Castillo Condo de Gato


“One small cat changes coming home to an empty house to coming home.” ~Pam Brown

“When I play with my cat, who knows whether she is not amusing herself with me more than I with her.” ~Michel de Montaigne

“Curiosity killed the cat, but for a while I was a suspect.” ~Steven Wright

Cleo does not find Cat Sushi very funny.  I do.

Cleo does not find Cat Sushi very funny. I do.

Today is the day that our furniture is finally “supposed” to arrive in Okinawa.

Maybe.

You see, we live here in Okinawa in the future…depending on where you are.  Thus, the ship could actually be arriving tomorrow contingent on the time zone associated with its arrival date.  But what’s one more day when we’ve had to wait an extra seven weeks (see Castaway for the full sad story on the contracted shipping company simply forgetting to ship our household goods).  As of today it’s been exactly 16 weeks since the total of our “stuff” was packed up….

The women in my life.

The women in my life.  I’m thankful one of them shaves.

BUT, let’s assume the furniture IS arriving.  Given that we may only have a week or so to wait for actual delivery (unloading, customs, movement, more government waste and inefficiency surely has to be expended), and since I’ve covered some of the more important of our possessions that we’ve been missing since packing out our home back in the first week in August (see Do Sweat the Small Stuff and Easy Chair), I felt it was high time to give the third member of our home a voice about the same.  Of sorts.  She’s a cat, you see.  And she only speaks Spanish.

That book is in English.  Cleo only pretends to read....  I think.

That book is in English, which Cleo only pretends to read…. I think.

Sammy-Boy was a talker.  And spoke English.

Sammy-Boy was a talker. And spoke English.

I got Cleo – short for Cleopatra (of course), and her brother Alex  – short for Alexander the Great (of course), about six months after my former cat Sammy (the coolest cat on the planet) went missing in very early 2010.  Alex and Cleo, siblings, were very dissimilar from the very start; Cleo much more demure, light on her feet, and with rather odd leopard-like markings; and Alex, a somewhat blundering lover-boy of a more typical gray short-haired tabby tomcat.  Cleo has always been a smaller cat, and her size has allowed her the ability to jump extraordinarily high and better assume risks that most cats would instead take a nap over.  She has always been a climber, and always has immediately looked for the highest place she could attain in any given situation, and when that perch is attained, she promptly awards herself with a safe, quiet, and undisturbed catnap.

Cleo's nap spot as a kitten.

Cleo’s nap spot as a kitten, high in my office.  I bet she was reading my email….

What’s funny about this is that Alex has always tried to follow Cleo.  You see, he’s not nearly as interested in climbing, or heights for that matter.  As a fit and small kitten, Alex could climb and jump to the places his sister was able to easily navigate to, places that were usually not large and were rather isolated.  And once there, Alex would simply be too damn big for both of them to be comfortable.  And being more of a sumo wrestling build than his sleeker sister, as he got older (read:  BIGGER), he eventually gave up climbing in the same way and to the same places, and Cleo assumed her highness as Queen of the Household, wherever that home may be.

Cleo shared her perch, but the boy's ass became just too big.

Cleo (standing) shared her perch, but the boy’s ass became just too big.

There weren’t that many high places in my old condo in Pensacola (above), but there were plenty of high places for Cleo to explore and call her own in the house I shared with Jody there (below).

Cleo supervises food-service operations from on top of the kitchen cabinets.

Cleo supervises food-service operations from on top of the kitchen cabinets.

Cleo supervising Christmas Decorations.

Cleo supervising Christmas Decorations from our rooftop.

Not a step?  Cleo supervises DIY projects from on-high.

Not a step? Cleo supervises DIY projects from the top of a ladder.

Sleeping on the 8' plant ledge.

Cleo “sleeper-vising” on the 8′ high plant ledge.

However, moving to Okinawa initially really shook up her entire world.  It was bad enough she had to adjust to the loss of her brother in our lives; she literally became a different cat the very day he went missing.  Not only did the hotel in Pensacola suck for her prior to our flights to Japan, the journey across the continental United States and the Pacific Ocean was unfortunately somewhat eventful for our wee feline friend.  I mean if you count me almost killing her (see 9 Lives and Hard Travels)….

Cleo's thoughts on moving overseas are best summed up in this expression....

Cleo’s thoughts on moving overseas are best summed up in this expression….  The audio was something akin to “¡Vete a la mierda!”

In our “pet-friendly” room upon arrival in Okinawa – which simply means that the room was only friendly to pets exactly because it reeked of dirty, wet dog – Cleo immediately found the high spots.  But they weren’t very high, nor were they overly accessible…or apparently comfortable enough to nap.  Being locked in those two tiny rooms day after day for an indoor-outdoor cat is bad enough, but not having the space to climb and the security of her high perches I’m sure no doubt contributed to her rising stress.

Cleo scoffs at the elevation in the TLF.

Cleo scoffs at the lower elevations in the TLF.  Who puts a fan on a throne?

So, as we shopped around for a place to live here on the island, we always kept Cleo’s needs, and dare I say “wants” in mind.  We fully intended to rent a home, where Cleo could explore these foreign and far eastern shores easily from our windows and doors.  However, as we realized that what homes were left after the summer moving crush were much too expensive, too small, or poorly located, and as we shifted to looking at apartments and condos, we still looked at each location for what it could bring to and do for Cleo.  And what it might take away.  She’s family, after all.

Cleo's monster-smashing fantasies.  Tough to achieve from the 5th floor.

Cleo’s Asian monster-smashing fantasies. Tough to achieve from the 5th floor.  Tougher lost on the 3rd….

Living on the 5th floor of condominium building is tough on a cat.  There are a number of buildings all along the seawall here that look the same.  Further, every floor of the buildings and the exterior of every condo on every floor all look exactly alike.  So even though Cleo has these little windows in our place that we leave open where she can come and go as she pleases, no doubt she finds navigating the outside world quite daunting.

She also may be afraid of the urban traffic.  Or more so perhaps this...thing.

She also may be afraid of the urban traffic. Or more so perhaps this…thing.

Especially daunting, it seems, are the stairs!  Or more appropriately, the idea of multiple floors.  As much of a climber as Cleo may be, she turns out to be vertically challenged!!  For an animal that had a very extensive and detailed mental map of our neighborhood back in Pensacola, Cleo can’t seem to grasp the notion – or difference – between, say, the 3rd floor and our own!  We often have to go remind her, after hearing her cries for help, that “…we live up here silly, not down there.”  It seems her maps are one-dimensional only.  I’m pretty sure she hasn’t ventured past the 3rd floor, even though there is absolutely nothing stopping her.

She pleaded to keep the hutch.  It had to go....

She pleaded to keep the hutch. It had to go…back to help decorate a Cracker Barrel.

All this means that she really can’t – and doesn’t explore much here.  She likes the balconies at the front of our place and side where she can watch the goings-on along the seawall.  She most likes to hike down the breezeway and check out other peoples’ side balconies, where she’s been rescued more than a couple of times.  Jody and I have always felt bad for her because of this, and since our condo has relatively low ceilings (eight feet or so), we knew we had to do something.

Cat Castillo; Cleo rules from her Throne(s) on High.

Castillo de Gato; Cleo rules from her Throne(s) on High.

Thank goodness the Japanese have a robust love affair with their cats!  A trip to Pet Box and roughly $200+ later, we’re home building what has become Cleo’s new home away from her home, her very own high-rise Catland Condo.  In the little Spanish I do know, I heard her instantaneously correct our labels by quite clearly saying, “CASTILLO!!”  There’s no point in arguing with her.

"See, it says right here, "Cat Castillo"!'

“See, it says right here, “Castillo Condominio de Gato”!’

Okinawa Sep 2013, cat condo, Cleo takes the stairsCleo’s Castillo is truly her place, err, PALACE.  Here again she has those high places to jump and climb to, but more so, the corner post perches all supply those high, relatively inaccessible places that make her feel so secure.  She sleeps, err, rules from her perches most of the day after her breakfast and morning forays outside.  She lounges, err, holds court up there (when not demanding from her servant Jody to drink from Jody’s bathroom sink) during the evenings when not playing or otherwise interacting with us, or the outdoors.  She even has a $100,000 (basically the expense of renting our place over three years) view of the East China Sea and some truly magical sunsets from her cathedra….

Sometimes I wonder if here Cleo thinks of herself more as Chairman Meow....

Sometimes I wonder if here Cleo thinks of herself more as Chairman Meow….

There’s little doubt that every dollar spent on this giant cat toy is completely worth the cost; it is a small price we pay for the upheaval we have caused in Cleo’s life.  And there’s even less doubt that Cleo appreciates this act of caring kindness, as every night after the lights are out and things have quieted down, she meanders into our bedroom, jumps up on the bed with a small meow, and chooses to sleep with us, her lowly subjects, in our low and lowly bed, quite removed from her highness.

Okinawa Sep 2013, cat condo, Cleo in her new home

Castaway


3870_headingI know what I wrote way back when in August under my blog Leaving Home for Home.  And while I still be in those central tenants of the idea of “home” as opposed to stuff in the physical world, I need to re-characterize my thoughts just a bit.

You see, our “stuff” has been castaway by our moving company Deseret Forwarding International.  Please read below (the graphics are from the company’s website)….

shday-movers

“Mr. and Mrs. King,

I apologize for your shipment being so severely delayed, and unfortunately, I do not think there is going to be an explanation that is sufficient.

NOT

NOT

In meeting with my operations team today, and specifically our outbound coordinator Rachel Sigala, it appears that she mistakenly thought all 7 pieces moved on the original load plan that arrived to Okinawa on 9/24. We have gone back over our operations procedures in hopes that this type of mistake does not happen again.

The Fortune Rachel Sigala Should Receive

The Fortune Rachel Sigala Should Receive

I also spoke with our port agent to see how/why your shipment has sat at the port waiting to sail for so long. They stated that they had no other freight going to Okinawa, and as a result were not able to load your shipment into a sea container. They never did find enough consolidation in Jacksonville, FL, so they moved it to the port in Savannah, GA where they will have enough freight for the sailing scheduled to depart on 11/6 and arrive in country on 11/26. This is the soonest sailing that we are able to place your shipment on. We are not able to move HHG through the military AMC system (like code J shipments move.)

Except in Our Case

Except in Our Case

I understand that no reason is sufficient, and that your family has suffered a great inconvenience. I sincerely apologize for our lack of service in your case and for any feelings of neglect or abandonment. It is never the type of service we aim to provide to our customers.

Except for the One About Actually Shipping Our Stuff

Bar for the One About Actually Shipping Our Stuff

I have attached our form with information on filing an inconvenience claim, and if you will send it directly to me, I will get it processed asap.

If you have any other questions, please let me know.

Well, All of Them Less Us

Well, All of Them…Less Us

Sincerely,

Lizzy Escobar

Deseret Forwarding International

http://www.deseret-intl.com

Phone: 915-615-0802

Fax: 915-774-5177

lescobar@hopeadmin.com

So, given this change in our circumstances, certain “stuff” really can be sorely missed, and life can be at least, well, quite cleaner with certain items.

Pick Movers Who Will Move You

Pick Movers Who Will Move You

We had been holding out for our shipment.  When a single crate arrived, the alarms bells should’ve been going off – and that very day I should’ve been on the phone tracking our “stuff.”  But we waited, having faith in the system, the government, and the military.  We assumed the shipment was split for whatever reason.  We reasoned that the back-to-back storms on Okinawa delayed arrival of our goods or resulted in a ship’s re-routing.  But alas, every check and balance in the system failed us.

Wooden Sailing Ships Would've Been Faster

Wooden Sailing Ships Would’ve Been Faster

So we’ve been doing without a vacuum cleaner.  Two of the four drinking glasses we brought with us have broken.  We have only the most basic kitchen supplies of a frying pan and a sauce pan or two, along with one small Pyrex baking dish and a tiny cookie sheet.  No rice-cooker, no blender, no toaster (for which I would trade the microwave which we do have), no utensils, no coffee mugs, and very limited flatware.  No iron or ironing board.  We have very little cleaning materials.  Only a single set of linens and pillows.  No cool-weather or winter clothes.  No furniture, no Blue Ray, no computer desk, none of our papers or files.  No scanner or printer (sorely needed for work and applications).  I have none of my pro-gear, which includes the vast majority of my scuba diving equipment I need to tech and dive out here; this is GREATLY affecting my earning potential.

My Reaction Upon Reunification with My Asian Rice-Cooker

My Projected Reaction Upon Reunification with My Asian Rice-Cooker

But that stuff aside, it is still only a very few focused items that we find ourselves longing for.  Our coveted “chair-and-a-half” and its accompanying ottoman which fit us as a couple like a glove and where we are able to decompress from the day’s pressure close to one-another.  We would very much like to move the computer off our dining room table so that we can eat like normal well-adjusted adults.  Lamps would allow us to read in bed in the evenings.  A printer/scanner would update us to at least 1997.  And our outdoor furniture would permit us to take full advantage of the panoramic views from our fabulous balconies now that the weather has cooled off and the humidity has dropped….

Tom's Furniture is More than We Have on our Balconies at Present!!

Tom’s “furniture” here is more than we have on our balconies at present!!

An X-Files word of advice to those moving in or with the military:  trust no one.  The military (which for purposes here is the same as the government) literally didn’t care when our shipment was late, nor were they willing to help or were they even able to track our shipment.  We had to go through a moving Japanese moving agency here (who were extremely helpful), which contacted the shipping lines, who contacted our moving agency in the states….  Who ultimately simply dicked-away our household goods shipment, and then forget about our “stuff” sitting around a warehouse…or two it seems, nor did they inform us of anything adverse along the way.  CHECK ON YOUR SHIPMENT when you move.  No one is watching your back or protecting your interests; you are and remain your own best and sometimes ONLY advocate.  We are both so very through with the military and this type of treatment.  One would think with the hardships endured by the US Military that there would be more recourse or relief for situations like these.  That is sadly not the case.

David_Duchovny___Trust_no_one_by_PascalWagler

We started to buy essential supplies that will be billed to Lizzy and Deseret International.  So, in effect, we went shopping tonight with someone else’s checkbook…but we did and will continue to do so in moderation and well within reason.  Tomorrow I will be able to vacuum, clean the floors and toilets, and put away our new dishes and cookery.  I have a wetsuit for the cooler weather and waters, along with a shiny new steel 80 cubic foot scuba diving tank so that I won’t be paying $10 in rental fees for every class and each dive.  And that’s for starters…for now.

Send a Review of this Blog over to Deseret!

Send a Review of this Blog over to Deseret and perhaps It’ll be their Featured Monthly Review!  (probably not)

If you can empathize with our situation, and you’d like to help do something about it, drop Deseret Forwarding International and/or your local congressman/senator a note and let them know how terrible you found/find this/our situation.  While Lizzy did a fair job “answering the mail,” she will never know the inconvenience she and her company have caused in our lives – until it happens to her.  I understand bad things happen and mistakes are made, but it’s much too easy to brush them aside with a simple email and “so sorry;” in the end, we are nothing more than a bill of laden number to both this company and our own military and government that is already forgotten.  And I have do doubt that the expense of our travel claim is already well-accounted for statistical in the company’s costs.  In other words, this is nothing more than a cost in this case of their failing to do business.

This is about the extent of our in-home entertainment

This is about the extent of our in-home entertainment

And although we choose to find and leverage the humor in it all while still making the best we can of our qwuirky home and far east fling here in Okinawa, deep-down inside, we still feel like we were abandoned and castaway.
At least seven additional weeks to wait for our stuff….

dreamstime_s_8736416

It’s a good thing our “stuff” can’t share in such feelings.  No one – or thing – deserves to be abandoned or be made to feel like such a castaway.

Old Guys Rule: Celebrating “Respect for the Aged” in Japan


A Peaceful Okinawa Centenarian

A Peaceful Okinawa Centenarian

“The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The foods that promote longevity, virtue, strength, health, happiness, and joy; are juicy, smooth, substantial, and agreeable to the stomach.” ~Bhagavad Gita quotes

“Mere longevity is a good thing for those who watch Life from the side lines.  For those who play the game, an hour may be a year, a single day’s work an achievement for eternity.” ~Helen Hayes

“Hey, I guess they’re right. Senior citizens, although slow and dangerous behind the wheel, can still serve a purpose. I’ll be right back. Don’t you go dying on me!” ~Lloyd Christmas to an elderly woman, Dumb and Dumber

Floyd Christmas Failed to Respect his Elders

Floyd Christmas Failed to Respect his Elders

funny-yeah-its-monday-said-no-one-ever-picsRespect for the Aged Day (敬老の日 Keirō no Hi) is a Japanese holiday celebrated annually to honor elderly citizens.  Although historically held on September 15, after 2003 its date was moved to the 3rd Monday of September due to the “Happy Monday System” of providing national holidays in conjunction with Sundays.  Remember, much of Japan remains on a 6-day work-week!

101 Years Young

101 Years Young

This national holiday traces its origins to 1947 when the Hyōgo Prefecture of Japan (prefectures are like our states) proclaimed September 15 as “Old Folks’ Day (Toshiyori-no-Hi).”  Originally, it consisted only of a small fishing village town meeting held to honor their seniors and listen to them speak so as to attempt to gain benefit from such words of wisdom.  Its popularity quickly spread nationwide as the Japanese society and culture started to recover from the devastation of World War II, and in 1966 its name was change as it became a national holiday.

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Respect for the Aged Day (Keiro-no-Hi) may signify to many in the west Japan’s rapidly aging population, but here in the East this national holiday emphasizes honor and appreciation for the contributions senior citizens have made and continue to make to society, while wishing them additional longevity.

3673611385_780788cda6_b

Being a relatively new holiday, traditions and customs associated with Respect-for-the-Aged Day remain fairly vague, but smaller communities tend to host some kind of special event in honor of their senior citizens.  On their day, many communities honor the elderly with parties and ceremonies and present them with gifts.  Media becomes centered on senior-related programs, particularly those concerning the (growing) number of elderly in Japan, and the oldest people in the country.  School children often visit facilities for the elderly to entertain them with song and dance.

But how old is old really in Japan? (Statistics provided by the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications 2012)

• In Japan, people age 65 and older are considered elderly; people 75 and older are regarded as “late-stage elderly.”

A dilemma applicable only to those "late stagers...."

A dilemma applicable only to those “late stagers….”

• Japan has the highest life expectancy at 83 years (79.9 for men, 86.1 for women) out of 194 surveyed nations, according to the WHO.  The U.S. ranks 40th at age 79 (81 for women, 76 for men).

Longevity; it's all relative

Longevity; it’s all relative

• 24.1 percent of Japan’s population – 30.7 million people (17.5 million women, 13.1 million men) – is age 65 and older.  This number increases by 1.02 million annually.  There are 15.1 million people in Japan age 75 and older.

• There are more than 50,000 centenarians in Japan; the number increases by 3,000 annually.

Detrimental Health Effects of this western-derived burger start with choking hazards....

Detrimental Health Effects of this western-derived burger start with choking hazards….

More importantly though, it seems that more modern Western ways are beginning to trump world-famous Okinawa longevity and life expectancy.  Okinawa was once long recognized for having the highest longevity rate out of all 47 prefectures in Japan, and once held the most centenarians per capita in the world.  But times have changed according to a Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare study conducted every five years.  While a 1995 survey showed that overall there were 22 centenarians for every 100,000 persons in Okinawa – 3.8 times the national average at the time – follow-on surveys show longevity has been declining in Okinawa ever since.  By 2005, male Okinawan longevity in Japan had dropped from first to 25th place.

seaweed-japan_41551_600x450

Most recently, in 2010, Okinawan women dropped to third place in the survey with a life expectancy of 87.02 years, slightly higher than the ministry’s national average of 86.35.  Okinawan men continued to drop, reaching 30th place at 79.4 years, just shy of the national life expectancy for males of 79.59 years.  The results are no surprise to many; the medical community has been predicting such trends for at least the last decade.

okinawa-diet plate

By all accounts, the old island lifestyle on Okinawa, centered to a large extent on diet, has literally been dying out with modern changes in lifestyle.  Such shifts, particularly those in the Okinawan diet,  have opened the door to diseases associated with obesity – once rare on Okinawa – like diabetes, heart failure and strokes, all illnesses that are now becoming all too common.  The chief factor is diet; most finger-pointing calls out now ubiquitous fast-food chains like A&W, McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken sprinkled all over the island.  With the continuing loss of the Okinawan culture and tradition, younger Okinawans’ eating habits and levels of physical activity become more and more westernized, ways that are clearly detrimental to longevity.

pyramid_okinawa_diet_foods_program

In any case, with modernization, especially that of our western ways, not everyone in Japan will be observing these traditional customs and holidays in the ways they should be.  Just as in American, national holidays are more and more being treated as simply “days off,” providing merely a time to relax, visit with friends and family, and make the most of precious time off, rather than being celebrated for the important and worthy notions which such days of observance cry out for.

Which should beg the question of us all:  how should we – as a country, as a society and as individuals – honor our elderly?  A start would be such national and formal recognition, like Respect for the Aged Day in Japan.  But, what our elderly don’t need is simply another “day off” and lip-service to their mere presence.  We, as their children and good stewards of our nation and community, must do better.  As an old Far Eastern proverb goes, “what an elder sees sitting, youth cannot see standing….”

untitled

How will you hold your own Respect for the Aged Day?

Start by calling your Momma!!  I’m as guilty as most everyone else….

...but not to tell her about this....

…but not to tell her about this….

Surf Nazis Must Die!! Scuba Diving on Okinawa


Beaches as Battlefields?  Dang Surf Nazis....

Beaches as Battlefields? Dang Surf Nazis….

“Slime-sucking Neanderthal! How dare you question my loyalty?” ~Eva, Surf Nazis Must Die, but more likely, the staff at the Kadena Air Base weather office that make up the Sea Conditions for scuba diving on Okinawa in response to anyone who questions such determinations.

“I am the Führer of the beach!” ~Adolf, Surf Nazis Must Die, but more likely, the Officer-in-Charge of the office mentioned above, no doubt nicknamed “Adolf.”  He’s probably short, clearly with a Napoleonic complex.

Surf Nazis weld Too Much Power

Surf Nazis weld Too Much Power

“If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.” ~Katharine Hepburn

“Rules are not necessarily sacred, principles are.” ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

The Intent of the Law should Trump the Letter; Principles are More Important

The Intent of the Law should Trump the Letter; Principles are More Important

I’ve been sulking here, in my condo, since Tuesday, watching through our picture windows overlooking the East China Sea the Japanese scuba dive charter boats come and go all day long to the calm, clear and warm waters of Sunabe, literally our front yard and playground all in one.  Although we have full sets of dive gear, humped across the 10,000 mile journey to Japan in order to use early and often, what we are missing are tanks.

Okinawa 2013, Japanese dive charters at Sunabe

It’s Friday and Great Weather – Look at all those Dive Charters!

You know, those thingies that allow you to breathe underwater and use all that heavy, expensive, and even cool-looking dive gear.

Even Cats Look Cooler in Dive Gear

Even Cats Look Cooler in Dive Gear

Alas, I cannot rent tanks.  At least not from the US-based dive shops on island.  And even if I do rent tanks from any one of the four Japanese dive shops within two blocks of my condo, I’m not “allowed” to enter the water on this beautiful diving day as a SOFA-status dependent.

Why you ask?

A Logical, Unemotional Nazi, but no less a Nazi

A Logical, Unemotional Nazi, but no less a Nazi

Surf Nazis.

And they must die.

Warning Maeda

Maeda Point Warning

Warning Horseshoe

Horseshoe Warning

You see, the military has decided that, like every other dark recess of what used to be our personal lives, that standard rules, regulations and common sense are simply not enough.  That, although we in the United States Military are entrusted to use lethal force in the name of the United States overseas and take lives, such a sacred level of trust simply cannot be extended to recreational activities.  And, even though the organization we work for will not hesitate to put us in severe and prolonged danger, they wish to shield us from anything remotely hazardous outside of normal working hours.  So, even though as certified scuba divers, schooled and tested in all-things dive safety-related, Big Cousin – the military’s fraternal relations to the government’s Big Brother – has decreed that they know better and can dictate our lives in a safer fashion through institution of yet more inane rules.

Onna Point Warnings.  Okay, we get it!!

Onna Point Warnings. Okay, we get it!!

Rules not based on principle.

A Good Idea Gone Wrong as a Rule

A Good Idea Gone Wrong as a Rule

There are “Sea Conditions” on Okinawa, for each coast – East and West.  Now, this is actually a pretty decent idea.  The principle could be sound.  But, “The Bigs Family,” the USG collection of overlords, don’t believe, it appears, it either higher education, or simple logic.  One element of determining Sea Condition is wind speed:  if it is over a certain amount, Danger Will Robison is sounded and not only are the scuba shops barred from renting gear, US personnel on-island are barred from even entering the water.

Okay, it's not this calm, and I didn't take the photo.  But you get the point....

Okay, it’s not this calm, and I didn’t take the photo. But you get the point….

Ludicrous.  Look at this picture taken this morning from my condo of the “dangerous” sea condition!!!  Wow, all those Japanese are surely risking life and limb to go diving today….

The Surf Nazis:  Responsible for Kitten Genocide

The Surf Nazis: Responsible for Kitten Genocide

The problem, you see, is that the Surf Nazis do not take into account wind direction, nor do they even bother with any measure of sea state, both of which are much more indicative of wave action and potential hazardous conditions to divers.  Most waves are wind-driven.  Even at very high velocity, winds need fetch in order to transfer energy to the water.  In other words, wind has to act across a large expanse of unbroken water for waves to build to significant and dangerous height.  Okinawa, being a north-south-oriented island, is a natural wind-break for winds from the east and west, which generally means one coast is rather smooth while the other can be somewhat rough.  Since the majority of diving activities are best situated on its western side, when the winds are blowing out of the east for days straight – as they have been, steady and true – there is not only a complete lack of fetch for the winds to act, the winds actually act in a restorative action to flatten the seas on the west coast, where I happen to live.  Hence the calm, perfect dive weather, even though the winds are blowing 20-25mph….

Beautiful Corals at Sunabe

Beautiful Corals at Sunabe

Diving is in my blood, and I have missed it so.  In Pensacola, I traded this particular hobby and lifestyle with another highly addictive one:  skydiving.  Now that skydiving is gone (there is NO jumping on Okinawa), I’m itching to go diving.  And not just for the fun-in-the-sun, outdoor aspect of being on the beach and in the water.  And not even to see the world-renowned and always entertaining “Girly-Show” of Jody putting on and taking off a wet suit (wink-wink; it’s a scene from a James Bond movie, at least the one that plays in my mind).

Burlesque & Scuba Diving Combined!

Burlesque & Scuba Diving Combined!

It is for the magical exploration that every dive brings, especially here in the sub-tropical Pacific.

Large Pacific Octopus at Sunabe

Large Pacific Octopus at Sunabe

Magical Tentacles

Magical Tentacles

Although I learned to dive in the states (Florida), and did much of my early diving in Florida, primarily in the Florida Keys in the 1990s, I truly didn’t “take” to the recreation until my first stint in Okinawa back in 1999-2001.  At the time my Ex decided to get certified, and she quickly became quite a proficient diver and excellent dive buddy.  This shared experience back then probably saved our marriage, or as it were, delayed its inevitable end for another six years.  Diving became a staple of our lives, mainly because of the world-class diving available on Okinawa, waiting just a few steps and few breaths away from the shore.  And thank goodness; many of my more found memories of that relationship (of which I seldom speak) are dive-centric.

Clowning around an Anemone

Clowning around an Anemone

Danny Diving at Sunabe

Danny Diving at Sunabe

Both my children learned to dive here.  Daniel back in 2001 when he was 13, and Naomi in 2005 at the same age.  We were only able to dive just a couple of times as a family before our nuclear family imploded, and I’m not even sure they have been diving since.  That is a real shame when I think back upon the opportunity wasted for everyone.  Such exploits can have exponentially dramatic impacts on young minds with audacious hearts.

Naomi Entering the Water at Sunabe

Naomi Entering the Water at Sunabe

And now I am able to share this enchanted realm and captivating activity with Jody.  Our first dive together was actually just two weeks ago, here, on Okinawa.  Yes, we have been together almost three years now, but the diving in Pensacola is…well…less inspiring.  And cold.  I have been worried about cementing our dive partnership, since I knew that a healthy portion of our leisure lives on Okinawa for the next three years were going to be concentrated on the water, or, more appropriately, what lies beneath.  And apparently we are doing okay.  She’s still alive, not bent, and not just talking to me, she’s smiling!  In my defense (and credit), in our first three dives here I did spot for her a sea turtle, a large octopus out in the open, and her first Pacific sea anemone, complete with a mating pair of aggressive but fun clown fish!  An auspicious start to this chapter of our lives together I must say.  I am eager to continue writing in this regard, but writing on this subject is best done post-dive, and diving we are, at the moment, not.

A more simplified list of Dive Rules....

A more simplified list of Dive Rules….

I also became a PADI Divemaster here back in 2001, and now I am enrolled in a PADI Instructor Development Course (IDC), where if all goes well, I’ll be a fully certified Open Water Scuba Instructor (OWSI) by the end of October.  And then my playground here will become my classroom everywhere…there is a beach.  And I will work where I love, and will truly be able to say that I love my work.

Me Diving Sunabe, 2006

Me Diving Sunabe, 2006

But first we gotta get those Sea Conditions changed.

SeaCond_fbu1

And those Surf Nazis?  They gotta die.

Surf Nazis should be replaced by the much more permissive Scuba Kitty

Surf Nazis should be replaced by the much more permissive Scuba Kitty

Surf Nazis Must Die

Surf Nazis Must Die

Nostalgic Okinawa


Japanese Style Nostalgia - The Colonel is HUGE Here!

Japanese Style Nostalgia – The Colonel is HUGE Here!

“You can’t have a better tomorrow if you are thinking about yesterday all the time.” ~Charles F. Ketting “Nostalgia, a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.” ~Adapted from Everybody’s Free (to wear sunscreen), by Mary Schmich

Trust me on the Sunscreen

Trust me on the Sunscreen

We now are firmly planted on Sunabe Seawall, with roots just now reaching out to grasp the soul-enriching nutrients of the sea which blankets us with life.  This is where I desire and desired to be, and which I longer for Jody to experience and understand, for countless, assorted and wondrous reasons which only commence making sense when savored firsthand.  While this fraction of Okinawa – the Miyagi neighborhood of the town of Chatan Cho (as much as I can determine how property parcels here are arranged) – remains magical in numerous ways, it has also changed…as all things do.  Better in some regards and at a nostalgic loss in others profound.

Sunabe Seawall...of Yesteryear

Sunabe Seawall…of Yesteryear

SpongeBob on Sunabe Seawall

SpongeBob on Sunabe Seawall

Graffiti in Okinawa is of an utterly different sort, basis, and aim than that which I would think most people would associate with and within the United States.  At many locations on Okinawa, in widely dispersed locales, graffiti is frankly not frowned upon by the resident peoples nor the controlling authorities.  Although I’m not convinced it is directly or openly encouraged, nonetheless it is abundant and displayed proudly, mostly along the large seawalls that can be found bordering the island’s lengthy intersection with the sea. For example, in the northern city of Nago, there are numerous pleas and portrayals of the return of dolphins, which in the past were brutally slaughtered to near localized extinction.  On the way to Mama-san beach on the east side of the Island, there is a large array of happy and colorful graffiti along the seawalls there.  And, of course, there is Sunabe, which in the past had the most eclectic if not eccentric collection of painted public art that could be seen island-wide.

Dolphins aren't the only things Nago apparently wants back....

Dolphins aren’t the only things Nago apparently wants back….

What’s peculiar about these particular paintings is that having lived on the seawall previously for almost two years, and before that having spent an awful lot of time along the seawall, primarily diving, many times late at night (midnight dives under full moons are creepily amazing here!), I never once saw painting-in-progress, or even a single person with a spray-paint can loitering about the area.  And believe me, while the canvas was permanent, the artistic displays changed often, especially with peoples of all backgrounds celebrating birthdays graphically on concrete and stone every week of the year.  The idea of spontaneous art appearing randomly made every walk or run along the seawall something of a joyous anticipation:  what new glyph would have to be deciphered since as it does in Japan so many concepts are lost-in-translation?  I always cherished this element of the Sunabe Seawall, and looked forward to my return here to act in part sociologist and in part archaeologist, ready to intervene with my own personalized understanding of the marked messages left for all to consider.

Dudes Open for Interpretation

Dudes Open for Interpretation

But then there is also the ocean.  Or, more appropriately, the East China Sea (the Pacific abuts the island on its eastern side, the side where I am not residing).  Graffiti is only one dimension of the seawall which makes it so exclusively unique.

Surfer Awaiting His Wave

Surfer Awaiting His Wave

Okinawa lacks, in almost all regions, sand beaches that make places like Pensacola or Miami so wonderful to so many people.  I’m not sure many people ever stop and think about this, but why is this so?  The reasoning is especially important to scuba divers and fishermen because it involves the presence and health of coral reefs.

Mama-san Beach - reefs and rural directions

Mama-san Beach – reefs and rural directions

South Florida has terrific beaches, with coarse, large-grain sand.  The main drawback is that the nature and makeup of this sand – crushed shells primarily – make it an extremely efficient heat-sink, and it gets brutally hot in the summertime.  The west coast and panhandle of Florida have very fine while sand made mostly of silica, much described as “sugar.”  But why is there sand on the beaches in Miami and Pensacola, and NOT in the Florida Keys?  Reefs.  The present of a coral reef acts as a wave-break, diminishing the aquatic power of the ocean long before it reaches the shoreline.  And without wave action to grind rock and shell, sand cannot and is not produced.  The areas of the Florida Keys with terrific offshore reefs therefore lack, in large part, any semblance of nice, sandy beaches.  However, the contrary is true for much of the rest of Florida peninsula, especially on its west coast and up into its panhandle.  There is little to no reef in these whereabouts, and what reef is there is sparse and low-profile soft corals growing on simple limestone ledges.  This limited underwater relief allows the energy embedded in waves to break upon shore, where it acts to grind large bites into ever smaller bits, resulting in a sandy refuge for pale-white, overweight Canadians.  No offense intended ‘eh; I dated a Canadian…ONCE.

Sea Creatures Adorned the Sunable Seawall

Sea Creatures Adorned the Sunable Seawall

The vast majority of Okinawa is ringed by coral reef, located almost immediately off the shoreline.  This is exactly the case at Sunabe, which makes this particular place one of the premier dive sites on the island, second in popularity only to a place called Maeda Point.  Stay tuned for detailed blogs on the island’s individual dive sites – once the weather allows for my return to the seas here (3rd tropical storm in as many weeks so far)!  The entry points along the seawall are eased by stairs and protected by breakwaters, and the reef at high tide is easily within 10-25 yards from shore.  In probably 100 yards, you find yourself in 70-80 feet of water, with a high-profile shelf-reef running generally north and south, and islands of life found more distant in the sand.  Found here are many of the sea critters topping most divers’ bucket lists:  night stand table-sized anemones with multiples of resident clown fish; cuttlefish displaying their tentacle-enhanced light shows in the day but mostly by night; territorial lionfish

Fire Fish in Okinawa's Blue

Fire Fish in Okinawa’s Blue

that seem to hover gracefully in the water, only consciously moving when a camera is stuck in their face; large octopi hunting just after sundown; eels of all kinds, along with the similar-looking but air-breathing reptiles the sea snakes; slipper and spiny lobster; along with a wide assortment of nudibranchs, sea slugs, flamingo tongues, scorpion fish, cone shells, and even a somewhat rare frogfish or two!

Tidal Pools of Okinawa's Sunabe Seawall

Tidal Pools of Okinawa’s Sunabe Seawall

One of my favorite nostalgic memories of Sunabe involves my daughter Naomi.  In 2004 my family settled a block off the seawall in a 3rd floor apartment, just a block or two from where I presently live.  Her bedroom had a window from which she could spy the sea, an earthly element she had taken to, as they say, like a fish takes to water.  At the time she was almost 12, her brother already 16.  I had no qualms about them heading off on adventures in the sea, secure both in their ability to swim, coupled with well-taught sound judgment and well-informed decision-making skills (or so every parent hopes).  Although I had been ordered on a no-notice, eight month deployment to Iraq, I was able to spend an early birthday with my daughter, which centered to a large extent on explorations of the sea.  As such, she received a medium size specimen tank, along with some accoutrements large and small that could be employed to secure sea creatures for humane capture and temporary display. I turned my children loose on nature.  Okinawa offers perhaps the safest environment for childrearing…at least in terms of terrestrial threat, and certainly that of fellow man.  And although the seas carry their own inherent dangers here, I had no issue with their examination of the tidal pools on fair-weather days.  What did I expect her to bring home?  Perhaps if she was lucky a fish or two; more likely, however, she would capture a sea cucumber, starfish, or one of the similarly slower moving creatures.

Tidal pools Implore Exploration

Tidal pools Implore Exploration

I was shocked one afternoon when Naomi arrives excitedly back at home with a creature in her carrying tank.  What was they grayish mass filling a full third of the portable habitat?  An octopus, mind you, and a sizeable one at that! “Dad, look what I caught!” Naomi excitedly proclaims.

Okay, this isn't the one she caught...but she saw it in the Tampa Aquarium!

Okay, this isn’t the one she caught…but she saw it in the Tampa Aquarium!

I was really speechless.  “You’re kidding!” was about all I could respond with at the time. I’m sure we were both equally amazed at our new pet, although not as much as our cat Tora was (she was entranced, albeit for quite different reasons!).  While I was astonished that she was merely able to capture such an elusive and intelligent cephalopod, I’m sure my daughter was equally surprised at her opportunity to bind so closely with such an elusive marine biological contingent of nature.  Octopi are one of the more extraordinary creatures undersea; I like to think of them as the cats of the water-world, for all the same reasons cats have been held in such high esteem throughout culture and through time. “Can we keep him?” she asks quizzically. “Well, only for the afternoon, Honey.  That guy needs oxygen to breath, and I’m not sure how much is in that tank.  Besides, he has hardly anything to hide in or behind, and he’s probably very stressed being here.  But let’s enjoy him now, and then we all can return him to his home tonight after dinner.”

Old Sunabe Seawall

Old Sunabe Seawall

We took many photos of her catch, but alas they are not in my digital photo-stream, most likely a victim of my divorce and division of property split and lost.  I yearn for those pictures as I write, and I won’t lie:  I lament their demise, along with moments shared with my children such as these….  I, like many, nostalgically long for the past, the version of what once was but is no longer.  This idea of tying the past, perhaps more idolized, to the present, perhaps in hopes of easing our way, is at the very nature of the human condition.  Recycling the past is almost impossible to avoid as we live our lives and constantly are forced to leave the past behind and create, hopefully, a better, fuller, richer and more satisfying future.

I do have photos of Naomi receiving her gifts!

I do have photos of Naomi receiving her gifts!

Non-Evil Birthday Graffiti

Non-Evil Birthday Graffiti

The seawall has grown, changed, and become modernized, directly analogous to all the personal changes we all experience in the passage of time.  Left behind are the fond memories of my children exploring this oceanic playground, along with the graffiti which one adorned this place.  The seawall’s very structure, like the basic underlying foundation of my person, has been rebuilt and strengthened, able to withstand better the tests of time and stormy conditions.  Esthetically, the seawall is much improved, offering far better amenities, accessibility, and general appearance.  I would like to think of both of us as aging gracefully with time.

Fish Clowning Around on the Sunabe Seawall

Fish Clowning Around on the Sunabe Seawall

Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson:  You find the present tense and the past perfect.  Impossible to avoid, it is however neither harmful when embraced appropriately.  The loving and fond reminiscences of this bygone space can easily be retrieved from disposed memory, wiped off, painted over and recycled to embrace once again anew.  And although the Sunabe Seawall can never be overvalued, I will attempt to do just that starting today, writing as I will so often, surveying the seawall and its constant neighbor the sea from the looking glass of nostalgic soul and contemporary home. The Sunabe Seawall is dead…. Long live the Sunabe Seawall!

The Recycled Seawall; Still Worth It

The Recycled Seawall; Still Worth It

Caring…Mom


Keep Calm & Love a Sailor.  Oh, and mail a care package!!

Keep Calm & Love a Sailor. Oh, and mail a care package!!

“If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded.” ~Maya Angelou

CARE Package:  The CARE Package was the original unit of aid distributed by the humanitarian organization CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere).  Although “CARE Package” is a registered trademark, the term has become widely adopted as a generic term for a parcel of food or supplies sent for relief or comfort purposes.

Goodies from Home

Goodies from Home, Courtesy of Mom

Mission Accomplished, For Real this Time

Mission Accomplished, For Real this Time

Thanks Mom, for our first care package received in Okinawa!  It actually got to Japanese customs on the 17th, and after mailing from the states only on the 12th, I’d say that was fantastic service.  As much as many Americans may speak poorly about the USPS, having traveled extensively on 5 continents, I can proudly and assuredly say that we in the United States have the best postal system on the planet…for the cost paid.  The package was waiting for us by the time we got our keys and finally around to our PO Box to pick up mail, so, in the infamous words of Bush, “Mission Accomplished,” but for real, this time.

Still the Best Dang Postal System on the Planet

Still the Best Dang Postal System on the Planet

In 1945, the newly-formed CARE organization initiated a program to send food relief to Europe, where large numbers of people were at serious risk of starvation in the devastating wake of World War II.  The organization obtained permission from the US government to send army surplus “10-in-1” food parcels to Europe.  The “10-in-1” parcels were also prepared for the planned (but never carried out) invasion of Japan, and delivered later throughout Asia and the Pacific.  Americans were given the opportunity to purchase a CARE Package for $10USD to send to friends or relatives overseas, where packages were guaranteed to arrive within four months.  Even when a donor did not know an address of a beneficiary, CARE would do everything possible to find that person using the last address known and network of contacts and distribution centers abroad.  The CARE package in that way became a “missing person” service in the chaos following World War II.

Care-ful Far East Fling Welcoming

Care-ful Far East Fling Welcoming

Customs are an Artifact of Plentifulness

Customs are an Artifact of Plentifulness

Customs is so Customarily Pleasant...and Intrusive.

Customs is so Customarily Pleasant…and Intrusive.

However, in more modern times, we have domestic customs with which to deal on the international stage.  Administrative burdens seem to become the rule and standard, you know, when your population is no longer starving and in dire need from abroad.  The customs and military officials on Okinawa are nice enough people though to leave this note and all, a step up from our friends at the TSA.  Oh, and they did a bang-up job re-taping the box.  Mom, good stuff to know if case you’re planning on sending any contraband, like say weapons, or even more frightening and dangerous, Minnesota vowels.

The Dreaded Minnesota Pronunciation Plague

The Dreaded Minnesota Pronunciation Plague

Care Package Contents circa 1948 (European)

Care Package Contents circa 1948 (European)

The contents of a CARE Package in the 1940s is approximated by:

1 lb beef in broth

1 lb steak and kidneys

8 oz liver loaf

8 oz corned beef

12 oz luncheon loaf (like Spam)

8 oz bacon

2 lbs margarine

1 lb lard

1 lb fruit preserves

1 lb honey

1 lb raisins

1 lb chocolate

2 lbs sugar

8 oz egg powder

2 lbs whole-milk powder

2 lbs coffee

cupofjoe2First thing I did actually was have a “Cup-o-Joe.”  And for those not in the know, this term originated in the Navy as a slang and rather unflattering reference to Secretary of the Navy “Joe” Josephus Daniels, who decided to ban liquor aboard ships on November 24, 1913.  As added trivia, traditional Navy coffee is in fact brewed very strong, with up to 3 times the amount of more standard measures of grounds, while a pinch of salt is often added to reduce the acidity of the brew….

Those who have never traveled far, far away from home cannot truly understand how substantial of an impact and boost in morale come from the simple act of receiving mail, let alone getting a gaggle of goodies to enjoy.  Tastes, trinkets and memories of home can help to renew a spirit that can become mired, lost and confused in its wanderings through a distant, unfamiliar foreign land.

In our case, we have replaced the rather lame coffee pot in our room with the kick-ass hot pot, courtesy of Mom.  Jody says thanks for the coffee, AGAIN (she hates coffee and wishes to remind her mother about a past coffee machine gift – wink).  Nah, Jody got some stress-reducing chamomile tea, perfect for the tense daze these days getting settled on the island.  And, no worries Mom, electrical appliances from America do work in Japan, although off-base appliances that heat or cook do so a little slower since the electrical standard here is 100VAC vice America’s 110VAC.  When it comes to electricity, size matters, even 10%, regardless of what anyone might say on the subject!

CARE packet contents were also adapted for different cultural diets as well as non-food items including tools, blankets, school supplies, and medicine as needed and most appropriate.  Later in the 1940s, the program was expanded throughout Asia, recognizing the vast need there as well once Europe become more stabilized.

Asian Child Care

Asian Child Care

Those of you that have friends or relatives overseas, irrespective of why they may be there, in service of their country or not, would deeply value such a taste of home.  But what they would cherish and embrace is the thought and love put behind the deed of assembling and sending care from such distance.  If you have ever thought- about-that-care-package-that-you’ve-always-meant-to-send-but-just-never-got-around-to-it, now’s your chance.

Generous Good Looks

Generous Good Looks

Just do it.  Even though your loved ones aren’t literally starving as back in the day, they are in a very real sense starved for home.  In bringing Home to their homes, where ever they may be, you have truly succeeded in caring…from afar.  Thank you, Mom.

Elvis is My Navy Callsign

Elvis is My Navy Callsign