|Exchange students take Okinawa.|
I can't even begin to tell you how much fun I had. It was amazing. I realize that this entry is going to be really long, probably a little boring from all the details. And for this I apologize, but I don't want to forget anything about the weekend that I learned so much about myself, my friends, and my life in Japan.
When my alarm clock went off I did my morning routine, threw my backpack over my shoulder and
I bid farewell to Uemura-san and jumped in the truck with the others. The trip had officially begun... the drive to Takamatsu airport was relatively short and filled with poking fun of the Japanese culture. We were not necessarily making fun of Japanese culture, but merely pointing out the things that bother us. Like how girls pick their arm hair in class. The thing is that I can't talk about this kind of stuff with anyone else here as I do not want to offend my Japanese families and friends. There is also the slight problem of the people at home not understanding my complaints and meanderings at all. "Girls, pick their arm hair in class? Wait, what? I don't understand? Huh?" ((I honestly do not blame anyone for not understanding this odd little quirk, but it does, indeed, exist!!)) Fortunately, my fellow exchange students, Althea and Mary Beth (Mem) were able to relate and share a few of their own war stories.
|Shuri Castle. The walk up hill makes peasant actually bow|
on the trek.
Crunky, Fran, and Ass. One heck of a combination.
On the airplane we all read and talked and laughed about Crunky, Ass, and Fran. When we landed in Naha Airport, we walked out to meet our on sight Tour Guide. Instead, we spotted a Starbucks and jumped in line before we even asked the chaperones it is was okay. I was in heaven with my Vanilla Mocha. Seeing as there were 3 exchange students, 2 chaperones, 2 tour guides, and a driver, I figured we would have gotten a snug little van. Instead we got a huge coach bus all to ourselves (later renamed the Squirt Bus for interesting reasons.) The ride was only about 20 minutes but we saw much of the Southern portion of the Island. And I'll be the first to admit that I was so surprised at how build up it really was. Not to say it wasn't beautiful, with hibiscuses and palm trees lining the streets.
Our first stop was Shuri Castle Park. The castle building was Ryuukyuan (Okinawan) with heavy
|INside the castle.|
The castle was nothing like Japanese-style castles and you could see that Okinawan culture is/ was extremely different than contemporary/ ancient Japanese mainstream culture. Another thing we noticed is that there were a lot of foreigners around, which we assumed was the direct result of the American base. Oddly enough, Mem, Althea, and I found ourselves in a reverse situation from what we are used to: we were the ones staring at all the white people.
We really are turning Japanese.
|At our crazy fancy hotel!|
We arrived at the Busena Terrace Resort, and were instantly amazed. I did not know what to expect,
|We got a little enthusiastic about the hotel.|
After we got settled we took our cameras to the beach. The resort is right on this amazing beach, complete with plenty of beach and summertime activities. We were just in time to see the sunset and stick our feet in the surf. The water was a little chilly, but the scenery was amazing. We were surrounded by green hills over the water, palm trees, thousands of hibiscuses, crystal clear water, and a great sunset. We climbed the life guard chair and looked out. I love standing beside the ocean because no matter where you are in the world, this body of water connects you to everything and you feel so small standing beside something so big.
|Sunset over OKinawa.|
Not only to do I get to learn all about Japan but I also get to learn a little bit about Australia. And
|Halloween on Okinawa.|
Actually dreading is probably an understatement.
|My first go at Karaoke. People wished they were deaf.|
Boy, was I wrong.
After begging and pleading not to do it, we were whisked into a tiny room with a tv, given 2 microphones, and some books with songs. The chaperones went first and sang Frank Sinatra and some other oldies. Then, they left us for the bar. Althea went next, and we quickly realized why she liked Karaoke so much. Her voice is amazing! I envied her nonchalant attitude towards singing in front of other people. But the mic made its way to me and I've learned here that life is too short not to have a little fun. My first song was a duet with Althea and it was AWESOME. No, not my voice, but its great fun. Eventually we even got Mary Beth to sing. Kiss Me, Sk8r Boi, Toxic, Mmm Bop, All The Small Things, Butterfly, and a hundred other pop songs filled the room as we laughed and sang (or attempted to.) Some songs made us get up and dance around the room while singing. Some made us just sit there and watch the Japanese attempt at a music video for the song. We turned off the lights and danced and laughed and sang. I really couldn't accurately describe how much fun it was.
The Japanese are brilliant for coming up with something so great. We spent a little over 2 hours singing and eventually we needed water because our voices were getting destroyed. When we were forced to head back, me and Mary Beth, who originally dreaded Karaoke, could not stop raving about it. The whole walk back was spent talking about what a great time and how someone should have clued us into the fact that Japanese karaoke is awesome. It was that great, if you can believe it. Okuda-san and Sen-san were pretty drunk when we met up with them. And they didn't like the idea of heading back yet. So we asked them if we could break into the mini-fridge and drink the beer and they happily agreed. Our tour guide even pretended to not hear our plans. But alas, back in the room, we took showers and got into bed. By the time I was out of the shower, Mem and Althea were asleep.
The alarm clock rang at 6, because we had planned on heading for a swim in the pool. But we all just rolled back over and slept till 7. We were so tired from the previous night and when I spoke I realized that my voice was pretty dead. Nonetheless we got ready slowly, seemingly taking our time doing everything. Then we went to the La Tida buffet for breakfast. We had to return because me and Mem
|Everyone is super ill. You just can't tell in this photo.|
After breakfast we met up with the chaperones and the tour guide and got onto our private coach bus. Then we had an hour drive to Churaumi Suizokukan, or Okinawa Aquarium. It was a very unenjoyable and painful ride. I sat in the front seat wondering how I was going to make it the Aquarium without dying. The peppy on-sight tour guide sang and played instruments and I wanted to scream at her to shut up. It was horrible. Mem turned to me at some point and I explained that I felt like crap probably because I wasn't used to eating breakfast. I was convinced I was the only one who felt the I did.
|Althea and I at the aquarium. |
Post-apocalyptic bathroom sprint.
As soon as the bus pulled up it became a race between the 3 exchange students to the bathroom. Excuse my profanity... but relief! And when I walked out, still feeling a little stomach-upset, I saw the faces of Althea and Mem. They wore the same relieving expression I wore. You know you have good friends when you can just talk about that kind of stuff without embarrassment.
We trudged onto the aquarium, taking various pictures at certain landmarks. It was so much fun as we laughed at how disgusting we are and tried to figure out what we ate. In the aquarium, we were amazed at the beautiful fish displays. The last time I went to an aquarium, oddly enough, I was in Althea's city of Townsville. Goes to show how small the world is, right?
Eventually, our stomachs called for Round 2, prompting a mad dash through the aquarium. The final exhibit inside, the whale shark tank, was absolutely incredible. Around this point, though, our tour guide, informed Okuda-san and Sen-san why we kept having to stop. And it was absolutely horrible because every time we looked at them, they waved and smiled. I kept trying to be embarrassed but, honestly, I do so many stupid things on a daily basis dealing with cultural communication and a language barrier, that my destructive bowels were simply just a "just another day in paradise" form of weird things that happen to me in Japan.
After brief Omiyagi shopping, we went to the Porpoise tank for the show. Like 3 loud giggling
|Looking a little pale, there, white girls. You feeling, okay?|
Now can you guess who was smiling and waving?
Unfortunately we had to depart the aquarium, though we could have spent all day there. After a 40 minute drive, in which I even participated in the peppy tour guides songs, we arrived at Ryuukyuumura. It's basically a traditional Okinawan village, before Japan owned it when it was its own country. We first went to a restaurant where we served Taco Rice, but then it was taken away before we could eat it. Instead we were supposed to get a traditional Okinawan dish, so we had to wait. Okinawan food is very different from Japanese food, and I was eager to try something new. We waited it out by watching a famous Okinawa dance show and then taking a few photos with the dancers. When we returned, our lunch was set. Okinawan Soba, much more different than Japanese Soba, but tasty nonetheless. Tacigomi Rice, which is really really good even though I've had it many times before. And Goya, Ham, and Egg dish. Goya is a really foul salty tasting vegetable, but isn't too bad when cooked. So we feasted, not realizing just how hungry we really were.
|Painting our own little Shi Shi's.|
Althea and Mary Beth did a good job, but I totally emasculated mine and turned it into a wimpy little thing with perfect teeth. haha. After we were finished, we quickly climbed a small hill to see a 3D show. In old times Okinawans used to have matches between mongooses and snakes to see who would win. Afterwards, as we were heading out, the employees gave us a brown powder and some water. The brown powder, made from the inside of snake skin is supposedly good for hang overs. So that's when I ate ground-up snake intestines or whatever it was. It was pretty tasty in a weird way. And the funny thing is that that wasn't nearly as interesting as was yet to be eaten.
We continued touring the village, until we went back to the bus. The drive was pretty quick to Manzamou, which is a large cliff looking out over the ocean. We saw a famous rock structure that supposedly looks like a elephant trunk sucking water from the ocean. Then the wind picked up and
When we got back, the girls headed upstairs and got on our bathing suits and headed for some swimming. Althea and Mary Beth went on the waterslide. Then screamed at how cold it was. Grey Clouds moved in and it felt like a big storm was on its way to the Island. So we went into the huge indoor pool. I wasn't even embarrassed to be in my bikini. I'm changing so much. There are things here I do that I would never ever do at home.
Anyways we talked like we were old friends, laughing about Crunky, Ass, and Fran, choking about
|Eating pig ears. True life.|
Eventually we decided to head back to the room for showers. I went first and then got dressed for dinner. With some time to kill, I sat out on the deck with Althea. The wind blew heavily and the grey clouds hovered over our heads. She was writing in her diary and asked what she was writing. She just said the important stuff that she doesn't want to forget, like the how we had to go to the bathroom so badly and yet still felt the beauty of the whale shark in the aquarium today. It's the little things like that I don't want to forget either. We shared some almonds and I read a book while she wrote. It was really wonderful. Then Mary Beth switched places with Althea and we talked about home and stuff.
After we were all dressed and ready, we made our way to the lobby to meet up with everyone for
|New Karaoke Queens.|
So yes, Julie Garner tried Japanese alcohol called Sake.
After dinner, we all tried to figure out what to do with ourselves. Okuda-san and Sen-san were
|Exchange students have way too much fun.|
We awoke at 7 to the alarm clock and slowly got ready. We had to pack everything as today we would be leaving Okinawa, sadly of course. At breakfast we tempted fate and went back to the restaurant from yesterday. At breakfast we talked about how much we really enjoy being here. It's interesting because not one of us really wanted to come to Japan as a first choice. Mem wanted to go to Italy,
|I know, I know... the resemblance is stunning.|
And yet those are the people that hate here and leave early.
Like the 3 of us, who came here with no expectations, no stereotypes, no assumptions. We are the kind of exchange student that does well here. After breakfast, we went back to the room for the last time and grabbed everything for the bus. We watched a little bit of Sesame Street first, because there is a great English channel. And who doesn't love Sesame Street?
We got on our big Coach bus for the last time and were greeted by the very peppy on-sight tour guide lady. But today I was feeling much better so I sang along with her and allowed her to do the clacker things without flashing her a dirty look. I even listened to much of her conversation and surpassed myself at being able to understand the good majority of it, probably because she kept saying "Steak." Though I have yet to figure out why she was talking about beef.
|What's in those drinks, girls?|
In case you don't know what Omiyagi Shopping is I will repeat it again. It is the act of buying gifts. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. In America you buy your immediate friends small pens or little souvenirs from your destination. Here you buy your family members a food item that is popular at the destination, and your friends either candy or small key chains with Hello Kitty or something else from the destination. I bought for my host family these salty cracker things that taste like a sweet Oyster Cracker. In Okinawa the famous foods are there Donuts things, that take like Zeppoles without Grease and Sugar, Sweet Yam biscuits, sweet Oyster Crackers, Milk Cracker with okinawa written on them, Okinawan Crepe, and other small strange stuff. I picked up a bunch of candy for my friends. And I also bought myself a Hello Kitty Okinawa cell phone charm, since I collect them.
For lunch, we all agreed that we simply HAD to try the Japanese-American-Mexican fusion dish of
As we got out of the bus for a final picture peppy looked at Althea, Me, and Mary Beth and said, "I your Okinawa friend." And we said "We are your American friends (Australian)" We took a picture and said goodbye. Inside the airport, they checked the bags in. I didn't though and thus regretted it when I carried 3 large bags in terminal. I even had to buy a large bag to carry everything in it. When will I ever learn? After some more
|Our final photo!|
It was a quiet ride back, as we all drifted in and out of slumber. It was kind of sad when we landed in Takamatsu. As we piled into Okuda-sans car, our tour guide gave us some candy and declared she was really going to miss us. She even did something very un-Japanese and gave us a huge hug each. I was soooooo happy. I love hugs and miss them dearly. Then we got into the car and headed for a highway stop where Uemura-san would pick me up. The car ride was filled with Althea and Okuda-san's discussion on last years troublesome exchange students. I understood most of it. Especially the part when they said that Tosajoshi (my high school) would except 2 more girls next year because I have been so great. Being the perfect exchange student has paid off.
When we arrived it was so hard to say goodbye to Althea and Mem. I gave them huge hugs but I'll
October 31--- Halloween.
Here in Japan, Halloween is not celebrated. Must be that whole Juseo-Christian-Pagan crap that only Europeans propagated. Sure, the Japanese decorate for it, but no one has a clue what you do and stuff. I wanted to do a little something for my friends and so my mom sent over M and M minis. So I walked to school and gave a few out to my close friends early in the morning. First lesson was music, then English Reading. Boring.
Halfway through my Self Study class, Yurie and Masako came to meet me and we headed to the Kochi Royal Rotary meeting. The last of my 7 sponsors. Sakioka-san picked us up and was very curious about Okinawa. He keeps telling me that he has never been to either Hokkaido or Okinawa, and that I am very very lucky. I know, I tell him.
When we arrived we did our speeches almost immediately. I spent 1 minute in Japanese and 1 minute in English. I talked about my life in America and how much I like Japan. Sakioka-san translated and then beamed at me with pride over how good my speech was. Masako and Yurie went next. Then the Club president and I exchange banners and Sakioka-san takes a bunch of pictures. The man is a dentist but I think he was a photographer in his previous life. I really enjoy talking to him though, he's a bit crazy and fun.
Then we sat back down and ate. Soba and Sushi. The Sushi plate has this little pile of pink meat, which I assumed was ham. I picked it up and plopped it in my mouth and immediately start choking from disgust. I swallowed it whole and then felt embarrassed as everyone was staring at me. So I explained what happened and then everyone burst out laughing.
And I mean everyone.
Yurie smiled and turned to me, "Everyone thinks you are so cute." Okay, so choking on some nasty pink fish is cute? Hey, whatever. During the meal this old fat Rotarian burped loudly and me and Yurie and Masako started choking on Soba noodles in laughter. Afterwards I finished my meal, drank 2 coffees, and then Sakioka-san offered take us back early. But Yurie wanted to miss more class so we stayed and listened to a scholarship winner who studied in the UK. It was interesting enough and most of the Rotarians didn't even fall asleep! Finally the meeting ended and we waited for the Valet parkers to return the car. I took a big chance but I gave the Dentist some M&M's and said, "Happy Halloween!"
What people don't realize in this life is that little things like a small tube of M&M's can truly brighten someone else's day for the better. He was so happy and excited and claimed he would put the tube on display and thanked me. I was amazed at how happy a little thing like that would make someone. I also gave the M&M's to Masako and Yurie because they knew what I was talking about when I said, "Trick or Treat!" Back at school I had my private lesson with Matsuoka-san and I gave him some candy as well. He asked me to tell him about Halloween and I was glad to give him a Cultural explanation. It's funny to think of Halloween as a cultural thing, but it really is an all-American holiday. When the day ended I headed back to homeroom for check out and cleaning (toilets!) Track was cancelled, unfortunately so I still had a bunch more candy. The Ichinensee girls had extra classes luckily for me.
When I found the girls from the club that I had been planning on giving the candies to, I happily gave them tubes of Chocolate and they all were surprised and happy. I think if it was America I would have received a lot of hugs, but I received a lot of "thank you's" instead. I felt bad because I didn't have enough candy to give to everyone, but I was still so happy with everyones wonderful responses. I walked home and was then met up with my friends from the School trip. I gave them some M&M's and we exchanged cell phone emails and made promises to hang out in the near future. They even gave me this cute little yarn man for Halloween. I got home and yelled "Trick or Treat!" and gave the last of my candy to my host parents, making them excited as well.
After dinner, we had "Halloween cake." (Typical Japan fail.) Then I told them all about Okinawa. I think my host father wet himself when he I told him about our little incident at the aquarium. I'm went to bed now feeling overjoyed because I made a lot of people happy today, including myself.
Now I'm home when I should be in school with a massive headache, finishing typing this long entry.