Teaching In Socks


Island Hopping: part 2
May 12, 2009, 5:17 pm
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Shisar by the seashore

Shisar by the seashore

Ishigaki:

After brushes with fear and mortality in Iriomote, we headed to Ishigaki Island. We were only there a day, and it was day less about adventure and more about actually relaxing. I spent the day by the pool reading and drinking beer.

For dinner we went to the Hotel’s Yakiniku restaurant. For those unfamiliar, Yakiniku is Korean BBQ. Essentially, you sit at a table with a small, hot and very dangerous barbecue pit taking all of your table space. You then order plates of raw meat and the waiter bring you the various parts of dead animals you requested and some vegetables.

As the meal progresses beverages are consumed, your time management skills deteriorate and you begin to dangerously under cook or incinerate perfectly good food; it’s both delicious and terrifying endeavor. I find that it is central to success to not ask which part of the animals you are eating.

Perhaps the highlight of this meal was that prior to eating, I weighed myself on the hotel bathroom scale. After eating, I did the same and had gained two kilograms in the meantime. I’m not sure about the unit conversions (a kilogram is eight Kelvin, right? and a Kelvin is 2.54 inches, minus absolute zero?) but I am pretty sure I gained some serious weight.

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Naha:

From Ishigaki, we took a plane back to main island, Honto, and Naha city. On this island, there is an American military base, so on city street I ceased to be the great white exotic spectacle that I am accustomed to being.

Other than seeing Shuri castle– which is really a replica of a castle, filled with other replicas of castle relics (thanks WWII), Naha wasn’t entirely interesting. The heavy American influence on the city did pay dividends though. I got to eat tacos for the first time in months. Root Beer, a rarity on the mainland, was readily available. Despite my enthusiasm for the beverage my girlfriend was not as delighted as I was, remarking, “it taste like medicine. I attribute most of my taste preferences to my childhood experience with Flintstone’s Vitamins, so this sounded about right.

The last day we went shopping at the Duty Free Mall, which like all Duty-Free Malls everywhere in the world is not the bargain or tax-free, free-market wonderland they would have you believe it is. When the city monorail very conveniently drops you off outside a “Duty-Free” Mall, you know someone the city office is getting a cut of all that “duty free” commerce.

I’ll end, as all good trips do, on a small tangent: so, there was a monorail, but it did not have an Epcot center; since I was five, I was sure this was a international/galatic requirement for all monorails, anywhere. Someday they’ll change that law.



Island Hopping
May 5, 2009, 3:56 pm
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not Bob Dylan

not Bob Dylan

This week, technically, last Wednesday to this Wednesday, is Golden Week; a series of national holidays falling in close proximity of each other. Essentially, the entire country is on spring break, but it’s called Golden Week Japan loves making things "Golden" more than Cortez loves….gold.  For instance the television idiom for the premier viewing hours we refer to as "prime time" are referred to as "Golden Hour" even though it is several hours long.

For Golden week this year, my girlfriend and I headed down to Okinawa for six days. Honestly, I compiled a novella of stuff to write about, but it doesn’t really translate well into blog for. Actually this is just an excuse because I’m still exhausted from the trip and don’t want to write it all down at once.  Thus I’ll break it into sections, and perhaps a small series of blogs (or not).

Iriomote:

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We started in, Iriomote, the second most southern island in the chain. I didn’t find out until just now but it used to be uninhabited because of malaria, but that was eliminated after the war, (allegedly). The voyage involved a flight from Kobe to Naha, the capital of Okinawa, then another plane to Ishigaki Island. Then we boarded a ferry for a thirty-minute boat ride to Iriomote.

Iriomote is only 300 square kilometers, but one of the larger islands in the area.  90% of the island is covered by Tropical jungles, and only around 2,000 people live there. I did not see a McDonalds or a Starbucks.

malaria free. hope you like pig flu, developed world

malaria free. hope you like pig flu, developed world

We were stayed at an Eco-resort, which  sounds scary, but it was quite nice–perhaps the best accommodations on the island. Despite my stereotypes, I didn’t have to avoid a snake pit on the way to an outhouse–there was indoor plumbing, and even free wifi and continental breakfast (although the provenance of the scrambled eggs is still questionable). Dinner was edible, but I did eat somethings I won’t try again– things that you could play the game "alien or human/ surf or turf" with and not arrive at a definitive answer.

No cable so we had to go outside for fun. I drove a car on the left side of the road (legally) for the first time. It only messed with my head once.

We also took a water buffalo cart across a sandbar to another island–Yabu Island.  It’s was a short 15 minute ride, although it was made longer when the driver  broke out his Sanshin (a small string instrument) to regale us with a folk song. I think the design of the instrument is cool, but it’s not my kind of twang.

We took a canoe trip through the Mangrove to a waterfall. This was mostly cool because the trees were very old and had strange, above-ground and wall-like, protruding roots.

Roots

Roots

We also went caving in the Jungle. I had been caving before, and while these caves were smaller, it was more terrifying. For some reason, being attacked by Forest creatures is less daunting for me than a jungle ambush. Being the tall white guy perhaps also made me feel like the primary target for any predator. What further complicated matters was that following stereotypical suit, Japanese caves are a lot shorter than American caves. I spent a lot of time banging my helmet against the ceiling of the cave which surely must have sounded like a dinner call to hungry jungle creatures. Somehow I made it out alive.

While, I’m not a water person, I got caught up in the adventurous spirit of trip and went snorkeling the next day. After a few dives and picnic lunch on a remote island we made or final swim amongst a vast and sublime section of reef.  At times it rested 30- 50 feet below you as you floated above, while other times I skirted by with the reef just inches below me.

While I saw several  Jacques Cousteau film’s worth of  fascinating species of fish fish, and while I’ll spare you a Planet Earth essay, I must mention at one point I looked ahead and caught sight of a thin, striped swiftly moving creature. It was about 20 feet away and  hit the surface briefly the dove down and nestled into a cranny of the coral. I later confirmed what at the moment, I tired to ignore; it had been a sea snake– you know the one you see on animal planet’s most deadliest creatures and then the narrator yells about how it had five times the venom of a cobra.

In retrospect, it was  very cool to see. I don’t think I have ever seen, in the wild, a creature that could kill me so easily (aside from an angry Elk), however, it made the next twenty minutes of snorkeling slightly less enjoyable.

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