Commander, United States Navy, Arriving!


“There’s always a reason to celebrate…but knowing why is helpful.” ~Wishful Prayer on our Ema left at the Itsukushima Shrine

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Ema always a reason to celebrate

Jody and had for months planned an overly expensive blow-out vacation in celebration of our near-future together: either retirement from the Navy on 1 January 2016, or another 3.5 years and an additional tour in the Navy, ending with Jody as a Commander at 30 years of total service.

O-Torii Gate, Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

O-Torii Gate, Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

15839684381_aec7060d66_bYou see, that fork depended upon this year’s Commander (O-5) Selection results. But that split in potential paths forward should’ve been reached for us a full two years ago. In 2012, the Navy decided to split the “zone,” a grouping based on seniority which determined eligible candidates for promotion – get this – exactly at Jody. So, rather than being considered for promotion in the spring of 2013 as expected, we had to wait another year until Jody became even eligible. Frustrating, to say the least….

Married Vets

Married Vets

Jody Serving in Japan

Jody Serving in Japan

Then in 2014, Jody and I were shocked when she was not selection for Commander after waiting an extra year to finally become eligible. And that made this year her last shot. The Federal government has a statutory requirement it places on the military that states if you are eligible for retirement and miss a promotion to the next rank twice, you must retire. It’s called “two-time failure on selection,” and it’s exactly what forced me out of the service as a Lieutenant Commander in 2008.

Dining and Sleep Area in our Ryokan

Dining and Sleep Area in our Ryokan

Private Balcony Onsen Bath

Private Balcony Onsen Bath

In-room Dining

In-room Dining

So, we planned this celebratory vacation starting on June 29th, expecting the Commander results to be released the last week in June like they usually are. We booked a high-end Japanese Ryokan, a place known for their 12-course gourmet meals served in your room prepared by award-winning chefs, in a room that had outdoor bathing fed by a onsite onsen (hot spring), on the resort island of Miyajima just outside of Hiroshima. We were going to end this trip with a 3-night stay in the infamous city right next to the Peace Memorial Park and Museum at the ANA Crowne Plaza.

At the A-Dome, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

At the A-Dome, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

We fully expected to know the results of Jody’s board prior to leaving. But in any case, at the worst, we would certainly know prior to the July 4th holiday weekend while we were on vacation. So even if we left without knowing, certainly we would know before our return.

Placing our ema at the Itsukushima Shrine

Placing our ema at the Itsukushima Shrine

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Ema always a reason to celebrate Jody writing WMMiyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Ema always a reason to celebrate writing WMOf course the Navy had different ideas. For whatever reason, the selection results were delayed this year (it appears at the SECDEF level). We have a tradition of leaving our prayers and wishes at most of the Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples we visit in Japan. So, at the beginning of our celebration-vacation, we placed an ema (See Shinto Shrines and Snake Oil for more) at the famous Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island, wishing, “There is always a reason to celebrate…but knowing why is helpful.  To discovering why we celebrate in Miyajima.  The Kings ~ Jody and Kevin.”

At the famous Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

At the famous Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

Frustrated that we celebrated without knowing why, we came home and simply stopped worry about the results, at least on the surface. I stopped asking Jody about results, and she stopped checking every morning. It would happen when it happened, and there was nothing we could do about it. Of course it had always been outside our spheres of influence from the start….

Richshaw Ride, Miyajima

Richshaw Ride, Miyajima

And like most other things in life, when you let go of stress and worry, things have a way of working themselves out. Early this morning, when Jody got up to pee as the category 4 Typhoon Chan-hom was making her closest approach to Okinawa, Jody had a text message from a nurse co-worker. Dana’s boyfriend, a Navy Officer back on the East coast of the United States, had sent the just-released selection results forward. And Jody was on the list!

Not just the prettiest nurse in the Navy, now the prettiest COMMANDER in the Navy!

Not just the prettiest nurse in the Navy, now the prettiest COMMANDER in the Navy!

Jody is now a full Commander (select)!! Seems Mother Nature was already in the know and giving Jody a wetting-down worthy of one she so strongly deserved.  And yes, this means Jody outranks me now. Don’t worry, I salute her all the time (wink-wink).

At the O-Torii in the rain, Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

At the O-Torii in the rain, Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

Most likely she will pin the new rank on in December. And this means that we will finish up our tour here on Okinawa, slated to leave in August of 2016. Jody will start immediately negotiating our next set of orders, and plans to do three more years of active duty service once she’s a Commander to take full advantage of retiring as an O-5 (“high-three” retirement plan, where retirement pay is calculated as the average of the highest three years of salary on active duty). Ideas we are considering are a return to Pensacola, or quite possibly, a Consecutive Overseas Tour (COT) in Europe…if there is something available where we would want to go.

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7926452868_629435d039_b13117509193_a3e1975570_bCongratulations Jody on making Commander. It is a long-time coming, and well-deserved. You have truly succeeded in your nursing profession and have excelled in the United States Navy, having progressed from the junior enlisted ranks to full Commander during your long military service. I couldn’t be more proud, and I look forward to throwing you a more proper wetting-down celebration later this year. I eagerly await continuing our adventures together.

Learning some maritime military history at the Kure Maritime Museum

Learning some maritime military history at the Kure Maritime Museum

Fair Winds and Following Seas, My Love.

Miyajima 2015, beautiful Jody on the ferry across

Or, should I say, “Ma’am”?!?

Fortunes of Cambodia


“Oh Rollo, if you truly knew what the gods have in store for you, you would go down now and dance naked on the beach. (LAUGHING)” ~Seer’s oracle, The Vikings

The fortune-teller glanced down and stated to silently read my prophesy. And just as quickly as he started, he immediately slammed the small booklet of Khmer palm-leaf writings shut.

“No good,” flatly said Thalay, our Cambodian tour guide, without any further explanation or elucidation.

“Well that’s not good, not good at all,” I thought to myself. Good thing I had two more choices at my fortune’s revelation!

Entry into the Silver Pagoda Compound

Entry into the Silver Pagoda Compound

We were visiting the Silver Pagoda, located adjacent to the Royal Palace in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. A couple of lessor shrines here specialize in fortune-telling, a common belief throughout the Far East, and I was eager to indulge myself.

The Library Adjacent to the Silver Pagoda

The Library Adjacent to the Silver Pagoda

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda, burial stupa WMWe watched as a young, well-dressed man received his fortune. The teller was located in small library just outside of the Silver Pagoda proper. Here were stored many old and historic Buddhist manuscripts written on palm leaves using Sanskrit, preserved in glass-faced cabinets, which were also lined with more modern translations in bound books. Thalay explained to us that this student was here to get his fortune regarding the future of his studies. Apparently, and unlike me, he got a fairly good one.

And on his first choice. Lucky.

Palm Leave Fortunes

Palm Leave Fortunes

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Khmer rooflines 2 WMPalm leaves have been used for millennia both for writing and painting because of their thin and flexible qualities. From the first millenia up to the 16th centuries, manuscripts were written on palm leaves called Tādapatra. They provide an excellent surface for writing which is easily preserved and transported as rolled bundles. The rolled palm leaf manuscripts here were stored in small boxes, themselves placed inside modern steel and glass cabinets to further protect them from dust, dirt and thieves.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Khmer rooflines WM

The mystic had a small bundle of fortunes written on palm leaves but in the more modern Khmer script. The leaves were bound top and bottom by a hard covering of bamboo, and the entire collection was held together with what appeared to be a hemp-like cord.

Clarity & Focus before Fortune-Telling

Clarity & Focus before Fortune-Telling

Before my first attempt it was explained that one must clear their minds entirely and focus on the one thing for which the fortune would apply. On my knees in front of a sacred bull, I closed my eyes, bowed my head and took a few deep cleansing breathes to help clear my thoughts. Then I started to hone my mental energies in order to focus the fortune’s predictions.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Buddha's Tripitaka, sacred bull closeup WM

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, metal-worked gate WMI wished to know the prospects for my health in the coming years. Last May, almost exactly a year previous to this fortune-telling, I had started to become very seriously ill (see Offshore Okinawa: A Scuba Diver’s Paradise to Lose). And my condition, one which I will remain “stuck” with over time, is also one for which the Western medical establishment has no clear answers…or cures. When I felt my mental energies were sufficiently engaged and fixated, I was ready for my second attempt at better providence.

The Silver Pagoda and a Stupa

The Silver Pagoda and a Stupa

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Khmer spire WMThe Silver Pagoda is a small walled compound adjacent to the Cambodian Royal Palace complex, both located in the busy riverside district of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. It features a royal temple commonly referred to as Wat Preah Keo (Khmer: វត្តព្រះកែវ), which houses many national treasures, most notably the Emerald Buddha of Cambodia, a small 17th century baccarat crystal Buddha, as well as a near-life-size standing Buddha figurine encrusted with 9,584, diamonds dressed in royal regalia. The Pagoda itself is inlaid with more than 5,000 silver floor tiles, most of which remained covered for their protection.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, Kevin picking another fortune WM

This time I placed the bundles of fortunes on my head as I saw the student do. Attached to the bundle via a worn and fibrous string was a small wooden dowel, which is used to select the fortune in question.

“You can use your left hand,” said Thalay. I was using my right hand to do the choosing. After thinking about her somewhat odd comments, it suddenly dawned on me. Maybe I was doing it wrong.

“You mean I should use my left hand?” “Yes,” came her reply with a smile. Ah, perhaps I had discovered the cause of the first fortune failure. At least that’s what I chose to believe.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, Kevin picking a fortune WM

I select my fortune and hand it over to the seer. He silently reads the fortune. And continues reading for quite some time. I look at the palm leaf, and this fortune is quite long; the beautiful twists and twirls of the Khmer language written small and without margins right to the edge. I attempt to read his tells during his contemplation, and I’m struck that again he is not happy. I turn to Thalay and give her a rather pleading look.

After an extended discussions with the fortune-teller, Thalay starts to give me her interpretation. I can tell that this is not easy for her, and she is struggling with an explanation after two or three false starts. Finally, after even more discussion with the oracle, she comes up with this analogy:

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, fortunes WM

“It is not good, but not bad,” she starts, obviously trying to diffuse the growing anxiety that she clearly sees on my face. “It is like this: a fisherman can work hard all the day all his life, and at the only short time that he relaxes, the fish he wants swims by….”

Now for my third attempt. And my last. I took a few extra moments to center my mind and spirit. And again I take my chances with the bundle of what has only been, for me, bad or sad news. I turn over my choiced chance to the soothsayer.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, fortunes and the fortune teller WM

This time the slightest of a smile comes across his face. So, either he is amused at my exceedingly bad luck over three attempts, or actually I finally found a fortune worth having. What was it this time?

Well, after another difficult translation, it apparently comes down to this: that what I seek will require a life-long struggle, one that is fated to be not easy over time, and that will require the active support of my wife Jody. Jody, Thalay and I all make light of the situation, finding the obvious humor in having my health in the hands of my nurse-wife (literally – she’s a nurse). But of course, for me, in the recesses of the darker parts of my consciousness, this resonates true.  Maintaining my health may not be easy as I age, but with Jody’s help I will in fact keep aging.  Which is a good thing.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, fortune teller checking my fortune again WM

Most of us are drawn to having our fortunes predicted, as it has been throughout time. Almost everyone at some time or another wishes to know the Kismet with which we have been blessed…or cursed, and have the opportunity to confront the unchangeable fate to which we are bound.

But most of the time, it’s better to not openly know. Let the gods plan and scheme; we, like the Viking Rollo, simply strive to make the most of the lot we have drawn, waiting for our destinies to take hold. We never really know what the gods have in store.  We should dance naked anyhow.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda, Cambodian greeting and show of respect WM

Sources

http://www.dsbcproject.org/manuscripts/short-history

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_Pagoda,_Phnom_Penh

“Dear Cat-Sitter”


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Cat sitter (black text) and cat owner (blue text) correspondence (both raw and unedited), along with a few musings of the cats (green text) left behind during our recent 9 day vacation to Cambodia….

Day 1

Hello, Kevin san, how are you? I could enter into your house, so I was relieved! ^^; Kurio chan & Mayonaka san are fine. Kurio chan is ok but Naka san is so cautious. But he ate his wet food for me, hide now but he will be better day by day. Kurio chan looks sad but plays fine! So don’t worry! Takeyo

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Takeyo-San, thank you so much! We are in our hotel in Cambodia. Naka will warm to you; Cleo is friendly but aloof. I’m glad she played! Thanks for the pics and update. Cheers, Kevin

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Dear Cat-Sitter, Who the hell is this “Kurio” of which you speak?? Sad? Sad?!? I’ll tell you about sad: the doors to this prison never open and the windows stay closed. I take only the mildest of pleasure in playing “fine,” which serves to mask my own feeble attempts at gaining access to your jugular…and the keys to my freedom. The Little Black One appears so strong as he hides, in stark contrast to my lack of will power when confronted with those damned new toys. I vow to join the kitten in his clear acts of civil disobedience during your next visit. Cleo


Day 2

Dear Kevin san, Cleo chan and Naka san are very fine. Naka san also starts to play. I’m so happy (^_^o) Have a nice trip! Takeyo

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Great! Thanks so much!

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Dear Cat-Sitter, Finally, you got my name right. And as my captor, I must object to you continuing to taunt me with the damaging psychological torture of the little red dot that’s impossible to catch. At least the Little Black One has lowered himself to our level now, giving up his campaign of civil disobedience, so I’m no longer alone. I’m glad someone is “so happy”…. Cleo

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Kevin san, Hi, how are you? We are doing well! Cleo & Naka san are getting used to the situation, and the amount to eat dry food increased. They are very fine! Have a nice day! Takeyo. PS I give to a plant every day, don’t worry about that!

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Dear Cat-Sitter, I object, once again, to the forced rations of tasteless dry cereal, and surely we are to starve with only two rationed meals a day. “The Situation?” No, sorry, “The Situation” is some jack-ass from New Jersey on reality TV. What is happening here is just plain sad. Hey, here’s an idea: let me outside and I’ll take care of the plants for you! Cleo

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Day 3

Hello, Kevin san, They are very fine this morning too! They ate all dry food for me last night, and all wet food this morning too. They are interested in a new toy that I have and excited very much. I wonder whether I can park in the parking #501 while the sitting. Is the # 501 yours? The street is very is crowded very much during the G,W holiday. Thank you. Have a nice day!

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Takeyo, Of course park in 501!! I’m sorry we didn’t talk about parking. Please leave a little more food out for the cats. We always leave a bowl of dry food put in the kitchen. Naka is still growing and very hungry! And thank you for bringing new tots to share with the cats! Thanks, Kevin and Jody

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Dear Cat Sitter, With only two choices of food we starve. This is the only reason we eat for you And the Little Black One is…just plain gluttonous. I continue to regret the mildest of pleasure which I cannot resist given your harassing new playthings. Holiday? It must be “Take Great Pleasure in Cat Confinement” week. Enjoy your rock-star parking in our Beloved Warden’s spot while it lasts. Cleo.

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Day 4

Kevin san, Thank you for an answer about parking. I’m just in your house. Yes, I will add dry food for them when I go out. They are just eating wet food now. Have a good night! Takeyo

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Dear Cat Sitter, Thanks be to our Beloved Warden who cares enough to see that our basic food needs are adequately met. We may survive this week after all. Cleo

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Day 5

Kevin san, Hello, How are you? It was a pretty day today, I think Cleo chan & Naka san spent very comfortable. But they looks miss you, so sweet day by day. Cleo loves brushing and Naka san loves play with a new toy everyday!

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Thank you so much! We miss them back. Keep the updates coming!! Cheers, Kevin and Jody

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Dear Cat Sitter, Pretty day? Oh, the Little Black One and I wouldn’t know anything about that since we remain confined with even our exercise yard privileges revoked. Yes, the Little Black One is much too easily amused. I continue to search for his missing feline pride and integrity…while you brush me. Cleo

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Day 6

Hello! How are you ? We are doing well! They are relaxed very much. Naka san is not shy boy anymore. They love CIAO treat and Sheba, eat well. But I worry that the main food does not decrease very well. Their box (toilet)has no problem. Have a good night! Takeyo.

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Takeyo, Many thanks for the update! They are mainly wet food eaters. As long as they are eating the normal wet food we are okay with that. If you cut back on treats they will eat more dry, but it’s okay to spoil them while we are away! We will be home soon now. Thanks for watching over our furry friends! Cheers, Kevin

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Dear Cat Sitter, As much as I long to lodge prolonged protest with a hunger strike, the Little Black One lacks the will power and intestinal fortitude to see it through. Thanks be again to our Beloved Warden for demanding additional treat rations be distributed! We may be lost and locked away, but not forgotten. Cleo

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Day 7

Kevin san, Thank you for the advices about the food for them. If it is so, they are normal and they are eating the dry food little by little. They have no problem! Naka san attacks to Cleo, then he is scolded by her. He looks like a near state for daily life. It’s a fine day this morning, but a rainy season seems to start Okinawa.

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Takeyo, Hello! Yes Naka wants to play fight, but Cleo has never been like that, even with her brother before he went missing. We tried to stop him, but there’s no way. There is no harm and they get along okay! Thanks, Kevin and Jody

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Dear Cat Sitter, If cats could cry tears the rainy season would’ve started seven days ago. And as far as this “state of daily life,” I remain mystified as to why I am continually subjected to the Little Black One’s bullying and harassment with proper intervention by the authorities. If I wasn’t such a proper and proud maternal dignitary, my scolding would involve a lot more blood. Cleo

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Day 8

Kevin san, How are you? Cleo chan & Naka san are very good! They eat food well and their box has no problem, I’m so happy. Naka san looks for his fevorit toy in my bag and waits it out. Cleo chan also play with toy, goes around, watches outside, and request me to drain the tap water of bathroom. She looks very relaxed. A typhoon aproches to Okinawa, I hope that it go away and you have no problem coming back. If you have any problem please let me know to extend to visit. Cleo chan miss you. She is waiting for you and crying. She is so cute!

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Dear Cat Sitter, Yes, I fear drinking from the same stale stagnant water that the Little Black One enjoys with open abandon. For me, I demand clean fresh untainted liquid nourishment, a basic animal right, confined or not. Cute is a relative term. Cute is me biting off the Little Black One’s ears. Or brining home fresh gecko-meat from the exercise yard. And my crying: crocodile tears. Cleo

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Day 9

Hello Kevin san & Jody san, Cleo chan & Naka san are very fine! They will meet you well tomorrow. The typhoon will come here on 12th or 13th, so I believe you are safe. I am glad that we got used very good friends for these 9 days and they are doing very well. So I miss to say them Good bye tomorrow, but they will be so Happy to see you again! Please be careful on your way to home. Takeyo.

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Takeyo-San, We are at the airport in Cambodia and will be home in just about 14 hours. Thanks so much for taking such good care of our family! Please leave the key where you found it after the morning visit. Thanks again!! Regards, Kevin

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Dear Cat Sitter, Yes, very good friends aside (and this characterization is more than debatable), we will be equally has happy to say goodbye to you and finally be paroled by our Beloved Warden from this infernal confinement, storm or no storm. Cleo

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Day 10

Dear Kevin san, How are you doing? I finished my work just now. I left a key in pacage on the point where you left before, please make sure it. Cleo chan and Naka chan are very fine, so don’t worry! Thank you for the everything! Takeyo

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Dear Cat Sitter, All my bitching (and scolding) aside, on behalf of me and the Little Black One, THANK YOU for everything. Until we meet again. Cleo

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For a truly wonderful pet-sitter on Okinawa, please contact Takeyo Yamamoto at (cell) 080-6495-9365, email at Okinawa-chatan@petsitter.co.jp.  See her company “Pet Sitter SOS” website at http://pet-Okinawa.jp

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Thanks & Giving in the Far East


 “Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle.”

thanksgiving-japan

The smell was the first thing that hit me. That unmistakable odor of a human being who hasn’t bathed in what surely was many months. I was headed to the trash to dump the remains of dinner but fond myself searching for the malodorous source, when suddenly a hand reached out to stop me.

It was a man, apparently homeless…and evidently of some minority ethnic background of Chinese.

Fortunate Leftovers

Fortunate Leftovers

I stopped, somewhat shocked. While I’ve certainly been accosted by homeless in many areas of the world, it’s never happened in the confines of a fast-food establishment. Clearly he was hungry, and after only the slightest pause, he started ruffling through the debris and trash on our tray….

Christmas Celebrations were a Pleasant Surprise in Shanghai, Xian, and Beijing.

Christmas Celebrations were a Pleasant Surprise in Shanghai, Xian, and Beijing.

China 2014, Thanksgiving, chicken is chicken wherever you areJody and I visited China last week, the first time for both of us. And last week was the week of “our” Thanksgiving. While Peking Duck is certainly the obvious choice in China for celebrating the day (there is no turkey there to speak of), we were saving that perhaps most famous culinary of China for our last night in Beijing. And although the Holiday Inn where we were quartered was actually offering what was billed as a “traditional” American Thanksgiving (at a reasonable price of about $65/person), we opted instead for a celebratory feast at the most popular western fast-food chain in China: Kentucky Fried Chicken!

China 2014, Thanksgiving, holiday treats at the Holiday Inn

China 2014, Thanksgiving, strange menu choices in China!While traveling throughout China we had heard an awful lot from our tour guides about KFC. Kentucky Fried Chicken, the world’s second largest restaurant chain in sales only after McDonald’s, has about 19,000 outlets in almost 120 countries. KFC became the first Western fast food company in China in 1987 with a franchise opening in Beijing. This Beijing outlet had the highest volume of sales of any KFC in the world in 1988. Capitalism and the West is a wonderful thing. Or is it simply crispy fried food?!

Happy Fried Goodness!

Happy Fried Goodness!

China 2014, Thanksgiving, chicken is chicken wherever you areOf course KFC had an early and sustained advantage against other Western fast food rivals, fried chicken being a staple Chinese dish since antiquity. Hamburgers, on the other hand, remain “foreign” and largely unknown outside the context of the Gold Arches and that creepy King. Twenty-eight KFC franchises were open by 1994 in China; by 1997 there were 100 outlets. A few years ago they passed the 300 mark and growth, while slowed, continues exponentially.

Picture Menus are a must in Asia

Picture Menus are a must in Asia

Japan also celebrates both KFC and a Thanksgiving…of sorts. While the biscuits in Japanese franchises are shamefully bad compared to their American counterparts, Thanksgiving Day in Japan is eerily similar. Labor Thanksgiving Day (勤労感謝の日 Kinrō Kansha no Hi) is a Japanese national holiday held annually on November 23 as an occasion for commemorating labor and production. Like most other modern holidays around the globe, Labor Thanksgiving Day is the modern name for an ancient harvest of cereals festival known as Niiname-sai (新嘗祭), tracing back as early as the 7th century BCE. In modern times, this event encourages thinking about the environment, peace and human rights, all a result of the post-World War II Japan and her new constitution which focused more intently on fundamental human and workers’ rights. Oh, and by the way, the Chinese KFCs don’t even bother to offer biscuits, much to their credit.

ThanksgivingJapanMenuFront

mao-portrait-2In China, however, having seen KFCs throughout Shanghai, Xian and Beijing, it became somewhat of a dare to eat at one. And what better time than on that most American of American holidays: Thanksgiving. Arriving late at the hotel after a long day of touring, we invited all those traveling with us to come and celebrate, but only three others took us up on our offer. Walking just a few short blocks away from our hotel in the Christmassy temperatures of nighttime Beijing, we arrived with smiles on our faces and grumblings in our bellies. Unfortunately in China there is no effigy of Colonel Sanders like there is in Japan (see Christmas is for Lovers in Japan for more on the central role of the Colonel and his food in Japan). Oh the photo-ops the Colonel dressed as Chairman Mao would provide!

Dressed in green the Colonel would be a terrific Chairman Mao!

Dressed in green the Colonel would be a terrific Chairman Mao!

Chinese outlets are typically two to three times larger than those found in America and Europe; many are open 24 hours a day. And most provide home delivery…via electric scooter…where the hotbox of fried goodness is strapped directly on the diver’s back.

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screen%20shot%202014-10-08%20at%2011_12_51%20amKFC has adapted its menu to suit local tastes throughout the Far East, and China is no exception. With items such as rice congee, egg custard tarts and tree fungus salad, over 50 different menu items are offered in each store. While the “Dragon Twister,” a wrap that includes fried chicken, cucumbers, scallions, and duck sauce sounds delish, it’s the “Zinger” burger that tops the best-selling list: a 100% breast fillet chicken coated in “zinger flavoring” combined with lettuce and mayo for those seeking a full-on hot and spicy flavor hit.

China 2014, Thanksgiving, chicken is chicken wherever you are

I actually ordered the Zinger (unknowingly), but realizing the wimps that most Americans tend to be about Asian-inspired spiciness, I was asked whether I wanted it “spicy or mild.” The sandwich was good, the fries where excellent, the cobbed corn was soft and bettered just like the ones back home, and the mash and gravy were actually very Kentucky-like. All-in-all it was a fitting meal to which the Colonel would most like offer his heartfelt “xie xie” (“thanks” in Mandarin Chinese, pronounced “she-she”).

This Red Guard no doubt is proclaiming:  Eat More Chicken!

This Red Guard no doubt is proclaiming: Eat More Chicken!

But our meal, being more of a gimmick than a worthy celebration, failed to do justice the serious side of giving Thanks and acknowledging the bounty present in our accidental lives being born American. I can’t really recall what was moving through my head as the homeless man started to sift my tray for leftovers, other than I needed to let this man take what he could. There actually was still a lot of food left on the tray, and he took it all. I remained numb and paralyzed by inaction, an odd state for me, a person who’s rather decisive and prone to action sooner rather than later.

Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving Dinner

He moved away to the next person approaching the trash, and I dumped my tray in silent contemplation, bordering on shame. And as we five Americans all exited the eatery, wrapped warmly in our quality western-wear and bellies bloated with Kentucky’s finest, and headed to our expensive, securely heated hotel for an overpriced and fattening dessert, we returned to our light banter and happy chatter. As if nothing profound had happened.

China 2014, Thanksgiving, classy desserts and tea at the Holiday Inn

China 2014, Thanksgiving, dessert cooler at the Holiday InnBut something profound had happen, and it continued to eat at me: the thoughts of that man who had to scrounge for food…on Thanksgiving. It continued to vex at me during our dessert at the hotel, and while we finished drinking our nearly $5 cups of tea.   And it nearly consumed my mind as Jody and I laid down to slumber in our well-appointed King-sized bed…. I’m not one to believe too much in mere coincidence, and I choose to believe that the Universe was indeed speaking. It was simply my choice to listen.

Be-kind-whenever-possible

“Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle,” is a quote I hold dear. While its attribution to Plato is suspect and highly questionable, there is little doubt of its lasting and constant voracity. It doesn’t matter why that man in the KFC was homeless or what derailed journey took him to such a dark place. What matters is that any of us could so easily find ourselves in a similar situation. A bad gene, a really stupid decision, an unrecoverable traumatic event or PTSD, mental illness, or just a bad car accident for those without insurance or a decent job….

And waking up the next day, I knew, much too late, what I should have done, and what I so easily could have done: I should have celebrated our American Thanksgiving with this Chinese homeless man by giving Thanks for all that I have in my own life by buying a proper meal for this man who lacked the most basic necessities.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Kings...in China...at KFC.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Kings…in China…at KFC.

Happy Thanksgiving. Be kind. Be pitiful. And be sure you give the proper Thanks for all that you have in your own life.

 

Jody Turns 25…in Naked Age Years!


“Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.” ~C. S. Lewis

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“Happy 25th birthday Jody,” I say with a knowing smile and a wink.  Jody rolls her eyes in response, like she has so many times before.  She knows that for this particular birthday wish, I am speaking strictly, proudly, and knowingly of just how young she really is…

…in her birthday suit!

Jody's Birthday Okinawa 2014, Jody's birthday celebration

“Act your age!”  Is that something you’ve been told?  If so, congratulations!  The only appropriate response to such an untenable command is, “Why?”  Besides, what actually is age?  How is it, and should it be measured?  Let me explain.

Jody's Birthday Okinawa 2014, birthday celebration 2

Now that is Princess Hair!

Now that is Princess Hair!

Since meeting Jody I’ve solidified my viewpoint on the rather nebulous concept of “age.”  It was starting to coalesce based on my own alternative understanding, but when I realize that Jody has next to no gray in her beautifully flowing and naturally colored hair worthy of any princess, AND that after having served almost 27 years in the military, you realize that chronological age is really a lame measure of age….

How mature is THIS?!?

How mature is THIS?!?

Who runs for their birthday?

Who runs for their birthday?

hello-kitty-40th-anniversaryFor instance, take Hello Kitty, a Japanese native.  She is turning 40 this year, and shares the same birth-month as Jody.  She too, as far as I can research, maintains her natural hair coloring.  Coincidence?  I think not.  While Jody would not so much appreciate the same “cute-a-bration” that the Japanese seem to expend so much of their GDP upon, they both reflect that there are other, much more interesting ways to measure our time on planet earth than simply by the Einsteinium space-time continuum, as fascinating as that truly is.

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Soon after seeing Jody in her never-out-of-style birthday livery, I quickly concluded that there were no less than three measure of “age:” biological, maturity, and…NAKED!  Since that time four years ago, I’ve restacked the list and added a fourth:  chronological, biological, maturity, and, of course, my favorite, naked age.

Aircraft livery is all well and good, but not nearly as exciting as Jody's

Aircraft livery is all well and good, but not nearly as exciting as Jody’s

Wow!

Triple-Digits Wow!

Chronological age, like most concepts that contain the suffix “-logical,” is as boring as it is straight-forward.  As simple as a measure of how many times around the sun one has traveled, it’s the most pedestrian measure of one’s age.  In fact, only when it is in the single or triple digits does it really hold the interest of a wide array of people outside of immediate family.  Oh, and maybe a few more specifics milestones, like turning 16 to get a driver’s license, or 21 for drinking.  Or, see my blog about Coming of Age in Japan.  Of course these don’t compare to the truly odd coming-of-age rituals that are still practiced in the world.

Jody's Birthday Okinawa 2014, Jody enjoys her birthday cards

Dinner at Sea Garden

Dinner at Sea Garden

Birthday Dinner

Birthday Dinner

Next we have one’s biological age.  While this notion involves that dreary suffix noted above, it is, at least, slightly more interesting.  Here we have the first distinction between space-time travel and life’s biological ticker.  For instance, I have an Asian friend here in Okinawa who, pictured with her teen-aged children, cannot be distinguished as “mom”!  Or, in Jody’s case, she biologically appears at least 12 years younger than her time spent breathing air on this earth.  Some might say this is partly due to good genetics, but I beg to differ (sorry Mom).  Rather, I believe the secret is in the same body lotion she’s been using since her early teen years.  And she continues to use it daily…on her whole body…for what I like to think is my personal viewing pleasure!  This show, suitably entitled “Lo Sensuale,” (which must be read and verbally stated with a haughty French accent), remains a highlight of my mornings, and to which I have permanently reserved front-row seating.  Oooooooooooooh-la-la!  Sorry, the show’s sold out indefinitely.  Oh, there’s probably some value in the makeup she’s been using for just as long, the kind with embedded sunscreen.  Jody’s biological age is clearly well over a decade younger than her chronological age, but the distinctions don’t stop there.

A very immature depiction of Hello Kitty.

A very immature, and hilarious depiction of Hello Kitty.

Jody as not-quite-matured schoolgirl.

Jody as a not-quite-matured yet matured(!) schoolgirl.

Jody's Birthday Okinawa 2014, birthday celebrationOne’s general level of maturity can also be used to reflect, to some prosaic people, a more realistic representation of one’s overall age.  We’re told, by all those really mature PhDs out there, that maturity helps one know the correct time and place to behave (or, the way I like to think about it, misbehave), and knowing when to act, according to the circumstances and the culture of the society in which one lives.  How dreadfully boring is that?!  In my case, Jody would consider me an adolescent boy at times!  In other words, if you response to being called a “smart-ass” (cause you are being one) with, “…better than being a dumb-ass,” you most likely rate very low in terms of maturity.  And in that case, you and I would be fast friends.  If you say, in response to someone’s opportunistic phrase like “it’s not stiff enough,” with “that’s what she said,” we are kin on a spiritual level.  Or, in terms of my taste in music (angry white-boy scream-o music) and movies (Zoolander, Dumb & Dumber, Wedding Crashers), I remain quite possibly still stuck in my (early) 20s.  And my lack of maturity is something I believe that helps keep Jody young in this measure as well.  Is it me, or is it true that potty humor never really goes out of style?!?  While a high degree of maturity may help emphasizes a clear comprehension of life’s purpose, directedness, and intentionality, which contributes to the feeling that life is meaningful, great for the masses of atheists out there, all the proof of good and god in this world I need is my wife’s naked age!

Fireworks over Jody's Naked...age.

Fireworks over Jody’s age.  All of them.

Much like the naked truth being always better than a well-dressed lie, so too is naked age so much more revealing than the well-dressed person.

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Naka's youthfulness lends to our celebration.

Naka’s youthfulness lends to our celebration.

Jody's Birthday Okinawa 2014, birthday celebration 3If you haven’t noticed, Naked Age happens to be my favorite measure of age!  And yes, although many of you may not want to admit to having one, you do.  It’s that inescapable birthday suit of yours that you can’t quite seem to part with, even though it may need to be ironed and/or taken in here or there.  When I talk about this with new friends (and I always do), I see many people get visibly uncomfortable.  Why, exactly, I remain dumbfounded about.  Is it the American puritan heritage?  Is it that we replace a healthy respect for nudity (like you can find in Europe) with violence and gore (missing in many areas of the world)?  Is it the Church (all of them) and their insistence that sex is for procreation…and between a priest and young boys?  No, I just think it’s because we Americans continue to characterize sex as dirty, shameful and overly private.

Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker!

Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker!

We did a Hello Kitty birthday last year.

We did a Hello Kitty birthday last year.

Okay, I didn't get her a plane with her image on it....

Okay, I didn’t get her a plane with her image on it….

...but she's my all-time favorite nose-art pinup!

…but she’s my all-time favorite nose-art pinup!

Jody, already famous for driving naked in Japan, shouldn’t be too embarrassed by putting into print what I so much like to bring up in public.  And besides, it’s her birthday, regardless of the measure of age chosen.  While I couldn’t give Jody the worldwide Hello Kitty celebrations, like the Hello Kitty Con in Los Angeles and the Thanksgiving Day-like parades in Tokyo, we did manage, like we always do, to have a quietly intimate celebration together.  But Jody can be sure that she shares with Ms. Kitty much younger alternative measures of age.  Taking a number of online tests online as Jody’s proxy, I have scientifically and irrefutably verified my own personal assessments of Jody’s age, all four of them:

Chronological Age:  45

Biological Age:  33

Mature Age:  20s-30s

Naked Age:  25

Jody's Birthday Okinawa 2014, Jody with her apple caramel birthday cupcakes

Happy Birthday Jody.  Here’s to looking forward to a few years of you turning 25, again and again (wink)!  Oh, and for the guys, remember, you’re only as old as the woman you date!

Thank god, because my naked age is most definitely NOT 25….

How old are YOU?

Jody's Birthday Okinawa 2014, birthday dinner at Sea Garden

For some of the online tests I referenced, see the following:

http://www.biological-age.com/

http://www.allthetests.com/quiz03/dasquiztd.php3?testid=1035132458

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2518019/Whats-YOUR-real-age-New-calculator-reveals-old-body-really-based-mood-diet-exercise–youre-probably-older-think.html

Scuba Certification in Okinawa: Get it From The King or Don’t Get it At All


A blush-inciting, overly-flattering blog written about me as a scuba instructor here in Okinawa by a recent star student, Mermaid Mindy.

Walking Through Wonderland

Just kidding. Every person we have met in the Okinawa diving world has been so laid back and helpful and happy to share their diving knowledge with us that I can’t imagine you could have a bad experience getting your scuba certification out here… But our instructor was Kevin King, aka Elvis, and we had a blast with him.

When we moved out here we had heard that if we didn’t get scuba certified in our first couple of weeks, we would quickly find that we didn’t have time to do it at all, especially since Dane is a flier. We looked at a couple of ways to do it, and ended up signing up for a week-long open water certification course through the Kadena Marina with the King. Our dog is not sure what she thinks of him… she met him only once after he finished a Halloween dive…

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