding 2014, the bride's asian hair piece and accentskanzashi-februaryWe also purchased a geisha head/hair-piece known as a kanzashi for Naomi to wear with her dress.  Although we remained unsure of the exact color palette of the wedding and wedding party (my daughter is not very specific!), and we were purchasing our items in Okinawa with only the cell-phone picture approval of the bride (thankfully Naomi is in no way a “bridezilla”), what we did manage to hand carry home worked perfectly.  Sure, it’s not nearly as ornate and, shall we say, impressive as the actual ones worn by the geisha or maiko of Kyoto, but neither did she share (fortunately) their rather dramatic makeup!  Worked into the intended’s hair style, the piece was a delightful accentuation, helping to highlight both the colors of the groom (red accents) and her Father (pink accents), who was giving her away.

Nothing says Japan like a Hello Kitty wedding cake!

Nothing says Japan like a Hello Kitty wedding cake!

Naomi's Wedding 2014, Naomi decorating her Asian fansNaomi's Wedding 2014, me and my beautiful wife all cleaned up!Naomi herself decorated Japanese fans for all the women in the bridal party, and if we had only known this was part of her plan, we could have purchased some truly wonderful fans during our recent trip to Kyoto.  In any case, the fans were a lovely added touch, and actually were pragmatically utilized in the South Florida afternoon summer heat and humidity during my daughter’s outdoor ceremony.  Thankfully, the rain had already moved on, something Naomi was very worried about since witnessing my and Jody’s beach wedding getting completely rained-out back in 2011.  “Its good luck if it rains on your wedding Naomi,” I said to her in her room as we watch the storm clouds over South Beach.  She, looking at me in not an unmeasured amount of sarcasm mixed with concern, did not buy my argument.  But then again, neither did I; “But then that’s what they tell the losers who get their wedding rained-out to make them feel better,” I continued with a knowing smile and a wink.

Naomi's Wedding 2014, Asian fans being decorated

Naomi's Wedding 2014, 1000 origami cranes 千羽鶴 Senbazuru gifted to my daughterNaomi's Wedding 2014, Japanese wedding card (I hope!)Finally, Jody had the wonderful idea of ordering a collection of 1,000 paper origami cranes for presentation to the newlyweds.  After some research online, we discovered that it is traditional for the father of the bride to gift her and her groom on their wedding one thousand folded origami cranes held together by strings, known as 千羽鶴 senbazuru.  In Japan, the crane is the bird of love, life, and good fortune, a truly magical creature in their culture.  It is also believed that whoever possesses 1,000 origami cranes will have a wish fulfilled.  Marriages, like the cranes, require patience, perseverance, and dedication.  The cranes are all held by strong and sturdy square knots.  On top of the senbazuru was a traditional Japanese wedding card – actually a money gift envelope – tied with a very specific knot.  This particular knot is so tied not to ever be undone, and celebrates an occasion that should only happen once in a lifetime, both ideals a fitting tribute to what marriage should and can be.  Presenting the cranes to Naomi and telling of such Japanese traditions and legends really tied the whole Asian-theme full circle.  Thank you Jody, for such a wonderful idea, and for working so hard to make sure this important element of my daughter’s celebration was so meaningful and memorable.

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Naomi's Wedding 2014, welcome from the newly married coupleNaomi's Wedding 2014, greeting Adam at the alterHowever I have to say the highlight of the evening for me personally was picking my daughter-bride up at her room, hugging her hard in the midst of the clamor and confusion of a whole slew of panicked brides’ maids and female family members, calming her nerves just before the processional, walking her proudly and unhurriedly down the aisle, and giving her away to her now husband, Adam.

Calming a nervous bride just before the processional.

Calming a nervous bride just before the processional.

The bride (and her father) appear!

The bride (and her father) appear!

Arm in Arm Father and Daughter

Arm in Arm Father and Daughter

 

Naomi's Wedding 2014, first dance with my now married daughterNaomi's Wedding 2014, beautiful Jody and I dressed for the festivitiesNaomi was taken from me during her formative teen years, and for many since, we both have found it hard to find our ways and connect back to each other.  I am so thankful that my daughter wanted me there and so involved in her wedding after so much time has passed…and has been lost.  Even though I was suffering (unknowingly at the time) severe blood clots and was in great discomfort and pain, I would not have missed that afternoon and evening for the world.

Naomi's Wedding 2014, my daughter the bride and I

Congratulations my sweet, smart and beautiful daughter.  May your life continued to be filled with joy, love, and fulfillment!

Naomi's Wedding 2014, grand celebration after the wedding!

 

Gooooooooooood Morning, Vietnam!!


“If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.” ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh, Being Peace

Psycho Bob and I ready to tumble in the skies of Vietnam

Psycho Bob and I ready to tumble in the skies of Vietnam

The TSA agent, an older, quiet gentlemen working the intake of the x-ray machine line, looked odd at the two sport parachutes that we were placing on the conveyor belt.

“Where you guys off to jump,” he casually inquired. Not being friends with the TSA (although they are just doing their jobs), I’m not known to make small-talk. This time, however, I was happy to be flying.

“Vietnam,” came my response, with a big knowing grin.

“Really?” “Yeah, really. We’re going to be part of the first sport parachute skydivers ever in Vietnam.”

A knowing and somewhat sarcastic “uhmh” was mumbled back in disbelief. “I’ve got a jump over in Vietnam, but of course back then, they were shooting at us….” Sure enough, this gent, in an oddly unlikely connection, was part of the Army’s 173rd Airborne Combat Brigade Team, and in 1967, when I was just over a year old, the 173rd conducted the only combat parachute jump of the Vietnam War.

Team "Rock" (big guys fall fast) over Nha Trang

Team “Rock” (big guys fall fast) over Nha Trang

So started my and “Psycho Bob’s” excellent adventure into Vietnam. I had been jumping for just about two years, and had probably not even 150 jumps. Psycho had been jumping significantly longer, and was of the perfect, fearless, adventuresome mindset to travel to such an out-of-the-way corner of the planet to partake in cheating death in the skies and under canopy.

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Bob on a very low hop-n-pop!

Bob on a very low hop-n-pop!

Bob, a Navy veteran, was an air traffic controller in Pensacola, and, as his nickname might imply, is a stand-out icon in both the community and the skydiving world. About 6’3″ and 240 pounds (then), with spiked bleached hair, driving a 1974 Ford Bronco painted with zebra stripes, Psycho was the definition of gregarious. A shit-eating grin that at once welcomed all within eye-shot combined with an infectious laugh and warm smile, Psycho was always one to make instant friends while saying – and behaving – in the zannious of ways.

Me and Psycho enjoy Vietnam

Me and Psycho enjoy Vietnam

3652115693_631a15ca41_oI was still active duty, and when I first came across this opportunity to travel to and jump in Vietnam, I thought there was no chance the Navy would ever let me go. A quick check of the foreign clearance guide (the DoD bible on overseas travel requirements), and it turned out that if I traveled there on leave, nothing special was required at all. Like nothing. Very strange for a de facto communist country with strained relations with the US! So, after mailing our passports to the Vietnamese consultant in Washington DC with US-cash-money, weeks later we got our papers pack with the required entry Visa. We would soon be on our way to what remains a very obscure – and fearful corner of Asia for most Americans.

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My first impression of landing at Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Hanoi prior to the war) airport was that there were manned anti-aircraft guns scattered throughout the airfield. Talk about a lingering culture of fear. The flight arrangements Bob and I mad required us to stay a night on arrival in Vietnam before continuing on to our ultimate destination there, and unfortunately Bob missed his international connecting flight in the states, which left us both alone and (mostly) unafraid. I jumped in a taxi and asked for a cheap hotel (no reservations), and after traveling for what seemed miles, I was delivered to exactly that. No frills, not much English, and not much of a room. I am not one to subscribe to the all-oppressive American sense and culture of fear, and although I was on alert, I was still okay. It ended up being a relatively quiet, and uneventful night. Bob, arriving much later that night and with no way to contact me, had a much difference experience.

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As Bob was leaving the terminal looking to find a Taxi, he found himself in a darkened area of the parking lot where he quickly got the sense that he was going to be rolled. Bob, having traveled the world with the Navy and after living in the Philippines for 7 years had developed a keen sense of such awareness. Finding the first well-marked limo-taxi he could, he clamored in, startling the unexpecting driver. Psycho I’m sure was beaming his signature grin, telling the man to drive, while the chauffeur was barking for him to leave and get out. Bob, not one to take “no” for an answer, still smiling, motioned to drive on, saying again and again it was okay. Finally, the driver gives into to Psycho’s steady insistence, and drives while making a phone call. Bob, just happy to be off and away from the dark lots of the nearly silent and closed airport, continued to reassure the driver. Finally, the driver says something like “you 514?” Psycho, thinking that the number refers to a room number, agrees eagerly and whole-heartily, becoming even more emphatic that they hurry their journey to the safety of a hotel room. The driver asked at least two more times, and Bob happily dismissed the inquiry with an exhausted wave of his hand, having been traveling now for over 24 hours.

Turns out that this particular limo was for a high-end hotel in downtown on the Saigon river, and that “514” didn’t equate to a room number or reservation at all, but to the price of an available suite, now committed just for him! Bob, ever the optimist, says at least his trip started in lustful luxury!

Posing in front of countryside rice fields

Posing in front of countryside rice fields

3649599630_23e0059570_o3674397012_0fe104cf50_oIn the morning we continued on to a city called Nha Trang for the actual skydiving event. Nha Trang, and it’s nearby airport Cam Ranh Bay were both the site of fairly sizable US bases during the Vietnam War, and amazingly enough, scattered all over the airfield still remained the hulks, parts, and degrading debris of our past presence there of 35 years ago. We were picked up and transported to our island resort hotel, the 5-star resort VinPearl, quite nice but quite out-of-the-way. This area of Vietnam has been built up as a beach resort town for international travels, mostly Soviets, who still mostly make up the “white” people who come and stay, and which almost all the Vietnamese we met considered our heritage. Needless to say, Psycho Bob makes for a terrific Russian…when he wants to play one. Think of “I will crush you…” of Rambo fame.

Above it all in the Russian Mi-8

Above it all in the Russian Mi-8

2329703998_fc45cb9373_o2326194432_ba138a0ec6_oThe skydiving was, well, not nearly as expected. The levels of corruption in Vietnam are far worse than anything I experienced in the Caribbean or elsewhere in Asia, and it seemed with almost every passing hour the authorities there continued to break contracts and agreements, only to cancel flights, reduce the passengers per load, scrap additional aircraft, and demand more money. We were expecting something like 15-20 jumps from a whole slew of aircraft (for a hefty pre-paid price), including a once-in-a-lifetime jump from a Russian jet transport. What we wound up with was about five jumps, all from an Mi-8 Russian helicopter, which, while exceedingly expensive on a per jump basis, were still experiences of a lifetime that only a very few people in the world will ever share with me.

They reluctantly made room for us....

They reluctantly made room for us….

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Playing tunnel rat in the Coo Chi tunnels

Playing tunnel rat in the Coo Chi tunnels

The people in Vietnam are hard to adequately describe. In a group, like those that would turn out to watch us land on the beach, there are very few smiles. There were an ever-present mix of military and police security forces, all with very serious faces. The airport we used was a military airfield, and while not ringed with a fence as we would have in the West, it was ringed with reinforced fighting positions and bunkers, each manned with a young man armed with an assault rifle. The old terminal building where we were housed had numerous guards in ratty army uniforms, complete with Ho Chi Min sandals made from old tires (no joke). When I approached one with a smile and my camera, he raised his rifle with one arm, and with the other crossed the killing machine to make an “X,” the international symbol for no…or in this case, more likely, “I’ll shoot you if you try.” Sorry, no photos of me with the guards.

One of the "Check-Point Charlies" in Nha Trang

One of the “Check-Point Charlies” in Nha Trang

Our "Mom" in Vietnam

Our “Mom” in Vietnam

2325501690_8ee23d04f5_oThere were exceptions. Psycho and I would wave from our bus to all the “Check Point Charlies” along the airport’s boundary, and by the end of the week, we had most of them eagerly waving back. I hope they weren’t punished for that! And, in the spectators that would gather to watch us land on the beach each day, Psycho and I adopted an old woman who was selling drinks and snacks. We called her “Mom,” and after two or three days of us seeking her out to buy our snacks, she would then seek us out and smile big upon sighting us, even offering hugs at the end of our stay. And, of course, children and children the world over, and they were the easiest with which to relate. I think every child, with dreams of flight, looks at parachutists with fun, excitements, awe and respect.

Psycho with our adopted Vietnamese "Mom"

Psycho with our adopted Vietnamese “Mom”

Kids are Kids 'round the world!

Kids are Kids ’round the world!

Our seaside landing area on final approach!

Our seaside landing area on final approach!

2325167430_38ebe5ef02_oParanoia and stupidity both abound there though, an organic by-product of any socialist or communist community. For instance, the authorities there were so worried about us spying at the airport (the only real conclusion I can reach) that they not only wanted all of us to land in a very small circle on the concrete airport apron (all landing together is never guaranteed, and landing on pavement is…well…not preferred), they also expected us all to fly in the same cylinder formed by projecting that circle up into the air. After trying to explain that such a requirement was both physically and aerodynamically impossible, besides being very unsafe for everyone involved, the whole skydiving event was moved off the airfield and over to the nearby beach. While beach jumps are always fabulous, this was a narrow beach line with a trafficked road and hundreds of spectators, and every landing turned out to be with 15 knots of crosswind, making for some interesting reunions with mother earth. The Vietnamese did “attempt” to supply a safety boat; however, the safety swimmers could barely swim with life vests out to their inflatable 2-man raft, without an engine, but proudly flying the red cross international safety flag! Yikes….

I don't even think those two are safe on the safety boat!

I don’t even think those two are safe on the safety boat!

Our Russian Mi-8 ride to altitude, a great jump aircraft!

Our Russian Mi-8 ride to altitude, a great jump aircraft!

3674397012_0fe104cf50_oParanoia and process filled the Vietnamese staff working our event. We, as a group, had the expected “handlers” we wound up have, who were actually quite friendly and engaging, and who all spoke excellent English. However, in order for us to skydive, here’s what had to go down. So, when we skydive we wear a skydiving rig, which has two parachutes (main and reserve) and a harness, which consists of a LOT of metal parts – the parts that actually hold the harness together and firmly attack it to the skydiver. Additionally, most of us wear crash helmets with even more metal parts, and more often than not, we have one, two, or even three metal cameras attached to those helmets (or hands, shoes, or some other mounting point on our bodies). For some reason, the Vietnamese authorities would not allow a small POS camera (like a Sony Cybershot or Nikon Coolpix), or any other type of handheld camera outside of the terminal building. However, the huge digital still and video cameras on all our helmets were somehow, someway “okay.” Our passports were taken in order for us to get on the jump aircraft; that way we wouldn’t paraglide and check out all their military secrets Rambo-style, only to be whisked away by the CIA to a safe house for debriefing. We had to walk through a metal detector dressed with our complete skydiving rig (see the discussion about metal above). Yes, it would alarm for EVERYONE, EVERY TIME. So, they would pull each of us out of line and give us the magnetic wand…which would…you guessed it…sing like a stuck pig for EVERYONE, EVERY TIME. And then we would be allowed to board the helicopter, all the while taking pictures of the ramp, the airport, the aircraft and each other. Made absolutely no sense, but hey, the process was followed and completed, which seemed to be more important than the intent. Whatever.

My view from the ATM across the street....

My view from the ATM across the street….

2324495713_45376eb045_oPerhaps the funniest part of our trip was one afternoon when Psycho and I were out in town on our own since jumping that day had been cancelled. I had to cross the street to get some cash from an ATM, and after conducting my business of just a few minutes duration, I turned and looked up from counting my money to see Psycho standing on the other side of the road, a big shit-eating grin filling his face, wearing one of those conical peasant hats that make that part of the world so iconic. Cracking up myself, I cross the street and demanded to know where he go it…so I could get one too!

I was posed with the flowers by a shop-keep....

I was posed with the flowers by a shop-keep….

 

Well, now we are both off, walking down the street with our woven straw hats on, held securely in place by lacy purple and blue chin straps (this should’ve been our sign). Almost immediately, the shop keepers were all coming out, laughing and pointing. Some would pull us into their shop, pose us, and snap pictures with their cell phones. “Wow Bob, these people love us here!” I joked. It turns out that much later that day one shop keep took pity and finally told us that in Vietnam, only their women wear such hats! That was a great afternoon of finally connecting in a relatively closed culture that can be so weary. My hat, BTW, was hand-carried back home and delivered to my Brother-in-Law in Tallahassee, a 2-year Veteran of the war in Vietnam, and it remains there on his hat rack to this day.

Biker gang, 'Nam style

Biker gang, ‘Nam style

2324669903_6c8b022455_oMeeting up with two friends who happened to be traveling through Thailand at the time and who decided to take a detour over and come see us in Vietnam, we decided to rent mopeds and go for a ride. Now, listen to me closely: this, BY FAR, was much more dangerous than the jumps we did there, and perhaps is one of the most dangerous things I’ve ever done in my life! Riding on mopeds in a densely urban Vietnamese city in the rain without maps was seriously off the charts. It wasn’t so much the lack of traction on the roads, the unkempt condition of the bikes, or even getting lost out in the country. It was riding in rush-hour city traffic, a chaos that I simply will not be able to adequately describe here. In most 2nd and 3rd world Asian countries traffic and traffic laws can be quite haphazard. However, in Vietnam, there is a complete lack of rule of law when it comes to the road. Driving the wrong way, using sidewalks, and ignoring red lights, stop signs and any and all markings on the road…. In fact, when Bob and I hired a guide in Ho Chi Min city at the end of our trip, we all needed to cross a major road with something like 8 lanes of traffic. It was absolutely insane, and Bob and I saw simply no way to cross. When we asked our guide how we were going to cross, he simply replied, “Body language. Stay very close to me.” As he started across the street, with us in frightened tow, he casually put his hand down by his side that facing into traffic and flicked his wrist as if he had a magic wand that would protect us from the oncoming onslaught! It worked. We made it across, and back the other way later that afternoon!

Insane CRAZY dangerous traffic!

Insane CRAZY dangerous traffic!

2326162414_a1fd22f3ec_o2324414277_aa62b4e9f8_oIn hindsight, the potentially most damming thing I did there was actually done in complete innocence. Waiting for long periods between skydiving loads can get very boring. Just outside the terminal door to the tarmac was an old Soviet-style truck, with a few guys sitting around playing crash crew. For whatever reason, I decided to go check the truck out (it was really cool looking!), and see if I could communicate with the military guys manning the machine. Turned out they didn’t speak any English at all, but after getting out our respective military ID cards, I think they at least got the idea that we all were serving our respective countries. They offered me a paper I couldn’t read, and after a few more attempts at niceties, I came back into the terminal building, where one of our handlers was waiting. He was smiling at me upon my return, and stopped me quite casually.

I had to check out the Soviet-style crash truck!

I had to check out the Soviet-style crash truck!

“It is good think it is not three or five years ago,” he states matter of factly.

“Oh, why is that?”

“Then you would have been arrested and taken to prison for going out there….”

“Well, good thing then!” I meagerly respond, realizing just how potentially foolish that excursion may have been….

The old terminal building at Nha Trang

The old terminal building at Nha Trang

Psycho didn't fit well in the Coo Chi tunnels!

Psycho didn’t fit well in the Coo Chi tunnels!

10454006803_96f841d1b1_oVietnam is a surprising place to visit. It’s by no means open the way most Americans think of vacation, but neither is it closed or closed-off to the West. I have a good friend, a die-hard, card-carrying member of the Republican party, who was downright mad at me for traveling there. I tried to explain to him that holding a grudge against Vietnam in 2008 would be like an American refusing to travel to Germany or Italy in 1980. It just makes no sense to hold grudges and keep a bogus war going for no good reason other than maybe we lost…. I told him when I saw him after our trip that Vietnam was doing okay, and he asked me to justify that statement.

Another version of Independence

Another version of Independence

2325326527_73cfa44298_o2328358208_80538ba212_oI simply responded that for me to be able to freely walk down the street, hop on the internet at an open and uncensored internet café, and then to cross the street and use my American VISA card in an ATM to get Vietnamese money, the country is doing pretty okay. What I also learned is that the very reason we couldn’t win in Vietnam is that there is very little way to defeat an idea, other than threatening to obliterate an entire race and culture of people, like was the case for Japan in World War II. In every shop, in every home was a portrait of Ho Chi Minh, revered in Vietnam as their version of George Washington. And after visiting their national “War Remnants Museum,” where I expected to see a good dose of false propaganda but failed to find any at all, I came to realize that we Americans were simply another in a long line of colonial powers trying to exert their will over a foreign people…and that foreign people just wanted self-rule. Whether you agree with this conclusion or note, there is something here that is directly analogous to what is happening throughout the Middle East. At some point, perhaps, we will starting learning the hard lessons of history.

The Vietnamese George Washington, a national and highly revered hero

The Vietnamese George Washington, a national and highly revered hero

2327648801_926cf84346_oMy friend ended up scoffing at my remarks. Either he didn’t hear what he wanted to hear, or he was offended at my Che Guevara t-shirt and green communist hat complete with a Vietnamese red and yellow star! Either way, we all – including the Vietnamese – could use a little more humor in our lives, and a lot more compassion and empathy for our fellow-man. Those are the things in the end that make the world go ’round, and those are the most basic kinds of peace work in which we all can engage.

A smile is indeed international

A smile is indeed international

Have you been to Vietnam? What’s your favorite story while traveling there? I’d like to hear if others have had similar experiences!