I Hate AFN Commercials….


“I left Okinawa in 2007 and the scars of those atrocities still weigh heavily on my mind.”  ~Anonymous quote online about the traumatic effects of extended exposure to AFN

 

I HATE the Armed Forces Network (AFN).  I have blogged about this before, and it’s one of my most popular blogs in the Far East FlingTeam American Forces Network, F’Yeah.  Notice that I capitalized, italicized, bolded, and underlined that word….  Hate.

And it’s AFN’s fault.

Vaccine for Stupid

It appears, from the actions of our “leadership,” that since we adult servicemembers, dependents, and government contractors can’t be trusted with actual television commercials, and that we as people who are willing to venture into harm’s way can’t safely ride a bike or we wary of snakes, the military has decided for us what we should see and hear while here in Okinawa.  To that end, “they” give you the “Armed Forces Network.”  And escape from AFN’s long reach is impossible:  “they” super-saturate their programmed propaganda across the spectrum of radio and television dials.

Well, maybe not a spectrum; there is only one AM and one FM radio station in English, and AFN cable is like only 8 channels or so.

The good news?  AFN is “commercial-free.”

The bad news?  AFN has replaced slightly entertaining and marginally (if only potentially) informative commercials with extremely annoying disinformation.

A random AFN commercial may be charming or stupidly silly on first exposure, but after hearing/seeing it for the 67th time…this month…they become infuriatingly tedious.  And over time, this tedium builds, in my case, to a level that I can almost characterize as anger.  Ironic when I stop and think about it:  I haven’t heard a commercial about anger management…YET.

To emphasize my point, here are a few radio sets that I’ve heard in the past week while in the car riding to, from and around the bases here.

Set 1:     Identification Theft (it’s on the rise, you know, and you’re NEXT); “Recipes for Disaster” (don’t marinate your meat on the counter, but in the refrigerator and under 40 degrees F; Smoke Alarms (make sure your alarm is up-to-date and batteries are changed)

Set 2:     Military Postal System (sending items in boxes marked toxic, flammable, or radioactive); Smoking Hazards (get this for scare tactics:  erectile dysfunction for men, wrinkles for women – can anyone say, “sexist”?); WIC Overseas (oh, and who can forget, “Don’t Shake a Baby”); Family Readiness & Spouses (coping with deployment and some of the more inane rules of living overseas)

Set 3:     VA Benefits (set to a “best of” collection of sappy made-up songs); Foster Parenting (can you even do that here in Okinawa???); Bullying (it happens all the time, every day, to apparently each of your children); Strokes (the three C’s, which I can’t remember….)

Set 4:     Baby-Sitter Training (they’ll be required to have a personal AED next); Habu Dangers (“very aggressive, extremely dangerous,” and seemingly everywhere waiting for your slightest misstep)

We are all suffering, AFN.

We are all suffering, AFN.

From a quick review of the above NONSENSE, AFN misinformation breaks down into just a few generalized groups:

Supposed Safety:  The simple message underlying all of these “safety” related spots are, frankly, that we are just too stupid to live our lives safely, and that to counteract our impending demise from snakes or dust mites, we must therefore be constantly bombarded of the impending consequences of everything that can remotely be considered a danger.  Terror on public transportation, really?  Maybe if we are on holiday in Gaza….

Public Dis-Service Announcements:  So, the military attempts to make up for, say, the overly-restrictive and insulting liberty policy here  (read my blog about the Epic Leadership Failure), by providing member services, like spousal support.  These are the WORST commercials you can imagine, complete with lame musac-like tunes, and a flat, lifeless announcer that sound so bored that the listener actually would go out of the way to avoid such service.

Self-Serving Advertising:  Yes, the 18th Force Support Squadron is awesome, and we know ALL ABOUT the unit golfing opportunity….  The FM radio station, self-labelled as “JACK FM,” likes to talk about how cool they are by “playing…whatever.”  Yeah, whatever the military censors allow them to play.  C’mon.

Obscure Oddities:  Women and Infant Children (WIC) plays way too many times here.  Besides the audience being quite low for the airtime, it’s downright criminal that so many servicemen and women qualify for such benefits in the first place.  And really, ANF?  How many people are sending packages in the same boxes that they received those explosives in at work?

Here are a few more sets to, taking AFN’s lead, to emphasize and re-emphasize my point:

Set 5:     Terror on Public Transportation (it’s surely going to happen to you if you’re not on-guard); Fire Safety and Being Electrically Responsible (tell the Japanese to wire their homes better); Habu (again); MPS (again); WIC (again); Pay Your Taxes (it’s YOUR responsibility)!!

Funny_Pictures_19721-s610x488-60248

Set 6:     Asthma (it can kill); Vacuuming the Floor (seriously); Bicycle Helmets (save lives, but somehow we all survived)

Set 7:     WIC (yet again); Touring the island by Air (the one thing on the list that is quasi-interesting and informative); Your ID card (don’t lose it!); Reading & Literacy (uhmm…..); News (AP news, which offers a rather random summary of world news in 40 seconds)….

Why is AFN filling our brains with such nonsense?  ENOUGH ALREADY.

This conga line of bruising sound-bites blankets us here in Okinawa in what ways that can only be making things worse.  Why the leadership can’t see or understand this is one of the basic failures of management overseas.  We are not asking for all the bad news and negativity; hell, AFN doesn’t even have to play commercials in the first place.

Jim Lehrer, in analyzing the effect of the media and its constantly negative reinforcement, coined the phrase “learned helplessness”.  Some people will accept the America Culture of Fear on face-value, at detriment to and in their lives.  At worst, it seems obvious that continual negativity or a negative bias can stimulate depression, even if we all are laughing at the ridiculous paranoia exhibited by AFN.  Like it or not, the service members here are hearing these messages…everyday, over and over.  And if some chose to really concentrate on all the bad communications, they may find themselves worked-up emotionally, resulting in even more unwise decision-making, much like an adolescent does when resenting the overbearing “advice” of their parents.

fear itself & spiders

In general terms, negative media messages outweigh good news at times by as much as 17:1.  The propaganda distributed by AFN is really no different.  Studies have shown that we care and focus relentlessly more about the threat of bad things than we do about the prospect of good things. Our negative brain tripwires are far more sensitive than our positive triggers; the more remote the chances and the more horrific the consequences, the better.  We tend to get more fearful than happy.  And each time we experience fear we our stress hormones get turned on, in a vicious cycle feeding on itself.  AFN simply cannot be good for any of us.

Is there any way to avoid AFN’s monopolistic reach into our psyches?  Yes, but it requires buying Asian satellite TV and playing your iPod through your car radio (I do both).  AFN should realize that they could, instead, focus on the glass being half-full – or at least say the dangerous thunderstorm is filling our collective cup.

What can you do?  Encourage AFN to deliverer a more balanced and multi-dimensional point of view.  It is, quite probable, a losing battle.  Until our leadership wakes up and pays more attention to the critically small details of life overseas, nothing will really change.  AFN is a mega, government-corporation with entrenched GS civilians and military officers who believe in their own silly rhetoric.  The situation is probably even beyond reach of the III MEF Marine Corps General-island; that shouldn’t serve as a pass to you, General Wissler….

Tell me what you think about AFN.  It appears we are not alone:  ANF “haters” appear to have their own FB page:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/I-Hate-AFN-Commercials/211760985324

2011-09-12-19d65c10

BTW, the base exchanges here all sell hordes of smokes, booze, and smokeless tobacco….

Tropical Troubles: Living with Mold in Okinawa, Japan


I would rather be inundated with these types of molds.  Is she really sitting on the pot??

I would rather be inundated with these types of molds. Is she really sitting on the pot??

 “You can mold a mannerism, but must chisel a character.”  ~ Unknown

“Oooooooh,” our housing agent coos upon seeing the pictures of the pink invader in our master bedroom.  I scroll to the next, and it’s immediately followed by an all-konwing “Ahhhhhhhhhh…”.

At least this mold is a colorful addition to our paper's pattern....

At least this mold is a colorful addition to our paper’s pattern….

“Very bad,” I say, continuing to scroll through the ten-odd photos on my Sony POS camera.  “Much worse since typhoon.”  She acknowledges this last point with an interesting grunt that the Japanese favor as a receiver in conversations:  “Ungh.”

At this point of infestation, our air purifier is probably overwhelmed.

At this point of infestation, our air purifier is probably overwhelmed.

“Wallpaper,” comes her flat reply.

I pause for a moment, expecting this response. We were told when we moved in that our condo bedroom had to be repaired due to mold problems around our sit-in picture window; the military requires such disclosures here on the island.  Mainly because here in Okinawa mold is almost a constant and continuous battle that must be waged without quarter or pause.  It is one of the more interesting but annoying faces of living literally in an ocean-front condo…of Japanese design and construction.

DSC00614

But given the humid history of our particular unit, combined with just having the wallpaper replaced about six or eight weeks ago (due to mold), I thought maybe (and naively hopefully) that there might be a better and more permanent fix for our particular predicament.  In other words, maybe they should try treating the disease rather than the symptoms!

I think about my words carefully now. I do not want to be so much trouble that our lease will not be renewed, but I also want to avoid health issues related to living with…or more to the point, breathing In mold spores.  Our housing agency recently told a friend of ours, who inquired about a vacate unit on our floor, that they are starting to rent to Japanese since the Americans have so much trouble with mold. Maybe it’s our culture of fear, or maybe the Japanese are just heartier people, but no one should have co-habitat with a fungus…among us.

DSC00616

“Uh…problem…in wall,” I start slowly and warily, dealing concurrently with both the mold and the language barrier between us.

“Hai!” comes her excited reply in perfect synch with an acknowledging head nod.

But nothing more.

“Uh, open wall and fix?” I gently urge.

“Hai, new wallpaper,” comes the same reply….

Step 2:  thoroughly clean once the paper is gone (Step 1).

Step 2: thoroughly clean once the paper is gone (Step 1).

Fine.  New wallpaper it is.  Here’s our of attack in what appears to be this losing biological warfare:  renew our lease in August (when it is up for renewal) for another year, and then just have the paper replaced every time the pink-spotted invader makes an appearance. Surely sooner or latter the owner and/or our housing agency will get the message.  Or at least figure out that the time and materials spent on new wallpaper actually will start to cost more than an actual, permanent fix.  I have previously touched on the particular Japanese fetish with wallpaper; see a write-up about the quirkiness of our condo.  Heck, we even have it – “wall” paper – on our ceiling.  Now I know why….

DSC00726

For us, however, this whole ordeal is quite an inconvenience.  First, the infected paper comes down, followed almost immediately by the strong order of mildew. Next, the Japanese spray and scrub down the exposed drywall with a very popular chemical solution sold in droves in their DIY stores, which, by my uncalibrated smell-o-meter, is at least 50% bleach, and 50% equally deadly “stuff.” I can only imagine the warnings and MSDS that accompany this stuff if sold in at home….  So the condo smells as strongly as I imagine a disinfected African Ebola ward would.

This Chemical should require some increased level of MOPP!

This Chemical should require some increased level of MOPP!

The walls remain bare while they dry, which means at least four days of camping and sleeping in our living room while the AC blasts our bedroom, windows open, bathroom exhaust fan on, and air intake handler running on high.  We literally brought too much schtick with us to have a guest room, and besides, we only have one bed at present.  The abusive smell slowly trails off with each passing day, and the walls dry before our very eyes.  This time around, in an effort to avoid having to do this again in two months, I actually caulked the screws, holes, old repairs, and seams in the drywall, all of which were never taped, mudded or sealed properly in the first place.  For a domicile on the waterfront, there certainly isn’t a lot of attention paid to waterproofing….

I was not shy with the caulking.

I was not shy with the caulking.

So it’s Saturday as I write.  The paper came down this past Thursday afternoon, and this coming Monday we get our new wallpaper. Followed necessarily by a deep cleaning of the bedroom and a change of bedding.  But then there’s the bane of my existence as a domestic engineer:  the dreaded dusting of all our bedroom’s horizontal surfaces!

Old and poor patches, evidence of leaks in the past.

Old and poor patches, evidence of leaks in the past.

dampness-fig2dampness-fig1So hopefully in a mere 48-odd hours this round of tropical troubles will be over.  Mold here is viewed as a by-product of the environment, as opposed to something that is harmful and which can be defeated at the start by better engineering and construction practices.  In other words, I lived on the Inter-coastal Waterway in Florida for five years, and mold wasn’t even something I ever remotely worried about.  While the Japanese seem rather dismissive of the health impacts of mold and mildew, there is pretty ding-dang clear evidence that either (or both) increase the risk of respiratory illness, particular in those with pre-existing conditions (like asthma), and for the very young and very old.

 

On the other hand, the structures here are well-engineered against earthquakes and typhoons, both of which we have uncomfortably experienced first-hand and without issue.  So maybe, just maybe, we should accept the new wallpaper graciously.

At least we're not dealing with this!

At least we’re not dealing with this!

My lungs and throat, however, compel the fight against the marauding mold.  Our tactical victories may continue, but stay tuned for any strategic surprises later this summer and fall.

The Cat-Dogs of Okinawa: Guardian Shisa


“Time spent with cats is never wasted.”  ~ Sigmund Freud

“There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.”  ~ Bernard Williams

Thankfully, not this kind of Cat-Dog.

Thankfully, not this kind of Cat-Dog.

Sometimes I really want a dog.  These daze (pun intended), maybe even most of the time.  I have been suffering a rather serious (physical) ailment, and a family member who would be ecstatically happy to see me come home, who would be a whore for my love, and who would understand at least a few f-in’ words of English would certainly alleviate my darker moods.

But don’t tell all that to Cleopatra.  Who is certainly not a dog.

A yawn is about as close to a roar as we get out of Cleo.

A yawn is about as close to a roar as we get out of Cleo.

Cleo is a cat.  And I have had many.  Cats I mean, not Cleos.  Although I do adore the right dog, I am also honest with myself:  I, in no way, want the daily duties (and doodies) that caring for a canine involves.  Leaving for a long 3-day weekend?  Just leave dry food and water out for the cat and she’ll slothfully sleep away your absence.  Have a social engagement straight from work?  Don’t worry about the cat pissing on your curtains and leaving you a welcome-home surprise on the living room rug!  Unless you count vomit.

Okinawa Jan 2014, Shisa, rooftop lion-dog at Pizza in the Sky

Okinawa Jan 2014, Shisa, conceptual Shisa Talisman in the Okinawan Prefectural MuseumScuba Diving Okinawa Nov 2013, Maeda Point, Shisa Dog standing watch at the CapeLuckily, Okinawa, along with much of the rest of the Far East of Asia, offers just the right mix…of bothShisa (シーサー Shīsā,), or “lion-dogs,” are perhaps the ubiquitous, most visually recognizable and culturally distinct artifact of the Okinawan culture.  These effigies, large and small and stylized in any number of ways, can be found standing guard on most tiled rooftops, flanking the gates to homes, or gracing the entrances to businesses and shops all over Okinawa, all to help ward off evil.

Alexander and Cleopatra

Alexander and Cleopatra

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hedo, shisa dog in the mountains11165104594_9d07055525_bDon’t get me wrong, I still very much love my cat.  Problem is my cat apparently loves my wife…more.  Cleo was adopted along with her brother by me in 2010 BJE (Before Jody Era) when they were just eight weeks old.  The previous winter Sammy, my favorite cat ever (don’t tell Cleo this, either), went missing.  After somewhat recovering from that mammoth loss, I was ready for more cat-company.  Cleopatra and Alexander grew up as indoor cats, but become indoor-outdoor tabbies since Jody’s house came complete with a small pet-door.  Cleo was always very aloof and distant, letting her brother be the warm, loveable cat.  The very day he went missing, however, her personality underwent a radical metamorphism.  Afterwards a much more vocal and affectionate feline…for a girl-cat…she is still no…well…dog.

Distant Cousins - Gothic Gargoyles of Europe

Distant Cousins – Gothic Gargoyles of Europe

Foo Dogs

Foo Dogs

Okinawa Nov 2013, Shisa, clay lion-dog at Ryukyu Mura

A relative of the Chinese shishi, lion-dogs were first introduced to Okinawa in the 14th century via trade and cultural exchange with the nearby Chinese mainland.  However, shisa and its forerunner shishi both share a common ancestry with the Persian empires of long ago, where they took the form of more traditional (Asiatic) lions, and which traditions moved East with trade on the fabled Silk Road.  Interestingly, they along with European-centric and beasty gargoyles of gothic times all serve very similar roles.  The oldest shisa on Okinawa, dating to 1498, continues to stand guard on a bridge at Shuri, although now certainly worn and weathered.

Jody with the old Tomori Stone Shisa on Okinawa

Jody with the old Tomori Stone Shisa on Okinawa

If you haven’t figured it out, I remain a rather hard-core cat person.  I respect their lofty independence and envy their sleep schedule.  But sometimes it’s very frustrating to talk to your cat, only to be met with vacant, silent contempt.  It’s beyond me that cats just can’t figure out certain words (besides their names), or bring a frickin’ toy back after they bat it all the way under the large love-seat in the corner.

9981926605_0d321b9d4c_b

Okinawa Nov 2013, Shisa dog as a fountainOkinawa Nov 2013, Yomitan, cracked and weathered shisa guard dogChinese guardian lions (Chinese: 獅; shī; literally “lion”), often called “Foo Dogs” in the West, date back to roughly the 1st Century BCE, and by the 6th century CE, they were popularly depicted guardian figures.  Pairs of guardian lion statues (hence shi became shishi) are still common decorative and symbolic elements at the entrances to restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and other structures throughout China and in most corners of the globe where Chinese have settled, especially in local “Chinatowns.”

Cleo did use to hang out on our roof.

Cleo did use to hang out on our roof.

Cleo doesn’t do much guarding around our household, except from maybe spiders and roaches.  The mere sound of the doorbell brings on high-alert, and I’m not sure who would be more of a scaredy-cat if an actual ghost were to appear.  All I know is that she fits easily under the bed, which in the feline realm apparently is instinctually employed as a domestic surrogate for cavernous and secret shelter.

phpGToyRIPM-1

My daughter, long ago.

My daughter, long ago.

Okinawa Jan 2014, Shisa, rooftop shisa lion-dog at Peace Prayer Park

One the of primary differences between Chinese shishi and Okinawa shisa is that in the former’s case, the male rests his paw upon a gold-embroidered ball, which in Chinese imperial historical contexts represents worldwide supremacy, while the nurturing female guards a cub with a frightful open-mouth roar.  Okinawan shisa are also displayed in a pairing of the sexes, one with a closed mouth on the left to keep in spirits of virtue, and the other on the right with an open mouth to frighten away the wicked.  Although there is some debate about their sex, it seems that most often the male is considered the closed-mouth lion.  This may or may not have anything to do with how much women like to talk…(wink).

This one is pretty clearly a female....

This one is pretty clearly a female….

Okinawa Nov 2013, Shisas full of color and character in Yomitan 26730672213_38b3305216Although originally fearsome and regal guardians of royal palaces and shrines, today’s Okinawan shisa are found to be much more frolicsome, and sometimes almost cartoonishly humorous, especially like those in tourist gift shops.  Long before Jody actually considered moving to Asia, she banished my old shisa from the inside of her house.  She actually was a little disturbed by their fearsome, foreign appearance.  They sat outside bordering our front door, and since they were made of resin and not designed for outdoor use, they were ravaged by the Florida weather and sub-tropical sun.  Our domicile, however, remained shielded from supernatural things bad, and they continue to stand watch today at the threshold of our condo in Okinawa.  But this time they are just inside the door (wink)!

My well-worn and worthy Shisa still standing watch.

My well-worn and worthy Shisa still standing watch.

Now that Jody understands their fundamental role as protectors, she is at ease with their presence.  And she even wants to replace the ones damaged.  Quite honesty, though, it’s hard to push my shisa aside simply to get “fresher” ones.  It seems at once disloyal and superstitiously unethical, both reasons why I have undoubtedly failed to settle on a replacement pair.  All this much to Jody’s ongoing chagrin and growing guilt.  If she had her way, we would have a whimsically playful pair of protectors.  What good would that do?!?

Our newest Okinawa Shisas from Ishigaki-jima

Our newest Okinawa Shisas from Ishigaki-jima

8278755027_e2e046ce4c_o8520049532_b55d329c7c_bCleo is actually highly regarded by all our friends and cat-sitters.  She is playful, seeks attention, and has a serious and somewhat embarrassing fetish for shoes, socks and feet (the more smelly the better).  But only men’s feet.  Go figure.  I do believe that while she may not have spider-sense about impending earthquakes that happen here – she barely wakes up for them – she does influence our potentially paranormal surrounds.  I’m just not sure which way.

6230862316_77c00dd1a2_b

So, do I really want a dog?  Nah, I don’t.  Me and my miniature lion guard get along just swell.  After all, I’m counting on her to help protect me from my illness getting any worse.  And while a puppy’s tongue may be good therapy, a purring cat’s trusting cuddle is sometimes all the security I need.

13374310923_e35d3c2a49_b

For more photos of Okinawan Shisa, please see my Flickr collection here:  Shisa

For more reading on Shisa, please see my blog on the Tomori Stone Lion

Finally, to hear about how I almost killed during our move to the Far East, see Nine Lives & Hard Travels

Birthday Babel in Japan


“If it had been possible to build the Tower of Babel without climbing it, it would have been permitted.”  ~ Franz Kafka

Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel

“English?” Jody asks the two Japanese women wait staff that were just visible inside the restaurant’s curtain-draped entrance.  Sorrowful smiles graphically illustrated our answer, along with at least two “gomenasai,” Japanese for “sorry.”

It was my birthday, and we were on holiday in Kyoto, Japan.  Jody had asked earlier in the day what I wanted for dinner, and I immediately thought of some good, I mean really authentic Japanese teppanyaki steak.  We had spied a few potential places that day and during our explorations of the days prior, but after checking them out more closely, we dismissed them one-by-one.

Searching for Birthday Dinner in Kyoto

Searching for Birthday Dinner in Kyoto

One was just too small and cramped.  Another looked promising, but the patrons already there were all smoking.  We even asked the tourist police along Shijo Dori, the main commercial throughway marking the northern boundary of the famed Gion area of Kyoto…only to take a taxi to their recommendation…which turned out to be a rather lame take on an Amerasian diner, which apparently served steak, Salisbury style.

“Teppanyaki?” was the next question we placed, in what limited Japanese vocabulary we possess, although Jody is getting better with the apps on her iPhone.  This question was met with frowns and, mostly silence, but through steady eye-contact, the kind that searches for meaning in accents so unfamiliar.

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Gion, dark alleyway

We found ourselves at this particular non-descript place after walking what seemed like forever.  Quite honestly, I was becoming downright HANGRY, and Jody’s dwarf alter-ego “Grumpy” was starting to shine through her rather reliably contained exterior as her blood sugar continued to decline.  There was a picture of beef, or maybe it was simply a picture of steak, with an establishment name written only in Kanji that we couldn’t read.  Other than for the word “dinning.”

Our Score with "Dining"!

Our Score with “Dining”!

Until more babel set in.

bible-evidences-chinese-language-characters-words-tower-of-babel-genesis-11-6-7-luan-confusion-tongue-mystery

“Steak?” was the final question in our trinity of query, placed with great anticipation of a positive response here on the 2nd story of what had become our own personal Tower of Babel.  “Hai-Hai!” came their excited response in almost perfectly synchronized union.  “Steak Dinning?”  Worked for us!  Steak dinning?  Worked for us!  I won’t go into how much babel we expended in trying to figure out what exactly came with our $60 meals….  At some point we caved, and decided to take the adventure this night promised.  And with that we were escorted into our own private dining room, eagerly awaiting whatever it was we were going to have for my birthday dinner.

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Kevin's Birthday Dinner, Kobe steak dinner

“Babel,” from the Hebrew word balal, meaning “to jumble, confuse or confound.”  The Tower of Babel forms the focus of a story told in the Book of Genesis of the Bible (Genesis 11:4-9).  According to the story, a united humanity of the generations following the Great Flood spoke a single common language.  The people decided to build a city with a tower that would reach to heaven, thereby becoming on par with God.

tumblr_m1tr3vNMBG1qje5hao1_500

In the biblical legend, God came “down” to see the human’s city and the tower they were building.  Recognizing the fallacy of their intent, God knew this “stairway to heaven” would only lead the people astray…and to a hit record thousands of years later that ultimately would unite Rock-n-Roll fans across the globe, regardless of native tongues.  Wanting to check the people’s powerful unity of purpose resulting from their common language, God confused their speech and scattered the people, resulting in the many different tongues and peoples found today across the globe.  It still doesn’t explain how the kangaroos got to Australia, and only to Australia.

Okay, it’s not very religiously sensitive, it’s too long, and ends poorly.  But there are some dang funny parts in this interpretation of the story of the Tower of Babel!

Kevin's Birthday Jan 2014, candy topper decorations for the ice cream!

Kevin's Birthday Jan 2014, Disney happy ice cream party boxKevin's Birthday Jan 2014, yummy Baskin Robbins ice cream celebration!Jody, not wanting to drag all my presents hundreds of miles to Kyoto, celebrated with me on Okinawa prior to our departure.  While dinner that night has long been forgotten, my ice cream jamboree lives on!  Our local Japanese Baskin Robbins has a fully English-speaking staff; babel is not much of an issue in such an Americanized corner of the Ryukyus.  Except for the ice cream tower that, given just a few more scoops, could reach to heaven!  Luckily for us, God doesn’t spite ice cream steeples and Jody and I continue to share a common language…and location.

Our Ice Cream Tower of Goodness

Our Ice Cream Tower of Goodness

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Kevin's Birthday Dinner, sizziling Kobe beef cooked to order!Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Kevin's Birthday Dinner, Kobe Steak and White WineThe birthday dinner turned out to be quite good, filling, and even included a teppanyaki element we so vainly searched for.  Although it was a relatively simple dinner; the salad was absolutely delicious, the rice fresh, and the steak we were able to cook on our own person griddles to our individual tastes.  This particular beef remains the best I’ve had so far in Japan, and given the price we paid for 200 grams (actually, a hearty serving at almost 8 ounces), it was more than likely Kobe.  The steak, heavily marbled in fat, literally melted in our mouths. Top the meal off with a shared bottle of chilled white wine (booze is itself a form of a common, international language), and we had a wonderful time!

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Kevin's Birthday Dinner, Kobe steak dinner spread

Like the biblical tale underscores, communication is such a fundamental element of life.  Although I’m ashamed that I don’t know more Japanese after spending so much time here, technology is starting to fill in my own personal gaps in translation.  In fact, we were able to have a complete conversation with a taxi driver in Kyoto through an app on his iPad.  He would speak Japanese, and the iPad would translate and speak to us in English.  The tablet would then record our speech, and translate it into audible Japanese for the driver.  I wish I know that particular application, because many if not most of the machine translations between Japanese and English are full of…babel.

Machine Translations can be Ridiculous.

Machine Translations can be Ridiculous.

Regardless of the limitations of technology and the barriers of divided language (no thanks to God), we all can still overcome and strive to find power in unity of purpose.  Although perhaps we shouldn’t attempt to physically reach heaven (again), we can and should still find or make our own heavens here on earth, be it a celebratory meal, or something much loftier.  We all should be on guard so that we, as individuals, political parties, religions and even cultures, never build towers of babel so large and imposing that they interfere in a life that should be well-lived, excitedly shared, and passionately loved.  Although there exist many tongues, we all can strive to speak with one voice!

f18516a411d69706f0413180640e5b43982f118820ecb92b9cee4e416d5c9f1f

Beauty & Honor Entombed: Ishigaki’s Toujin Grave Site


“At the bottom of the heart of every human being, from earliest infancy until the tomb, there is something that goes on indomitably expecting, in the teeth of all experience of crimes committed, suffered, and witnessed, that good and not evil will be done.”  ~ Simone Weil

Remembering and Honoring on Ishigaki

Remembering and Honoring on Ishigaki

Stunningly beautiful.  Emotionally moving.  Serenely set.  Imagine, at great expense and personal effort, accepting the wrongs of those far-removed and in the past so that future generations can realize a nobler future through such splendor.  On Ishigaki Island, this happened not just once, but twice, with amazing effect.

Shisa Lion Dog at Toujin Tomb

In 1852 the American-flagged ship Robert Bowne was carrying Chinese laborers – “Coolies” as they were known at the time, a derogatory slang term for unskilled Asian workers, usually of Chinese or Indian descent – from mainland China to California.  The 410 Chinese indentured servants, realizing during the voyage that they were essentially slaves, successfully mutinied and made a break for the Southern Ryukyu Islands, landing on the beaches of Miyako Island.

Chinese Indentured Servants built most of America's Railroad

Chinese Indentured Servants built most of America’s Railroad

After most of the Coolies had found refuge ashore, some of the remaining members of the crew took back the ship and set sail without haste, abandoning those left behind, including some of the ship’s crew.  The Ryûkyû Kingdom, seated at Shuri Castle on Okinawa Island, long had a proud tradition of aiding castaways, and ultimately welcomed the Coolies, even at great risk of further Western involvement in their island archipelago.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, stunningly beautiful Chinesel tomb WM

Initially, the people of Miyako cared for these hundreds of castaways at great burden for such a small and lightly populated island.  Weeks later, the warships USS Saratoga, HMS Riley, and HMS Contest appeared on the horizon, bent on retribution.  After making port, American and British troops seized as many of the Coolies as they could find, though some escaped and fled elsewhere.  Being hunted as mutineers, 128 of the accidental Chinese immigrants were shot dead or committed suicide over capture and slavery.  When the three warships departed the Ryûkyûs, it was with only 70 captives of the original ~380 who escaped.

Chinese Coolies

Chinese Coolies

While the survivors eventually received protection from the royal Shuri government, many quickly caught the plague, for which they had no exposure or immunity, and died one after another, suffering and afraid far from their native homeland.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, beautiful Chinese dragon's head WM

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, beautiful Chinese dragon and characters 2 WMThe local Yaeyamians, being an open, friendly, peaceful and very superstitious people, erected the Toujin Tomb (or Toujinbaka in Japanese) in 1971 in memory of and to help console any restless and cheated spirits of those Chinese who so distraughtly agonized and perished.    Toujin is an archaic Chinese term for continental Asian peoples; the tomb can also be referred to as the Tang People’s Memorial, echoing the southern Han ethnic makeup of the Chinese entombed there.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, visitors to the beautiful tomb WM

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, Jody poses in front of the most beautiful monumentIt, by FAR, is the most beautiful burial place that I have ever visited.  The mausoleum, conceived with unmistakable Chinese influence, is intricately decorated with brightly-color and heavily-lacquered tiles depicting dragons, horse riders, and other Chinese appeals, amidst well-maintained gardens along with a few other gravestones and monuments.  The structure is amazingly well-maintained, and in the right light of day (we visited about 5 pm in July), it has the appearance of being brand-new.  The vault is immediately emotionally moving, even though there is no English provided to enhance a Westerner’s understanding.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, Chinese wise men adorn the tomb WM

But that is only half the story of the Toujin Tomb site.  Although the kindness shown to the fleeing Chinese slaves is a testament to the benevolence of the Yaeyama people, the same can’t be said concerning three Americans who crash-landed just off the coast of Ishigaki in the spring of 1945, less than four months before hostilities ended with Japan.

Tuggle, Tego and Loyd in Better Times

Tuggle, Tego and Loyd in Better Times

15 April 1945 0730H:  On this day, USS Makassar Strait, a US Navy aircraft carrier, launched ten strike mission against Ishigaki airfields using bombs, napalm, and high-explosive rockets.  Heavy anti-aircraft ground fire resulting in the shoot-down of Avenger #31 (Bureau No. 68767).  The crew consisted of pilot Lieutenant Tebo, and his two enlisted crewmembers:  Loyd and Tuggle.

ishigaki_map_noted_zoom2

All three suffered horrendously.  Two were quickly beheaded after being tortured, but for Radioman Loyd, his terrifying ordeal had only begun.  Flaunted through the city center of Ishigaki and castigated by an angry mob eager to place blame for the death and destruction raining down from above, in Loyd was taken out personal and dreadful vengeance.  He was publicly executed by multiple stabbings from the bayonets of numerous Japanese soldiers and sailors, many of whom would go on to face war crimes charges.

A VC-97 TBM Avenger

A VC-97 TBM Avenger

The summary execution of these American Prisoners of War (POW) led to the conviction of 41 Japanese soldiers and sailors on war crimes charges, seven of whom were eventually put to death.  It may strike some as an injustice and undue escalation of violence, but like General LeMay is often quoted, if the United States had lost the war, then most of the American military and civilian leadership would have been likewise tried as war criminals [quote paraphrased].  To the victor go the spoils, but in this case, it seems that everyone involved eventually suffered.

Memorial to the Aviators Lost in WWII

Memorial to the Aviators Lost in WWII

Decades after this dark affair, a local professor, Takeo Shinohara, recognized the collective need of the Ishigaki people to remember this black chapter in their history and attempt to make amends, much as was the case of the Coolies in the Toujin monument.  Thanks to these active pacifists, the fate of these three Americans is now openly acknowledged in an attempt to console the wounds of both East and West.  A fitting memorial honoring the memory of the Americans who were killed was christened in 2001 on the very same grounds as the Toujin TombTwo engraved plaques, in English and Japanese, describe the events that befell Ishigaki in the spring of 1945.  The English text reads:

On the morning of April 15, 1945, in the closing days of World War II, a Grumman TBF Avenger, assigned to the carrier USS Makassar Strait, was shot down off the costs of Ishigaki Island by the Imperial Japanese Navy.  The three aviators parachuted in to the water near Ohama and swam to a coral reef where they were captured by Japanese sailors.  After being interrogated and tortured they were executed during the night at the foot of Mount Banna, at the Imperial Navy Headquarters.  The torture of prisoners of war was a violation of the Geneva Convention, the rules of war signed by the international community in 1929.  Vernon L.Tebo and Robert Tuggle Jr. were beheaded.  Warren H.Loyd was beaten and stabbed with bayonets by numerous numbers of sailors and soldiers.  This incident was a tragedy which took place during war.

LT Vernon L.Tebo, 28, a Navy pilot of Illinois

Aviation Radioman 1st Class Warren H. Loyd, 24, of Kansas

Aviation Ordnance 1st Class Robert Tuggle. Jr., 20, of Texas

To console the spirits of the three fallen American service members and to honor their deaths, we jointly dedicate this monument in the hope that this memorial stone will contribute to the everlasting peace and friendship between Japan and the United States, and that this monument will serve as a cornerstone to convey to future generations our keen desire for eternal peace in the world and our determination to renounce war.

August 15 2001

The Joint Committee of Japanese and American Citizens to Honor the Three Fallen Servicemembers During World War II.

If more peoples of the world would similarly concede, perhaps not their direct culpability in the past, but in their collective inheritance of wounds good and bad, we all could, perchance, realize better futures.  I remain overwhelmingly affected by both these monuments, and have gained a new-found respect for those Japanese, Okinawans, and Yaeyama who truly wish to positively transform the world.  One monument at a time.

Loyd, Tebo & Tuggle

Loyd, Tebo & Tuggle

Address: Toujin Grave/Kannondo Temple 1627, Arakawa, Ishigaki City (Ishigaki-shi), Okinawa Prefecture 907-0024, Japan, Tel: 0980-82-1535.  The site is positioned right across the road from the Kannonzaki viewpoint (with its disappointingly small and closed-off lighthouse), and Fusaki beach lies just a kilometer further up the road.

For more information, see:

http://wiki.samurai-archives.com/index.php?title=Robert_Browne_Incident

http://www.shipleybay.com/archives/Memorials/Ishigaki/Stars_and_Stripes_2001-06-24.pdf

Typhoons Take Two: Super Start with Typhoon Neoguri!


“The wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but deliverance from fear.”  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes

“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.”  ~ Vincent van Gogh quotes

“雨降って地固まる; After the rain, earth hardens.”  ~ Asian Proverb

Super Typhoon Neoguri 5

Fear-300x219The headlines back home are laughable from the perspective of being squarely in the “strike zone” of what is known as “Typhoon Alley” in the Pacific Ocean.  The way we Americans like to anthropomorphize weather is a product of the media creating overly melodramatic headlines for which they then can provide the information and/or solutions, and the generalized population’s passive acceptance of the peril that they are told is lurking just around every corner….

Massive...and massively beautiful from the ISS.

Massive…and massively beautiful from the ISS.

the-culture-of-fear-9781572703544-e1383792768880Featured headlines such as “Super Typhoon Neoguri Takes Aim at the Ryukyus,” or “Typhoon Neoguri Lashes Out at Okinawa,” and even “Typhoon Targets Japan!” and characterized as “Breaking News!” do nothing to help diminish what I call America’s “culture of fear.”  Storms are storms, a force of nature (call them acts of god if you will), and they neither direct at us (mankind) nor intend us any premeditated harm.  Rather, it is in our own fairly fool-hardy ways that we open ourselves to – and fail to protect ourselves sufficiently from these particular insults of Mother Nature.  Perhaps the most inane banner yet so far:  “Super Typhoon Neoguri Strongest of 2014!”

It’s only the strongest…because…it’s the FIRST of 2014.  Dumbasses.

Yes, it’s the strongest.  Duh.  It also happens to be the first for Japan in 2014.  It could have been a really ridiculously bad thunderstorm and that headline would’ve still run….

The eye passing close to Okinawa, outlined just beyond the dark blue band

The eye passing close to Okinawa, outlined just beyond the dark blue band

Three typhoons at once!

Three typhoons at once!

Last year I wrote a blog about how typhoons are regarded in Okinawa after something like our 8th or 9th typhoon of the season.  In that treatise, I tried to capture the very basic differences in the Far East versus American West cultural perspectives and their resulting diverse approach(es) to weathering such tempests.  You can read that blog here:  Typhoons, a Divinely Okinawan Experience.

"Typhoon Alley"

“Typhoon Alley”

The satellite photos are dramatic, the surf is kicking, and the winds are literally rocking our seismically-isolated building-on-rollers.  The surfers have all exited the water, and there are no remaining visitors to our seawall.  Our balconies have been cleared, and remaining items are secured.  We have water, foodstuffs, and plenty of candles.  Although we do prepare, it is with a refreshing lack of panic that is largely absent in Japan…but happens to be the hallmark of enduring hurricanes in the States.

It'll be worse AFTER the storm passes....

It’ll be worse AFTER the storm passes….

We’re okay, and we’ll be fine.  This is the safest place we will ever live…especially when it involves withstanding a Super Typhoon!

Cheers,

Kevin & Jody, Okinawa, Japan