“Live Fish Bowl Prime:” Gourmet Food at a Japanese Ryokan


Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, live fish bowl prime WM

“Live Fish Bowl Prime.” Sure, it sounds like an obscure faddish cartoon shown on Adult Swim back in the 1990s. Or at least it should’ve been.  But it turned out to be a machine translation (Google Translate via iPhone) of an item on Jody’s Japanese menu during dinner our first night at a high-end ryokan on Miyajima.

This is What it Meant!

This is What it Meant!

“What on earth does that mean?!” I asked Jody, laughing at how much technology fails a simple translation. “Who knows!” she responded with an anticipating smile, staring at her phone.

Individualized Menus, for Him and Her

Individualized Menus, for Him and Her

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, personalized menu 2 WMOur menu was personalized each night, it’s approval demonstrated by the han-stamp of the resident chef of the ryokan. The dinners were all served as 12-course meals, each choice indicated on the menu with a distinct line of Japanese. We attempted to translate each one, course by course. But as you might guess, something often gets lost in translation. Some of our favorite translations, besides “live fish bowl prime,” include “Hiroshima cow” and “fried bird”….  Or the one shown below.

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, the problem with machine translation WM

Concrete Soup. Yummy. Luckily it was MUCH better than it sounded…at least in English.

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, afternoon tea in our tatami room WMA ryokan (旅館) or “inn” is a type of traditional Japanese lodge that originated beginning back in the 17th century, maturing as today’s concept in the late 19th century. Originally serving travelers along Japan’s foot and horse paths, they now serve modern tourists at major sites throughout Japan. Typical features include tatami-matted rooms, communal hot spring baths, in-room personalized dining, and public areas where visitors may relax and socialize.

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, welcome to Miyajima

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, outdoor private onsen bath WMWe stayed in a ridiculously priced ryokan, the Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto in the resort location of Miyajima, a famous island retreat on the outskirts of Hiroshima. We were there celebrating, although at the time, we still didn’t know what we were celebrating. You can read more about that rather confusing situation is Commander, United States Navy, Arriving!  But in short, we booked one of the most expensive rooms in an already expensive lodge in honor of either Jody’s retirement, or her promotion.  Neither had happened yet.

Our Main Tatami Room, set for Tea

Our Main Tatami Room, set for Tea

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, flirting with the floating Torii WMRyokan are becoming more difficult to find within Japanese urban centers as mainstream and modern hotels are offering more at a much more affordable price-point. They have, however, have found their modern niche by catering to tourists with deep pockets, and are usually concentrated in scenic areas, exactly like Miyajima where we vacationed prior to moving on to Hiroshima proper.

View of the Setting Sun and Floating Torii from our Room

View of the Setting Sun and Floating Torii from our Room

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, sunset from our room 4 WMMiyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine,_6894Ryokan guest rooms are styled in traditional Japanese: tatami floors, sliding wooden doors, and rice-paper accented privacy screens. Most ryokan feature common bathing areas segregated by gender, using the water from a nearby hot spring (onsen). Higher-end inns provide private bathing facilities. These Japanese inns also provide yukata for guests to wear, and geta (wooden sandals) are available at exits for strolls outside.

Our Private Outdoor Onsen-Fed Soaking Tub

Our Private Outdoor Onsen-Fed Soaking Tub

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, Kevin playing the Japanese part 2Based on a number of reviews, we selected room 502 of the Arimoto Hotel, a very large corner room on the top floor of the ryokan, featuring sunset views of Miyajima’s famous “floating Torii,” as well as private outdoor hot-spring fed bathing and personalized in-room dining.  Check out the hotel’s website; our room is featured as the inn’s “Guest of Honor” billeting, and is also featured in a bridal shoot.  I must admit that it does serve as a fabulous setting to accent the beauty of a beaming bride, certainly more so than it does for my cheesy Japanese peace pose below.

Me Modeling (poorly) Japanese Yukata

Me Modeling (poorly) Japanese Yukata

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, Jody's fish bowl WMYukata (浴衣 literal “bath clothes”), are casual Japanese garments, sometimes referred to as a summer kimono, worn by men and women. Designed for hot weather, they are unlined and often made of cotton. As with kimono, the general rule is that younger women (and kids) wear bright, vivid colors and bold patterns, while older people wear dark, matured colors and dull patterns. Men in general wear solid dark colors. Yukata are staple wear during a stay at ryokan, commonly seen throughout the establishments. I rather enjoyed my own interpretation of their wear!

Yukata Ready-to-Wear and Me Ready for Dinner

Yukata Ready-to-Wear and Me Ready for Dinner

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, fresh fish WMI initially wore the yukata to and from our private balcony bath fed by the resort’s on-site hot-spring. The deep-soak tub was set to offer 180 degree views of the setting sun over Miyajima’s western shore. But since there was really no way for anyone to be a voyeur of our bathing habits, I quickly did away with any clothing at all. The yukata was, however, very comfortable to wear for dinner after a long afternoon soak to soothe achy muscles from the day’s adventures.

Our Dining Room

Our Dining Room

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, Jody and her Live Fishbowl Prime!The main tatami room serves three important functions: dining, tea and for sleep. Breakfast and dinner are served there, with tea service in the afternoon. But at night, tables and floor chairs and hidden away and lush futon bedding is spread out directly on the tatami floor, where ample pillows, sheets and blankets are provided for a deep, restful sleep after a day of hiking around Miyajima.

Our Bedroom (yes it is the same room)

Our Bedroom (yes it is the same room)

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, tabletop shabu-shabu WMMiyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, Japanese place setting WMRyokan stays include dinner and breakfast, and most guests take their meals in their room. Meals are central to a ryokan stay: the price and ratings of inns are heavily based on the quality of their food. Traditional Japanese cuisine called kaiseki, a meal consisting of a number of small, varied dishes, is featured, which includes seasonal and regional specialties. The meals are tailored and cooked to order, and service times are selected by the guests daily.

Can you Spot the Fried Lotus - YUMMY!

Can you Spot the Fried Lotus – YUMMY!

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, meat and veg WMMiyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, beautiful salad WMWhile we got off to a rough start with the ryokan staff, due mainly to some of our specific dietary requests and the lack of English-speaking staff, we came to thoroughly enjoy our in-room meal service. Dinner was unrushed and personal, served by a private waitress, course by course, and lasted anywhere from two to three hours. We had the opportunity to enjoy some local Hiroshima wine while Jody tried quite a few new fish dishes, as I focused my meals more and more on the local high-quality and perfectly delicious Hiroshima beef…with some pork and chicken thrown in as well.  Lucky for us, after the first night of only machine translation of our meal, a waitress called “Emmy” was placed with us, who having spent 8 years in England spoke quite good English, even if it was more aligned to the Queen’s.  She actually stayed an extra day to help us in our culinary adventures as she was moving on to a 9-monht contract job on an Italian cruise ship as a hairdresser.

Stone-Grilling Fresh Hiroshima Beef - the BEST!

Stone-Grilling Fresh Hiroshima Beef – the BEST!

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, Hiroshima mussels on hot stones WMMiyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, appetizer Hiroshima beef mock sushi WMHiroshima specializes in farm-raised oysters, which were served fresh and in a multitude of ways. One of the more surprising items that Jody enjoyed was fresh stonefish, and not only was she served the delicate and sometimes poisonous meal (if prepared wrong), the fish itself took center stage in her dinner’s presentation! I can’t say it’s appearance is all that…appetizing.

Stonefish: it's a Good Thing we don't eat their Faces!

Stonefish: it’s a Good Thing we don’t eat their Faces!

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, personal fish soup composite WMMiyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, Conger Eel and dipping sauces WMBut the most surprising course was a small covered dish of fresh seafood destined to be steamed tableside during dinner. Just after being placed on the table, the dish made a loud knocking sound, quite to our collective surprise. Our waitress, as curious as we were about the sound’s source, innocently lifted the dish’s top. And out flopped a large, live shrimp! We jumped back a bit as the crustacean made good attempt to escape, which our waitress was all too happy to block. Trapped back in its ceramic cell, the dish was placed on a flame for steaming, and no other sound was heard…until Jody’s coos upon eating the poor crustacean.

The Offending Prawn, Embarrassed about it's Behavior and Turned Red

The Offending Prawn, Embarrassed about it’s Behavior and Turned Red

But was it worth truly worth the expense? In terms of such an important celebration, sure it was! Spending money on treasured experiences is never a bad thing. Enjoying “live fish bowl prime,” the premium fresh seafood served to us during our ryokan stay:  priceless!

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, peaceful day on the waterfront WM

See Miyjima Grand Arimoto Ryokan for more photos of our stay!

 

These Weather Systems are all Drunks….


Wx

“Our old friend Halola is still churning away in the Western Pacific.  She’s been partying hard out there for quite a while now.  Last weekend she made the mistake of hitting a bottle of wind shear, which is like tequila for typhoons.  A little wind shear, and before you know it they’re falling apart, puking moisture in all directions, losing their strength, and collapsing into a soggy mess.  She spent most of the past weekend as a mere tropical depression, trying to remember where she’d left her wallet and her car keys.  But now, she’s piecing herself back together again.  Today she was sober enough to act like a proper tropical storm, and by Wednesday she’s expected to be back up to typhoon strength.  But, she’ll probably never exceed Category 1 storm strength again.  Too much hard partying will do that to you.  Halola won’t be visiting Okinawa either.  Apparently she heard how much we like to party on this island, and just the thought of it so soon after her awful tequila experience made her turn green.  Seriously.  Just look at that satellite photo.  Look at how green she is.  She might be sunburned in a couple of places too.  Meanwhile, here in Okinawa we’re getting plenty of rain without Halola’s help.  It’s not a typhoon though.  It’s just a weak low pressure area bringing us a lot of moisture and stealing our sunshine.  It’s going to rain through the night, so it’s stealing our moonshine as well.  You see?  These weather systems are all drunks.”

~From the Facebook Community Group Okinawa Typhoon Pics & Info.

 

Fort Fornication: Father’s Day in Okinawa


“Never stop screaming, playing and laughing; it’s part of our childhood which will always be with us.” ~Romina Noriega

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 “It’s finally your turn!” read a small sticky note on the outside of what Jody insists on calling the “back” door to our condo (the “front” being our unbeatable view of the East China Sea). It was simply signed, “~The Katz”.

I stop and attempt to process this odd turn of events. “The cats can’t write!” Things that make you go hmmmmmm….

I’m not going to lie: I hesitated in opening the door. Finally my turn for what? But when I finally did, I heard Jody blurt, “Welcome to Fort Day!” Still confused, I walk slowly inside, placing my belongings down gently as I go. My moves are calculated and calm, I guess much like a cat. I can quite wrap my mind around the goings-on just yet. And when I moved into our place, I was confronted with, well, a whole lotta sheets, blankets and bling hanging from all along the ceiling in our living room!

Again Jody exclaims, “Welcome to Fort Day!” She jumps up to greet me with a great, big, fantastic smile! “Ah…uhm…thanks, I think?!” I respond somewhat hesitantly.

I'm not sure the same rules apply to forts for...catz.

I’m not sure the same rules apply to forts for…catz.

You see, our cats get forts built for them on a ROUTINE basis. Cool forts. Cave-like hideouts for Cleo using the pillows, sheets and bed spread in our bedroom. A Tomcat Tavern for Naka, a basic lean-to shelter made using the raised arms of our chair-and-a-half, decorative pillows, and throw blankets. Jody swears to me that she can tell when the cats want one make (I have my doubts). But the cats do apparently enjoy them.

And by “enjoy” I mean “sleep.”

Cleo's Highest Form of Entertainment

Cleo’s Highest Form of Entertainment

Our cats are just a wee-tad spoiled by Jody. Don’t’ get me wrong – I love my cats. But I acknowledge that they are cats. Not people, and certainly not our surrogate children. They are okay alone for the whole day, or even overnight (remember, they are CATS). They don’t need to be entertained for hours on end (they are INDOOR/OUTDOOR cats).

Jody did get me a Harley.  Of sorts....

Jody did get me a Harley. Of sorts….

But they get more packages in the mail than I do. God’s honest truth! Toys, foods, and at least a half-dozen devices to provide fresh water 24/7. Naka prefers drinking pooled water in my bathtub; Cleo still likes to drink from our sink faucets.  Check out Cat Condo for more on how the cats are spoiled, AND on their “other” castle-like fortification.

The Cat Castle

The Cat Castle

One of the things I teasingly and only half-seriously complain about is how no one ever builds a fort for me. Don’t you think that a grown man would enjoy a fort every now and then? Hell yes he would! I have told Jody about how I would build forts for my kids when they were growing up. When the weekend came, maybe once a month or so while the kids were both in single digit ages, we would build a huge fort in the living room, one that would usually include the TV. Sometimes the forts would have multiple rooms (of course with flexible walls), or have raised, vaulted ceilings. Other times they would consist of darkened tunnels or dimly lit caverns. No matter the construction, they were always a hit, just like they were for me when I was a boy growing up.

Pillow and Blanket Fort with my kids circa 1999.

Pillow and Blanket Fort with my kids circa 1999.

I can’t tell you the last time I built a fort. Probably way back in 1991 or 2000 here in Okinawa when I was stationed overseas with the Navy for the first time. And although I have had cats almost full-time since 1997, I never have built one for my feline friends.

Enjoying a fort with my kids.  I didn't build this one....

Enjoying a fort with my kids. I didn’t build this one….

So, come this Father’s Day, Jody decides to make good on my protest that the cats get to have all the fun. And in some small way, maybe, attempt to return to me a bit of my childhood and those special times spent with my children. Especially since my kids are not just grown and gone, but are on literally the other side of the globe where I don’t get to see them very often, and since my relationship with my kiddos at times remains strained since the demise of their parents’ marriage any years ago. How did she make good on righting my grievance?

Jody always wanted to be an architect.  Seriously.  Ask her!

Jody always wanted to be an architect. Seriously. Ask her!

Jody threw me a “Happy Fort Day!”

Adult-Sized, Living-Room Fort

Adult-Sized, Living-Room Fort

Okinawa Jun 2015, Father's Day, happy father's dayOkinawa Jun 2015, Father's Day, happy fort dayInside the fort was a mini-celebration befitting such a day and occasion. A low, small picnic table spread with gifts and wine, and lit by soft candlelight. Sitting on the floor enveloped in sheets and blankets, I opened a few gifts. Oh, and got a new Harley! Afterwards, while eating candy sampling about half a bottle of wine, we walked down the seawall to get fresh Napoli’s pizza to, you guessed it, bring back and devour in our fort. Oh, and to finish that bottle of wine. And start another….

Okinawa Jun 2015, Father's Day, celebration

What’s the main difference between “Fort Day” as an adult and as a child? Let me put it this way: “Fort Fornication” is how the citadel became to be known.

This would be Naka, our boy, who is missing the "jewels" necessary to fornicate in the forts built for him....

This would be Naka, our boy, who is missing the “jewels” necessary to fornicate in the forts built for him….

Jody enjoys the cats, and enjoys spoiling them. And to be fair, I adore how they are pampered by her. But of course Jody continues to spoil me, even though I often pout that I play second fiddle to the cats…which don’t even have thumbs…to play the fiddle. “Fort Day” will be a holiday of sorts that will be certainly celebrated more often.

Okinawa Jun 2015, Father's Day, Fort Master J

The Day I Became a Japanese National Hero


“Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” ~F. Scott Fitzgerald

“I may be a living legend, but that sure don’t help when I’ve got to change a flat tire.” ~ Roy Orbison

 “Hero, hero,” the energetic cries bellowed one after another, becoming louder and more passionate with each verbalization! The herd of Japanese kids were beaming smiles at me as I stood up, overly appreciative for apparently saving their very lives. Or so it would seem from their reaction to the drama that unfolded over the last ten minutes. Yes, this was the day I had waited so long for. This was the day that never came over 20 years and multiple wars serving in the military. This was the day, finally, when I became a treasured National Hero…of Japan.

funny-picture-join-the-marines-they-said-youll-be-a-hero-they-said

“Everyday people do Everyday things but I can’t be one of them

I know you hear me now We are a different kind We can do anything

We could be heroes Me and you”

Hero defined (dictionary.com): a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for brave deeds and noble qualities; a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal, as in “He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child.”

Or, in my case, when I changed a flat tire.

 

tumblr_inline_mqjdu1eCU01qz4rgp

No, no, no, not YOU too! Please, you’re embarrassing me. Really, it was nothing; just doin’ what any red-blooded American manly male would do. Really, nothing. There was no danger. Well, there was a LITTLE danger (wink), but hey, I put a brave face on and trudged through it. There was this family’s touristy agenda at stake, the very fate of their vacation hung in the teetering balance of the car on its jack….

Maeda Point, Okinawa, Japan

Maeda Point, Okinawa, Japan

11043707896_ce4469909b_bI had arrived at an Okinawan divesite and popular tourist destination called Maeda Point. It is one of those iconic south Pacific island spots which provides a cliff-high scenic overlook of inviting blue ocean waters unable to hide the mysterious subtropical reef just below. In the last decade the Okinawans have gone to great lengths to make this site much more accessible, and thus throngs of mainland Japanese come here to take guided snorkeling and scuba diving jaunts into the sea.

A Darker Side to Misa Misa

A Darker Side to Misa Misa

I call these tourists, or at least the females of the bunch, “Misa Misas” after the bubbling-over cute but amazingly shallow female character Misa Amane in the popular anime series Death Note (see the embedded video below and Japan Hub’s ranking of anime for Americans). These female Japanese mainlanders seem to lose much of their emotional control on Okinawa in a way that may be slightly reminiscent of “What goes on in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” At least when they are swimming at Maeda Point, it seems. They shriek, they cover their mouths when they giggle (and they giggle all the time), and all seem to be wearing pig tails, better known as “twin tails” in Japan, as they crowd the waters that scuba divers covet.

I had parked next to a small Okinawa rental car which had been backed into its parking spot. In it was a younger, attractive woman at the wheel, but as I parked my truck, I noticed that her rear passenger tire was flat. Like completely done. Kaput. I struggled with what to do.

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Not wanting her to think some barely dressed American was hitting on her (I was set to go diving; the Japanese are very proper about covering up), I at first thought that maybe she would figure it out on her own. But then I spied the baby car seat in the back, and knew right away that I had to get involved.

Moving over to the passenger window, I got her attention. She remotely lowered the passenger side electrically controlled window, and I attempted to speak with my friendliest non-threatening, uncreepy smile I could muster, “Sumimasen!” (excuse or pardon me). “Flat tire,” I continued as I pointed to the problem.

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I’m not sure if she understood, but she understood enough to get out of the car and come over to my side. She gasped when she saw the problem, and took my hands in hers in a gesture of thanks, all the while mumbling exasperations in Japanese. She immediately shouted to a few people nearby in the parking lot, and returned to the driver’s seat with her cell phone already at her ear.

I walked away thinking that my involvement was over. I started to prep my scuba gear for the upcoming dives; all my student divers were late due to a bad traffic accident on the roads leading to this relatively out-of-the-way site. Which got me thinking even more about this woman and her baby attempting to drive away to some uncertain fate that I had a chance of affecting for the better.

I kept one ear on the group, now much larger since an oodles of kids had shown up, and glanced at their goings on. It appeared that Mrs. Flat was visiting Maeda with Mrs. Mom driving another nearby car, and both had what appeared to be a small tribe of kids in tow between them. Seriously, something like 8 kids (and those were just the ambulatory ones), and not a man or boy in sight. Even the Japanese snorkeling concession they were utilizing for their aquatic adventures could only muster the slightest of a man-child, who obviously either didn’t know the first thing about car tires, or didn’t want to get involved.

That's me in the background coming to help in a more "romanticized" version of the story....

That’s me in the background coming to help in a more “romanticized” version of the story….

“Okay,” the inner voice starts in my head, “you’ve got to do something to help.” I hesitate again. There is a precarious relationship between the US military presence in Japan – especially on Okinawa – and the locals. But the powers that be – the US and Japanese governments – will have you believe it is much more caustic than it is in reality. In fact, I have never once had an issue in Okinawa in the seven years I’ve spent here, although I have been “uninvited” from bars up in Honshu…. I debated whether they would eagerly accept my help, or maybe read a darker side into my forwardness. I elected to play ambassador, but more so, to just be a good neighbor.

How can you not help sad Japanese girls?!?

How can you not help sad Japanese girls?!?

I walked over and inquired about a “spare tire” as it seemed they were searching the victim car for one. And from that point on, anything I said in English the kids would energetically repeat. “Spare, spare…spare tire, tire, spare….SPARE!” And not just two or three times. Again and again and again! I doubt they knew much meaning behind the words, but they were happy to be speaking English – even if just phonetically – in a very real context.

But there was no spare! There was a jack and a lug wrench, and even a place for a spare, but no tire. Many of the smaller Japanese cars don’t carry one, but instead carry a can of “fix-a-flat” tire inflation gas/fluid. None of that either. I even checked under the back seat and under the rear of the car to make sure. “No spare,” I muttered astonishingly….

“NO SPARE NO SPARE NO SPARE,” came the misplaced excited replies, like it was a good thing. I smile at the kids and even patted one of the smaller ones on the head, thinking of just how wonderful the innocence of youth is as a treasure that just can’t be valued by the young properly in the those youthful moments.

I ask about her friend’s car. “Spare,” I questioned as I pointed in that car’s direction. Mrs. Mom understands and has her hatchback open in no time. “Aaaaahhhhhhhhh, SPARE-O,” comes her excited reply. That’s all I need to start to get out the tools of the tire-changing trade and arrange them at the ready.

Kids are so wonderful, no matter where you find yourself in the world. Non-judgmental, accepting, sponges for knowledge, and awestruck with the wonders of everyday life, they are so easy to engage and communicate with. They huddle around the tire as I ready everything for the change.

“Parking brake?” I question Mrs. Flat. She doesn’t understand. I approach the passenger side door, wary of making anyone uncomfortable with the baby asleep in the back seat. I mime to open the door to which she offers her eager yet nonverbal consent. I pull the parking brake up and on, stating (for the record and the enjoyment of the kids present), “Parking Brake!”

“PAW-KING BREAK, paking brake, parking brek,” the replies sound again.

I move back and start with the tool phase of the process, more properly referred to as the “Oooohs and Aaaahs” of the change. Each time I manipulated a tool against automobile structure, at least a baker’s dozen “oohs” and a healthy pint of “aahs” sounded. I began to feel almost superhuman at this point with such audience participation.

Trying to keep my language to a unrepeatable minimum, I start to show how things work and fit together. I demonstrate how the jack-screw raises the scissors of the jack lift.

“OOOOOOOOH, aaaaaah!”

I showed how to place the lifting portion of the jack against the notch in the car’s frame.

“EEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHH!”

I took the flathead portion of the lug wrench and wrangled off the cheap plastic hub cap, giving it to one of the nearby children to examine firsthand.

“WOOOOOOOOOOOOO, WOW!”

31-FLAT-TIRE

But now came the strongman show of this circus. There were only 4 nuts holding the tire on, but of course each was most likely tightened into place with a pneumatic torque socket. It takes a little force to break that grip, and I used my body weight to help loosen the nuts in turn. Pushing on the first I barely grunt under my breath, just as the nut starts to give way with a metallic crunch.

“OOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!”

But now there’s an audible change: “Gentleman!” The word spreads like a Santa Anna wind-blown wild fire in a California drought. Gentleman: A chivalrous, courteous, or honorable man; a man of good social position, especially one of wealth and leisure. I may lack social status and the wealth of the top 5% of Americans, but my leisurely actions of the day were no doubt courteous and chivalrous. Nonetheless, I smile, somewhat embarrassingly, turning a bit red as the accolades only continue.

Repeat that sequence three more times and the flat is off in a jiffy. I quickly rotate the tread examining it for damage, and find a nice shiny screw completely imbedded in the tire, having entered on the inner side of one of the tread channels.

“EEEEEEEEEEEH,” came the exasperated replies from the only two drivers of the gang.

I place the spare on the bolts and hand-tighten the nuts into place. I mimic how you must tighten bolts in an X-pattern to ensure the right fit and ride, and then I’m back into superhuman character, tightening the bolts into place using my body weight and muscle power against the lug wrench’s resistance.

The tire is back on. I lower the car and the suspension accepts the replacement without question or complaint. I pull the jack and tools and stand up to look Mrs. Flat in the eye. “Small tire,” I say as I mime motions for small. “Drive slow,” I say as I mimic the hand signal, at least in motorcycles and diving, for slow. And just to be cautious, I end with “Be safe” while smiling, embarrassed at the unearned and unnecessary accolades I was receiving.

Previously, I had only ever been a Guitar Hero

Previously, I had only ever been a Guitar Hero

I was also a Mathlete Calculus Hero in High School, and had I been Val Kilmer and/or an Astronaut, I would have used math to save lives….

And with that my characterization of “gentleman” takes a light-year leap and becomes “hero.” I am proclaimed by all present, particularly the tween and teen-aged girls, as their “hero.” Over and over as I politely reject such a label, you know, for changing a tire!

My adoring fans did make me feel like this though

My adoring fans did make me feel like this though

Okay, seriously, “hero” is a word that EVERYONE uses way too often, all too easily. I’m sorry America, you are not a hero for putting a uniform on. You are no hero if something bad just happens to you while wearing said uniform. Underpaid teachers and non-profit volunteers are wonderful people who literally weave the fabric of our society, but they are not heroes. The idea and label of “hero” should be reserved for the very few that deserve it, and it should be held back for those esteemed occasions where it could/can be applied with great effect. Tire-changing is not one of them.

Unless you were The Batman

Unless you were The Batman

Each of the Japanese gang of Misa Misas came up and thanked me, some in Japanese, and others in English. They all took my hands. “Hero” was a word said often, and each time I politely rejected the very notion, smiling but shaking my hand “no” rather emphatically. Pictures were taken with various cell phones, me towering over the group, with my arms around them and hands shooting double peace signs so ubiquitous in Japan. I so uncomfortable with becoming a Japanese National Hero that I didn’t ask for the photos to be sent to me, but by now surely there’s been a monument erected in my honor in the group’s hometown. Perhaps a proudly chiseled (and buff) statue. Or a play-park full of tires.

batman-changing-a-car-tire

And to complete the celebratory spirit of the afternoon, as the group were leaving the parking area, the thanks continued. The kids – I mean all of them – had their heads stuffed out every open window of both cars, waving and yelling their thanks and my newfound title of “hero.” The cars move away, but stall waiting to pay for parking at the exit gate. Oh boy, even more time for the Japanese to thank me is this most uncomfortable way. “Thank You Hero…Gentleman…HERO!” It continues, but now being yelled across the entire parking lot at Maeda Point. I wave nonchalantly, trying to downplay my overblown role in their lives. And then, as the cars exit the area and drive away down the road leading away, the yells of “Hero” and “Gentleman” turns to screams of “Goodbye” and “Thank You!”

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No, thank you Japan, for embracing me as a National Hero, if only for 20 minutes one lazy Okinawan afternoon!

Kiss My Ass McDonald’s! Better Burgers at Café Captain Kangaroo


There are MUCH better burger options....

There are MUCH better burger options….

Oh, the shame. Not finishing the best burger found on Okinawa. Especially when my wife and all the rather petite Japanese women surrounding me devoured theirs without issue….

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, storefront hamburger island cafe captina kangaroo

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, no pickles on our burgers!In and Out isn’t part of the in-crowd on Okinawa…mainly since it doesn’t exist here. Apparently there aren’t enough meaty guys on the island to have a Fives Guys. You can get steaks and shakes on Okinawa, but not coincidently enough to have a Steak and Shake. There is an Applebee’s, but it’s on base, overpriced and full of loud and usually overly boisterous Americans watching some inane sporting event. And while they do serve a pretty good burger, at twice the cost and half the taste, it “udderly” fails in comparison to those award-winning beefy concoctions at Captain Kangaroo’s!

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, award-winning burgers

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, opening hours artNow, Jody and I debated whether the burgers there are alone worth the long drive to Nago, and while the outcome is close, we agree there probably needs to be another reason to make the trek. Even if it’s just for the scenic drive up Highway 58. On an island full of “hamburg” joints that serve what amounts to really good meatloaf, a REAL hamburg-ER is a rare and treasured culinary find.

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, comfy and casual seating

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, iconic logo in pastels“‘Roo’s” is minimally furnished with an eclectic assortment of comfy chairs and lounging couches. The quick-order counter, at an unusual height that’s not high enough for bar stools and too low for the dining chairs provided, is a great option if you are either in danger of dehydration from uncontrolled salivation or simply on the move and don’t want to wait the 20 minutes we did during high time from 1300-1500.

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, counter service bar none

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, street-side signDiners will find themselves surrounded by surfer-themed movie posters and random knickknacks, from an empty SPAM tin repurposed as a napkin holder, to our table’s hamburger warps held in place by an old Kraft Cheese cylinder…. A large selection of Japanese comics are easily selected from a wall of simple bookshelves, and randomly interesting magazines are for the borrowing in the small waiting area.

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, waiting area and cashier's counter

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, comfy and casual seating 2Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, anniversary smilesWe were seated in two easy chairs alongside a classic low coffee table of just the right size, an arrangement both casual and comfy at the same time. To top off the café’s relaxed experience, soft reggae and world music plays softly in the background, and for those lucky enough of eating in the back raised corner of the small shop, there is an incomparable view of the East China Sea certainly not found at any burger joint found back home.

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, Jody ready for lunch

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, heart-shaped ketchupCafé Captain Kangaroo came to Nago, Okinawa, in 2007, purposed specifically to become an iconic burger shop. The Captain’s family tree is traced all the way back to Osaka, Japan, on Honshu, where the surname was established in 1997 as only a bar; no explanation is given for the rather odd moniker. The staff are all very friendly and cheerful, and good English is widely spoken. During our visit on a lazy almost-Spring Sunday afternoon were about a half and half mix of Japanese and gaijin, all enjoying their beefy meals. There were about five people working during our visit, and their smiles combined with the fun, casual attitude of the place certainly helped to make the burgers even more delicious. Oddly enough, we witnessed one of the staffers eating a late lunch. Their pick off the menu: TACO RICE!

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, no pickles on our burgers!

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, menu masterpiecesOkinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, all decisions involve hamburgersYes, that Okinawan ubiquitous meal is indeed offered, but as one of only eleven mains on the menu – one key to the café’s massive success. The focus is on quality and taste, and with only a few items to master, both are promises made and delivered upon. The menu is offered bilingually in Japanese and English, with most items costing about 1,000 yen or less. Combos can be made by adding in a potato set offering a choice of hashbrowns, wedges with skin, or traditional fries. Drinks can also be added at a “set” price to complete your combination platter.

The Amazing "Sparky" Burger

The Amazing “Sparky” Burger

Jody and I both ordered the “Sparky” burger, and within about 10 minutes, were served a veritable skyscraper of a burger! A home-baked sesame-covered bun grilled crispy and served hot off the griddle, slathered with BBQ sauce (not overdone), a beef patty, cheese (Swiss we believe), tons of fresh, crispy lettuce and juicy tomato, and finally topped with our favorite: an impossibly large serving of crispy deep-fried delicious shoestring onions. The tower was held against toppling by a long bamboo spear, and multiple triangular sandwich holders are provided – and required!

Notice the "Heartfelt" Ketchup!

Notice the “Heartfelt” Ketchup!

Ketchup is served on the plate, but placed there with great care. The Japanese couple next to us had their sauce in the shaped of animated musical notes, while ours came in the shape of blood-red beating hearts – very fitting since this was our first date and outing on our own in many weeks! On the table are salt, pepper, chili spice, and garlic salt, the last of which I *forgot* to use. Oh well, a great excuse to return. And SOON.

Shirts Sold at Café Roo's

Shirts Sold at Café Roo’s

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, sorry cash onlyCaptain Kangaroo’s rates 4.5 out of 5 stars on Trip Advisor, where it is also ranked the #1 restaurant in all of Nago (out of something like 348 establishments). Given some of the styles and qualities of foods that can be found in this corner of the Far East in a large city, this standing is quite an accomplishment. I have been hearing the hype about this place for over a year now, and generally don’t give into such popularity contests: seldom does anything live up to such impossibly high expectations. Hamburger Island Café Captain Kangaroo’s does, on all accounts. And all our deliciousness for 2,600 yen, or about $23.50.

Jody mocks my last uneaten bit in silent contempt.....

Jody mocks my last uneaten bit in silent contempt…..

Oh, and about that shame of not finishing my burger? In my defense, I did have a large portion of chocolate ice cream for lunch.

At least I have my priorities in the right order….

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, a plate of burger heavan

Ambiance:  Eclectically furnished and casual burger joint of the highest caliber. Furniture groupings provide comfy and casual seating for couples and large groups of up to eight.

Service:  A small establishment which prides itself on quality and perfection. Food is all cooked fresh order, and the joint can be crowded during lunch and in the afternoons. While the wait to get a spot inside may be 20 or 30 minutes, your order is taken promptly and the food appears quicker than you might think possible. The staff is overly laid-back and friendly, and English is widely and easily spoken.

Food Quality:  Excellent without question. Ranked on Trip Advisor as the #1 restaurant in Nago.

Features:  Quaint eatery with conditioned indoor seating.  Easy-going atmosphere which is beachwear and kid-friendly.

Cuisine:  Burgers, burgers, and burgers. Plus eight more types of burgers. Plus taco rice.

Price/Value:  Excellent.

Address: 183 Umusa, Nago City

Phone: 098-054-3698

Opening Times: Every day except Holidays and Wednesdays, 11:00~20:00 (last order 19:40)

Directions: Take 58 north to Nago (or the Expressway until it ends and joins 58), then a slight left onto 449 once passing the seaside Nago baseball stadium. Captain Kangaroo, a small shop that’s easy to miss, is about 0.9 kilometers down the road on the left. Additional parking is found just before the storefront, and also to the rear of the burger joint.

Website: http://www.roo-bar.jp

Heroes of the Great Wall of China


“If we fail to reach the Great Wall we are not men.” ~Mao Zedong and his quote which inspires millions of tourists visiting the Great Wall each year

Heroes of the Great Wall - China's label for us, not our own!

Heroes of the Great Wall – China’s label for us, not our own!

 

Finding our Chinese tour guide Allen upon coming down off the Wall, I corner him with a dose of ornery attitude and personal-space invading sassy body language.

“Allen, you can’t see Tower 13 from here, can you,” I emphatically inquire, hoping that my accusatory tone was coming through loud and clear.

“No-no-no, of course not,” came his dismissive reply slathered in an overly coy smile. “It is much higher and much deeper into the pass than that up there,” he continued, pointing to the highest tower visible from our base camp of sorts.

We were almost the last down the wall well past the given meeting time for our tour group. Having been filled with wall-scaling propaganda on the hour-long journey, filled with Mao quotes and talk of the herculean efforts in becoming a hero of the Great Wall, we were thoroughly indoctrinated upon our arrival and were fixated on summiting the pass “Tower 13” at all costs. We did. But boy-oh-boy what a climb!

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Known in Mandarin as chang cheng, literally “long fortress,” the Great Wall of China dates back as far as the 5th century BCE. Several sections of the Great Wall are located within close proximity to Beijing, so trekking small portions of the long fortress is not difficult, logistically speaking at least.

China 2014, Great Wall, signage along the way WM

The Great Wall of China is a series of fortifications made of stone, brick, tamped earth, wood, and other materials, generally built along an east-to-west arc that very roughly delineates the southern edge of Mongolia, equating to the historical northern borders of China. It was envisioned as protection against nomadic intrusions and full-scale military incursions by various warlike peoples from the north. Several permanent walls were being built as early as the 7th century BCE, but most were later joined and strengthened by the 14th century resulting in what we see today. Most of the existing wall dates from the Ming Dynasty in China (14th-17th centuries).

China 2014, Great Wall, ridge-top wall at a mountain pass

Upon our arrival at the Great Wall, where we were one of the early buses for the day, we had to, of course, walk through a wholly atypical capitalistic Chinese “ancient village” where every vestige of originality has been removed and replaced with perfect, cartoonish copies Disney-style, and where any and all structures house souvenir shops. The weather, well, was not what we wanted: cold temperatures and a forlorn hazy overcast which we were repeatedly told was fog. “Fog” in China is more than synonymous with “smog;” it’s actually PC-speak for downright pollution! Unfortunately the weather was to shed all of our views that day, and result in the somewhat bleak set of pictures found here.

"Allen."  Not his real name.

“Allen.” Not his real name.

Allen, our tour guide, casually briefed us at a map of the Wall. Pointing out our goal – “Tower 13” – he casually waved his hand at the top of the ridgeline above where we could see a tower. “That’s not too bad,” I optimistically thought to myself. I remember thinking it didn’t seem to be that much of a climb. But then again we were only given about two hours to make our trek.

Well maybe he was point to Tower 13....

Well maybe he was point to Tower 13….

My first clue of what lay ahead? “Tower 13.” Ah, of course, it’s has to be unlucky 13. Only in Italy does it seem that the number 13 is considered anything but wickedly sinister.

juyongguan_mapChina 2014, Great Wall, find Jody along the wall! WMDue out limited time, our tour took us to Juyongguan Pass. Also written as Juyong Pass (居庸关 or 居庸關), this 11 mile long valley through a ridge of mountains lies just 31 miles outside of central Beijing. Here a large portion of The Great Wall of China passes through and has been fully restored. Juyongguan historically is one of the three greatest mountain passes of the Great Wall of China. It includes two sub-passes, one at the valley’s south (“Nan”) and the other at the north (“Badaling”). Although fortifications here date much earlier, the pass we see today is the site that was built in the 14th century under the supervision of Xu Da, a general of Zhu Yuanzhang, the First Emperor of the Ming Dynasty. It served as the northwestern gate of ancient Beijing City, and most certainly an important defensive ring for empire’s capital. However, like any good massive public undertaking, there were other uses for the wall as well. The tax man loved the barrier it proved, using it to place duties on goods traveling the historic Silk Road. Oh, and it was an effective barrier to both illegal immigration, and at times undesirable emigration. Makes one think it might be a good idea to have a “Great Wall of American.” And it wouldn’t be along our Canadian border….

745px-Map_of_the_Great_Wall_of_China

There is debate about the actual linear measure of the wall, since it includes many branches, trenches, and other natural barriers, but the measure lies somewhere between 8,850 km (5,500 mi) and 21,196 km (13,171 mi). Even at the low-end of the measures, it’s still over twice as far as the Miami to Seattle drive I’ve done…four times…which takes a minimum of 4 “reasonable” days averaging 60 mph for 12 hours per!

I couldn't resist....

I couldn’t resist….

great-wall-construction-smallgreat-wall-battle-illustrationThe cliché goes that “many hands make light work.” Although it’s tempting to take the original length of the Great Wall (say 3,100 miles), assume that it was built over 10 years by over 1,000,000 unlucky souls, and run the math to figure that each worker was “only” responsible for about 1.65 feet of wall per year. of MASSIVE wall running across IMPOSSIBLE terrain. Which includes everything needed to complete that 1.65 feet: quarrying, transporting, cutting, lifting, fitting, tamping, and finishing. No, any way you slice this construction project, it was hell to be in its employ. In actuality, if we take that 1.65 linear feet and multiply that by the average height of the Ming wall of 33 feet, and then multiply that by the average width of about 15 feet, converting to cubic yards we find that each poor soul was actually responsible for almost 30 cubic yards of construction. To put this in better perspective, realize that a full-sized cement truck carries only 8 cubic yards of mix; standard dump trucks carry between 5 and 10 cubic yards of earth. Oh, and the Empire paid you only in food…. In actuality, the network of smaller projects was built well over the course of 2,000 years, or 100 generations, and most likely involved many millions of people.

China 2014, Great Wall, private pausing on the way up

China 2014, Great Wall, Kevin happily on the way down!Yes, we dressed appropriately for the weather, forecast to only be in the 40s that day. And luckily we were forewarned to dress in layers. It may seem chilly at first on the Wall (and it is when that dry wind blows right through you), but I guarantee you’ll be breaking a sweat once you reach the second beacon tower along your journey. What we lacked, and could have used, was some water! It’s not like climbing Mount Fuji, but it’s much more of a climb than you think.

China 2014, Great Wall, Jody just starting the climb WM

rsz_screen_shot_2014-04-08_at_45452_pmAnd although it’s also been referred to as the “longest cemetery on earth,” confirmations of mass graves or deaths on the wall are hard to come by online. I have, although, seen estimates that put the death toll of construction at over 300,000, but I cannot find one credible instance online that states people were actually buried in the wall. Our tour guide claimed that during restoration of the pass we enjoyed over 5,000 sets of human remains were found in the vicinity.

Me with a Watch or Beacon Tower

Me with a Watch or Beacon Tower

Progress on the climb is measured by Watch or Beacon Towers: each is numbered. Although without a portable map, and thinking that the visible tower on top of the ridge was our goal, I didn’t pay much attention to the tower numbering when we first set out. I believe we started at Tower 6…. The visible one I mistook for 13 was actually only tower…EIGHT!!

China 2014, Great Wall, Jody thinks it's lonely near the top

smoke-great-wall-watchtowers-smallgreat_wall_of_china_12The Ming watchtowers were critical components of the Great Wall. Used primarily for observation, they are also called “Beacon Towers,” where their elevated roofs served as platforms for signaling. In fact, it seems that each beacon tower had a ready bunker of firewood, hay and sulphur for making quick, bright and smoky fires. Built no more than twice an arrow’s flight (about 100 yards) apart, the towers provided full defensive coverage; the more elaborate towers stood over 40 feet tall and offered unobstructed views and fields of fire. Observation posts were located on the top floor of the tower; lower floors were used to store supplies and equipment and house soldiers.

China 2014, Great Wall, crowded lower reaches of the wall WM

Note the "Watchful" Cameras

Note the “Watchful” Cameras

Of course there are the ubiquitous cameras on each of the “watch” towers; c’mon, what else would you expect to be going on there! Security cameras are literally everywhere in modern China, and lends credence to the premise of the show Person of Interest. If a machine is tracking your every move, you are most certainly in China. Are you being watched? Yes. In streets, classrooms, stores, mass transit and tourist destinations. Everywhere. If you want to visit China, get used to it.

China 2014, Great Wall, vespa treatment for the mountainous wall WM

China 2014, Great Wall, walking the lonely mountain wall WMChina 2014, Great Wall, the long climb up to Tower 13 WMWe press on with our climb. And make no mistake: trekking this section of the Great Wall is a climb. Like setting the stair-stepper at the gym on the hardest setting and then going for a full 60 minute workout! For the love of god, watch your step! When wet, the stone pathways and stairs are super slick; even when dry and on restored stairs, the footing can be questionable. The steps are never the same height two stairs in a row (modern building code is a wonderful thing), and some are so steep and high that it becomes more like scaling a ladder than even climbing steep stairs. Steps higher than their width are not uncommon. It’s not until you turn around and look back at the rising, snaking path that you really appreciate the steepness of those steps. It’s hard to find firm information on the vertical ascent to tower 13. At the low-end it seems to be about 630 meters, or about 2,100 feet. At the high-end, the round number 3,000 feet is often quote. My own estimates on the wall, using my trained skydiver and pilot’s eye, was about (but not quite) 3 grand.

China 2014, Great Wall, Jody on the climb into the heavens

China 2014, Great Wall, misty wall in a mountain pass WMBattlements are obvious all along the wall. Naturally, the crenellations (and holes for firing) faced the enemy, but drainage is all to the Empire’s side, helping to prevent vegetation which could provide concealment to an enemy. At one point I mentioned to Jody about how low the Wall was in one section. I didn’t realize I was looking onto the “friendly” side; Jody motioned me to the opposite wall where the wall connected to the crest of the ridge, which dropped precipitously a few hundred feet.

There are not many facilities along the way....

There are not many facilities along the way….

The Wall worked, but only marginally, and only for a short period of time. Manchu tribes from the northeast finally surmounted the Wall in 1644 and promptly took over Beijing, then all of China, and established their Qing dynasty, ending the Ming era. Can’t you just see about a million soldiers, slaves, and peasants turning over in the graves sighing, “All that work for nothing!!!”

China 2014, Great Wall, ridge-line wall trace (low key)

Once we realized the tower numbering system, we knew a bit more what we were in for. There was no turning back; climbing ahead of us was an older Marine Colonel Nancy who moved out like this was something she did everyday back on Okinawa. Climbing with us was a Marine Major, who you expect to be in good shape, but who was hauling up his 4-year-old daughter on his back, back-pack style! And behind them was a pregnant woman. We all made it up, but only after reaching a point where the pathway actually descended for a couple of hundred yards, before a steep final push to Tower 13.

China 2014, Great Wall, locks of love explanation placard WM

China 2014, Great Wall, kisses atop Towe 13!! WMChina 2014, Great Wall, locking our love together on the Great Wall of China WMAlong the way we noticed locks attacked to various points along the wall. Jody and I had seen this idea of “Love Locks” in our other worldly travels. Sad that we most likely missed our opportunity to pick one up at the base of the wall, we both longingly looked at this missed opportunity. Thankfully, up at Tower 10 or so, the locks were being sold! Writing down our names and date, the Chinese gent immediately engraved our Lock of Love, and off we went in search of “the spot” to leave our romantic impact on China. We found it in the vicinity of Tower 13.

China 2014, Great Wall, Jody happy about our locked love on top of the Great Wall WM

China 2014, Great Wall, we were there placard on Beacon Tower 13 WMChina 2014, Great Wall, Jody and tea after our arduous climbFinally, retracing our steps back down – there is not cable car or slide down at this spot on the wall – we decided to have a nice hot tea while waiting for our “Heroes of the Great Wall” certificate to be finished. We all were led to believe, again, by propaganda – or maybe just a really bad assumption – that we needed some type of stamp or document from Tower 13 to be a “hero.” This is not the case! Even so, for our own proof, we took a photo of the placard at the top tower in the pass.

Celebrating becoming a Chinese Hero at Tower 13!

Celebrating becoming a Chinese Hero at Tower 13!

Jody and I reached the Great Wall, and affirmed the true and heroic nature of not just this wonder of the world, but of the true and heroic nature of mankind in the world. Come to the Great Wall and set your own goal. No matter where you trek or how high you ascend, the Wall will leave on your soul the indelible mark of greatness.

China 2014, Great Wall, curving ridgeline mountainous wall WM

Just remember, like mounting Tower 13 of the Great Wall at Juyongguan Pass, most worthy goals involve an unexpected and challenging journey, one not visible at the outset. Persevere, and you too can become a Hero in your own right.

 

China 2014, Great Wall, Heroes of the Great wall and their bamboo medal

For more photos of our Far Eastern Flings among the Great Wall of China, see my Flickr Album The Great Wall of China at Juyongguan Pass.

The-Great-Wall-overview

As an aside, there is often confusion surrounding Mao’s quote about the Wall and the nature of being a man, true or heroic. The quote is taken from the poem “Mount Liupan,” written in late 1935 after the Red Army almost finished the famous Long March. Mount Liupan is a mountain in northwestern China. For context, the poem is included here:

The sky is high, the clouds are pale,

We watch the wild geese vanish southward.

If we fail to reach the Great Wall we are not men

We who have already measured twenty thousand li

High on the crest of Mount Liupan

Red banners wave freely in the west wind.

Today we hold the long cord in our hands,

When shall we bind fast the Grey Dragon?