Saturday, September 26, 2009

Getting Around

We passed our driver's test!!! The written part Friday and the driving part today. Allan got his license and I didn't. I'm being strangled by red tape! With our licenses and the trains conquered, we have our wings. No car yet - but the 'lemon lot' has some good possibilities. Allan likes the Nissan Cube, and I'm guessing you can imagine what it looks like. We discovered while house hunting that the residential roads are like bike trails, so I'm thinking 'little teeny car'. And listen to this (okay, read this). If you rent a car, the tolls are all free. You can drive to the Tokyo airport (tolls approx. $60) in a rental for around $40. So all who visit the Schreibers will be picked up in a rental car.

Speaking of house hunting, we saw two houses on Saturday and I've gotta tell ya, it was depressing. But... today we saw five more, and things are looking up. The one we liked the most is on a steep, curvy road that would give a mountain goat problems.

We had to take a class at the Housing Center before they would give us assistance... like interpreting the Japanese rental agreement and paying ALL our housing and utilities bills. I aint no fool. Oops! I'm trying to be an English teacher - I can't say aint.

A very civilized protest against the American presence in Yokosuka

While we were in town Saturday, there was a demonstration across from the base. About a thousand protesters marched behind a van with loud speakers protesting the US presence. They had a permit and the police directed traffic like Macy's Parade. And there we were, sticking out like Buddha's belly. But I got a picture!

Riding The Train

As part of our Intercultural Relations training, we took our first train ride to Kamakura, once the capital of Japan. We each got a train card, instead of just a ticket for the day. The town is much smaller and more manageable than Yokosuka and we browsed some shops. I’m on the lookout for some interesting items to have on hand for gifts. We were also browsing for lunch. Most local restaurants have plastic food in the window to let you know what they serve.

The majority is pretty recognizable (rice, beef, shrimp), but sometimes, I just don’t have a clue. If there is no English speaking waiter, someone will step outside so you can point to your choice. We were lucky in Kamakura, lunch was very good. We are loving the food in Japan.

After our shopping and eating time, we met a group for a tour to the local Shinto Shrine. To visit a shrine, you pass through three gates, (To-ree-ee) one to purify the mind, one the body and one the soul. Here's Allan headed for body purification. As you approach the shrine, you wash your hands (and we rinsed our mouths). Now you are worthy to step inside and pray.

Here Allan is washing his hands in preparation to go up to the Shrine.

Don't the girls in the orange skirts look very traditional?

Back in the station for our return to Yokosuka, we were suddenly surrounded by little girls, probably 1st graders, dressed in school uniforms. They waited with us and, carrying their bookbags, boarded and rode the train without pomp or commotion.

QUICK LESSON - The two major religions of Japan are Shinto and Buddhism. A shrine is a Shinto structure, while a temple is Buddhist. Don't say Buddhist Shrine to an oriental.

Followers of the two religions co-exist very well and our guide tells us that Buddhist monks will visit a Shinto shrine to pray. Aims of both religions are tranquility and peace with nature. It works well. The people here are happy and easy going

Monday, September 21, 2009

On the town

The mailbox next to the Navy Lodge looks like R2D2 - Cute, Huh?

On our third day in Japan, we crossed the yellow line in the pavement that marks the end of US soil and went shopping in Yokosuka. Like most cities, it has lots of traffic, eateries, shops and plenty of pedestrians, including two new Yokoskans. We loved the grocery store and bought edamame, dumplings, tempura shrimp w/sweet chili sauce and some nigiri for that night's dinner. The best part is the amazing, delicious fruit. The grapes were like candy. We intend to make this 'our town'.

This entire week is orientation. Two days to cover what services are available on base (it takes the full two days) and then three days of Intercultural Relations, Japanese history, language, manners, religion, how to take the train and on Friday we can take the written test for our drivers' license. I need to adjust to sitting on the right seat and driving in the left lane.

US Navy ships in Tokyo Bay as seen from the local mall.

I've decided to add some quick lessons to the blog. They will be at the bottom of some entries and will be marked QUICK LESSON so those seeking knowledge, read on.
QUICK LESSON - The Japanese written language uses three separate types of symbols, Kanji originated in China and one symbol can mean a word (like sun or man), Hiragana is a set of characters developed in Japan, and Katakana (which looks a lot like Hebrew) is used to phonetically write out foreign words that have seeped into Japanese lifestyles (co-la, ha-m-br-gr, i-pd, roc-n-rl). Some of each set of characters are seen in this sign.

Friday, September 18, 2009

How long is the flight to Japan?

Seattle to Anchorage to Yokota Air Base in 18 hours. I was conscious for take off, but not much after. I took an Ambien, zonked, woke up, took another, zonked again. I don’t remember taking off from Anchorage or landing at Yokota yesterday morning, but when I did wake up, I was sick… hangover, seasick sick. I made use of the ‘barf bag’ on the plane, but unfortunately that wasn’t the only time I needed one. We were picked up by Allan’s sponsor Bill, and luckily for him, Allan is good company, because I was fit to be admitted. My head and stomach ached, but I was afraid to take Advil, or even a sip of water. Once we arrived at the Navy Lodge, I couldn’t get into the bed fast enough. Allan and Bill left to do some vital government paperwork and I remained comatose for hours. Things can only get better, right?
This morning, I was ravenous. We dressed for Rosh Hashanah services and had breakfast at Chili’s, really, breakfast at Chili's. Today is Jewish New Year, and it’s a good day. At the chapel, we met a wonderful couple, Tim and Sherri, who took us to lunch, the grocery store and back to the Lodge after services. Remember, we have no car, so a ride is a gift. Now we have food and drinks. It looks like things are turning around.

We’re a couple of savvy travelers, so tomorrow we test ourselves with the streets of Yokosuka. We need to learn how to get around, and we have one day for exploration before we begin our 5-day orientation here on base.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sandboarding... Who knew?

We hooked up with Brian and went to the coastal village of Florence, Oregon for our last three days in the U.S. I’m usually a good traveler, but I'm not getting food exactly when I want it. My stomach doesn't keep a schedule. When I’m hungry, I want to eat, NOW! If I don’t get food, I’m cranky and, well let’s face it… a bitch. As long as I'm venting, I haven't slept in my own bed for two weeks. I bet you're feeling sorry for Allan about now.

But we're in Oregon, with Brian so things are good. We checked out the town and gave the casino a try our first day. The next day’s activities were more fun and far less costly than our time at the casino. Brian went sandboarding. There are dunes all around this town, so you just rent a board and head out. The hard part is the lack of lifts, so the longer the ride down, the longer the trek back up – through sand, carrying the board. He got a workout. Then we all took a dune buggy ride, which was fun and a little scary. We didn’t overturn, but I’m not sure if that was luck or the skill of our driver, Wayne. We went across the dunes at very steep angles. Wayne seemed to lean toward leaning. If you ever go dune buggying, keep your mouth closed.

We had great fun. When our three days with Brian ended, we drove to Seattle for the flight to Japan. I was weighed holding my carry-ons, like a jockey with her saddle. Our flight leaves at 2:30 am.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

City of Brotherly Love

Allan unloading luggage at the WPB airport. Allan at the Reading Terminal Market.

As the last items were being removed from our home, Allan opened 2 fortune cookies he found in the kitchen. They read "Your luck will completely change today" and "Your life is a dashing and bold adventure". Our lives will completely change, that's for sure, and the adventure part is pretty much guaranteed also.

We stayed at my cousin Paula's house Wednesday night and flew to Philadelphia the next morning. We had lunch downtown at the Reading Terminal Market, which is famous for it's good eats, (think Philly Cheesesteak). The market has pastry and lunch counters, fresh fish and produce. Lunch was one pulled pork sandwich for the two of us, and 2 sodas for $12 w/tip. Parking was $11.50.

We are staying with Bill and Elaine Schreiber for 3 nights. This weekend is our farewell to the Schreibers and the Ramers (Allan's maternal relatives). On Friday, Allan's Uncle Henry, his sons and their families came to a party hosted by Paul and Lainie. Richard and Laura made a 10 hour round trip from Maryland to say goodbye. We got a camera as a going away gift. Allan has wonderful relatives and we will miss every one.

Allan, Me, Rich and Laura. Henry with Roy Ofir, a cousin from Israel.

Saturday night, Uncle Mel, Aunt Gloria, the Ramer cousins and our nephew Marc came to see us off. Elaine and Marybeth made one of their usually feasts (complete with decadent desserts). No one left hungry. I'm not handling all of this good-byeing very well. It feels like a death of sorts.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Countdown to Yokosuka

Today is Labor Day. On Thursday last, our travels began. We spent four days transitioning Joey and Sam to their new home. What the hell was I thinking, agreeing to go someplace that they couldn't come? Allan gave me every opportunity to veto this move, but I didn't. Now I'm losing my pets.

In going to Japan, we leave our home to renters and Allan gives up the company he built over the past eight years, but losing these two creatures leaves the deepest mark on us. I want to be in my bed with Joey at my head and Sam at my feet. That is my favorite time.
The contestants. Allan hitting the water.
The weekend wasn't entirely about feline loss. We went to Dart and Jeanne Morales' annual end-of-summer pool party, which served as a going away party for us. It was highly attended by FIT graduates (including Allan). Pam & Dave Hamel flew in from Virginia to say good-bye. Allan & Dave competed in the cannonball contest.
The following day, we spent a few hours with Jean Adams and Andy Perez, before going to Lakeland for dinner with friends. The last stop was Merritt Island where I found out that my mother has been very sick for several weeks. I hadn't realized her symptoms were quite so severe. Fortunately, she has my brother John, who is a great caretaker, but I still feel this is a bad time to be going so far away.