Sayonara, Okinawa!


“Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” ~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Recently Jody and I had to say our goodbyes to our beloved Okinawa, a land that we called home for the last 3.5 years.  I’ve written extensively about saying goodbyes during our last couple of international shifts.  One when we left Pensacola, Florida, the only place I really ever planted some roots since leaving my childhood home for college in 1984 (see Sayonara Amerika).  And just recently when we left Japan for our return to the states once again (see Goodbye).

Jody’s Hospital Crowd

Saying a proper “goodbye” to people, places, and even things has become more and more important to me as time has passed.  We marked our departure for the Orient back in 2013 with an Asian costume themed party to indelibly mark that occasion.  And we decided to do the same upon leaving Asia for ‘Murica just last month.

Terrace at Sea Garden

Renting out one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants Sea Garden, we invited a slew of our closest friends and coworkers.  Unfortunately for everyone, it seems that just the notion of wearing a costume kept more than a few people from attending.  But then again, in such a setting you get to see just who your closest friends and coworkers really are.  It IS important to say goodbye, and express it properly, a concept lost on so many people today who remain eternally rushed in their lives, taking things much too seriously as they neglect the things that really matter.  In any case, we had a wonderful time, and will cherish these bookend parties to our Far East Fling for the rest of our lives!

Party Goers

So, as I sit here in our pet-friendly hotel room in Jacksonville, North Carolina, passing the time until we can sign a lease and move into our temporary home for the next 20 months, I look fondly back on my latest time in Okinawa…and slowly shift my gaze to the future here in the coastal Carolinas.  But I’m already starting to scheme about the party we will throw upon our return to the Florida Panhandle in  late 2018.

Dorthy Says There’s No Place Like Home!

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Die Motherfucker Die


“Death is the solution to all problems. No printer – no problem.” ~Joseph Stalin, quote only slightly modified

Hate is a strong word.  I realized that about the time of my divorce well over a decade ago.  It is not to be used lightly, or loosely.  And seriously, I don’t hate much, or often.

But, I can say, with great confidence, that I hate my printer.  My ex-printer, that is….

We bought this printer quite by accident.  Such is how these types of ill-fated relationship-to-be often begin.  It was, at first, innocent enough:  our regular household goods, crated months earlier in Pensacola for our overseas journey to Okinawa, Japan, were never shipped, but instead, left sitting idly by, collecting dust in some musty warehouse in the rural southeast United States.  Read about that here Castaway.

We were able to file an “inconvenience claim” against our movers for their negligence in, well, actually moving our goods.  Or forgetting to move our household.  So off to the Kadena Air Force Base Exchange we went to find a replacement printer since we both needed one to carry out the personal plan and business transactions of our days.

Of course, there was absolutely nothing wrong with our beloved printer from The States.  But having the opportunity to buy a new device on someone else’s dime (and rightfully so), we decided to “upgrade” to what seemed to be a popular HP set, one of those large all-in-one photocopiers, printers, scanners and fax machines.  And so the Demon found its way home with us.

Demon Printer started executing its seditious agenda almost immediately.  When our Household Goods finally arrived in Okinawa (a full two months late), and when our *beloved* trusty printer of the past was unpacked, we realized it was damaged, and damaged beyond repair or operation.  Coincidence?  I think not.

The “problems” with our new printer started almost immediately after putting our original unit to permanent rest.  …as if the Demon Printer knew it and it alone now ruled the tangible output of our electronic lives.

And as if we already sensed the darker nature of this particular device, it was relocated to a far corner of a far room, connected wirelessly to our home network.  Perhaps it was this locale that really triggered Demon Printer’s incessant interruptions in our lives, or perhaps it was just ill-tempered no matter.  Its fate was sealed quite early our tenuous relationship.

Constant connectivity problems.  Paper jams.  Running out of paper at the most inopportune times.  Drinking ink like a an alcoholic crashing an open bar wedding reception….  And so much more.  I quickly came to hate this particular machine, clearly a “no-talent ass-clown”.

But the Exchange kept carrying the model.  There will hundreds of ink cartridges available.  They sold the entire 3.5 years we lived there.  Was it just me?  Was it just this particular serial-numbered printer which had been demonized?

Every single time I hit “print” from my desktop computer in our comfortable living area, I would hear the Demon awake with gurgles and growls, and then almost every single time an error message would appear.  Pick one, any one, or all of them:  “out of ink,” “paper jam,” “not ready,” “not online,” “out of paper”….  Sometimes the Demon would simply refuse to stir, no doubt deep in some black magic trance.

I attempted rational solutions.  I tried to flush its memory by pulling power for minutes, even hours.  I checked that all the trays were seated securely, the wheels and gears all aligned properly, and stacks of paper and ink cartridges were locked in place and photo cards aligned and inserted.  All to no avail.

The printer, when powered up or upon receiving a document to print would start an orchestrated gyration of popping sounds, grinding gears, and mechanical motion.  All, one would think, to ready itself to print.  But more often than that, it was simply a prelude to an error message….

Clearly this was no normal all-in-one copier.  No, it was no doubt a paranormal printer.  An Exorcism was clearly in order.  Problem was, I’m no Saint (not even close), and while anyone should be able to compel the power of Christ to oust the Devil, this too failed.

I had planned, for the longest time, to kill this printer prior to leaving Okinawa.  But with overseas, international moves being what they are, making time for this execution was problematic.  Don’t get me wrong:  I had the plan, the people, the camera, and even the bat.  But it came down to my last 24 hours….

We kept that demon printer out in case we needed to print.  But we were NOT taking it home with us.  And, as it turns out, we did need to print some documents (those having to do with sending our wine home, will be the subject of its own blog I assure you).  So I go to connect to the printer wirelessly with my Surface.  I Can’t…of course.  Jody comes in and connects right away with her Surface and prints the document.  However, she realizes a mistake, fixes it and attempts to reprint.  Wait-WHAT??  MOTHER FUCKER IS NOW, SUDDENLY OUT OF INK!?  Jody and I standing there, laughing or else we would cry.  And this – its failure on its very last print job is what ultimately sealed the Demon Printer’s fate.  The clock was now ticking to DEATH.

By the by, I told Jody to change the font in the document to blue, and it did print.  POORLY.  But good enough to get our booze home….

Minutes before our departure for the airport, after our seven pieces of luggage, four carry-ons, and two cat crates had been loaded in our two-vehicle convey, and with no reprieve coming, some friends and I carried out the sentence.

Die Motherfucker Die.

Goodbye!


“Dream as if you’ll live forever……live as if you’ll die today.” ~James Dean

Saying “Goodbye” is important.  Much more than most of us will allow.

In the skydiving world, we say goodbye to each other every single time we jump.  Because it could very well be the last jump we ever make.  It’s not a somber occasion, or even stressful.  No, the goodbyes are said energetically, with beaming smiles and eye contact that says “I love you, brother/sister, and if I don’t see you again, remember me in this moment.”  It’s about embracing life and living it fully and in the moment.  But unfortunately, this jumper’s farewell with a very good friend of mine a week before moving to Okinawa in 2013 was our last.  I am so very thankful that we got to say goodbye to each other.  And, in this case, in our own very unique way.  Read about it in Blue Skies, Black Death.

That story, which recalls my permanent goodbye with Jimmy, instantly makes me happy and warm whenever I think about him, and I do often.  That’s one reason why I take saying goodbye so seriously.  The word “goodbye” used to convey a much more serious sense of finality than it does today in the electronic age of connectedness.  Originally, it was said as a contraction of “God be with ye,” which conveys a blessing of safe travels and life.  “Farewell” comes from the antiquated “fare thee well,” yet another blessing we find today in “be well”.  But these send-offs also can also almost be a plea.  And to those of you that bid me and Jody adieu at our costumed “Sayonara” party, I salute you for coming out to say a fun-filled cheerio.  If you don’t see me again, I plead with you to remember me in that moment!

But now it is time for me to say goodbye to Okinawa.  I may not be back, after living here three different times and for over seven years total.  I’m filled with anticipation and I’m excited:  after living on Okinawa the last 3.5 years, Jody and I are moving, and moving to an area new to both of us (Camp Lejeune).  Don’t me wrong:  we don’t want to go, and we don’t want to go there.  But we have to.  Yes, it’s not what we wanted or expected, but it will allow me a wonderful new opportunity to continue pursuing my passion as a professional scuba diver, this time among the wrecks scattered off the coast of North Carolina.  But the fact remains I have to say goodbye to some people who and places which have come to mean a great deal to me.  Which always makes my heart hurt….

The military-industrial complex is not known for their stable, static jobs.  Active duty people continually transfer in and out through the proverbial revolving door.  Contractors come and go with contracts and sequestration, and even Government Service (GS) employees often relocate with either of these categories of people.  But even so, when the stable instability that is life associated with the military becomes even more unbalanced, what does it all mean?  The roles that people play are in reality easily replaced, but seldom is the person.  Once you know someone, it’s hard to unknow them—you might grow apart, your relationship might change, but if you know someone, have chosen to know someone, you will always know that person’s character.  It’s critical to us all, whatever our social constructs, that goodbyes resulting in significant change be acknowledged.  So we say goodbye, sometimes formally, often times as an expression of intimacy.  Goodbyes, especially among an affectionate cohort, can weigh heavily.  While you may officially say goodbye to such a someone once (or twice), you’ll continue to say goodbye, emotionally and mentally.  It’s a continual process.

So, at great risk of leaving important people off this list (and please take no offense), I say these goodbyes, in no particular order.  Ken Redifer, you’ve been a fantastic PADI Course Director and mentor to me along the way.  You have challenged me to be better at every turn, and trusted me with your students at every level.  I can’t think you enough for shepherding me along the way.  To Jessica Mills, my “Scuba Wife,” I value every moment together, even though as your surrogate Big Brother I probably annoyed you to no end.  You will do fine at the IE and will quickly mature into a kick-ass instructor!  Matt Lewis, you have been one of my closest allies here on Okinawa, and I’m ecstatic to leave both my Adopted Dive Site and the USS Emmons Diver Specialty in your capable hands.  I will not forget those final dives on that serene shipwreck with you.  Darlene Fong, my “Scuba Momma,” thank you for the tec training and 130fsw+ companionship along the way.  I will miss our trips out to the USS Emmons together!   Ben Favorite, a fellow retired flier and brother-in-arms, you have been a wonderful friend and solid dive buddy.  Here’s looking to Truk again in 2019.  Do me a favor and please do work too hard!  Rob and Wendy, thanks for introducing us to Ishigaki and the manta-scramble.  And Rob, my IDC cohort from back-in-the-day, you still owe me lunch!  For our dive industry professionals, including Mark of the Crystal Blue and Tony of Torii Scuba Locker, thanks for your assistance and pirate adventures on the high seas.  To my fellow instructors (including candidates sitting for their IE this coming weekend) and Certified Assistants with whom I have worked or taught – including Jeff R., Dale F., Kim N., Scott H., Gary J., Chris W., Mike H., Matt M., Jose R., Jayce G., Jimmy P., Brian P., Kurt R., Chuck D., Roger, Noorin, Louis, Troy, Sarah, Patricia S., Kim H., Rebecca R., Ben S., Barbara S., Cory J., Ty, Asako and Bruce, thank you for all the laughs and good times in and around the pools, seas and oceans of Okinawa.  And to the Divemasters who elected to train under me still located here (Ben, Jessica, Jacoby, Lewis, Gerardo, Peter and Cory), thank you for your trust in confidence in making your move to the pro side.  Mindy, I couldn’t let your broken foot go without a mention; thanks for all your help with my branding and website.  Ms. Ana, of course, one of my all-time favorite divers and former students, thank you for trusting me to safely introduce you to the amazing underwater world.  Your smile and passion about diving whenever I see you brightens my heart and lightens my day!  And, a special call-out to two individuals who need to become PADI Instructors:  Rich Kearney and Gerardo DeLucia.  You both have exactly what it takes, and I see you as perfect fits in our tribe.  Don’t put it off; I waited about 30 years too long….

Goodbye, to each and every one of you.

I no longer struggle with goodbyes.  Saying a heartfelt goodbye forces us to recognize a change in our path, an acknowledgment that we’re choosing (or sometimes being forced) to change the vector of our lives.  The very reason goodbyes are hard for so many people is the very reason we actually need to do them, and do them well:  because they matter.

Imbibing goodbyes is as much a part of the human experience as breathing.  Let them serve as goodness in your life, helping you to leave better, whole, and more loving.  All goodbyes contain a blessing.  Use them to make each goodbye count – even if you are just ducking out to the corner store.  Each fleeting goodbye can turn out to be a goodbye forever.

Blue Skies & Happy Bubbles, Kevin, Okinawa 2017

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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.

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!

Sayonara Amerika


Sayonara-Main-Signature

Most people think “sayonara” is simply Japanese for “goodbye.”  However, in actuality, saying “sayonara” upon a separation implies a certain amount of profound finality.  It is not meant as an informal and light-hearted farewell, but rather as a parting utilized to acknowledge situations where one will not see another for an extensive period of time,  if ever again.  It was (and is) the most fitting name for our going-away party and celebration recently held at our home and hosted by me and my wife.

Shogun King and His Geisha Queen

Shogun King and His Geisha Queen

Interspersed throughout this blog will be quotes from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s North to the Orient, who expresses in a simply paragraph what I have tried to mentally capture for days now:

“For Sayonara, literally translated, ‘Since it must be so,’ of all the good-byes I have heard is the most beautiful. Unlike the Auf Wiedershens and Au revoirs, it does not try to cheat itself by any bravado ‘Till we meet again,’ any sedative to postpone the pain of separation. It does not evade the issue like the sturdy blinking Farewell.”

Jody and I like to throw parties, themed parties, where we encourage complex dress-up, coupled with relatively immature fun.  We wanted to make sure that we celebrated not only the friends and family that make our lives so very rich, but also the “Far East Fling” we are only now just starting to flirt with.  We attempted, in many small measures, to lend that sense of adventure to those who came to help send us on our way.

Sayonara Party 2013, Japanese Slipper drink mixerSayonara Party 2013, armed asian nursesSayonara Party 2013, where did all the sushi go!“Farewell is a father’s good-by. It is – ‘Go out in the world and do well, my son.’ It is encouragement and admonition. It is hope and faith. But it passes over the significance of the moment; of parting it says nothing. It hides its emotion. It says too little. While Good-by (‘God be with you’) and Adios say too much. They try to bridge the distance, almost to deny it.”

Sayonara Party 2013, our Sayonara ninja cakeSayonara Party 2013, Godzilla attacks (carrying a beer)Sayonara Party 2013, party pagodaAsian and the Far East, I believe, still holds mystery and awe for many, if not most Americans.  I have friends that almost never leave the continental United States, and others that only recently got passports to travel at my urging well into their 40s.  Even many from the west who enjoy traveling look at Asian and the Orient with both awe and some measure of trepidation.

“Good-by is a prayer, a ringing cry. ‘You must not go – I cannot bear to have you go! But you shall not go alone, unwatched. God will be with you. God’s hand will over you’ and even – underneath, hidden, but it is there, incorrigible – ‘I will be with you; I will watch you – always.’ It is a mother’s good-by.”

Epic Sayonara King-san Party!

Epic Sayonara King-san Party!

However, it is exactly for those reasons that I anticipate going back to live there – for the 3rd time.  It is a great journey to move overseas, and an even greater adventure to live outside of the United States.  But living, working, driving, eating, and just generally sustaining yourself in the Orient, where customs and peoples are so very alien, where even the writing cannot be deciphered without great difficulty, is an issue that I face with some measure of anxiety, mixed with a massive dose of excitement.

Sayonara Party 2013, surprised Geisha Girls gigglesSayonara Party 2013, asian pagoda theme party propsSayonara Party 2013, shots for the asian chicks

“But Sayonara says neither too much nor too little. It is a simple acceptance of fact. All understanding of life lies in its limits. All emotion, smoldering, is banked up behind it. But it says nothing. It is really the unspoken good-bye, the pressure of a hand, ‘Sayonara.”

Sayanora Party 2013, hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil!Sayonara Party 2013, Godzilla attacks (carrying a beer)Sayonara Party 2013, Asian-inspired drink mixer labels

We have been officially regaled by those who thought enough to come see us off; we celebrated in grand style, complete with Asian-inspired drinks, more Sake than could be drunk, and all-you-can-eat Sushi.  Jody is checking out of her command here in Pensacola today, and the first of many days of packers and movers invading our space begins tomorrow.

Sayonara Pensacola.timetorn

Sayonara My Friends.

moving2japan

All will be missed.