Sunday, July 29, 2012

adventures on kokusai st

In preparation for my parents’ impending arrival (on Thursday!), I have been doing a bit of work pre-screening potentially funny Okinawan experiences. Don’t get me wrong – there are still plenty of things on the island I have never done and seen. But there are a few classic tourist attractions Yoni and I had yet to visit. Understanding my mission, this past week a couple of chaplain spouses took me down to Kokusai Street, which is located in Naha, the “big city” in the southern half of Okinawa.

I’ve thought a lot about this, and the best analogy I can find for Kokusai St is that it’s the Ben Yehuda St of Okinawa. In case there are any of you out there who don’t understand the reference: Ben Yehuda Street is a shopping, dining and gathering area in downtown Jerusalem that largely caters to tourists. While we all love a good trip to Ben Yehuda, it can easily be said that 70% of the stores are carrying the same products at slightly varying prices. The same is definitely true of Kokusai St – to an even greater extent, if possible. The only difference is that stores on Kokusai are largely selling food souvenir items as opposed to Judaica. I took the following photos in the very large “underground” market that is part of Kokusai; I hope they’ll give you some sense of what I’m talking about. 
one of the entrances to the underground market

fancy fruit for sale - if by sale you mean $60 for 3 or 4 mangoes
they sell these EVERYWHERE. they are little tarts made with Okinawan purple sweet potatoes - yum!
dried fruits...i think.
these are little facecloths that Okinawans carry in their pockets or bags to wipe sweat off of their faces. no, i am not joking.
yes, some women really wear clothing like this.
see, it really is like Ben Yehuda!
the roof over the main walkway of the underground market
decorative shisa for sale. simply put, shisa are Okinawan guard dogs, placed outside the house, for protection and luck ( I think).
habu sake. and by that i mean, large jars of sake containing a poisonous habu snake. no, i don't know why. but i guess people drink it, because they certainly sell it everywhere...

So, will I take my parents there? The jury is still out. I guess we'll see how they respond to this blog post! But, either way, it sure was a funny way to spend the day...

Friday, July 27, 2012

to be continued

Yoni and I spent the day at his battalion’s Beach Bash – yes, that is a thing. It is also known as mandatory fun time (ha). We are just getting home, and Shabbat is very soon, so please enjoy the pictures and check back on Sunday for a new post! Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Lieutenant Protection Agency

When I was still at CLR-3, I had a Lance Corporal who was my Chaplain’s Assistant.  Lance Corporals make up the majority of the Marine Corps, and while the name sounds like it comes with a certain amount of authority, nothing could be farther from the truth.  They outrank Privates and PFCs.  That is it.  But what I learned from Eremeev (my CA) is that they’ve got a little underground network.
If you really want to know when a mission or exercise is kicking off, don’t bother asking the Commanding Officer.  If you get in with the LCpls, you will not only know exactly what time the mission is kicking off, but all the objectives, all the flaws in planning, and any other juicy gossip that might have occurred in or around the planning. 

Incidentally, this network can also point you to the LCpl who owns the hard-drive with every major movie and TV show produced in the last 4 years.

Junior guys must pull together.  There is something about being the people who actually have to do the work that forces these workers to effectively unionize.  The Lance Corporal Mafia gets work done, not through orders but through “drug deals”.  They’d better not be selling drugs -- but if you need something done, they will get it done.  Just don’t ask how.

All Marines have to read a book called “Letter to Garcia”.  If you have 12 minutes, I suggest you pick it up.  It will explain the Marine Corps (and also make you queasy).  Basically, during the Spanish American War, an officer sends a Marine to courier a message to a Cuban leader named “Garcia”.  He gives the Marine no other information, but the Marine will get the job done.  And that’s why we won the Spanish American War.

We all know that what really happened is the Marine found a Cuban to give it to his general, and then spent the next 3 days smoking cigars and chasing girls in Havana. BUT the core concept of the book is that the Junior Marines (Lance Corporals) will figure out how to get it done.

In the officer community, there is much the same thing.  At 9th ESB, it is called the LPA (Lieutenant Protection Agency); I’ve also heard it called the One Bar Society (this is a little bit more inclusive of the Chief Warrant Officers who could use a little protection).  To respond to my father’s thoughts: Yes, officers do work.
The LPA meets every Friday at the Palms for “Catfish Friday”.  While I clearly do not eat Catfish, the funny thing is that none of them seem to like Catfish either.  I have not seen a single other officer eat the stuff.  Nevertheless, the Mac and Cheese is of the highest quality, and the desserts are pretty good.

We talk about all sorts of things.  We talk about funny things that we saw Marines do recently and really truly absurdly stupid things that we saw Marines do recently.  We talk about the CO and XO, and discuss Lessons Learned in dealing with said higher-ups.  We make fun of those know-it-alls with two bars (Captains/me-in-two months).

Everybody needs a place where they don’t have to salute, where they can forget the words “sir” or “ma’am”, where they can call people by their first names.  In these societies, the camouflage fades and people become people.

Friday, July 13, 2012

the most important Coco(k)'s

For some reason, Coco’s is a very popular name for businesses in Okinawa. No joke – Yoni and I have documented three separate business chains that all use the name Coco’s (well, one is Cocok’s, but is pronounced without the “k”).

The first is a chain of curry restaurants. Yoni and I have never eaten there, as we feel quite sure trying to find something on the menu would be futile, but there are locations all over the island. The second Coco’s is a convenience store chain. Convenience stores are a BIG thing here in Okinawa, and Coco’s is not the most popular, but it does have the funniest signs. I guess there are two types of Coco’s convenience stores, because the signs for some of them read: Coco’s de Bake! Coco’s de Cook!

But the third and most important Coco(k)’s is the nail salon (I think the proper name is Cocok’s Ocean View Nail Café). I know it’s petty, but one of the things I wondered about before moving to Okinawa was where I would get pedicures. I thought to myself, who knows if women in Japan paint their nails at all? Well, goodness, I was wrong to worry about that.

While it is possible to get a plain old pedicure in Okinawa (and even on-base), most women on this island (Japanese and American alike) opt for the hugely more elaborate and uber-popular nail art option. Allow me to paint you a picture. (ha!) You walk into the nail salon for the pedicure appointment you made three weeks ago. Instead of being asked to pick a color, you are seated in an armchair and handed a 3-inch three-ring binder full of possible nail designs. The choice is seemingly impossible; how can one pick from so many options?! Let me tell you – it’s hard. Luckily, your glass of sweet, fruity tea will be refilled and your legs will be massaged until you have managed to make your decision. At that point, your nail artist (I have no idea if that’s what they’re actually called) will pull all of the colors in the store that could possibly be used in your design and ask you to pick from the various shades so that the combination is pleasing to you. And then the elaborate painting begins.

I always, always have a very difficult time making a decision about what to get. Luckily, I go with a friend once a month – so there are plenty of opportunities to make funny as well as serious choices! For your viewing pleasure, here are a few I’ve done in the past as well as a few I’m considering…let me know what you think!

this was my first one.

this is the current one.

sometime soon?

last month. i loved this.

i just think this is hysterical.

Friday, July 6, 2012


In case you were wondering, the person to blame for the most annoying patriotic anthem ever is a man named Lee Greenwood.

Having first become cognizant of events happening in the world when I was in first or second grade, the anthemic, “Proud to be an American” was almost the theme song of Operation Desert Storm.  I’m almost forced to picture Patriot Missiles being launched over the backdrop of an American flag as the first verse concludes and the chorus begins:

“‘ Cause the flag still stands for freedom,
and they can’t take that away.
[Cue the lauching of missiles]
And I’m proud to be an American,
where at least I know I’m free.”

This past week, Leora and I got an uber-dose of good-ole fashion patriotism.  To be fair, we went out looking for it.  On a base full of thousands of Americans who left their homes in order to fight for America, you almost expect to find the Sandlot Fourth of July scene recreated (or the Independence Day Alien Beat-down Scene – let’s not forget that this is a military installation). 

So on the 3rd of July (everybody is off on the fourth, so we celebrated on the 3rd), Leora and I bought an all-American Pizza and headed to a Park on Kadena AFB.
I have things that I could say about the initial band – an all-Japanese 60s/70s cover band that clearly learned all their songs while singing Karaoke (and not getting the words right).  I have less nice things to say about the actual band.  But when it comes down to it – who cares?  It was a band.  All bands in this venue are just the opening acts to the main event…the fireworks.

Kadena AFB matched up their fireworks to the soundtrack of America.

First the various service songs:  There don’t even need to be fireworks, how can one not get excited by Anchor’s Aweigh and the Marine Corps Hymn?  I can’t possibly imagine.

The fireworks became more nostalgic and slower for the Ray Charles’ version of “America the Beautiful”.  Some country song that I didn’t recognize followed that, I’m sure that some people really enjoyed it.  I, personally, used the opportunity to say “ooooh” and “ahhh”.  But then the finale.

Not the 1812 Overture.  Considering that we are celebrating the War of 1812, it might be fitting.  But I’m sure the organizers recognized that Tchaichovsky wrote the song as a memorial to the Russian actions in the Napoleonic Wars, and not as a salute to American resolve.  That’s why they finished with “Proud to be an American”.

And it was awesome.

The perfect fireworks.

The perfect finale.

But God if its not the most annoying song to get stuck in your head for the rest of the week.

If tomorrow all the things were gone,
I’d worked for all my life.
And I had to start again,
with just my children and my wife.

I’d thank my lucky stars,
to be livin here today.
‘ Cause the flag still stands for freedom,
and they can’t take that away.

And I’m proud to be an American,
where at least I know I’m free.
And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.

And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
‘ Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.

One a side note:  According to Wikipedia:  “In November 2008, President George W. Bush appointed Greenwood to a six-year term to the National Council on the Arts.”  If every there was a reason to cut funding for the arts...