Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Burnt CDs, High School Flashbacks & Japanese Elevator Music

Today, for the first time in eight years, I burned myself a CD. Yes, in the land of sushi, samurais & Suzuki, there is no such thing as Pandora or mainstream American radio. I actually had to travel back in time to recover my blank, burnable CDs. Well not physically, but in spirit... 

Creating a playlist on my laptop prompted flashbacks from my high school years, cruising around in my '95 Saturn, blaring none other than the greatest rapper of 2004, Lil Jon. The sad thing is I still know every word from “Salt Shaker.” What’s even sadder? Thanks to a 20-minute daily commute to class, I was that girl who had every song ever written by 50 Cent and Ludacris memorized. True story.
Regrettably, you will not find "Magic Stick" nor "Slow Jamz" on this CD.

Anyways, even though my rinky dink Mazda does have one of those after-market CD players in the dash, the only radio station that you can find in English is one that’s designed to meet “all of the musical tastes on base,” if you catch my drift. One minute you’ll be listening to Adele’s “Rumor Has It,” and the next, you’ll be frantically reaching for the volume knob to mute the 1967 hit “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” I mean, I’d rather listen to Japanese jibber jabber (talk radio) than kumbaya classics from the sixties.

Speaking of Japanese radio, if you ever walk into a store off base, you’ll notice the difference in music immediately. Ever been to Disney World’s Small World exhibit? Remember the little kids singing like robots? Well, it’s a mix between that and the strange electronic sounds you’d expect from a Nintendo game. I’m not saying every song is like this, but it’s their equivalent to our elevator music…obviously intended to be soothing, but unfortunately quite irritating.

Disclaimer: This is anything but cute. It could be the most annoying song you've ever heard in your life.

And while we’re talking music, I will say that it caught me by complete surprise to hear “Call Me Maybe” at a sushi restaurant today. Whatever happened to the zen garden genre you'd expect to hear while you’re in Japan? You know, flutes, harps and babbling brooks? Perhaps they think we prefer the one-hit wonders over their more traditional tunes? Not me… Pour me some green tea and put me in a trance! Make me think I’m climbing Mt. Fuji, not clubbing at the shore. This is JAPAN, after all. Not New Jersey.

What I'd prefer to hear while feasting on raw fish.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Losing Weight the Okinawan Way

There are three times in a woman’s life when she’s most likely to gain weight…

 1)   First year of college (freshman fifteen)
 2)   Immediately following her wedding (honeymoon muffin-top)
 3) During pregnancy (nine months of “eating for two”)

For me, it was right after I got married. I mean, the minute the reception started I was stuffing my face with pasta, meatballs, garlic bread… not to mention, Italian crème wedding cake and decadent butter cookies. Like most brides, I spent my entire engagement trying to lose weight (and look perfect in my form-fitting lace gown), only to gain it all back within the first few weeks of my marriage. And ever since then, I’ve found it very difficult to lose those extra pounds.
Crab cakes, coleslaw, hush puppies and Blue Moon... Dinner on Okaloosa Island, FL.

When I got the news we’d be living in Okinawa, I was ecstatic. First, I’ve always wanted to live on an island and second, I knew that the people who are from here are among the healthiest in the world. The average life expectancy of an Okinawan woman is 86 and a man’s is 78. Here, it’s not uncommon to meet someone over the age of 100.

From what I understand, it’s primarily attributed to their lifestyles, especially their eating habits. Unlike Americans who eat a large amount of processed foods, Okinawans stick with fish, rice and vegetables.

So I knew moving here would ultimately change my perspective on food and give me a new incentive to drop down to my pre-wedding weight (& stop eating junk food!). And that’s where I am now, three weeks into our stay, working out and trying to eat as healthy as possible.

I’ve been running at least four days a week, practicing yoga, trying new aerobic classes and eating the freshest food I can find.

I downloaded an app on my iphone called MyFitnessPal to track my calories, exercise and water consumption---and it’s helped me lose about a pound a week (and that’s even with splurging on the weekends, too)!

Fortunately, I’ve met a few new friends who like working out as much as I do. Monday, I went running along the Sunabe Seawall with Maria and Tamara, and today I took a Zumba class with Katie. I also met a girl named Allison who’s super athletic and loves running half-marathons, so I already know who I’ll be training with while I’m here!

I know it seems like taboo to talk openly about my weight but we all know as women, it can be one of the most frustrating aspects of our lives, trying to balance our love for food with our desire to be thin. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t work REALLY hard to stay in shape.  So, that’s one of my goals on this island… to be the healthiest I’ve ever been & ultimately, the happiest I’ve ever been.

Now come visit! :)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Finding a house, grilling a steak & saying goodbye to peeing in silence

Let me just start this by saying I’m thankful to be alive… and it should be noted that Okinawans are hands down, the worst drivers on the planet. Yesterday, Kevin and I narrowly avoided death as we were driving off base. Some oblivious teenager swerved into our lane and cut us off with only inches to spare. If Kevin hadn’t slammed on his brakes, I would be in a full body cast right now. Scariest moment yet... And it’s only week two.

Onto more positive news… Yesterday we found a house! Unfortunately, it’s not on the beach as we had hoped, but it’s still spacious and close to Kevin’s work.

It’s a 1600 square ft. two-level home with THREE bedrooms/THREE bathrooms—obviously more than adequate, but also the perfect amount of space for incoming guests. Compared to our last apartment in Texas, this is quite the upgrade! No more squeezing ourselves into an 800 square ft. furnace without central air.

Our official move-in day is June 16th. Until then, nights will be spent at the hotel and days will be spent exploring the island.

Speaking of exploring, today I had a little spur-of-the-moment adventure with my friend Courtney!

First, we stopped at a beach (just five minutes from the base) near Sunabe.

Right now, it’s the rainy season in Okinawa so each year, the weather is predictably dreary during the months of May and June. Even though the sky is dark and cloudy, it doesn’t stop families from diving into the crystal clear water.

I, of course, savored the moment, kicked off my sandals and let the waves splash over my ankles. I thought to myself, “Is this real? I cannot believe I live here.” This, coming from a girl who grew up near muddy riverbanks and spent her summers rope swinging into a pond. No, this is way different. And to me, such a blessing.

After our shore excursion, we ate lunch at this all-you-can-eat grill-your-own-meat buffet. Novel idea.

Notice the misspelling outside…

And then it was time to check out the restroom. 

Take a look at the black device hanging on the wall. 

Apparently the Japanese have an aversion to hearing themselves urinate because as soon as you start peeing, this tiny toilet contraption starts making a loud water-flowing noise to overpower yours in the stall. Silly, but this is their culture.

If you've always been curious as to what an authentic Japanese toilet looks like, here you go...
Squatting is your only option.

And, lastly, if you want a good laugh, look below. Written in prain Engrish.

This is real life Japan. *bows*

Friday, June 1, 2012

Driving on the "Wrong" Side of the Road

I know I haven’t been faithful at keeping up with this blog. Every day I plan to post but later find myself doing something else. On one hand, I would like to keep all of you at home updated, but on the other hand, I just want to remain private until I get my bearings straight. Being in a foreign country is exciting, but it’s also overwhelming.
I don't understand one word (or should I say character?) on this building.

With that said, I can’t believe it’s already been a week since we set foot on the island! It’s been a busy time, running around the base (literally), meeting new people, searching for cars, buying new cars, sitting through long, boring briefings, and coping with sickness.

Unfortunately, we are still living out of a suitcase, sleeping in a hotel, waiting to find out whether our future home will be on base or off base. In order for us to be eligible to live off base, housing on base needs to be 95% occupied. As of last week, it was 94.27% full. So, we shall see come Monday.

Perhaps the greatest progress made this week was in the form of transportation. On Wednesday, Kevin and I passed the test to obtain our Japanese driver’s licenses! Then on Thursday, we purchased two Japanese cars! Mine is a 2003 Mazda Familia and Kevin’s is a 2002 Nissan Primera. Not the most beautiful vehicles, but much nicer than most driven on Okinawa.
My car.
Kevin's car.

As you can see, the steering wheel is on the right side of the car. And believe it or not, we have to teach ourselves how to drive on the left side of the road!
Let me just say, getting behind the wheel that first time nearly crippled me…

I had heard all of the horror stories behind Japanese drivers coming to a complete stop in the middle of the busy highway. (It is customary for them to allow other drivers into traffic as a courtesy.)

I had watched videos of Japanese drivers running red lights. (In Okinawa, there is what’s called the “Three Car Rule.” Although not actually a rule, you should never enter an intersection until you’re sure that all cross traffic has halted. It is a common occurrence for at least three vehicles to continue through the intersection even after the light has turned red.)

And I had been told that if you’re ever involved in an accident with a Japanese driver, you’re automatically liable (Japanese citizens and local nationals are not required to carry insurance. Only Americans are.)
So you can probably imagine how anxious I was just to even step foot on the gas. My drive home from the dealership was a total of five minutes but it felt like forever. This is exactly how it went: First, I walked to the wrong side of the vehicle. FAIL. Then, I turned the windshield wipers on instead of the turn signal. FAIL. Then I almost drove into the opposing side of traffic. FAIL. Thanks to my guardian angel, I did make it home in one piece. SCORE.