2nd Class Shopping: Living in spite of the Military Postal System


“I’m tired of being treated like a second-class citizen.”  ~ Rosa Parks

“I get mail; therefore I am.”  ~Scott Adams

“The constitution does not provide for first and second class citizens.”  ~ Wendell L. Willkie

 

Anime mail delivery in Japan

Anime mail delivery in Japan

 

“So how long will it take to get that special order,” I eagerly ask the Base Exchange (BX) supervisor, thinking that I had found a solution to my growing outdoor storage needs.  After trying various staff and two stores, I finally found an employee who seemed to be able to talk with some knowledge and authority.

“Six months.”

I double over laughing, literally, in the man’s face.  “S I X   M O N T H S!?!?!” I say incredulously, but with a look of total disdain for this the military’s inertia-driven, bureaucratically-burdened attempt at providing commercial shopping services….

“That’s what we’re supposed to say.  I have seen it take as little as 3 months,” came a completely serious response.  While smiling, he wasn’t sharing in the ridiculousness of the situation.

Okay, I understand a large plastic outdoor storage shed is large and heavy, and even bulky.  I understand that it is going to take some time to be shipped overseas…maybe even coming by ship.  But I never assumed that ox-driven, covered-wagons of the 1800s Oregon Trail would be a faster mode of transport than dealing with the Military Postal System….

I would prefer the time-tested method of Trebuchet, but we are unfortunately out of range....

I would prefer the time-tested method of Trebuchet, but we are unfortunately out of range….

I have written about mail before, particularly about the magic that receiving snail mail can illicit (read Snail Mail).  However, after having resided on Okinawa now for seven months, it’s time to re-address (get it – re-address?!?) my conclusions….

You see, we have an overseas military address here in Okinawa, even though we live out in town.  That means that our mail is handled and delivered by the Military Postal System (MPS).  The MPS is designed to handle the mail between America and the military, but at no additional cost to the service member.  In other words, when we mail a package here, we are only paying the coast to ship from San Francisco (where our mail goes) to its ultimate destination stateside.

With a process diagram like this, what on earth could go wrong?

With a detailed process flow diagram like this, what on earth could go wrong?

Except that the MPS doesn’t deliver, rain or shine.  In fact, it doesn’t deliver at all.  We have to go to a base and check our (Military) Post Office box.  And even though Jody – the military member in our case – works on one base (Camp Foster) in a brand-new hospital, apparently no one thought about including a mailroom or mail center to support this rather large command.  So, our mailbox is located on another base, and while on Jody’s way home from work, it’s on the wrong side of a very busy road (requiring a right turn, equivalent to our left), and, of course, it seems to be closed as often as the petroleum industry raises oil prices, and much for the same reasons.  “Unrest in Syria?  Shit, let’s close and do some ‘training’.”  “More terror attacks in the Middle East?  Well, let’s close for Force Protection.  And those uniforms just make us stand out like sore thumbs….”

Exactly how I feel when we visit our MPS Post Office

Exactly how I feel when we visit our MPS Post Office

Oh, and besides being complete inconvenient for me (it’s the other way from where I work and most places I habitually go), we were initially only issued ONE KEY to our PO Box.  Fother-muckers.  This is where the government fails the most:  claiming “too expensive” and “accountability issues” at the complete discomfort of the customer and failure in their very mission of getting us our mail!  Yes, like Rosa Park’s opening quote, I too tire of being treated like a 2nd Class Citizen.  Maybe I could stage a sit-down on a delivery truck.

If they would only focus on actually delivering our mail, instead of obsessing over its packaging….

Stop focusing on DOD and focus on, say, THE MAIL!

Stop focusing on DOD and focus on, say, THE MAIL!

PO-box-fullThat’s not enough though.  The thugs and hooligans working at the Navy’s Post Office on Camp Lester are, in a thin-slicing of their capability, undependable at best, and downright negligent at their worst.  While it’s not their fault we have a tiny mail box designed to hold only normal-sized letter mail, such restrictions shouldn’t challenge them to creatively bend, fold, and otherwise mutilate our oversized mail and literally stuff it so tightly in the slot that it’s hard to remove.  No, they don’t want to take the extra step of filling out a package notice and placing oversized mail aside for reasonable pickup.  They are never in uniform, at least when I’m there, although I’m told that they are Active Duty Navy enlisted.  They certainly don’t act like it; on more than one occasion, I’ve had to ask an “employee” there to take off his oversized headphones in order to conduct business with me.  Oh, and our address isn’t hard:  last name “KING” and “BOX 46;” from the amount of erroneously “delivered” mail we get, I’m unsure that basic math was part of their ASVAB testing.  While getting mail for another “King” in Box 14 can be understandable, getting mail for “Kong” in box 1032 is not, unless you really stretch and connect our names as, wait for it:  King-Kong.  I actually feel so strongly about the First Class mess that is this 3rd Rate Post Office where I’m treated as a 2nd Class Citizen for actually wanting my mail delivered, correctly and without damage, that I no longer go to pick up mail.  I love to get mail, but the experience of this MPS negates any such joy or comfort.

Our "postal" clerks (and they are postal) would be great at this old game....

Our “postal” clerks (and they are postal) would be great at this old game….

Now, to be fair, this is – thank goodness – NOT the case on the Air Force Base here.  The Air Force’s Post Office is really every bit as good as any USPS back home, if not better.  It’s full service, clean, organized, well-lit and professionally staffed.  Oh, and looky-see, the military members are actually in uniform and provide courteous and efficient service…all without the aid of headphones!  We have not had an issue using this post office, and this is the only one I will use…although the Marine Corps post office on Camp Foster is well-run too.

lost-in-the-mail

BUT, the core issue of our 2nd Class Citizenry is a problem shared by any and all military members stationed outside of “CONUS” (the continental United States):  we have military addresses.  What does that mean?  That means that large swaths of commercial America do not or cannot service us at our military FPO or APO addresses….

Fleet Post Offices (FPO, for the Navy and Marine Corps) and Army Post Offices (APO, for the Army and Air Force) serve in place of the city in our address.  The state block of addresses is replaced, in our case, with an AP, referring to “Armed Forces Pacific.”  There are other codes, such as “AE” if you live in Europe, and so on.  So, if we want something shipped to us here to be picked up with our normal military mail, we enter “FPO, AP” for city and state.  While most vendors’ online ordering and shipping systems will allow “FPO” to be typed in for city, many systems do no offer “AP” in their pull-down menus, which negates us from ordering.  While the situation is MUCH better than it was in 1991 during my first deployment, it still creeps up too many times to brush away.  It’s really shameful in my opinion that so many companies and businesses fail to account for a sizeable portion of Americans living overseas – especially the ones that talk about “supporting the troops.”  It makes us (or at least me) feel like 2nd Class Citizens, or at least 2nd Class postage.

lost mail cartoon

I ran into this recently with my dive organization, PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors).  The subcontractor they use for online commercial transactions decided to upgrade PADI’s web portal for shopping, but in their upgrade, failed to account for overseas military addresses.  Compounding the problem, PADI has decided to use only FEDEX and UPS for shipping, while MPS addresses can only receive mail from the USPS.  That’s double jeopardy for people like us overseas.  Believe me, I have expressed my concerns as a 2nd Class citizen via both email and phone, but with little effect.

Mail-topia, our dream.  Except for the bullet bra.

Mail-topia, our dream. Except for the bullet bra.

I still hope that we receive mail often in Japan.  Although the letter dance I so happily wrote about previously in Snail Mail results in stepped-on toes here in Okinawa, snail mail – and packages – are certainly no less emotionally comforting.

As for the 6-month “Special Order” from the Base Exchange?  I’ll save our MPS thugs and hooligans the challenge (and pleasure) of attempting to stuff that gigantic package into our PO Box.

~ Far East Fling, PSC 482 Box 46, FPO AP 96362-0100

I would prefer this delivery method....

I would prefer this delivery method….

Love and the Ring of Fire: Earthquakes in Okinawa


6.7 this morning; Mother Nature was really getting her "rocks" off!!

6.7 this morning; Mother Nature was really getting her “rocks” off!!

“Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes.”  ~Voltaire

“I used to sleep nude – until the earthquake.”  ~Alyssa Milano

“Love is a burning thing, And it makes a fiery ring, Bound by wild desire, I fell into a ring of fire….” ~Johnny Cash, Ring of Fire

2003-09-20-Richter-scale-earthquake-adams-600wb

Epicenter

Epicenter

There’s nothing more I like than when Jody tells me that I made the earth move for her.  Mr. Cash was right about love and his ring of fire – although in our case, it’s more akin to being bound…oh yeah, in wild desire.  Thankfully, such playful physical restraint actually can help inhibit someone from falling unexpectedly, quite literally.  Say, like when terra non-firma actually does move during a quake.  And when it moves significantly enough to move us soundly out of sleep in the middle of the night to thoughts of immediate shelter and exclamations of “Oh Shit!,” it is quite surprising…and surprisingly frightening.

Every bit as exciting as Universal Studios...with the threat of actual dismemberment or death.

Every bit as exciting as Universal Studios…with the added threat of actual dismemberment or death.

379233-382883-350x350Actually, in a nod to Ms. Milano’s quote above, my immediate thought was of putting some pants on.  I might revisit the idea of sleeping nude, and certainly will consider more expanded and pragmatic uses of our bondage gear (wink)!

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EARTHQUAKES

It is easily said that earthquakes are a fact of life here in Okinawa, but experiencing a moderately powerful earthquake in person is quite a different thing.  Okinawa sits squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where the earth’s surface is fractured and the island is surround by 13 different fault lines, volcanoes are plentiful, and the ground literally shakes, rattles and rolls from time to time.

Our island chain has it's own named major fault!  Wait, that's bad....

Our island chain – the Ryukyus – has its own named major fault! Wait, that’s bad….

jssiart4This is my 5th year living on the island, however, and I honestly don’t remember anything other than the slightest of movement from my four previous years here.  Since returning this past August, we have now experienced at least three of what I will characterize as moderate quakes, with the one this morning certainly rating on the higher, more extreme end of “moderate.”  It was enough to rattle not only our condo’s furnishing and fixtures, along with the entire building, but our psyches as well.

I was never any good at the 400-meter-dash in school....  Perhaps I lacked the proper motivation.

I was never any good at the 400-meter-dash in school…. Perhaps I lacked the proper motivation.

220px-Earthquake-protectorWe live immediately on the coast.  I’m not sure if our building’s foundation is on reclaimed land, as much of the coastline is in Japan and Okinawa.  That would be bad for us.  What I do know is that while Japanese domestic building code isn’t up to American standards in many respects, such as NOT requiring an elevator large enough to fit a gurney to evacuate us in the case of injury from…well…an earthquake, the code here has, for a long time (much longer than in the states even), required buildings to be “seismically isolated.”

Earthquake-Resistant-Construction-Methods-Japan

Our building is of the “menshin” flavor of quake resistance….

So what the hell does that mean?

im_building06

Foundational rollers for seismic isolation.

img_antiseismic_rubber_10It means, in quite unembellished terms, that our building is shock-mounted (using large rubber pad-like dampeners, like a Harley’s engine, or most large floor-mounted machinery), and is on rollers.  “Ludicrous!” I hear you say!  But it’s true.  Between these two systems, the ground’s motion during an earthquake is nearly isolated from the building.  Nearly so.  Not enough, however, to keep us from really feeling those strong “s waves” this morning during the final 2 seconds of what was about a 6 second event.  A corny yet effective building “seismic isolation simulation,” something you mathletes and engineers will greatly appreciate can be found here.

Isolation simulator, for you geeks and nerds is self-imposed, non-simulated social isolation.

Isolation simulator, for you geeks and nerds in self-imposed, non-simulated social isolation.

What does it all mean?  It means that even though our building’s integrity wasn’t threatened, we still got quite a ride being on top of Mother Nature.  Now she can really make the earth move…for everyone!!

230px-Base-isolation

106157e47ea703c91cdf21ab67b5af41e4cb5925b7ac17c3afbc84bfbc0d05a8Major earthquakes are followed by aftershocks:  the main shock of the earthquake doesn’t always discharge all that stress from the earth’s crust, unlike when the earth moves in more passionate but not necessarily more interesting “affairs,” for the guys at least (read in your inner voice using Austin Power’s accent:  “And I’m spent!”).  Aftershocks, some as powerful as the main earthquake, happen as the earth settles into a new equilibrium, which often cause buildings which were only initially damaged, to submit and collapse.  We had a powerful aftershock…or simply another quake at 11:00 am, strong enough to actually take some hanging art off our walls.

Eye-witness testimony.  Rather than running for my phone, I went back to bed....

Eye-witness testimony. Rather than running for my phone, I went back to bed….

It’s hard to describe the experience.  The noise this morning was most surprising to me.  You often hear of the train-engine descriptions of tornadoes, and we’ve all seen and heard the howling wind of hurricanes on TV as some dumbass weather reporter is looking for his big break by pitting his ego against Mother Nature’s.  But the loud rumble and higher-pitched rattles commingled into a growing roar this morning of tired ground and rock giving way to fatigued buildings complaining in their brick and mortar rendition of “don’t shake the baby.”

Little chance of shaking death, except for those irresponsible American parents' babies....

Little chance of shaking death, except for those irresponsible American parents’ babies….

Sedhigi Earthquake

See, dressing modestly CAN decreases earthquakes!

Of course my GI Joe militaristic training kicked in and I heeded the military’s advice:  panic!!  What a tick, that’s the first thing they tell us not to do.  Seriously, here’s their advice, straight from the Emergency Action Plan of Kadena AFB:  “DON’T PANIC!  STAY PUT.  TAKE COVER.  HOLD ON.”  There is nothing there about putting clothes on.  There should be.  I had only one leg in my jammies when the quake ended.  And, sadly, I didn’t even have time get to see if any of Jody’s womanly jigglely parts were resonating with the earth.

I have always said these would make a killing in Japan.  On 2nd thought, they would, literally so....

I have always said these would make a killing in Japan. On 2nd thought, they would, literally so….

What the scientists don't realize is that THIS is all Mother Nature needs to cool her jets.

What the scientists don’t realize is that THIS is all Mother Nature needs to cool her jets.

This all has me thinking.  Yes, of jiggling, but also about the future and fate of Okinawa.  Scientists, like all scientists like to do, are warning that the island is “overdue” for a mega-earthquake that could send a tsunami over coastal communities where we live and U.S. bases where thousands of Americans live and work.  A major quake here is “well overdue and can happen at any time,” said Takeshi Matsumoto, professor of earth science and disaster prevention at the University of the Ryukyus.  Matsumoto sits on a panel of six university seismic experts who re-evaluated the tsunami danger for the Okinawa prefectural government following the 2011 disaster on mainland Japan.  “At some point…a massive earthquake is inevitable,” he continues, speaking of a 1,000-year event, and goes on to point out that the island of Okinawa has no record of a large tsunami during the past millennium.

These "Rings of Fire" can make the earth move...in all good ways!

These “Rings of Fire” can make the earth move…in all good ways!

Like I said, any chance I get to make the earth move for Jody, I’ll take the credit!  While our interpersonal Ring of Fire is always looking to get more intense, let’s just hope that Mother Nature’s sex life doesn’t get intensely out of control over the next 2.5 years.  And just think, typhoon season is just a couple of months away…read about that here: Typhoons – A Divinely Okinawan Experience.

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Bowel Movements and Moaning Myrtle: Using the Facilities in Japan


“Psychiatry’s chief contribution to philosophy is the discovery that the toilet is the seat of the soul.”  ~ Alexander Chase

“Castro couldn’t even go to the bathroom unless the Soviet Union put the nickel in the toilet.”  ~ Richard M. Nixon

“Today, the degradation of the inner life is symbolized by the fact that the only place sacred from interruption is the private toilet.”  ~ Lewis Mumford

Weirdly funny Japanese toilet commercial

Hanako-san, Poltergeist of the Privy

Hanako-san, Poltergeist of the Privy

Using the toilet in Japan can be, at first, a quite scary endeavor.  Hanako-san (トイレのはなこさん “Hanako of the toilet”) is a Japanese urban legend about the spirit of a spooky young World War II-era girl who haunts school bathrooms across Japan.  She allegedly appears when one says her name three times.  Three figures prominently with this Asian version of Harry Potter’s Moaning Myrtle, although not nearly as entertaining, cute, and perhaps with a much naughtier twist.

Moaning Myrtle naughtily checking out Harry's "Junk"

Moaning Myrtle naughtily checking out Harry’s “Junk”

hanako_of_the_toilets_by_autumnends-d55nvjcAccording to the legend, a person who wishes to see Hanako-san must go to the third stall in the girls’ bathroom on the third floor and knocks three times before saying her name…you guessed it, three times.  After that, if that person still has the “guts” (pun intended) to enter, she will encounter a small, young girl with bobbed black hair, dressed in a red skirt.  Note to self:  avoid the third stall when I try to convince Jody to take a break for some afternoon delight (wink).

TP must be scared of ghosts....

TP must be scared of ghosts….

Grades and Ghosts

Grades and Ghosts

Hanako-san is a popular and widespread urban legend, often used by school children as a rite of courage or as a method of hazing.  Depending on the agenda at hand, Hanako-san acts as a mischievous, malevolent or benign wraith of the water closet.  And, of course, there are widespread claims that anyone courageous enough to open the door after taunting the spirit is immediately pulled into the toilet.

funny-pictures-morbid-channel-auto-748536

And, in what I can only conclude as a truly devious plan of various school administrations and PTA’s working in close, secret collusion, it is said that one ever needs to get rid of this particular poltergeist – and this is where a really cool urban takes a detour directly to nerd-ville – showing her a graded exam with a perfect score (or “good grades”) makes her vanish into thin air.  Ah, youth:  always wasted on the young.

Apricot Wash??  And, are we to assume that apricots have bung-holes in need of washing?!?  See below.

peepo-choo-japanese-toilet

A Westerner’s first interaction with a modern Japanese bathroom can be like a Close Encounter of the Third Kind.  In fact, sitting on one of their electronic toilets, I often find myself thinking of myself as Admiral William Adama, firmly in command of the Battlestar Galatica, where I can inquire with my XO (2nd in command), “Who does Number Two work for!!?!!”

The pictures here of Japanese facilities are from Kansai Airport near Osaka, Japan.  Kansai happens to be my favorite airport in the world, and is consistently in the 10 ten list of best airports since it opened.  And tickle-my-fanny and color-me-crazy, how bathrooms in Japan have changed from their traditional “squatters.”

Lucky, this one has non-skid pads for your feet, and a bar to bear down on.

Lucky, this one has non-skid pads for your feet, and a bar to bear down on.

This graphic is just full of crap!

This graphic is just full of crap!

fallonshitYep, you can still find these historical holes, and in some places, this is your only option if you really gotta go.  In fact, Jody and I both found ourselves in dire need of relief recently in Kyoto.  Out on a hike through the Arashiyama (嵐山) “path of bamboo,” we had no choice but to use such facilities.  Now, neither of us is a fan of these squats-and-squirts.  One of my favorite (and only) jokes about the difference between Air Force and Naval Aviators is this:  “flare to land, squat to pee….”  As the joke implies, squatting can be somewhat emasculating, especially for a Westerner who’s squatting muscles are not quite limber enough for such a laboratory.  Luckily, many have directions for use, and if you’re really lucky, you have a squat bar to hang onto and bear down on.  I can neither confirm nor deny if I have ever played the role of the mad crapper as pictured; as a trained bombardier-navigator, I will admit I’m rather ashamed of my…”accuracy.”

Moral of the Story:  carry a mask, just in case!

Moral of the Story: carry a mask, just in case!

Japan 2014, bathrooms, video entertainmentBefore we get knee-deep in more potty humor, john jokes and privy puns, we find that modern bathrooms in Japan are extremely well-appointed.  There is a fold-down false floor that can be used for changing clothes.  And how many times do you wish you had THAT?  For me, often enough to think of the Japanese as porcelain prodigies for considering this eventuality.

Japan 2014, bathrooms, changing pad in the stalls

Japan 2014, bathrooms, spacious, clean, and well-equippedThere is hand and toilet seat sanitizer provided, along with handles for those times where a little additional leverage is required to make your movements properly.  There is a nifty wall-mounted child seat nearby and of course a video screen for enhanced entertainment.  Personally, I have always considered the toilet a quiet refuge from the world where, in my middle age, I seem to get the majority of my reading done.  My entrails are not entertained.

Japan 2014, bathrooms, kid-friendly seating

Japan 2014, bathrooms, kid-friendly toiletsJapan 2014, bathrooms, rocket-surgery electronic toilet control panelBut then we come to the throne, no one offers porcelain pride like the Japanese.  They start with dual seat tops, for adults and children (why don’t we do that??).  But, it gets immediately better:  the seats raise and lower automatically, and are HEATED!  You cannot imagine how agreeable this touch is on your tush.  And all these comforts and conveniences are at your fingertips via remote control.  Hell, you can even buy a toilet in Japan that operates via Bluetooth.  Forget starting your car from your phone, I can remotely clean my ass in Japan all from my iPad, from which I can read, simultaneously.

Do you really need to control your toilet with your phone??

Do you really need to control your toilet with your phone??

Japan 2014, bathrooms, rocket-surgery electronic toilet control panel instructionsYes, “showering” toilets have become the standard in Japan.  I’m not sure what the difference between a commode’s “hip wash” and “bidet,” but I can assure you that the warning about not pushing the buttons without covering the commode (with hips or lips, as it were) is extremely well-founded.  In a pinch, you could wash your hair with the result, standing up.  And if your latrine requires a line diagram of a certain complexity and magnitude, you really should heed the warnings prior to using such a privy on your privates!  Oh, and washing is not enough; the commodes also will dry your derriere.  In a way, one can consider Japanese toilets as the car wash equivalent for your rump and bump.

Like at a carwash, pick your service carefully!

Like at a car wash, pick your service carefully!

toilet-yoga-1In Japan, the vernacular “water closet” is really the proper way to think of bathrooms.  The rooms are generally waterproof, complete with floor drains, where water is used not just for washing hands, but for all those nether regions which seldom see the light of day…or have the opportunity for blow-dried hair styling (for those who don’t man-scape).

Mr_Poo-Passive-Agressice-Notes-from-Your-Colon

Shit happens.  And in the Far East, as you can see and tell, that means just another amusing adventure.

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“Only if you’re ugly:” Japanese Low Cost Carriers (LCC)


“The Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad.”  ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

“I’m so ugly – I worked in a pet shop, and people kept asking how big I’d get!”  ~ Rodney Dangerfield

“Poetry is what gets lost in translation.”  ~ Robert Frost

We all have baggage.

We all have baggage.

“I’m SAR-re, you must out one kilogram,” the Peach Airlines Japanese counter attendant said as we tried to check in for our flight home from Kyoto.

full_travelling-samurai

Do kids get to have heavier baggage, you know, since they weigh less?

Do kids get to have heavier baggage, you know, since they weigh less?

Jody and I were prepared for this eventuality.  We packed for our Far East foray together, sharing one small suitcase because we would be using so much public transportation.  And bringing extra stuff like we always do, we were slightly overweight.  It seems that the Japanese LCCs (Low-Cost Carriers) only allow for 20 kilograms (44 pounds) per checked bags, but will go to 21 kilos (and additional 2.2 pounds) by placing a “HEAVY” tag on the bag, but you can’t pay for any extra weight beyond that absolute cutoff.

Our bags weren't free, but still only $25.

Our bags weren’t free, but still only $25.

Adjusting the bag and taking it back through x-ray, we bring it confidently back up to the counter for re-weighing, and perfect!  We are at 20.6 kilograms.  “Oh-kay,” the attendant says with a beaming, courteous smile like really only the Japanese can provide in a customer service setting!

About all she did was make our carry-ons heavier....

About all she did was make our carry-ons heavier….

She gets out a “HEAVY” tag, and on the back she writes some things.  “You must sign,” she says, still with a smile.

Ugliest600

Not knowing what I’m signing for, I pause.  She must sense my confusion because she continues, “You sign only if you are ugly,” again with a smile.  “So we not responsi-ber because you are ugly.”

This is kind-da how I felt...(sigh).

This is kind-da how I felt…(sigh).

Now both Jody and I are confused.  I smile back, thinking to myself in my inner voice, “Okay, I get it:  all us gaijin look the same.  But did she really just tell us we were ugly?”  And worse, we have to sign and acknowledge that unpleasant characterization?!?

Wait a tick!!  Maybe she’s talking about our luggage!  However, the bag is not that bad as to be summarily and nonchalantly dismissed as ugly, regardless of how much she may be smiling.  The bag may be worn, it is certainly not handsome, and possibly it’s beyond its prime, but ugly?  That’s a little extreme.

funny-quotes-awesome-ends-with-me-and-ugly-begins-with-you1

Not satisfied and not understanding what was Lost in Translation in this transaction, I ask – just to be sure – and with my own pleasant but now slightly bruised ego, “What are we signing for?”

“Sign only if you’re ugly!” came another overly cheerful response.  Boy she is “real-ree” happy about me being so unattractive….

No, ThIS is ugly, and certainly no virgin.

No, ThIS is ugly, and certainly no virgin.

Best flight attendant uniform ever.  Or at least since the 40s....

Best flight attendant uniform ever. Or at least since the 40s….

I turn and face Jody, with a grimacing smile that silently says, “Is she really saying that to us?”  Jody, recognizing that all three of us were due for some much-needed clarification, turned to the attendant and asked, “Do you mean ‘HEAVY?’!”

“YES-YES!” came the hurriedly excited reply matched with exaggerated head-nodding.

Whew.  What a relief.  Jody and I aren’t ugly after all.  And neither is our luggage.  Now we’re just…“heavy.”  That’s a lot better than being ugly; nothing a diet can’t take care of….

image_LCCrules_english_01

I still don't get the whole "Peach" thing.  But sex always sells.

I still don’t get the whole “Peach” thing. But sex always sells.

A LCC (Low-Cost Carrier, aka no-frills, discount or budget carrier or airline, or better yet, plain’ole cheap bastards) is an airline that generally has lower fares but offers fewer amenities.  To make up for revenue lost in decreased ticket prices, the airline often will charge for extras.  They are not to be confused with smaller, regional airlines; LCCs in fact quite often offer wide domestic and limited international services.

screen-shot-2013-10-01-at-11-38-11-am

Really, they dress their dude stewardesses in THAT??

Really, they dress their dude stewardesses in THAT??

0020_peach2In 2012, three new budget airlines entered the Japanese market serving Okinawa (where we live), creating increased competition and thankfully much lower fares on several domestic and international routes.  Interesting enough, while competing directly with the established JAL and ANA Japanese full-service airlines, almost 40% of Peach is held by ANA, a direct competitor.

"Cute" in Japan has no price.

“Cute” in Japan has no price.

Yes, that's plastic lawn furniture in their terminal.

Yes, that’s plastic lawn furniture in their terminal.

Yes, that's basically an empty hangar/warehouse....

Yes, that’s basically an empty hangar/warehouse….

The fares offered by Peach were truly unbeatable.  In fact, since they were about 30% (or less) of what ANA or JAL would charge, we actually made inquiries as to their safety, performance, and validity at our on-base Japanese travel agency, who quickly vowed on all three points.  While Peach doesn’t use the standard passenger terminals, which for the Okinawan hub means a bare-bones operations involving plastic lawn furniture and a warehouse like environment, their services, aircraft, and performance were impeccable.  Actually, being in their own terminal building, while necessitating an extra shuttle ride, makes check-in and security quite easy and simplistic:  there were no lines anywhere and we never had to wait for service.  We boarded on-time with seat assignments situated together, and their departure and arrival times were as advertised.  And, they were flying new Airbus aircraft, an industry standard by any means.  The service is so good actually that there is really no need to ever fly with the “heavies” at three times the cost.

Our Peach-sweet ride to Kyoto

Our Peach-sweet ride to Kyoto

In a truly humorous note, the LCC sharing the hangar with Peach is called Vanilla, probably the perfect name for a budget airline!

Peaches and cream.  Sort'of.

Peaches and cream. sort ‘of.

But be careful when you are “ugly.”  These cheap bastards are not afraid of calling you out and making you answer for such transgressions!

Photo-Bombed by the Asian Dude!!

Photo-Bombed by the Asian Dude!!

McDonald’s American Vintage Campaign: I’m Lovin’ It!


There is ANIME for everything in Japan!!

There is ANIME for everything in Japan!!

“We are homesick most for the places we have never known.”  ~Carson McCullers

“Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.”  ~Peter De Vries

“Too much has been forgotten in the name of memory.”  ~Don DeLillo, Americana

50s-fads-skirt-200x250Remember the good’old days when everyone was young and innocent and all was right with the world?  When poodle skirts flowed and showed curvy calves, and neck scarves and bobby socks completed a look….  When school-produced and chaperon-provided “Sock Hops” dances were held in gyms across the country…and “The Twist” defined a decade?  When red & blue 3-D glasses were common in theaters across the country, and pointedly, women’s bullet-bras shaped the standard of what was alluring?  When beatniks were not quite cool, but would never be found at the faddish American drive-in….

And women unfortunately "knew their place...."

And women unfortunately “knew their place….”

Those are some of the things I think about when I consider “American Vintage.”

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american-vintageWell, McDonald’s in the Far East is flirting with all-things Americana, particularly with their new “American Vintage Campaign,” unveiled through a 1950s American Diner menu recently released here in Okinawa.  In a phrase, McDonald’s Japan is attempting to take the nostalgia that many in the East have for most things West, and cram it into sandwiches and on top of fries which neither resonate with our prototypical ideal of an American Diner, nor with the food of that time!

Fonzie would at least be cooler than Obama....

Fonzie probably would benefit from Obama-Card….

dreamNow, when an America thinks of a 1950s Diner, what may come to mind?  Perhaps “Happy Days” and “The Fonz.”  Or, perhaps, you might think about a classic period true American Diner or the time, a la James Dean and Marilyn Monroe (and the other strap-hangers and wallflower that make up that iconic night crew).  And the standard American vintage meal of the period is easy enough to conjure up:  a no frills burger, fries, soda, and perhaps a malted milkshake….

True Vintage Food, Americana Style

True Vintage Food, Americana Style

the-fonzdb-2However, here in Japan, they are…doing it wrong.  As least partly.  For instance, the signature “American Vintage Diner” items seem to consist of two sandwiches and special-order french-fries.  The burger – the “Diner Double Beef” – is anything but American Vintage!  Check out the layers of oddly unique Asian-inspired flavors and textures:  a double beef burger on “graham” buns (???), with Chicago-style steakhouse sauce (whatever that is), fresh onion, cheddar cheese, and get this – an egg, AND, wait for it…

The Diner Double-Beef!!

The Diner Double-Beef!!

Mashed potato sauce!  Yummy.  In fact, so oddly delicious (I’m told) that Inside the Actors’ Guild has invited a new word for it:  scrumtrulescent.

The Actors' Guild Can't be Wrong

The Actors’ Guild Can’t be Wrong

diner-honey-mustardhBC255DDCThere is also a crispy chicken sandwich – the “Diner Honey Mustard” – with, yes, you guessed it, honey mustard, in addition to bacon, cheddar, and lettuce.  Now that seems more like it, I mean, more something like we would find on a diner menu.  Although mustard of such sauciness may have been a wee-tad spicy for the conservatism of the McCarthy-era 50s.  However, it wouldn’t be weirdly Japanese if they got even this one (and just one), just about right; both sandwiches are served with what they call “Classic Fries,” which, in the Far East interpretation, is presented as a build-your-own fries box, complete with processed cheese product to be squirted directly from a plastic packet, then topped with a sprinkling of “bacon-flavor topping.”  We all should be smart enough to know that such a phrase only means artificial bacon flavoring infused into the most unappetizing parts of the pig…which I’m told doesn’t taste or feel like bacon bits at all.  I can honestly say that in my nearly 48 years on the planet I never encountered such a concoction at a Micky-D’s!  Anywhere in the world for that matter.

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funny-Ronald-McDonald-girl-cute12063680024_1ff019f119_bHowever clever McDonald’s in Japan has been with their vintage-themed décor, it still can’t quite bring one to consider either the establishment or their newfound food as anything close to an American 1950s diner.  They have reproduced some classically delightful Americana posters and prints, and in some instances, have made clever use of space, color, and shape.  For instance, turning the waste bin into a jukebox is a stroke of genius, as is covering their service counters with a loud, McDonald’s palette infused checkerboard pattern.  They also offer an American Vintage tee-shirt, which I’m sure will sell “real good” (note the vintage grammar in the photo at left), as most things American do here in Okinawa where our western influence is at extreme.

The Hippest Trash Cans Around!

The Hippest Trash Cans Around!

Count'em, FOUR thumbs up!

Count’em, FOUR thumbs up!

12063655374_33c9c0ff06_bIn all fairness, I can’t say that I’ve tried these menu items.  And my heart and arteries thank me for, daily.  Oddly enough though, I do frequent McDonald’s here in Okinawa about 1,000 times more than I ever did back in the Motherland.  Fountain sodas are hard to find in Okinawa, where everything is canned or bottled, and the Western-style breakfast they offer simply can’t be beat when pressed for time or confounded by a lack of orange juice at home….  The food franchises here are especially clean and well attired.  The service, like most anywhere else in Japan, is friendly and impeccable, and amazingly fast compared to our standards of fast-food at home.  All these things combined make a trip to the Golden Arches quite refreshing here in the Far East, so much so that I was the one to ask the wife to stop by in order to pay homage to this vintage campaign!  That said, though, the true downfall of Japan isn’t going to come through scarce natural resources, a failing economy, or a slow cultural death brought on by over-indulgence on manga, anime, and coffee and comic overdoses.  Rather, it’s going to be through good’old vintage health problems brought on by the “MegaMac!”  My Gawd look at that monstrosity!

My Hearts Hurts from Just Looking at it....

My Hearts Hurts from Just Looking at it….

Would Huggy-Bear Approve?

Would Huggy-Bear Approve?

That could be BBQ sauce on his head.

That could be BBQ sauce on his head.

However, it gets even BETTER!  This vintage campaign is actually a set of three battling bites of Americana:  “1950s American Diner” now playing, “1970s Soul Food,” and “1980s Pop Culture Cuisine.  If you think they have missed the mark on American 50s diner food and feel, wait until the “Soul Food” menu comes out at the end of the month.  On tap will be the Huggy Bear “Hot & Groovy Chicken” and “Hot & Groovy Beef.”  At least they’ve been uber-creative with their entrée names….  It remains to be seen if they will inadvertently offend those Americans who insist of being African as well.  The overall campaign ends at the beginning of March when their 1980s Pop Culture Boy-George “American BBQ Chicken” and, you’ll never guess, the “American BBQ Beef” will have been served since the middle of February.

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Stay tuned for those delicious developments.  I can already smell the humor and fun!

Which do YOU prefer??

Which do YOU prefer?? More importantly, which would WIN?!?!

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Christmas is…for Lovers…in Japan


“Christmas isn’t a season. It’s a feeling.”  ~Edna Ferber

“A good conscience is a continual Christmas.”  ~Benjamin Franklin

“Christmas is a time when you get homesick – even when you’re home.”  ~Carol Nelson

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Christmas is one of the holidays that has most changed in Okinawa since my first here in 1999.  Back then, while not uncommon to see some Christmas items in the major department stores in December, it was uncommon to see wide-spread Christmas decorations and certainly surprising if a western Christmas carol was heard, especially in English.  Almost 15 years ago, what actually struck us most in terms of western traditions that had been imported to Japan was how utterly westernized weddings in Japan had become!

Andy Williams - an Okinawan Fav for the Holidays

Andy Williams – an Okinawan Fav for the Holidays

However, this Christmas in 2013 has been a real shock…in a pleasant yet strange 9-volt battery-on-the-tongue kindda way.  We are astounded at just how much more of our Christian holiday that the Okinawans and Japanese have smuggled from the West.  From the standard Christmas carol cannon in English played in almost every commercial venue (Rudolph is much more enjoyable in Japanese for some reason), to the sheer amount of stores, organizations and segment of the populace choosing to actively participate in seasons greetings, one could argue that our holiday spirit thrives innocently and cheerfully  here in Okinawa, Japan.

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However, what exactly does that spirit mean??

A central theme seems to be cute Santa helpers ....

A central theme seems to be cute Santa helpers ….

Seriously, it's almost like if you merged Halloween and Christmas!

Seriously, it’s almost like if you merged Halloween and Christmas!

No, not dirty dancing; making hearts with their arms and head!!

No, not dirty dancing; making hearts with their arms and head!!

For starters, Christmas here is not religious in nature, much like their “Christian-themed” weddings, the ones complete with crosses and long-trained white flowing gowns.  In a cliché, Christmas here is…for lovers.  It is a couples’ holiday (but becoming more family oriented), much more akin to our Valentine’s Day than of any other type of spiritual ceremony or ritual.

“Single Hell, Single Hell….”  It would make a nice seasonal ring-tone.

But think about it this way; replace the notions of a Christmas turkey and caroling through illuminated neighborhoods…with buckets of “Christmas Chicken” and well-dressed lovers on a date partaking in a local holiday “illumination” and you’ve got it about right.

Taken well BEFORE Thanksgiving....

Taken well BEFORE Thanksgiving….

If it's good enough for JAL....

If it’s good enough for JAL….

You see, in the 1970s, KFC – yes, Kentucky Fried Chicken – started to aggressively market itself as the chicken of choice as the culinary Christmas craving, which has become a much more broad representation of our (western) holiday.  It worked; when we visited KFC about two months ago, there were already large in-store displays about ordering holiday meals, and the statue of Colonel Sanders out front (which all the KFCs have here) was already in a Santa costume.  It’s odd to think about the God of Chicken (the Colonel has successfully approximated deity status in Japan) as a surrogate for Santa, but in a weirdly Japanese way, that’s exactly what he is here!

That's a pretty detailed...and full chicken schedule!

That’s a pretty detailed…and full chicken schedule!

BentOn-Christmas-cake-2013Another culinary holiday tradition here centers on a “Christmas Cake,” which is generally a store-bought (see a commercialized theme going here?), white cake topped with strawberries and often other garnishes which spank of the season, resulting in the prototypical red, white and green colors which visually represent Christmas so well.  At least where it snows and there are evergreen pines, which for the geographically challenged, does NOT include Okinawa.  Here in Okinawa you will find a small, local bakery in almost every neighborhood, and these shops literally pump out these cakes during this time of year.  I’ve heard rumors that the Okinawans compare people without a love on Christmas as about as sad as a leftover, unsold Christmas Cake:  while still attractive on the outside, stale tasting on the inside!  Lovers, such revolting people….  Let them eat cake!!

So we did.  With ice cream.

So we did. With ice cream.

Creepy Christmas Character

Creepy Christmas Character

Finally, one of the biggest things to do on Okinawa during this season is to visit an “illumination,” one sure way to tell that winter is at hand on a sub-tropical Pacific island!  These events are held all over the island, from private venues, to the major resort hotels, to some of the more popular themed and touristy attractions.  Illuminations provide a true glimpse of just how the Japanese interrupt our traditional and long-standing Christmas culture, complete with accurate if not humorous portrayals of Santa, his sleigh and reindeer, along with all the other Christmas elements and characters you could ever imagine…and then a few more.

Ready for the (Illuminated) Tunnel of Love!

Ready for the (Illuminated) Tunnel of Love!

Okinawa Holidays 2013, Zoo Illumination, Winter WonderlandWe attended the Okinawa Zoo Children’s Land “Christmas Fantasy,” an annual, one-of-a-kind holiday spectacle held the week before and after Christmas.  Here the landscape, in the middle of dense urban sprawl, is truly transformed into a wintry (or at least chilled & rainy) wonderland, where snow blowers produce snowfall on the walkways, pictures can be taken with real snowmen, and the kids can even go sledding or spoil for a snowball fight.  Okinawa Holidays 2013, Zoo Illumination, Churros in Japan!!They also host a “unique” laser show which is both weirdly corny and wildly fun as only the Japanese can produce.  While it rained steadily in a blowing gale the night we visited, the park remained crowded with couples well-dressed and clearly on more formal dates; it’s amazing the places that Japanese women will and do wear heels.  Carnival and state fair-like games, food and candies were plentiful, and I was soooooo excited to have our picture taken with a true Japanese Santa…who was tucked away, hidden in a dark alcove that built our suspense…who turned out to be…white…American…and from the Lancaster Dutch Country in Pennsylvania!

Frosty's been eating a little too much sushi....

Frosty’s been eating a little too much sushi….  Look it’s even snowing (wink)!!

Not Japanese.

Not Japanese.

Okinawa Holidays 2013, Zoo Illumination, Japanese cuties pose with SantaYep, as we entered the tent for our turn, I peered with all my might to see what the Okinawans would put forth as Mr. Claus.  Would he be worthy?  How would he sound with a Japanese accent?  Could they find a guy larger than life, or at least over 6 foot and 200 pounds to properly pull off the rule?  As all these queries were racing around my head right alongside the sugarplums (and who knows what those are anyhow?), I hear, in a distinctly mid-western yet American accent, “Merry Christmas.”  What a tick!!  What the frack?  I respond, “Hey, that sounds mighty American!”  The response, which tinkered on stealing Santa away from me AGAIN, was, “Yup, straight from the Dutch Country in Lancaster County….”  What are the odds….

Our Non-Japanese Okinawan Santa

Our Non-Japanese Okinawan Santa

We had planned to attend the Itoman Wine Farm “Peace Illumination Festival” in Itoman City today, but the weather kept us away as of publishing (winter storm…less the snow and ice, oh, and loss of power and whatnot).  This annual event hosts the largest illumination at 1.3 million lights, representing the population of Okinawa, which carry the people’s collective hopes for peace to the world.  Itoman City and the entire southern part of Okinawa Island were subjected to fierce battles at the end of World War II and were the scene of horrific carnage, and the area is dotted with peace monuments such as the Himeyuri Monument and Peace Memorial Park.  Thus, this festival recognizes the awfulness of a savage past while displaying a radiant hope for the future.

A Christian Angel in Okinawa...riding a banana?  Wow!

A Christian Angel in Okinawa…riding a banana? Wow!

Person-to-whom-Ochugen-and-Oseibo-are-sentWhile gifts are not exchanged per se on Christmas or in relation to our own gift-giving tradition as a spiritual birthday celebration, the Japanese do have an end-of-year gift giving tradition called oseibo.  But don’t confuse this with the mid-summer gift-giving custom called ochugen!  In Japan, it’s custom to give gifts – or have major department stores or the Post Office deliver them – in December (usually by the 20th) to co-workers, bosses, relatives, teachers, and close friends.  Generally, these gifts consist of traditional hams, fancy cooking oils, gift certificates, higher-end beer, gourmet coffee, Asian seasonings, Okinawan seaweed, and perhaps even seafood and unique fruit arrangements.  It seems everyone has their version of fruitcake!

Really, Beer??

Really, Beer??

The presents generally cost anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 yen (roughly $30-$100).  An interesting note about oseibo is that the most expensive gifts are usually reserved for bosses!  Talk about awkward by American standards:  “I’m sorry Naomi, your end-of-year gift wasn’t up to my standards, we we’re going to have to let you go….”  On each oseibo gift is placed a thin paper called noshi on which the word “Oseibo” is written.  The Japanese are, if anything, elegant and graceful in most ritualistic traditions they exercise.

Ritualistic grace & beauty

Ritualistic grace & beauty

Christmas Even in American Village, Mihama

Christmas Even in American Village, Mihama

Although we are indeed “home” now here in Okinawa, well rooted and seeking our own niche, I can’t help but also feel homesick this time of year.  Although our Far-Eastern inspired Christmas “half-tree,” the subject of an upcoming blog of its own, was certainly wonderful to plan, shop for, and decorate with Jody, it was not shared with very many.  We did start a new traditional Christmas Even dinner by eating Sushi at Mihama’s American Village with a few close friends, something akin to the Parker family going out for Chinese Duck visa vie A Christmas Story…less the tragedy involving the dogs eating our non-existent turkey.  And while we do have Christmas lights up on our 5th story balcony, and as entertaining and wonderful the Okinawan illuminations are, I still find myself drawn to “home” and the culturally, spiritually rooted traditions that have become so ingrained over almost five decades.  Jody and I will always find ways to celebrate on our own as Lovers so often do.  Just know that our friends and family are sorely missed this time of year, a time when friends and families should strive to be together.  If not in body, certainly in mind and spirit.

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So, in the spirit of the season wherever you happen to be, ring up some coworkers, cohort with your cronies, share an intimate moment with a loved-one, or just cuddle with a favorite furry friend.  Whatever you do, just do all you can to make sure you never become one of those dreaded leftover, unsold stale Christmas cakes!!

Single and 27 = Stale Leftover Cake....

Single and 27 = Stale Leftover Cake…from the Lucky Star 11 Anime Series.  Seriously.