1 week…

July 27, 2009 § Leave a comment

I can’t believe it’s true, but I only have 1 week left in paradise with my man. The time here has passed so quickly. We have built a beautiful home here and seen so many incredible things. While we have been very adventurous on the weekends, setting out almost every weekend to see a new part of the island or experience something different, during the week I have had ample opportunity to relax and prepare for law school. As soon as I get back to AZ, I’ll be heading off to Boston to get settled before orientation starts. I will be so busy that I’ll have fewer chances to be homesick and miss Bryan, which we think will help with the long-distance thing and will hopefully make the time until Thanksgiving, when I am planning to come back to Okinawa, pass more quickly. We are also setting up an elaborate communication system involving Skype, a webcam, and many, many emails, text messages, IMs, and morning wake-up calls. So if any of you are worried about how we will make it through this, don’t be–we aren’t!

Over the next week, I hope to:

  • Go snorkeling in Sunabe
  • Finally find some delicious sushi here (no luck so far)
  • Relax with Bryan and enjoy every last moment we have together
  • Buy souvenirs (shisa dogs and a calendar of Okinawa for crossing off the days)

Well, off to study and wait for Bryan to get home from work! For all of you who live in AZ, I’ll be home August 3 and then off to Boston August 7!!



July 23, 2009 § Leave a comment

Originally uploaded by jenna.laprade

Saturday after my birthday Bryan and I took a day trip to Cape Hedo, the northernmost point of Okinawa. It was absolutely incredible to drive almost the entire circumference of the island, and to see how uninhabited the north really is. On the way we stopped at the aquarium in Onna because we had heard such amazing things about it.

While the entire aquarium was phenomenal, truly the best aquarium I have ever been to, the highlight is definitely the final tank, pictured here. The glass (which is 3 feet thick) runs from floor to ceiling. The tank is enormous and filled with giant whale sharks that swim alongside stingrays that have to have a 6 ft “wingspan” and thousands of fish swimming along in schools. It was amazing to see this sea life as if you were inserted into the middle of the ocean. I still don’t understand why the sharks don’t gobble up all of the fish, so maybe someone can enlighten me.

I love this shot because you get a really good feel for the floor-to-ceiling glass, and the little people at the bottom give you a good perspective on just how enormous the sharks are. One of my favorite Okinawa experiences so far!

Quarter-Century Old

July 18, 2009 § Leave a comment


This Friday I turned 25. I can’t believe how fast a quarter-century has passed me by. I’m not thrilled that the 30s are fast-approaching, but I am remarkably excited for this specific birthday. The first reason is (and I’m saying this publicly so that everyone I know can hold me to it), the day I leave Phoenix for Boston (August 6), I am going to quit smoking. I want to leave that habit behind me so that I can start the second quarter of my life smoke-free and healthy. I am planning to live to 100, and if I’m going to do that, I can’t smoke. The picture above, by the way, was taken on Saturday, the day after my birthday (I’ll be posting about those adventures next!), but we didn’t take any pictures on my actual birthday, trying to focus more on enjoying the day and each other, so I figured I would start the post with another one of Bryan’s scenic beach shots.
The second reason I’m excited for this birthday is that a lot of changes are in store for me. In August I will be starting my first year of law school. I will be moving to Boston (brrrr!). I’ve already met the love of my life and we even though we are going to be parted for a few years, I am so excited for our future together. So this, my quarter-century birthday, was a pretty big one for me. Luckily, I got to celebrate it accordingly.
Bryan took the day off for my birthday, not an easy task given the ops-tempo here on Kadena (for all those non-military readers, he is really, really busy). The Thursday night before my birthday, he surprised me with a typed-up, official-looking itinerary for the following day. My day was to start with breakfast at The Rose Garden, an Italian restaurant. Bryan had delicious-looking eggs benedict, and I had french toast with eggs overeasy, potatoes, and spicy sausages. Needless to say, I couldn’t eat all of my food, but the half that I did eat was delicious.
After that, I went for a pedicure at Cocok, the island pedicure place that is always full of American women getting their toes done. Cocok is a little different than “nail brothels” in the U.S., namely in that upon sitting down in your own recliner to get your toes done you are presented with an 80-page book of nail art that is complementary with your picture. In the U.S., most nail salons charge extra for one stinkin’ flower on your big toe. At Cocok (the k is silent, by the way), very intricate nail art is complementary. I chose red toes with a very “mod” white, black, and yellow flower. I was thrilled with how they turned out!


Even though Bryan’s itinerary had planned for lunch following my pedicure at my favorite Korean BBQ joint, we were too stuffed from breakfast, so we skipped lunch and headed straight to the Corazon Spa at the EM Hotel Costa Vista for my massage. This too was a little different than what I have experienced at spas in the U.S. We walked in and had to take off our shoes, which is pretty typical in Japan. The girls told me (they spoke a little English) that I was early, so I sat down and read for a few minutes until my massage therapist came to get me. She took me to a separate reception area further back, where I was presented with warm water to drink before my massage (I’m sure there was a reason for this, but I’m not sure exactly what it was). I had to fill out a detailed form about where I experience pain (lower back and feet). The therapist, who spoke very, very little English, asked me if I wanted the “Energy” massage, or the “Relaxation” massage. She described the Energy as “hardo” and Relaxation as “softo.” Given that my favorite masseuse in AZ has hands from God that can cure any muscle ailment, but is also pushes so hard that it’s almost unbearable (he is truly gifted though), I asked for the “hardo” massage. She then took me to the treatment room and explained (somehow, given that she really didn’t speak any English) that I should put on these paper briefs and lay face-down on the table. The massage itself was very vigorous. She was definitely stronger than any female masseuse I have had before. She karate-chopped me, kneaded the bottoms of my fight with her knuckles, and worked really hard to get the tension out of my shoulders. Even though it was so intense, I found myself breathing very deeply (think yoga breaths, noisy in and out of the nose) and drifting off. If I ever go back, I might try the Relaxation massage just to see the difference, but overall I was very impressed. After my massage I got to shower to rinse off all of the oil and sip hot tea to relax and rehydrate before Bryan arrived to pick me up. Obviously this picture isn’t me, but it does give you a good idea of what the place looked like.


After the massage I was getting a little hungry, so we stopped at Hotto Motto for a quick snack before heading home. Hotto Motto is a Japanese fast-food restaurant, but you won’t find any hamburgers or french fries. We got these little sandwiches that are basically like sushi rolls in sandwich form. The outside is wrapped in seaweed, kind of like a sandwich wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun. On the inside there is sticky rice that is sort of like the “bread” of the sandwich, and then the filler. They come with eggs and spam (Bryan’s favorite), beef and onions, and potato croquette (my favorite). They are filling but not overly so, and we love them. After that, we headed home and relaxed (Bryan napped) to get some energy for dinner that night.


For dinner we went to Sam’s-By-the-Sea. I’ve already explained how amazing Sam’s is on this blog before, and Friday was even better. We both sampled various tropical drinks in funny glasses–Bryan got the “Tiki God” and I got the “Over the Rainbow.” As an appetizer we had cheese-wrapped shrimp with Thai chili sauce, and it was to die for. For dinner, I had salmon with mashed potatoes. Bryan and I have decided that the fish here is, ironically, not our favorite. It just tastes a little fishier than in the U.S. and we haven’t been too pleased with any that we have tried. Bryan had filet mignon and bacon-wrapped salmon on flaming sword, which is literally presented to you by the chef on a flaming sword before it is removed and put on your plate. For dessert we tried the fruit with ballerina cream, which was a fruit parfait with meringue and whipped cream…so delicious! We were both stuffed after dinner. Here is a picture of Sam’s during the day…it’s hard to tell by the picture, but the place looks like the inside of a pirate ship and the servers even dress like sailors.

All in all, it was the best birthday ever, and I have Bryan to thank for planning such a special day for me. Because I have a summer birthday, people are usually out of town, or else I am out of town. I have spent birthdays in Spain, Chile, and, now, Japan. This was by far the best, not only because of the thought that he put into planning my day, but because of who I got to spend it with and where. I also want to thank everyone for the birthday wishes from afar!

Adventures in Japanese Dining

July 9, 2009 § Leave a comment

I’ve mentioned before that finding a restaurant to eat at is difficult in Okinawa. Either the signs are in Japanese, making it a guessing game for us if the venue even is a dining establishment and impossible to determine what type of cuisine is served, or the signs are in broken English, meaning that the place will be filled with loud Americans and the prices will be heavily inflated. Bryan was feeling guilty that I spend all day cooped up in our (amazing) house, studying, surfing the net, and entertaining myself with the casual yoga DVD here and there, so tonight he took me out to dinner. Normally I research possible locations on OkinawaHai!, a website run by Americans with blog posts all focused on life for Americans living on Okinawa, and then force Bryan to drive through heavy traffic to the place I have chosen. Tonight, however, I knew that he would be tired after a strenuous week at work (photographer didn’t show up to the goodbye dinner for the old Commander, leaving Bryan, who was supposed to be a guest with me as his date, to take all the official photographs with his Nikon D40; change in Command today…hence, long week), so I decided that we should try a place very close to our home.

We had driven past this establishment multiple times, and I could tell by the exterior that it was a restaurant (signs picturing raw fish and beer). The only problem was that there was NO English on any of these signs, which generally means that the menus won’t be in English either. But being the adventurous couple that we are, we decided to go for it. We walked in to the restaurant and were greeted by the customary exuberance that is the norm in Japanese restaurants and shops. We were shown to a table, on top of which were multiple (literally, 10+) various menus and menu inserts. That is one thing that I have noticed about Okinawa–there is never just 1 menu at a restaurant. Menus are laminated stacks, usually with separate tablets for the regular menu, English menu, sushi menu, drink specials, Happy Hour specials, dessert menu, kids menu, etc. The only thing missing tonight was the English menu. Luckily, every Japanese restaurant we have been to so far has had a menu with many, many high-quality photographs. I guess the managers have realized that, short of hiring a translator, photos are the only things that will get Americans to spend their yen.
Our waitress was a high school girl with a huge smile and little to no confidence with English. We perused the menus and pointed to the photographs that looked the best. We ended up with, in order: egg omelet squares decorated with catsup and mayonnaise, gyoza (nom nom), beef stir fry for Bryan, and then…my entree. I love sushi. Bryan hates sushi. This was my big chance to order sushi at a restaurant Bryan could also enjoy. The sushi menu was entirely in Japanese, so we pointed out something that looked like a mix plate with 8 pieces of sushi, and hoped for the best. My food came last, after I had already eaten the egg and gyoza, and Bryan had already finished his beef stir-fry (mediocre). At that point we were presented with what can only be described as a platter decorated with seaweed (copious amounts), lettuce, cucumber, and giant stacks of raw fish. Now I have had ngiri before, and while it’s not my favorite, I can do tuna and even salmon ngiri raw with no rice. But on this plate were stacks of fish with the skin on, shrimp with heads and eyeballs, octopus with tentacles, shells, and other things I can’t even describe. Luckily, Bryan had already finished his food, or a trip to the bathroom might have been in order.
I, never one to send a meal back to the kitchen, especially if the mistake in ordering it was mine, settled in to at least sample the various slabs of raw fish that I had unwittingly ordered. I smoked a cigarette and finished my beer before starting in. The raw tuna and salmon was familiar and pretty good. The tasted the tiniest bite of octopus (the only bite I could find with no suckers on the end of its tentacles). Bryan returned from the parking lot with his camera and I started in on the fish with its skin still attached (shiny). Some of the variations were tasty, skin and all, while others were far too chewy for my taste. Bryan showed me how to removed the heads from the shrimp and I even tried one of those. In all, I tasted every single type of raw fish on that platter (okay, so I also ordered a bowl of rice and used it as a chaser). When I was done, with summoned the cheerful waitress, who spoke at least a little English, and asked her if the symbol following the number 8 on the menu actually meant people. She laughed and nodded. Either she didn’t understand our question, or she did and was laughing at us for ordering a platter of sushi meant for 8 people. I’m going with the latter.
I felt guilty sending the platter, of which only 1/4 was eaten, back to the kitchen, but there was just no way that I was going to A. finish it, or B. ask for a doggy back and then throw it away (our garbage still hasn’t been collected, don’t even get me started on that). All in all, this is a restaurant that we will be returning to. While our sushi adventure was a failure, we noticed an insert picturing some tasty looking sushi rolls on our way out. This place (we don’t have a name for it) had great service, a huge menu, and some tasty gyoza. We will definitely be returning…despite my sushi for 8 mishap.


July 8, 2009 § Leave a comment

Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am pretty much the palest you can get before you’re an albino. Well, that may be pushing it–my skin is capable of turning various shades of pink. Light pink if I’m outside for more than 5 minutes, rosy pink all over my face if I’ve exercised, lobster red if I spend the entire day outside and my sunscreen somehow fails me… I used to think that if I was just diligent enough, if I just spent enough time “laying out”, with the proper combination of low-SPF sunscreen and tanning oil, I might be able to get what I considered to be a tan. It would never be a tan in anyone else’s eyes, but if I could just get my skin to turn a color somewhere in-between pink and brown, I would have succeeded in my eyes. It never happened, of course, except the one summer I spent approximately 7 hours a day outside at Cactus Pool, teaching swimming lessons in the morning and swimming on the summer swim team in the afternoon. That summer I wore sunscreen every single day, yet somehow managed to make it to August with a distinct racerback “tan” from my Speedo that I was immeasurably proud of.

But that tan faded, and I’ve since come to accept that my skin was made for Swedish winters, not Arizona summers. I wear sunscreen on my face and neck every single day, and try to be very good about wearing a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen any time I know I will be outside for longer than that. I’ve had my hiccups here and there, but I’ve pretty much managed to avoid any serious sunburns since the day I came home from an 8th grade end-of-year field trip to Sunsplash with a magenta criss-cross design on my back. My father used to laugh at me when he called to see how we were doing and my sisters and I told him that we were laying out–“LaPrades don’t lay out. LaPrades don’t get tan.” I always knew that he was right, but it just took me a bit longer to be confident enough in myself to own my pale skin. This might be partially because of the teasing I endured in 7th and 8th grade. No one had ever made me feel self-conscious about my skin until middle school, when the boys dreamed up cruel nicknames for me such as “Casper,” “Powder,” and “Albino.” It shouldn’t have, but it really hurt my feelings at the time. Luckily, I grew out of those feelings of shame with the realization that my skin was never going to change, and if I was careful enough, I would make it to old age with fewer wrinkles than any of the bronzed girls at my high school.
And so, while ever since I got over my complex about my skin and began to pride myself in my skin care knowledge and habits, it wasn’t until I arrived on Okinawa that I realized that even my reformed self can’t hold a candle in terms of sun protection to Japanese women. It’s one of the first things Bryan and I noticed when we started venturing to Japanese markets, stores, and beaches, as opposed to the BX and Commissary on base–Japanese women are EXTREMELY dedicated to sun protection. Most Japanese women wouldn’t consider going out in the sun without clutching to a ruffled parasol of some sort. They hold their parasols sideways, so that their face is completely blocked by the sun as they wander through botanical gardens, outdoor markets, and even at the beach. On top of the parasol, many of them wear fisherman-style hats pulled down low over their ears with large sunglasses to protect their eyes. While the girls on base, the girlfriends and wives of American GIs, astound me with their towering high heels, spandex mini-skirts, and low-cut tops, I’ve noticed that “regular” Okinawan girls are extremely fashionable, yet conservative, dressers. They don’t show a lot of skin, even on days when the blistering heat and humidity combine to turn the island into a sauna, preferring to don floaty babydoll dresses over leggings so that most of their skin is protected from the sun.
The women are not the only ones here that take what most Americans would find to be extraordinary measures in the name of sun protection. Every morning, when we’re on our way back from the gym, we drive by hordes of Okinawan youngsters walking, skipping, and running to school. We always laugh at how cute they are, holding on to their siblings hands as they cross busy highways without a parent in sight. Their backpacks are enormous, sturdy, leather contraptions. And the cutest thing is that almost all children under the age of 10 wear what I have termed “mullet hats”, hats with low-hanging flaps of fabric to cover their necks, and oftentimes sunglasses as well. Okinawans are known for living extremely long lives, and I can’t help but think that the parents’ devotion to protecting even their tiniest children from the harmful rays of the bright Pacific sun play a big role in this.
Another interesting phenomenon are the “ninja” workers–farmers and landscapers who, forced to work outside all day long, have attired themselves so that not one square inch of skin is exposed–long pants, long sleeves, turtlenecks, gloves, traditional straw hats, and veils covering their faces. It’s pretty creepy to see these ninjas at work, usually on the side of the road on Kadena, but it’s even more unsettling to see the ones that don’t appear to be working in the sun, but are just even MORE devoted to sun protection than seems healthy, if that’s possible. They drive around on motorcycles, take walks, drive to the store, all dressed like a ninja.
Many people have heard of the traditionally long life spans that many Okinawans enjoy. People have written books about the Okinawan lifestyle, the Okinawan diet, Okinawan health secrets…I’ve never read any of these books, but it’s quite clear that sun protection plays a huge role in all of this. The effects are clear when you meet Okinawans themselves. Bryan and I like to play a game called “guess how old she is,” because time and time again we’re shocked to meet someone who looks to be in her 20s, with a wrinkle-free, completely unmarred complexion, only to find out that the lucky woman is actually closer to her 40s! I might look a little strange walking around Boston with a parasol on a (rare) sunny day, but, just like I eventually got over my fixation on trying to get a tan, this might just be one habit I will try to bring back to the U.S.

Garbage Dump

July 2, 2009 § 2 Comments

Since I am the only person home in the day, one of my main sources of daily drama has been trying to figure out the garbage situation here in Okinawa. When we moved into our rental home, the housing agency gave us a chart that was meant to explain the garbage situation. It mostly contained pictures of different types of garbage items placed into categories, mostly garbage items that I would never throw away–teddy bear, VHS tape, hangers, sofa, etc. We got the gist that we need to separate trash and recyclables, but the sheet was not much more helpful than that.

The first week was devoted to figuring out which days the garbage collection took place, as the sheet had no information about that. After 2 or so weeks, I finally deduced that garbage collection is on Monday and Thursdays. I figured this out because the garbage truck plays a song, much like an ice cream truck, so I have time to run to the window and watch it as it, inevitably, drives right past our house. We then figured out, by watching our neighbor, that recycling is picked up on Wednesday (or is it Tuesday? still not totally sure…). But recycling doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem.
The main problem, it turns out, is getting our garbage picked up. Due to 2 weeks of garbage drive-bys, in which I run to the window, only to witness the truck pick up our neighbors garbage and drive right by ours, we now have 8+ bags of maggot-infested garbage. After I spent the morning working up the courage to even drag the maggoty bags out in the first place, and they are all now still sitting on the curb in the sun, I was finally compelled to do some garbage collection research.
It turns out that the Japanese stereotype of OCD may have some truth. Here is what I found out:
1. I must have a separate can for flammable garbage. This includes: kitchen scraps, leaves, branches, plastic bottle caps and wrappers, plastic bottles, clothes, cassette taps/CDs, diapers, paper, and cardboard/newspaper/magazines, which must be bundled together and may not be placed outside on rainy days.
I MUST place these items in the city-designated clear plastic trash bag, which I must buy at a Japanese grocery store, or they will not be collected.
2. I must have a separate can for non-flammable garbage: This includes: light bulbs, batteries, thermometers, dishes, metal, small appliances, hangers, & aerosols (which must be placed in a trash can and have a hole punctured in them). These must go in a clear plastic bag (not the city-designated bag). I still don’t know which day these things get picked up.
3. Separate bag for plastic bottles: bottles must be rinsed and stripped of their caps and labels.
4. Separate bag for cans.
5. Separate bag for glass bottles. Caps must be removed and placed in the non-flammable garbage bag.
Now I know that the flammable garbage is picked up on Monday and Thursday. But I have no idea when the other stuff is picked up…either Tuesday or Wednesday. And I don’t know if non-flammable is picked up on the same day as recycling.
In case you are interested, here is a really funny video that taught me all of these tricks!
Here is the trash classification chart that I found that made a little more sense to me. Now I just need to figure out what type of garbage is picked up on each day…

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