Last week, Yoni and I (along with assorted family members) went out for Vegetarian Dim-Sum in Chinatown. Getting off the train at Grand St was kind of an experience – the station was packed, everyone was pushing me, and Yoni and I were the only white people there. I was totally overwhelmed – even more so when I realized that my next two years might well feel exactly like standing on that subway platform. All I could think was, what am I getting myself into? After having spent about half a week in Okinawa, I can honestly say that I don't feel like we’re standing on the Grand St subway platform. But I also don’t feel like we’re living in America.
Let me back up a bit. As we stood on the check-in line at JFK, it became immediately apparent to Yoni and me, as well as to my family, that we were the ONLY non-Asian people on the (very full) flight. (Eventually we discovered an Indian family and one man Yoni says was Colombian, but – you get the idea.) It was certainly a strange feeling, but between the super personalized entertainment systems, unlimited free wine and beer, and haagen dazs ice cream for dessert, we were not complaining. And hey – by the time we got off the flight in Tokyo we were already good at saying “thank you” in Japanese!
The domestic terminal of Tokyo/Narita airport boasted many more Americans (mostly in the form of Marines on their way to Okinawa), but many fewer American amenities. I’ve already written about the seeming perils of hot coffee in a can. And when I went online to check on our blog from the airport, the blogger website came up in Japanese! And so I began to adjust to the feeling of being in two places at once.
And that’s kind of what living here feels like. On the one hand, when you’re on one of the 13 or so military installations “on island” (that’s how they say it here), it feels largely like America. Of course, cars are still coming from the wrong direction and there are many Japanese phrases being thrown around, but overall, any one of these bases could pass for America in a pinch. On the other hand, the second you step off base (whether to travel to a different base or to explore the local neighborhoods or to visit the 100-Yen store) you are immediately reminded that you are NOT living in America. Everything is in Japanese. Gas prices make no sense (Yen and liters is a bad combination). Speed limits are slow. Road signs are foreign. But with all that and more, you figure out how to get by. Because what other choice is there?
Yoni and I are lucky that the other chaplains of the 3rd Marine Logistics Group are welcoming and helpful and happy to help us run our endless errands and chauffer us around the island. Their assistance has been invaluable this week as we try to figure out how to get settled – setting up phones, getting drivers licenses, buying a car, finding a place to live, going grocery shopping – here on Okinawa. Though we have made good strides this week, I have a feeling that really getting settled will take more than a week.
Tonight is Yoni’s first Shabbat service with the Jewish community. I’m sure that you’ll hear more about his progress in that aspect of his job in the coming weeks. But while you’re finishing up your turkey dinners and going to bed with (hopefully) full stomachs, Yoni and I are beginning preparations for our first Shabbat on island. So, from us to you (or, as my sister Talya says, from the future): Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach!