Easy Chair


“The discontented man finds no easy chair.” ~Benjamin Franklin

“A house that does not have one warm, comfy chair in it is soulless.” ~May Sarton

“One who sits between two chairs may easily fall down.” ~Proverb quotes

Easy chair.  If you're 3.  Or apparently Japanese.

Easy chair. If you’re 3. Or apparently Japanese.

We should be about 10 days away from finally receiving our household goods from the States (knock on wood; see Castaway).  But that doesn’t do us any good right now.  Although I started out this move quite firm in the belief that things are just things, and stuff is just stuff and is wholly replaceable, that isn’t exactly true.

Not entirely.

The first – and only things I’ve written about missing so far has been our Love Jug.  And the second, and quite possibly only other thing worth mentioning is, quite honestly, our Easy Chair.  Well, it’s actually a chair and a half.

Our beloved Chair 1.5 in the center background

Our beloved Chair 1.5 in the center background

phenomenon-movieThere’s a scene and symbolism in the movie Phenomenon (1996) that concerns the importance of chairs to life.  In it, George appears to be magically and mysteriously transformed, suddenly endowed with strange powers.  The transformation, however, was short-lived and due to a brain tumor, which George ultimately passes from.  As George is approaching his terminal end, there’s a discussion in the local bar about it all:

Banes: [speaking to Doc about George’s transformation] “He never really changed at all.  Isn’t that right Doc?  I mean he never really got any smarter.  [after a long pause without a response] Doc?”

Doc:  “Banes… how’s your lady-love?”

Banes:  “We… um… we broke up.”

Doc:  “Really?  That’s too bad, yeah.  Now George has a love at his side and she is sticking with him.  You know why?  Because he bought her chairs.  That’s pretty smart to me.  You ever buy Lisa’s chairs?”

Banes:  [discounting the whole notion because he can’t comprehend the symbolism] “Doc’s real drunk tonight.”

Doc:  “Every woman has her chair, something she needs to put herself into, Banes.  You ever figure out what Lisa’s chairs were and buy ’em?

[Everyone pauses in silence]

Doc:  “Nope.  But, you’re right about one thing, George never changed.”

Our Chair - everyone should have one

Our Chair – everyone should have one

No, it's not a stripper chair....

No, it’s not a stripper chair….

Jody and I cemented our relationship in this chair; in it we poured and put ourselves, together.  It is one of our first co-purchases, a major item that already hinted at the longevity and closeness of what was to turn quickly into a marriage.  It is the centerpiece of not just our living room, but of our time together.  It fits us, and more importantly, it fits us together.

Cat Refuge.

Cat Refuge.

It nurtures us as a couple, and reminds each of us to nurture the other.  I cannot tell you how many nights I’ve spent laying across Jody’s lap watching a favorite show.

Alex sleeping with me on Otto

Alex sleeping with me on Otto

I cannot count the number of times Alex our cat (Cleo’s brother, who went missing quite a while ago back in the states) would hold Jody down in this chair and force her to nap.

The cats, while financially supported and raised by me, really belong to her....

The cats, while financially supported and raised by me, really belong to her…. Alex likes Otto.

It has hosted Christmas gifts, been kind to our party guests, and served as a refuge for our animals.  It is, in physical form, symbolic of our relationship.

A fabulous Christmas host.  And Jody's not bad, either.

A fabulous Christmas host. And Jody’s not bad, either.

And Otto, well let’s just say Otto serves naughty purposes rather well (he says “Hal-lo” with a wink and a Dutch accent).

Naughty things have been known to happen.  It's Otto's fault.

Naughty things have been known to happen. It’s Otto’s fault.

This was imagined, right?!?!?!

The stories our Chair could tell….

Currently we are on a sterile, BLUE, American folk-art inspired, government purchased and supplied sofa that not just exfoliates our skin, but provides the physical equivalent of a chemical peel.  The cat will have NOTHING to do with it.  But in an ironic twist, it manages to highlight every single piece of cat hair within a 10 meter radius.  Let’s just say we are dang tired of just managing with our temporary seating provided by the lowest bidder….

Yuck.

Yuck.  And soulless.

It’s true that this place is no home.  Not yet.  It remains soulless, without our one…and a half…warm, comfy, chair, where neither of us has to attempt to sit between two sofa cushions to be one.  Ten days, and we will once again be content.

Castaway


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

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

shday-movers

“Mr. and Mrs. King,

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

NOT

NOT

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

The Fortune Rachel Sigala Should Receive

The Fortune Rachel Sigala Should Receive

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

Except in Our Case

Except in Our Case

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

Except for the One About Actually Shipping Our Stuff

Bar for the One About Actually Shipping Our Stuff

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

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

Well, All of Them Less Us

Well, All of Them…Less Us

Sincerely,

Lizzy Escobar

Deseret Forwarding International

http://www.deseret-intl.com

Phone: 915-615-0802

Fax: 915-774-5177

lescobar@hopeadmin.com

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

Pick Movers Who Will Move You

Pick Movers Who Will Move You

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

Wooden Sailing Ships Would've Been Faster

Wooden Sailing Ships Would’ve Been Faster

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

My Reaction Upon Reunification with My Asian Rice-Cooker

My Projected Reaction Upon Reunification with My Asian Rice-Cooker

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

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

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

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

David_Duchovny___Trust_no_one_by_PascalWagler

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

Send a Review of this Blog over to Deseret!

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

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

This is about the extent of our in-home entertainment

This is about the extent of our in-home entertainment

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

dreamstime_s_8736416

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

Even Monkeys Fall From Trees: Moving to Japan


Even He Scratches His Head at Our Missing Items

Even He Scratches His Head at Our Missing Items

Head-Scratching & Expressly Missing

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” ~John Wooden

“Little things console us because little things afflict us.” ~Blaise Pascal

“百日の説法屁一つ” ~Japanese proverb, loosely, “breaking wind in front of the congregation ruins 100 days of sermon….”  Or, that the little things sometimes mean the most.

Or, “Saru mo ki kara ochiru (猿も木から落ちる),” literally, “even monkeys fall from trees….”

even_monkeys_fall_from_trees_postcard-rd1092d78fd70496baf49699b90a1bb16_vgbaq_8byvr_324

That last Japanese proverb is more commonly interpreted as anyone can make a mistake.  And mistake we did in setting aside items for our “express shipment” to Okinawa.  You see, when you move overseas in the military– technically called a “Permanent Change of Station (PCS)” – you are allowed two moves.  Three, if you are not entitled to your full weight allowance, which figures on both rank and whether or not one has dependents (read:  a family).

The Majority of Our Stuff Going into Storage

The Majority of Our Stuff Going into Storage

To Okinawa we are limited to ¼ of our nominal weight allowance, which is odd because the Army and Air Force generally come with their full moving entitlement.  The Navy (and Marine Corps) argue that the places here are too small to handle the American plethora of goods, and while there is some truth to such a statement, the truth is always somewhere in the middle.  And by middle I mean that it saves the service money at the expense of the member….

It takes more than the village...to move properly to Japan.

It takes more than the village…to move properly to Japan.

At the Lieutenant Commander rank with dependents (that’s me), our moving weight entitlement is something like 17,000 pounds.  Thus, moving to Okinawa we get about 4,300 pounds for this move…which includes all three individual moves:  1) an “Unaccompanied Baggage (UB)” express shipment to Okinawa of about 1,000 pounds maximum; 2) a HouseHold Goods (HHG) shipment of the remainder, or about 3,300 pounds; and 3) a Non-Temporary Storage (NTS) shipment of the rest of our “stuff” that goes into storage state-side for the three years we are assigned to Japan.

We actually used 700 pounds of UB, and almost 7,000 pounds of household goods!  Not sure how the Navy is going to feel about that, and we still, as of writing, have no idea how much our storage shipment weighed.

Our Express Shipment Crated

Our Express Shipment Crated

Our Express Shipment was picked up on the 8th of August in Pensacola, Florida, and had a “Required Delivery Date (RDD)” of 12 September.  That’s about 35 days for those of you who are counting, and believe me, I am a counter…when you are depending on a loaner-kitchen.  Prior to the arrival of this “stuff,” we are literally living out of six suitcases carried with us via commercial airliner.  This included one 65 pound bag dedicated to two full sets of dive gear, and a whole host of cat-equipment, including not one, but two pet carriers….  See “Feline Fiasco” and “Nine Lives and Hard Travels” for more on those particular necessities!  We did get the most basic kitchen utensils from the Marine Corps’ “loan locker” here…but for just 30 days.

So, one can quickly image that after five full weeks of living out of suit cases and kitchen something like you might find while camping, and trying with all your might to attempt to delay purchases for those items which you know are coming, for which you start counting not only days, but hours until that all-important unaccompanied baggage is due to show.

In our case, there was nothing heard from the military personal property office on our express, right up until the required due date.  I, of course, being jaded about the military and their intelligence at times, was already considering the worse:  the shipment, clearly, had washed overboard from some third-world-lowest-bidder freighter in one of the four tropical storms to affect Okinawa since our arrival.

Surely our crate washed overboard....

Surely our crate washed overboard….

Alas, Jody calls on our due date and, like pennies from heaven, our shipment did indeed arrive Kadena Air Base on the 12th.  Or so we were told.  Talk about a “just-in-time” means of delivery; it makes me wonder whether or not the shipping company shipped to arrive at the latest possible time, or, did they have the opportunity to get it here earlier?  Like I said, I’m jaded at times…and every time when it comes to the government.

Our Crated Goods in Japan

Our Crated Goods in Japan

Unfortunately, our shipment didn’t or couldn’t clear costumes and the military officials in time for delivery that day.  But it was scheduled for the next day, and thanks be the gods (or at least Hermes), our long-anticipated and much-needed 700 pounds of mystery possessions do indeed show up at our doorstep.  Or at least in our parking lot.

Secured Goods.  We Hope.

Secured Goods. We Hope.

After okaying the costumes seals were still intact on our crate, the movers open and start brining boxes up one after another.  The first thing I will say is that 700 pounds doesn’t go very far.

And the most important thing I’ll say is that no matter how much weight you receive, if you didn’t pack the right things at the shipping end, you end up revisiting all those purchases you’ve been denying yourself thinking certain things were, most certainly, on their way!  But aren’t.

That Sinking Feeling of Items Forgotten

That Sinking Feeling of Items Forgotten

So, for those of you either packing to come overseas, or for those of you just merely interested in where we fell short, here’s an expressly short list of things we really wish we had packed for Okinawa:

Christmas Can Be Early:  Check Your List Twice

Christmas Can Be Early: Check Your List Twice

  • A Vacuum Cleaner, especially since we bought a brand-new one for Japan; our new rugs are looking old before their time, and will have to be swept I guess….
  • Except we didn’t pack a Broom, either.  Or a Dustpan, or Swifter, or even Basic Cleaning Supplies.  We’ll wait, unhappily, for the vacuum, but we had to get these basics to help clean up this mess, literally and figuratively.
  • Pillows & Blanket.  Well, we ended up buying pillows and a lame blanket two weeks ago to used on our military-provided full-size bed (yes, I said full-size), so this one isn’t so bad.
While there may be cushion in the government's budget, there is none in their beds.

While there may be cushion in the government’s budget, there is none in their beds.

  • Except that I set aside the Pillow-Top under-covering for our bed since I was afraid the dang thing would take up too much room.  It was the size of a small Japanese car, mind you.  Make sure you have the linens you really want; sleep is a very important commodity when you are dealing with ten time zones of change.
  • Coffee Mugs.  I did a great job setting aside about ¼ of about the ½ of the kitchen we are bringing (did you follow that math?).  This 1/8th of our state-side kitchen is quite well-appointed; in fact, as the familial domestic engineer and kept man, I cooked a kick-ass Sage & Basil Chicken Fettuccine dinner just last night with our newly arrived cookery.  Included are enough pots, pans, utensils, flatware, and dish service for four.  There is Tupperware for storage and for Jody’s lunches, along with our microwave.  And we even have our K-Cup machine…but with no mugs in which to brew all the good get-me-up juices.  I consider this a good investigation of our tempered drinking glasses.
Okay, you got us:  we are tea drinkers....

Okay, you got us: we are tea drinkers….

  • Toaster.  We have a microwave – another boxy but larger cooking accoutrement, and it’ll heat bread like nobody’s business, but it won’t brown bread to an ultimate crispy, golden deliciousness.  The microwave’s littler boxy cousin takes up no room and weighs next to nothing; do yourself a favor and keep the kissing cousins together!
Bring Your Toaster

Bring Your Toaster

  • Iron & Ironing Board.  Can you begin to even imagine how wrinkled our clothes are having spent the 36 day journey in a lay-down wardrobe…that’s been shifted to and fro?  Do you really think that those clothes stay neatly packed and their hangers??  The government really should throw in a few extra bucks so that we can at least have standup wardrobes for international moves.  They don’t, ‘cause such standup boxes take up too much room…which equates to money.  The Navy should be paying for some amount of dry-cleaning and pressing, at least.
Built-in Shelving from our Okinawan Home in 1999

Built-in Shelving from our Okinawan Home in 1999

  • Shelves.  They are not just for books in Japan.  It’s odd to me that while traditional Okinawan homes often have a wide variety of built-in storage, modern construction here lacks almost any type of storage outside of the most basic (and small) closet.  We have, over the years, accumulated a number of those stackable, customizable heavy metal shelving units that are so popular in Japan.  I had a number from my last time here, and Jody purchased some while stationed in Cuba.  In any case, although we have a whole host of linens, towels (beach & bath), and wash-cloths, we have nowhere to put them!
Sexiest Cartoon:  I am the Spouse...and Domestic Engineer...and Kept Man!

Sexiest Cartoon: I am the Spouse…and Domestic Engineer…and Kept Man!

small_things_quote_webWe are often told to “…not sweat the small stuff,” and that the little things don’t matter.  And while this type of philosophy may result in chicken soup for your soul, it’s awfully hard to cook that soup without a kitchen.  Accordingly, sometimes the littlest things do matter, and they do very much.  If you stop and give this discussion a dose of contemplation, and then think about what you would really want if you only had a thousand pounds of your “stuff” to live with, your list would be quite drastically different than if asked what things you would want to live for.  The latter includes all those big-dollar items of plenty that make our lives so (and maybe too) busy and full in America…so crammed that self-storage business in the United States is BIG business.

But it is the former where we are able to make living a life not just feasible, maybe not quite comfortable, but so much more agreeable.  Delicious freshly-cooked food, newly-brewed hot teas and coffees, a hygienic home and clean clothes, and, at the end of the day, sound slumber.  In all these ways, it is indeed the little things that allow for the big things in our lives to materialize.

Where's the Book on "Packing for Japan"!

Where’s the Book on “Packing for Japan”!

PS – Check out this link for a rather eccentric yet comprehensive list of things to pack for Japan.  It’s part of this blog about surviving a move to Japan!

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Our Home: “Kwuirky” with a K!


"Kegger" with a K - this would be the coolest home.  Ever.

“Kegger” with a K – this would be the coolest home. Ever.

予測できない, Yosoku dekinai = “quirky” in Japanese

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” ~Bashō, born Matsuo Kinsaku (1644-1694), then Matsuo Chūemon Munefusa, the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan

“Home is where the heart is.” ~Pliny the Elder

This home was, unfortunately, not available

This home was, unfortunately, not available

Our home away from home in Okinawa is, shall we say, quirky.  Well, it’s a wee-tad more than the standard American idea of quirkiness, so I’ve decided to characterize and name our domicile Kwuirky.  Yep, that’s right:  Quirky with a Kapital “K.”

It’s hard to easily explain and fully capture the vast gulfs between the ideals of aesthetic design, comfortable outfitting, and tasteful decorating that Americans have honed into high art, contrasted with the cultural paradigm that I believe the Japanese hold of how such aspects of style and layout render across the vast Pacific ocean.  In other words, like most other qualities of life in Japan for a Gaijin, there is something “lost in translation” between here and there.

Sadly our home did not come furnished with these pillows.

Sadly our home did not come furnished with these pillows.

In the case of our condo conundrum, there is a LOT lost in translation!

But in order to even begin to attempt capturing such charming idiosyncrasies and trinkets of traits gone awry, I’ll provide a simple explanation surrounded by imagery.  Which, in these cases, speaks volumes more than a quantified thousand-word cliché.

Find the handles.  On the outside.  I dare you.

Find the handles. On the outside. I dare you.

A.  Grand View Balcony.  Our “front” balcony is what sold this condo about all the other properties that we considered.  Even through the hassle of high-rise living, through the rectangular, boxy layout of this particular space, the view provided here is, in a word, stunning.  That is, until you exit the condo to stand on the balcony.  And close the sliding glass doors behind you.  And then you realize there are absolutely no handles or other hardware on the outside that allow for easy or any opening of the sliding glass.  Yes, the glass is already covered with fingerprints from our attempts at griping purchase for opening, and will remain so for the next three years.  Who designs doors without handles for their most basic manipulation?

Find the kwuirkily-placed quad light switch!!

Find the kwuirkily-placed quad light switch!!

B. Light Switches.  Light switch placement is critically important.  Those of you that have ever designed a home or re-walled or rewired a room know of what I speak.  Not only is there concern for logical and easy access given traffic flow and the fixture(s) operated, but there must be consideration for their impact on the space itself.  One of the limiting factors in placement is that most switches feed into an electrical box located in the wall that has to be stud-mounted.  But, for the love of gawd, the placement of this quad light switch in our condo simply exceeds any and all reason.  Put some bookshelves there?  No – would block access to the lights.  Couch?  Maybe, but one would be reaching over those seated…awkward.  Picture on the wall?  Sure, off-center of course….

Lighting:  options without functionality

Lighting: options without functionality

C. Lighting.  Lighting is much more than pragmatic light.  Lighting provides functionality, but more so, creates ambiance.  It also must make sense.  Most of the overhead fixtures in our home act in a very odd 4-way fashion.  Click the rocker switch and the lights come on where the sequence last left off.  And that sequence goes a little something like this:  all lights on; two lights on; overhead nightlight on; and all off.  So, say, for instance, you want to read at night and rock the rocker but only two of the lights illuminate.  You have one of two solutions:  rock the rocker three more times to get all the lights on, OR, walk over to the light fixture in question and pull the lighting chain…yep, you guessed it, three times.  This holds true for all the bedrooms, our office, and our kitchen.  I hope the switch mean-time-between-failure ratings are much higher than those in America.  Each operation could actually be three.

An ugly, expensive, but necessary transformer for our American stove.

An ugly, expensive, but necessary transformer for our American stove.

D. Power.  Japan is different.  Some say the capital of all things “weird.”  But I like different, and am enthralled by weird, so I’m right at home here…in our home.  But my toaster is not.  You see the 100VAC (50-60hz) used in Japan is just enough different than our standard and highly controlled 110VAC (60hz) to make a tremendous difference to our machine brethren.  The toaster takes at least two, if not three cycles to “toast” properly.  Our hotpot will boil water, albeit at a slower pace, but seems to not roil enough to kick the darn thing off.  Microwave popcorn?  Add at least 30% more pop time….  These issues are all solved through the use of heavy, ugly transformers; alas, they are hard to come by from the base housing office, and are expensive to purchase.

Grounded Plugs - some o the only ones.

Grounded Plugs – some of the only ones.

E. Power, but this time more grounded.  I cannot figure the distribution of grounded versus non-grounded outlets in this condo.  Obviously the ones in the kitchen (but not all of them even there are grounded) and the ones in the baths make sense.  However, it seems that only one bedroom has a duplex box that offers a standard 3-prong female fitting.  Darn the luck; of course the two extension cords we brought – and I knew we would need them – are both grounded.  Hopefully the base Exchange sells the 3-to-2 prong adapters…which defeat the whole purpose of grounded power to begin with!  I guess I should be happy that our plugs work here without all those obtrusive and funky shaped adapters.

Common floor, tub and sink drain in our waterproof bathrooms.

Common floor, tub and sink drain in our waterproof bathrooms.

F.  Bathroom plumbing.  The most essential element of any bathroom, if you stop and think about it, is running water.  Water runs a little differently in Japan than it does back home.  Still downhill powered by gravity, but otherwise differently.  Aside from the toilet having two options for flushing (half and full) – and believe me, a full Japanese flush is already a short American rinse (I had to purchase a plunger as a result), the most interesting aspect of bathroom drains is that the sink and the tub both feed to a single open floor drain.  I guess this makes cleaning the floors a bit easier (more on that later), and during construction there is one less drain to worry about.  It’s just…quirky.

Bathroom by Tupperware.  At least it's waterproof.

Bathroom by Tupperware. Even the floor is plastic tiling.  At least it’s waterproof.

G.  Plastic bathrooms.  So about cleaning those bathrooms!  The Japanese design bathrooms as literally waterproof rooms.  Which is a neat concept.  Until you realize that what results is a bathroom by Tupperware, unless one was really to splurge and put in, dare we say, TILE.  On the one hand, no worries about water going anywhere; on the other hand, water goes everywhere.  There certainly is no luxury in Japanese bathrooms (besides the deep soak tubs), even in the higher-end properties we considered.

A really bad patch...in the wallpaper on the ceiling.

A really bad patch…in the wallpaper…on the ceiling.

H.  Wallpaper on the ceiling.  ‘Nough said.

Flamboyant doesn't even begin to describe this level of opulence....

Flamboyant doesn’t even begin to describe this level of opulence….

I.  Liberace’s Ceiling Fan.  I don’t know how the owners imported such an American treasure (probably eBay), but yes music and flamboyant-gay-man musical fans, there it is, in all its glory, sitting in an ornate coffer ceiling (of sorts), a thing of immeasurable beauty that we gawk at in bed every night until we literally are mesmerized off into deep, hypnotic slumber.  I’m waiting for the plethora of nightmares to begin.  We may come home with PTSD from this exposure.

Crown Molding.  Not quite fit or royalty.

Crown Molding. Not quite fit for royalty.

J.  Crown molding and baseboards.  Okay, they’ve really tried here.  But, the road to poorly adorned homes is usually paved with good intentions.  The ceiling molding is offset from the ceiling, something like 1/8th inch or so.  Just enough to notice, but not enough to do anything with or about.  I could see a rope strand of LED lighting perhaps….  Do they have to leave room, you know, for the ceiling-paper seams?  The molding is joined, at the ceiling and floor, like how I would imagine about a 10 year old would do the job…without any training or help.  The seams are not overcut and adjoined “seamlessly;” rather, there is a drastic 90 degree straight cut with large visible gaps between pieces.  At the baseboard, where it meets a door-jam, the baseboard sticks out about 1/8th and shows a wholly unfinished edge.  In the final coup de grace of fashion faux pas, the finishing nails are not finishing nails, and neither are they finished.

Kitchen cabinets...or giants.

Kitchen cabinets…for giants.

K.  Kitchen cabinets.  Our kitchen is the best kitchen we saw, not by a lot, but by enough.  Like Japanese bathrooms, they don’t seem to “get it” here when it comes to a well-designed, functionally sound kitchen.  For starters, the upper cabinets are for nothing less than giants.  This said by an American that is already something like four inches taller than the standard Okinawan.  And the cabinet finishing?  Well, let’s just say that we pay a little more attention to such details.  I’m not sure I want my guests to be able to inventory my canned goods, either.

Yes, we have a garbage disposal.  The Japanese kind.

Yes, we have a garbage disposal. The Japanese kind.

L.  Okinawan Garbage Disposal.  It will never break.  Well, I guess it could, but it would take an awful lot….  Most trash is burned on Okinawa, and even though many Americans think of a garbage disposal as a “magical” way to get rid of food waste, it really doesn’t – and there is absolutely no magic.  It just transfers that trash to the water stream, something already burdened on Okinawa.

Powder room.  Soon to be a linen closet.

Powder room. Soon to be a linen closet.

M.  Powder Room.  The condo is advertised as a 4/2.5, which is technically true, but it takes some looking to find that “point-five.”  There is a toilet room, opposite the washer/dryer area, and immediately adjacent to one of the full baths.  Although I understand that theoretically one person from one of the 4 bedrooms could be in the full bath taking a full bath, and another person from one of the remaining 3 bedrooms could be in the other full bath taking a partial shower, and this half bath could allow for yet another person to use the john, there is still the problem of the 4th person from the 4th bedroom who is stuck using the kitchen sink.  No, this space would have been MUCH better suited as a linen closet, something it will become during our tenure here.

Uber kwool Okinawan door curtain.

Uber kwool Okinawan door curtain.

N.  Awkward Openings.  Remember that wall with the misplaced quad light switch plate?  Well, it gets worse.  There is a door to the utility room/powder room/2nd bathroom which opens outward against this wall.  That settles it; either the wall is completely unusable, or the door has to go.  The door has gone.  We have hung a traditional Japanese indoor curtain in its place, with a famous image of a tsunami.  It actually is amazing how well this simple curtain acts as an air conditioning break, and how much ambiance it provides already to our unfurnished, undecorated living room.

Redneck run plumbing solutions.

“Redneck Run, Inc.” plumbing solutions

O.  Outdoor Plumbing.  Okay, it’s bad enough that the power in Japan is just different enough to cause a few issues here and there.  However, a much more serious issue is the different outdoor plumbing standards used here!  How an island that was under US administration until 1972 wound up using a British standard is beyond me.  I will tell you this – there is no easy way on the island to bridge this gulf.  I might as well be trying to build a moon rocket.  So, being Americans from the Florida panhandle, we used a little elbow grease and a lot of brute force, resulting in a Redneck Run of hose so that we have water access to the street (down 60’), and to our side balcony where our scuba gear will be washed (laterally 60’).

Tiling fit for the government.

Tiling fit for the government.

P.  Office Tiling.  I would be proud of the flooring in the condo.  If we were hosting government administrative offices here.  Yes, it is that exact same kind of office building tile.  Now, it is laid well, and there is actually a pattern in most rooms.  However, the patterns are neither centered on the rooms themselves, nor or they centered on the coffer ceilings and ceiling fans where applicable.  This makes for an odd appearance, one that we decided quickly that could, should, and would be covered up with more appropriate – and comfortable floor options.  Believe me, the “amoeba” rugs were not my first choice, but they are “growing” (pun intended) on me with time.

The Bar that Almost Was

The Bar that Almost Was

Q.  Kitchen Eat-At Bar.  It’s really cool, except it’s at table height.  So, instead of having really quirky circular swivel bar stools for people to sit at and entertain the chef(s) pretty much eye-to-eye, said chef(s) will be forever talking down to his (or her) guests…seated in regular dining room chairs.  We are exploring a few creative solutions to help deal with this bar, hopefully, without bruising our guests knees while making it all…functional.

Figure this out!!

Figure this out!!

R.  Central A/C:  Not.  The Japanese have a totally different philosophy when it comes to conditioning the air in their homes:  room by room.  Each room.  Almost every room.  So, in our condo, there are five air conditioners.  Right now, we are running three:  living room, master bedroom, and office, the latter of which is located at the other end of the condominium from the first two units.  I have to crank one or two up when we cook (with gas!).  And each unit is remote controlled, which are, as you probably guessed it, completely in Japanese.  That’s bad enough, but it gets worse; we have three different remote controls….  The cool thing about these units is that they have a “dehumidifier” setting, which allows for massively reduced power consumption when the weather is more pleasant.  Also provided in each room is two circulation aids; one in the ceiling which operates 24/7, and an additional wall unit that is user-controlled.  These aids pull air from the inside and exhaust it externally, helping to exchange the air inside the condo, rather than having it recirculated over and over again.  We were told that the latter is “bad air, no good.”  Perhaps there is a lesson there for America??

Our main A/C in our Living Room.

Our main A/C in our Living Room.

S.  Covered Parking.  But with an uncovered building entrance!  One of the decision points we used to select this residence was covered parking.  It is really nice to have your vehicle’s interior only, say, about 85 degrees, rather than the 120 it would be if exposed to the tropical sun here.  Equally important, the driving monsoon-like rains make the to-and-fro from the car a potentially drenching experience.  So, we thought, “great!”  This place had it all.  EXCEPT the building’s entrances – stairwells and elevator lobby – are accessed from the street, not the parking garage, and necessitate a small but importantly uncovered passage.  Oh, and did I mention that our assigned parking slots are at the other end of the building next door?  It’s not too bad; just on the other side of the central elevator shaft…just quirky.

T.  Bedroom Closets.  I’m not sure what the Japanese do with their clothes.  A key indication is the vast number of portable hanging-closet solutions sold at the local “Make-Man” DIY stores on the island.  Jody uses the one in our bedroom; we are sharing the largest one in our designated office.  One of the “bedrooms” doesn’t have a closet at all; it will be our store room.  Our guest room has two, oddly shaped and not very functional closets.  We brought waaaaaay too many clothes….

Tiny, and in Japanese, but Gas-Powered!

Tiny, and in Japanese, but Gas-Powered!

U.  Japanese Dryer.  We have a gas dryer, a Japanese model, that is, like the AC remotes, completely in Japanese!  The translation I have covers only about half the options, from which I deduce that the other half are not that important.  Or just may be Japanese state secrets not privy to gaijin.  The dryer’s capacity is tiny, easily half that of our American-provided washing machine, but it actually is pretty “hot” at drying clothes.  I will be adding a Japanese clothesline on our side balcony when funds and opportunity permit.

You can still peer over the privacy treatment....

You can still peer over the privacy treatment….

V.  Window Privacy.  Since this is high-rise living, our windows necessarily overlook a condo unit on one side.  We wouldn’t have taken this unit, however, if it wasn’t the end unit of a building.  This provides a significant amount of standoff from our neighbors, especially since the two building sit ajar from each other.  Still, and even though curtains and drapes are provided on all windows, most are treated with graphic overlay.  So much for the view…of another condo unit.  Although we didn’t appreciate this treatment at first, it works pretty ding-dang well; our bedroom windows – that ones that count with an ocean view – have clear glass.

Reading light placement.  Go figure.

Reading light placement. Go figure.

W.  Reading Lights.  The master bedroom has some nice reading lights, placed on the wall where the bed makes the most sense.  However, the light is neither centered on the wall, nor centered on how a bed could/would be placed there.  So, it’s just a little strange when you examine the aesthetic appeal of this room.  Oh, and the CFL bulbs in the fixture cannot be read by, at least not by this aging-reading-glass-wearer.

Internal Windows??

Internal Windows??

X.  Portholes!  Would be great in an aquatically themed space…if they truly were portholes.  I’m not sure what to call them.  Every room door in our condo, less those to the baths, has an oval “window,” made of some cheesy frosted plastic.  And all of them are scratched, probably by previous guests attempting to cover them up (as we will, but more creatively and without damage).  This treatment, I’m sorry to report, just makes the door feel and look “cheap,” and certainly does nothing to dampen sound transmission.

Our Place isn't Quite this Kwuirky!

Our Place isn’t Quite this Kwuirky!

Okay, so I can’t talk all this smack without explaining the more charming aspects of living here!  All these quirky attributes of Kwuirky is typical of Japanese “mansion” style, a word used here to describe a large building with multiple units.  Remember, their culture and cultural philosophy in designing and furnishing a space are vastly different than ours.  Couple this with perhaps an aim to appeal to Americans, and what results, I imagine, is exactly something like our condominium:  a near-miss across the domestic domicile domain.  All these little things mentioned above – and they are indeed little in the bigger scheme of our existence on Okinawa – are easily acknowledged with a shoulder shrug and a coy smile.  Most will be creatively incorporated into a very comfortable and inviting home once we are finished furnishing our place how we wish.

Sunset from our Bedroom

Sunset from our Bedroom

Every day is indeed a journey, and the journey itself can be home.  To truly understand, you must make your own journey and come see, first-hand.  We have a guestroom.  Complete with a full-sized bed, oddly shaped and small closets, bizarre lighting, privacy glass, and an odd oval non-transparent window on the door.  Come visit, and help us enjoy our home away from home!

Even Cleo Approves!

Even Cleo Approves!

Okinawa Newcomer Survival Guide


Okay, My Guide is Not Quite This Good....

Okay, My Guide is Not Quite This Good….

“Learning is not compulsory…neither is survival.” ~W. Edwards Deming

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” ~Charles Darwin

We’ve now been on Okinawa for just over ten full days, the first mark of any significance to the military.  What mark, you may ask?  Ten days is all you get – automatically – for Temporary Living Allowance (TLA), monies that pay for temporary lodging, which can be extended out to thirty, but only upon asking and with proof of a good-faith effort in finding housing (off-base) or awaiting a housing offer or home to be made available (on-base).  I won’t go into too many Service-specific tidbits of advice here, because the Services are all annoyingly different…even though…we are on the same side…serve the same side…in military branches that all fall under the same Federal Department…with only one Commander-in-Chief…and are funded by US taxpayer dollars.  It’s the epitome of duplication of effort and non-value-added effort to watch distinctly parallel yet vastly divergent processes and programs that must be navigated, only to result in the exact same end-state.  While arguments can (and are) made as to why the services are so unlike, none really are pragmatic enough to stand up against even the least application of Lean principles, let alone logic in reducing waste (time, gas, money, staffing), while serving the customer.

It's Not this Bad, But Keep Calm and Hold On!

It’s Not this Bad, But Keep Calm and Hold On!

But don’t expect to be treated like a customer in the military-machine here!

Customer Service?  Hard to find in the Okinawa Military-Industrial Complex

Customer Service? Hard to find in the Okinawa Military-Industrial Complex

There are actually a fair number of people here who are really very helpful.  In any case, here is a few of the more salient points for helping YOU to survive your arrival and initial time on the island.

Cash-Cash-Cash! – money talks, but it doesn’t walk here.  That takes you, and it requires a lot more walking than back home in the states.  Although the Okinawan economy is MUCH better about credit cards than 15 years ago, it is still, compared to the US, archaic when it comes to electronic bill-paying.  Additionally, you should expect a cash outlay of 12-15K USD if you are required to live off-base, adjusted for your individual rank and number of dependents (the range given is for an O-4 with a single dependent renting at their cap).  Costs making up in this range are (at the high end):

  • Rental Agency Fee (1/2 month’s rent):  $1,290
  • Rental Security Deposit (month’s rent):  $2,580
  • Pet/Utility Deposits (gas, water, electrical):  $200-$400
  • Rent (prorated for current month + first full month):  $2,750
  • Purchasing 2 Cars (title transfer, car cost, insurance):  $8,000
Don't Call this Number - I think it's for Korea!

Don’t Call this Number – I think it’s for Korea!

Japanese companies here cannot cash American checks; many companies do not offer direct electronic billing or payment options, including EFT.  Most people are likewise limited in the amount of daily ATM withdrawals, which instantly limits your access to cash; be ready with mobile banking to help clear checks you write on-base to private parties (e.g., for car purchases), and bring voided checks/deposit slips to set up electronic bill paying service through two services offered on-island:  G.I. Bill Pay, and Easy Pay.  Or, as a further option, open up a local checking/savings account to assist in local banking involving large sums of cash/yen.  The bases here offer branches of Community Bank (owned & operated by Nations Bank) and NFCU.

Wheels = Freedom.  Purchasing cars, costs of which include purchase price, road taxes, title transfer fees, and liability insurance, requires about half your cash outlay.  Purchasing a car off-base will allow you to finance your vehicle, which may help with cash deficits if you are short.  Purchasing on-base through private sales vary depending upon terms; in our case, one individual traded his vehicle for a personal check, while the other wanted the check deposited/cleared (via mobile banking, USAA to be specific) prior to exchange of property.  The title transfer, liability insurance and other fees in taking ownership are done in Yen cash only, and run between $275-$400 depending on the engine size of the vehicle in question.

Typical Lemon-Lot Car Advertisement.  Cold AC?  Of course (wink)!

Typical Lemon-Lot Car Advertisement. Cold AC? Of course (wink)!

The easiest way to transfer vehicle registration & title is through Camp Foster, where vehicle registration AND an insurance company are co-located.  First, visit the base registration center for title transfer authorization, then walk next door to the auto-port where a title/insurance company actually conducts the transfer of title, JCI insurance, and road tax, and offers personal liability insurance as well (this should be purchased to limit your exposure while overseas; SOFA status offer little to no protection in serious vehicular accidents).  After this process, you must proceed back next door to vehicle registration for completion of paperwork.  The actual new title takes a week or so to come in, and you will have to return to pick up when ready.  This whole process takes about 45 minutes if there is no wait or line; however, do not go at lunchtime; early morning works best.  Note registration opens at 0730 but the Insurance/Title companies generally start 0800, but it’s still best to be early and first in line.  Before PCSing, request a “no claim/safe driver letter” from your insurance company (if you qualify) showing a clean driving record for the last three years and you get a 10% savings on insurance.  Road Tax for your vehicle is based on engine size, and must be paid every year in May; however, you can do so early to avoid long lines on-base.  JCI, the Japanese Compulsory Inspection for all vehicles, is required every two years, and can be conducted either on-base (Camp Foster), or with mechanics out in town qualified to do so.  Plan on spending a minimum of $400 for passing the JCI; putting lipstick on your pig will not work in Okinawa!

The base/Japanese SOFA driver’s test is administered by Camp Foster Safety, and is given at 8 and 10 am.  This is a test you must study for (not hard, mind you, but specific enough to really screw you over if you are unfamiliar), so be sure to get the driver’s handbook and read a couple of times on the flight over.  The test is also given at the conclusion of the Newcomer Orientation on Wednesdays, but this will add about two hours to an already long…and boring…day.  Take the test earlier in the week and your license will be ready on Wednesday.  Remember, your wheels, like at home, equal your freedom.  Public transportation is very weak throughout the island, and almost absent on-base.  There are no trains or subways in Okinawa.  Taxis, however, are plentiful and very professional, although at some cost.

Rental Cars cannot be rented if ordered to Okinawa or on SOFA status; only people on leave or TAD/TDY can rent vehicles (why, I have no idea), but believe me, the car rental agency doesn’t ask, and this policy is not clearly stated, at least for Navy personnel (not in orders), and there’s only a very small sign at rental desk that’s easy to miss where one could argue plausible deniability.  Car rental requires only an international driver’s license (get at AAA for $15) with valid state license; it does NOT require a SOFA driver’s license.  The cars are pricey, but the optional insurance is cheap; remember, life on the island is very hard until you have wheels – transportation should be a first priority on-island.  Don’t ask me how I know all this; renting a vehicle could be against military policy, punishable by the UCMJ for active duty personnel, and administratively handled as “misconduct” if committed by dependents.

The Suzuki Splash is an Awesome Rental Car...that I didn't rent....

The Suzuki Splash is an Awesome Rental Car…that I didn’t rent….

Government Provided Furniture.  Your furniture entitlement is based on JFTR weight allowance specified in your orders; if you on full JFTR, you only get furniture loaned and on a not-to-exceed 90 days basis.  If you are on reduced JFTR, you get loaner furniture for the duration of your tour.  However, some important points to remember:  the items and numbers allocated is not based on bedroom entitlement (which is a function of rank and number and age of dependents), but on dependents alone.  For example, we as a couple with no kids are entitled to a three bedroom dwelling at my sponsor’s rank, but we only get a single bedroom of furniture since we have no children.  Be Advised:  only full-sized beds are provided (except to “senior personnel”), so seriously plan on bringing your own bed if you are like us, two grown American-sized adults.  And finally, and perhaps most significantly, SINGLE OR UNACCOMPANIED get no furniture provided, on or off-base, even if on reduced JTFR, which includes most Navy/Marines members.  This can really screw you over if you aren’t aware, which a coworker of ours was this past week.  A good thing to remember is to have your full allotment of government furniture delivered to your residence as you are allowed a one-time free pickup of items you do not wish in the first 90 days.  There is a Family Readiness Center on Kadena Air Base (near the Housing office) that may be able to offer smaller (but no less essential) non-issued items (e.g., dishes, microwave) while awaiting your express shipment.  The government does not supply microwaves; bring your own!

She Doesn't Work at Housing

She Doesn’t Work at Housing

Housing.  Apply online prior to arrival on-island to allow for quick determination if you will live on or off-base.  The decision is based on occupancy rates of zoned living areas bounced off your entitlement (based on rank and number and age of dependents).  The island is under a mandatory on-base housing policy called “live where you work,” unless housing rates for your zoned workplace or zoned housing area adjacent are at 98% occupancy or better.  There are two briefs to receive at housing:  general housing centered for those residing on-base, followed by an off-base housing brief.  Arrive before August or as early in August as possible for the best off-base housing selection; PCS-season ends the 2nd or 3rd week in August and pickings are highly reduced the later in August you look.

Advanced Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA) / Move-In Housing Allowance (MIHA) processing can start as soon as you have authorization to live off-base – make this appointment (with Housing) early since often it can take 1-2 weeks even to see get in to see a counselor.  Getting these monies flowing can really help with your initial cash outlays required on-island.  However, OHA/MIHA requires command approval and endorsement, which can take up to 3 days depending on service.  As an important point, MIHA reimburses you for the Agency Fee paid to lease off-base property.

On-base housing may be offered in 1-3 weeks, but your home may not be ready for up to 7-8 weeks even after getting an offer due to sequestration and reduced maintenance staff.  Dehumidifiers are a must on-base since AC is provided by chilled water and such systems do a very poor job of removing excess humidity, which averages 70-80%.  Note that the age and sex of your children determines whether they will share a bedroom; this may result in a modified entitlement mid-tour as your children age or you have additions to your family, for which the military will move you.  A current pregnancy is not counted into entitlement determination.

Internet (Off-Base).  The island is almost fully wired with very high speed fiber optics that truly kicks butt, with the fiber backbone provided by NTT, who utilizes various localized internet service providers (Sunny-net, Global, NTT).  Regardless of ISP, all must pay NTT a standard fee as the fiber middleman, which makes all the ISPs more or less comparable with one-another in terms of capability and pricing.  The speed & type of fiber optic depends on your actual dwelling address; many (older) apartment buildings have not been upgraded to the latest fiber, but homes and smaller duplexes can get the fastest 1 GbPS download capability.  In our case, we are “limited” in our building to 100 MbPS.  These numbers are orders of magnitude faster than ADSL in the states; a 2 hour movie downloads in less than 5 minutes.  Request an American IP address for a slight extra monthly fee (~$11/month), which can help avoid numerous internet hassles.

The Japanese Treated Cleo Very Well

The Japanese Treated Cleo Very Well

Pets.  I have blogged previously about getting your pets ready to PCS with you overseas (look here, “Feline Fiasco”).   Some additional notes of consideration are provided here.

We traveled commercial (see below on how we managed that!), but since we were traveling with a cat, our ticket purchase required the pre-approval of the airport, which happened to be Narita (Tokyo).  This took a few days, and was handled by the Japanese airline we were booking with, and had us on pins and needles until okayed.

Our cat leaving the states could not fly in the aircraft belly, which required a soft-carrier under the seat.  If this is your situation, see about purchasing “Economy Plus” if available for the trans-Pacific flight, which provides something like five extra inches of leg room – it’s well worth the money.  However, our pet was then required by ANA (All Nippon Airways) to fly in the cargo hold from Tokyo to Okinawa, so our strategy was to have an airlines-approved hard-case carrier, broken down and stowed in one of our large suitcases.  We then assembled he hard crate (plastic) in Tokyo after clearing animal import and customs.

Okinawa is severely limited in “pet-friendly TLF rooms” – only ten (10) are available, which obviously requires very early reservation.  There rooms are only on Kadena; if you are arriving with school-aged children, consider boarding your pet(s) so that you can stay at a TLF on the base/area where you expect to live.  In this way you can register your child for the correct school, and avoid a school change once more permanent housing is assigned or found.

Pets are required to be seen at the Kadena vet for paperwork verification, records creation, and a wellness check.  These are conducted via walk-in only and took us about an hour just after lunch when they reopen for business.  Be advised that the Japanese government requires yearly rabies vaccines even though such vaccines are good for three years back home.  These shots are provided on-base for a nominal fee (~$15).

Shopping for a Home - Be Persistent...and Patient

Shopping for a Home – Be Persistent…and Patient

Leasing Property Off-Base.  Housing will inform you if you are to reside on or off-base.  If pushed off-base due to housing non-availability, you will be given an authorization letter/memo as proof for rental agencies and other uses.  There are a whole host of property management and real estate agencies to choose from.  Call many, if not all of them!

Property listings on Okinawa work completely different than they do back home.  For starters, difference agencies “own” different properties, and while some may share listings and show for each other, this is not often and there is nothing equivalent or even close to our MLS system in the states.  For instance, individual apartments in the same building could all be controlled/managed by different companies, at different rents.  The housing availability listing provided by the base Housing office is at your in-brief, is, on the day it’s printed, woefully out-of-date.  It is better to go directly with the individual agencies to check current real-time availability of housing.  The agency’s own websites are little better (in my opinion); some appear to be updated only on a weekly basis.  This can make your housing search very frustrating, and you will most likely burn a LOT of time online only to find the homes you find no longer available.

Additionally, the agencies do not project into the future to let you know what will be becoming available; they show move-in ready homes.  In fact, it is odd that there is no future tense to their thinking.  However, be advised that all properties must have a current housing inspection on file, and initial clearance, and then required every five years.  Again, due to shortfalls in summer hires and furlough days, inspections are backed up, and can take 1-2 months to schedule and successfully complete.

The “PCS Season” will have everything to do with off-base housing availability.  The quantity starts to drop in early August, while the quality drops at a much steeper rate.  By the 3rd week in August, the military moving season is coming to a close, and pickings are much more sparse than that in July.  If your report date is in August, I recommend you get on-island in late July or as early in August as possible to ensure the best possible selection of housing.  This also helps avoid major issues in registering your children for the (right) school and (correct) off-base bus route and pickup point; school on-island starts the 3rd week of August.

"Circuitous Travel:"  Avoiding AMC

“Circuitous Travel:” Avoiding AMC

Circuitous Travel.  We experienced MAJOR issues with AMC flight arrangements (see “Military Intelligence is a Contradiction in Terms”).  You may request “Circuitous Travel” from your Service, which allows YOU to make your flight arrangements, however you see fit.  This type of travel is generally intended for those taking leave en route, and allows for routing other than what AMC would require.  However, your Service must approve, AND, you will only be reimbursed up to the cost of what it would cost the government to fly you to Okinawa using whatever mode/means of travel is the cheapest (not most direct).  Although you are still required to make travel arrangements through the government travel agency in circuitous travel, you will be purchasing tickets on your own personal credit card (including a fee paid to the travel agency of $30/ticket), and will carry the balances until reimbursed.  Reimbursement requires a paid receipt(s) showing zero balance and can only be provided once you are at your destination command.

Mail.  Your sponsor should be able to set-up your PO Box well prior to arrival (30-60 days).  However, to get keys (we were only issued one), you must have and show your orders.  It is best to have your ORIGINAL orders for all appointments just to be safe; some locations (such as the Housing Office) will only accept originals for processing.

You Will Survive - and Cherish Keystone Okinawa

You Will Survive – and Cherish Keystone Okinawa

Getting Settled.  Please do yourself a favor and don’t schedule work-related things for at least a week (if residing on-base), and 2+ weeks if you find yourself having to secure lodgings out in town.  Your priority needs to be getting you and your family established on-island; you literally aren’t that important to the continuity of operations of the US military and your unit will be okay without you.  I promise.  I cannot stress this enough….

Cell Phones.  There are various providers on-island, and they all offer comparable services.  Our choice was driven by what worked well in the new Navy Hospital (Soft Bank), coupled with availability of iPhones.  The iPhones here tend to be cheaper than other smart phones (e.g., Razors), and “fives” are available…and pretty ding-dang nifty.  The GPS feature actually works, which will be a god-send for those of you not familiar with Okinawa.  There are a plethora of plans that are genuinely hard to understand, especially when explained in broken English; if there are unlimited plans like in the states, they are VERY expensive here (I didn’t see any).  In general terms, it’s free to receive calls/texts; however, when calling or texting another company’s phones/services, you are paying for those transmissions (think back to the old Ma’Bell days).  At the end of the day, we will be paying about 10-15% more for comparable service, but with a cooler phone…that allows Facetime (for free) to those in the states with iPhones/iPads.

Download an App called “Pinger” and you can get a US phone number, which allows you to text back home for free, AND, for those in the States to call and text you for free.  It’s a great service, and did I mention that it’s FREE?!?

I don't know what this is, but it's cool and "Are You Read?"

I don’t know what this is, but it’s cool and “Are You Read?”

Miscellaneous. 

For you Civilians and Dependents:  don’t forget to request and pick up your dental records from your civilian dentist prior to departure!

Caring…Mom


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

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

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

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

Goodies from Home

Goodies from Home, Courtesy of Mom

Mission Accomplished, For Real this Time

Mission Accomplished, For Real this Time

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

Still the Best Dang Postal System on the Planet

Still the Best Dang Postal System on the Planet

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

Care-ful Far East Fling Welcoming

Care-ful Far East Fling Welcoming

Customs are an Artifact of Plentifulness

Customs are an Artifact of Plentifulness

Customs is so Customarily Pleasant...and Intrusive.

Customs is so Customarily Pleasant…and Intrusive.

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

The Dreaded Minnesota Pronunciation Plague

The Dreaded Minnesota Pronunciation Plague

Care Package Contents circa 1948 (European)

Care Package Contents circa 1948 (European)

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

1 lb beef in broth

1 lb steak and kidneys

8 oz liver loaf

8 oz corned beef

12 oz luncheon loaf (like Spam)

8 oz bacon

2 lbs margarine

1 lb lard

1 lb fruit preserves

1 lb honey

1 lb raisins

1 lb chocolate

2 lbs sugar

8 oz egg powder

2 lbs whole-milk powder

2 lbs coffee

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

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

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

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

Asian Child Care

Asian Child Care

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

Generous Good Looks

Generous Good Looks

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

Elvis is My Navy Callsign

Elvis is My Navy Callsign