Friday, December 28, 2012

gift giving

Without claiming to know too much about the subject, let me just say that Japanese people take gift-giving seriously. I don't know when gifts are given, to whom, or by whom. Mostly, I know that it's traditional to give gifts - AND I know that the Japanese/Okinawan concept of what is a gift is radically different from the American concept. Not sure what I mean? I might have mentioned on the blog before that fancy fruit is a traditional gift here; one could easily spend $60 on a box of 4 mangoes or a melon tied up with a bow. But while fancy fruit is funny, it doesn't hold a candle to the kinds of boxed gifts that are being sold right now. This morning I went to Aeon, our local department store, to give you all a taste...enjoy! 

these are cups with strange fruit jellies inside (i think)

anyone need some tomato juice?

more juice

individually-wrapped slices of cake and what looks like flan. ok, not so weird - but still funny!

the Japanese here says "sea chicken" i'm thinking tuna? i know tuna is my favorite holiday gift.

boxes all wrapped up and ready to be purchased

bottles of fruit juice, instead of cans. the caption under select gift reads : the pleasure of choosing, the joy of giving. it's the choice that communicates the feeling.

here's a gift pack of ingredients to make your own Japanese soups.



Okinawans LOVE spam

more canned lunch meat
and then, of course, there's the actual meat!

and scary shellfish

and then there's always Yoni's favorite - the beer gifts!

in case you're wondering, i'm pretty sure "zero life" is calorie-free and alcohol-free...but it still comes in the beer gift box!

make-your-own gift box :)

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Harmonica for Hanukkah

One of the cruel realities of going to a Jewish Day School is the annual Chanukah Zimriyah.  Recollections of Cantor Tessler drilling us with Maoz Tzur for hours still haunt my dreams, and sweat drips down my back every time I think of doing Mi Y’malel in a round.

My class never got any truly great songs to sing; mostly, we handled the classics.  I have a memory of my sister’s class once singing, “I Got A Harmonica For Chanukah”.  When they busted out kazoos for one of the verses, I knew that I had found my favorite Chanukah song of all time.

“I know lots of boys
who got electric toys,
But I got a harmonica for Chanukah.
Some got two wheel bikes,
Some got flying kites.
But I got a harmonica for Chanukah.
I’m not complaining,
I’m not complaining –
Cause I know some little boys and girls
that didn’t get anything.”

I received some really thought out nice presents for Chanukah, and I am certainly not complaining about that.  I definitely could have used some electric toys, but I’m good.  No complaints.

For gifts, we do all right in Okinawa.  Toys for Tots cleans up each year, and I haven’t seen a single truly sad face near Santa in the Exchange.  But one of the realities of living in Okinawa is that Jewish supplies are not always available.  They can be ordered (or sent) before the festival, but there is not telling when they will get here. 

This year, we had a shortage of dreidels, but sharing is ok.  This year, we got no chocolate gelt.  The dentists rejoiced, and the holiday went on.  This year, we received no new metal menorahs to give out to the single Sailors and Marines.  Should they want to buy a menorah, there were none available in any of the stores on island.  This year, we got no candles.

So what do you do when you see that there are no candles left and people keep calling asking for them?  RP told me that he could get some PVC piping from the construction shop and make candles.  RP is highly industrious.  While that would be neat, and I would certainly enjoy the art project – I felt there had to be a better way.

Worried about telling people that they couldn’t celebrate Chanukah, I really thought hard about what to do.  And then it came to me: Catholics use a lot of candles.  I talked to my friend, Father Gelinas, the Catholic Chaplain on Camp Foster; he was more than willing to part ways with a couple hundred candles.  “That’s what we do for each other; it shouldn’t have even been a question.” 

Father Gelinas is a good guy, but he is also steeped in the ethos of the Navy Chaplain Corps.  We are the facilitators for all faith groups and care for all regardless of faith group.  In this season of perpetual Christmas specials and jolly music, Chanukah lived on – because of a Catholic priest. Go figure!

Friday, December 14, 2012

basic necessities

Before moving to Okinawa, Yoni and I had millions of questions. Where will we be living? What’s the deal with the electric current? What would Yoni’s job be like? Would he be away a lot? And on, and on. But while some of these questions were serious, big-picture ones, others were more mundane questions like: will I ever find anyone who knows how to cut curly hair? Where will I get Penny’s hair cut? Where and how will we see movies? – and more questions like this. One year later, we kind of have a handle on things.

First things first: haircuts. Yoni is the easiest in this regard. With the grooming standards of the Marine Corps as strict as they are, Yoni has his hair cut every two weeks (he says he’s supposed to do it once a week) on base at one of the many “salons” in existence for exactly this reason. These barber shops DO get busy, especially if you go at the wrong time of the day/week, but they are readily available all over the island. Penny’s hair is not as easy to wrangle. There is a dog-grooming place on Kadena Air Base, about 20 minutes north of our apartment. I’m pretty sure, though, that the groomer there had never seen an Airedale before; she never looked seriously weird, but she didn’t exactly look right, either. And it was pretty expensive – almost as much as we were paying on the upper west side. Then we decided to be brave and try an off-base groomer. They did a better job (and she got a bandana!), but it was also very expensive. Finally, a friend with a dog recommended an American woman (a military spouse) who was doing grooming out of her apartment. The price was right AND she had done Airedales before. I only hope she won’t hold Penny’s recent discretions against us!

And then there’s my hair. While there are hair salons on base (in what they call the “concession mall”), most women agree that they hairstylists there are not great. Instead, women seem to either find other spouses who cut hair out of their apartments, or to venture off base and hope for the best. On the recommendation of a friend with wavy-ish hair, I went to a lovely Japanese woman who spoke very little English (although you could tell that she had practiced certain expressions, like “is the water too hot?). Once I figured out how to answer the question of whether or not I wanted my haircut to be “round,” she did a great job.

Second: movies. There are seven military movie theatres on island. Well, maybe “movie theatre” is over-stating things a bit. I should have said “theatres where movies are shown.” They are all one-room operations, seat somewhere between 150-900 people, and come complete with a stage with curtains and everything (as the theatre is not only used for movies). Movies are rotated around the island to make sure they are being shown a minimum number of times in all the theatres. And while we do often get first-run movies, the movies we get are almost always action/adventure, family-friendly, or romantic comedy. It’s usually not too bad, although there are plenty of weeks when Yoni and I both agree that there’s nothing worth seeing. At least it’s cheap – $5.50/person for a first-run movie, and less for an older one. OH – and we have to stand at attention for the national anthem before the movie begins. (Really, this deserves an entire blog post of its own.) And it’s not like they’re just playing the star-spangled banner over the sound system. No, there are four or five musical montages made some time in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s with themes like “historical” and “nostalgia”, and one of them gets chosen to play before each movie.

I had more ideas of things to write about, but Shabbat is approaching and this post is already on the long side. So instead, I put this question to you: any aspects of daily life you’re particularly curious about / burning questions you’d like answered about “how do you do x”?? Let us know in the comments, and either Yoni or I will try to address it in the coming weeks and months. Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pearl Harbor Day

FDR said the day would forever live in infamy; the CO said it would be a day off.  Kind of.  Today the Non-Commissioned Officers (in the Marine Corps, that would be the Corporals and the Sergeants – E-4 and E-5) took over the battalion.  There was a sergeant serving as Battalion CO for the day.  He had to do all of the CO’s daily tasks.  Same applies for the various officer posts and Staff NCOs (E-6 through E-9).

RP2 Worth (My RP was promoted from Religious Program Specialist 3rd Class to 2nd Class a few weeks ago) served as the chaplain.  While he did not get the veil of confidentiality that I enjoy, he had some big plans for his day as Chaplain.

“Chaps, I’m just going to buy a big box of straws”
“Ummm, Ok.  Why?”
“When somebody comes up to me with a problem, I’ll just give them a straw and tell em to ‘suck it up’”.

This is why NCO day cannot be every day.  But he might be on to something.

What did I do with my day off?  I got sick.

So instead of going out and taking advantage of the time off, I did what I know best:  I sat on the couch watching trashy TV.   When MTV’s “True Life: I’m a Sugar Baby” seems like the best thing on, you know it’s going to be a very trashy morning. (Incidentally, a sugar baby is a person who has a sugar daddy or sugar mama; in this case, it included people who are desperately in need of a sugar daddy/mama).

I pulled myself together finally, and ran some errands.  Leora and I went to the farmer’s market where a little old Japanese lady walked up to me, and measured how tall she was in comparison.  She said something in Japanese.  She and Leora laughed a little bit.  The old Japanese lady than brought a friend over to show her how tall she was in comparison, or so I assume.  I’ve been living here for a full year, and I have only 10 words of Japanese to my credit.

Pearl Harbor Day 2012, I don’t think will live in infamy.  But it was certainly a welcome day off after a crazy week.

Friday, November 30, 2012

nothing here is easy

As Yoni so eloquently documented last week, we have now been living on this tiny island for a bit more than a year. What does this mean in Okinawa? Not that we should feel good about ourselves for surviving our first year (though I think we should); not that we would now be qualified to be sponsors for some other newly-arriving family (though I think we’d probably be good at that); no – it means it’s time to renew the car insurance.

Now, I’ve never owned a car in the US, so it could be that my understanding of the situation is off. But I always assumed that, once you signed up for car insurance, you got to keep it as long as you paid the bill each month. And those bills could be paid any number of ways: bank transfer, online, by mail.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but I’m pretty sure that’s the way the system works. That, however, is NOT how the system works here. In Okinawa, you can purchase a policy for any amount of time up to one year. You pay for it once, at the beginning. When that policy has expired, it must be replaced (in-person) by a new policy.

Now, the in-person thing is not surprising, Okinawa-wise. In fact, the monthly payments I make on said car also have to be made in person (and in cash). And people who live in town (as opposed to on base, as we do) also pay their rent, gas, utilities and cable bills in person. (Or, sometimes, at a convenience store. But that is a different story for a different day.)

So anyway – a few weeks ago, Yoni and I got a postcard saying that it was almost time to renew the insurance on our Blueberry. Remember the Blueberry?

 The policy was set to expire on November 29. According to the postcard, the policy could be renewed at B.C. Motors, the used car lot from which we purchased the vehicle in the first place. On the 27th, I went to the lot to renew the insurance. But sorry, they told me, actually you have to go to our other lot, the one half an hour from here. Strike one. I didn’t have time to go that same day, so on the 28th I set out, once again, to renew the insurance. I made it to the counter and sat down before they asked, so, how will you be paying today? Dollars or Yen? I’ll be paying by credit card, I responded. No, you won’t, they said. Because your name isn’t on the policy, and if you use a credit card, it has to match the policy-holder’s name. Ooookay, I said, well I guess I’ll go to the cash machine and then come back. I had to run a few errands on base anyway.

This is a good time to tell you all that, for the past week or so, the driver’s side window in my car has been wonky. Like, every time I open it, instead of going straight down, it would tilt forward and descend, creating a mountain peak effect. Well, when I arrived at the drive-thru cash machine (I do love that), my window got stuck half open/half closed. I could no longer run the errands I needed to run; no matter how many other people do it here, as a New Yorker I am simply incapable of walking away from a car with an open window. Instead, I took my cash and returned directly to the car lot, where I (finally) paid my insurance renewal. Phew! I also asked them how much time was left on my warrantee, and they told me I had until the end of November – essentially, three days. So if I wanted to get my window taken care of in that period of time, I figured I’d better hightail it over there!

Of course, you guessed it – the repair place is in a third annoyingly far location. Once they determined that they’d be able to fix my problem, I was told to leave my car and return for it the next day. Can I use one of the loaner cars, I asked? Sorry, they said, we’re all out today. Of course. Because I was only a half-hour drive from my house without any idea of how I was going to get home.

First, I called a few friends. No one picked up the phone. I called again. Still no answer. I decided to walk towards the nearby (1km away) farmers market so that I could at least get a snack. I also decided to post my dilemma on the Chaplain Spouses facebook page, on the off chance that someone would drop everything to come pick me up and take me home. And you know what? Within five minutes, a woman I barely know was on the way to rescue me!

So the story has a happy ending. But what I want you to take away here is that, when you start out to accomplish a seemingly simple task here on Okinawa, you never quite know what is going to happen. You certainly can’t plan to accomplish more than one new (i.e. never taken care of before) task per day. And, most of all, as I tell my mom all the time, I have no idea how families with two working spouses get anything done. This “society” is just not set up for that. How ridiculously strange.

Friday, November 23, 2012

One Year Later

One full year has passed.

Last year, we landed in Okinawa just before Thanksgiving.   On the first day, I checked into my new command.  On the second day, Leora and I went to Orientation, got driver’s licenses, and put a down-payment on a car.  We wouldn’t have a car until the next week.

Thanksgiving Day, the former Jewish Community lay leader took Leora and I to Camp Hansen’s Thanksgiving Meal.  We got a little lost going all the way up to Camp Hansen – a base which none of the people in the group had really ever frequented.   We were blown away by the quantity of over-the-top ice sculptures, by the sheer quantity of pork/meat/shellfish-reinforced dishes, and the group in general.  Scott, the lay leader, is significantly older – and we felt like the extremely jet-lagged kids at the end of the adult table.  There were some top-notch desserts.  At the end of the day, we returned to our hotel room at the WestPac Lodge and awaited our first Shabbat in Okinawa.

This year was very different.

We now have two cars and could run our own Orientation to the island.  I don’t really have any communication with any of the people (other than Leora) who were at the Thanksgiving Dinner last year.  I commute up to Camp Hansen nearly every day (and couldn’t get lost getting there, if I tried) – and made a concerted effort to avoid it on Thanksgiving.  We are now the stable island residents; in fact, Leora made some cookies and I made Tennessee-Apple Sweet Potatoes  (sweet potatoes with apples and a sweet-spicy-whiskey sauce) to deliver to the single Marines living in Barracks for Thanksgiving.

We decided to spend Thanksgiving dinner with our friends, the Mayorals.  There were only 4 and a half of us (their daughter is 2, but can pack away the food), but we definitely had food for 20.  Leora and Lara had been cooking for several days.  Leora made Aunt Enid’s pumpkin bread (delicious), cranberry sauce (yum), pumpkin pie (parve and tasty), mandel bread (with extra chocolate chips!), Brussels-sprouts (oh yeah), and carrot kugel (a-mazing).

Its not like we were just catering a meal for the Mayorals, either.  They made devilled-eggs, salad, and deep-fried a 17.5lb turkey (yes, for 4 of us to eat – kosher turkeys only come in big sizes).  They also supplied the three and a half bottles of wine (and Lara Mayoral is pregnant, so that put the onus on the rest of us to work through the bottles on our own).

We spent hours there, and only came home because Penny would have to go out.  We played Rock Band, but it was a disaster.  Clearly there was a problem with the instruments and calibration, and nothing to do with the tryptophan, meat coma, and copious quantities of libations.  There is also not a possibility that we are just not good at the game.  It was definitely instrument issues.

One full year has officially passed.  I qualify for my first new ribbon: Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon.  I’m testing for my Fleet Marine Force Officer Qualification in the near future.  Leora and I have friends and community here; we have great adventures ahead of us.  But even as we celebrate here - 

Our hearts are in the West.  We are trying to be optimistic about the current cease-fire, and we are hopeful for peace in Israel.  It seems so much more distant from here (even though we are technically closer to Israel than NYC), but we keep our brothers and sisters (quite literally, Shula landed in TLV this week) in the Land of Israel in our hearts and minds.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Thank you for supporting us!

Friday, November 16, 2012

oh, Penny...

First of all, as of this week, our blog is 1 year old. Happy Birthday Blog!

Now, on to the good stuff…

Yoni and I don’t write about Penny too often on this blog, so I think today’s post needs a little back story.

Penny is, without a doubt, a member of our family. (If you asked her, I think she’d say she was the head of the family.) We like to take her around the island with us when we can; we go to the beach, or to the dog park, or even just on drives. Last weekend, we went to Cape Hedo, the northern-most point in Okinawa, and Penny came with us. We tried, not so successfully, to take a few family self-portraits.

She is the star of our apartment building – and she knows it. Yoni and I joke that she has a huge ego, because her natural gait makes it look as though she is prancing all the time. All of the little kids scream out “Hi Penny!” whenever they see us, and when they see me without her, they ask me where she is. Even when I'm at the grocery store.

For the next few days, though, I think Penny will be keeping a low profile.

As you can see from the above pictures, she is looking pretty fluffy these days. For whatever reason, her hair grows faster out here, and it’s been hard keeping it in check. It was also, as you might imagine, hard to find a groomer. Nevertheless – we finally found one that we like, and I made an appointment to take Penny in this past Thursday.

I got a call from the groomer about 20 minutes after I got home from dropping Penny off.  “We have a bit of a problem,” she said. What had happened? Penny (obviously) tried to get away from her while she was mid-cut. The groomer reached out to grab Penny, dropping her clippers onto the table. The clippers missed the table and fell onto the floor, where they broke. The groomer did not have an extra pair. “I’ll see her first thing Monday morning,” she said, “but until then, she might be a bit – funny looking.”

At first glance, you might not realize something was wrong.

But once you get a good look – well, it’s hard to miss it. Poor Penny. If only it weren’t so funny!