Moving 6000 lbs of furniture, sportng equipment, art supplies, computer equipment, clothing and an unmentionable amount of knick-knacks from Spokane, Washington to Prague. I am repacking boxes that I only weeks ago UNPACKED from our move 1.5 years ago from Okinawa, Japan. What was that quote about the definition of insanity?
So what result are we hoping for, you ask? Seeking happiness in a land that boasts a greener shade of grass? True, there’s always the chance that Prague will be boring, uninspiring, unwelcoming…but I’m betting not. Even my darkest hours traveling alone in India (fearing my safety in the alleyways of Paraganj, celebrating Christmas with strangers while my husband was thousands of miles away) taught me something, and those moments are the most poignant in my memories.
Ah! There’s little time for reflection in these parts—too much to do! I need to finish painting some furniture (seriously), pack up my kitchen, and prepare for this weekend’s trip to Olympia to see some very dear friends. (Whom, had we not taken the leap to move to Okinawa in 2007, WE WOULD NEVER HAVE MET. Perish the thought.)
And that, my friends, is the very best side of Wanderlusting.
By the time I was almost at Pushkar, I’d had about enough of the tourist traps. So I got off the train early in Ajmer. I was the only non-Indian that I saw the entire time I was there and certainly the only blonde. More than one local asked me how in the world I’d ended up in their sleepy town.
Walking around Ana Sagar Lake, these four girls approached me and asked if I would have my picture taken with them. Then followed a family who had me hold their baby for a photo. Then a group of elderly women wanted in on the action. Then a few middle aged married men posed with me (slightly awkward). It was quite a scene. When everyone was finally finished taking their photos with the strange looking white woman, I insisted that the four instigators pose for one of MY photos. Suddenly their giggles dissolved and they got very serious. Sweet girls. So poised and full of questions about what life is like in America.
Ajmer, oddly enough, reminded me of growing up in the San Fernando Valley…miles and miles of wide boulevards, and a delicious pizza place with an outdoor pizza oven. It wasn’t as dramatic as the other, more touristy cities I went on to visit. But it was exactly what the doctor ordered at the time.
Today marks my final blog post from Okinawa, that little green fuzzy island on the other side of the planet. What a time it’s been! My paradigm was cracked open - worlds and people I never thought I’d be exposed to seeped in and became part of me. And I’m not just talking about the Texans.
"Sumeba Miyako" - wherever one lives, one comes to love it. It’s all in the attitude, there’s really no other way to to face a challenge like moving to Asia for 3 years.
When John got the call from the JAG corps, they offered him Dayton, Ohio or Okinawa, Japan as his assignment options. Neither were anywhere on the “dream sheet” he had submitted. (Dream sheets, as it turns out, are just that - 10 places you’ll dream about but never get assigned.) We both went to work that day, totally bummed out. Sitting in our sterile air conditioned offices, we googled “Okinawa” and photos of the clearest blue seas and greenest jungles popped up. By noon, we were ready to give it a shot.
Living in Asia for a limited time forced us to seize every opportunity. How many experiences could we squeeze into 3 years? Turns out, quite a few. We each logged 5 new Asian countries onto our passports. We attempted a few new languages. We made more friends in 3 years than I’ve made since I was a kid. Good friends, too. The friends are what have made this the amazing experience what it was. I have no doubt that we will be close for years to come. The rub of it is, we keep meeting really fantastic and fun people up until the end - it makes it so hard to leave.
We climbed mountains (Fuji, Himalayas, Pizza in the Sky). Bore witness to Angkor Wat and the Taj Mahal. Met Generals and a Prime Minister, Peace activists and Buddhist monks. We mountain biked, we scuba dived - swam with sea turtles and out-swam a REALLY BIG MAN-EATING shark. We sank deep into the tunnels underneath the land-mined border of North and South Korea. Cruised down the Mekong Delta and the Holy Ganges River. We took innumerable airplane flights. John even hitched a ride on an F-15 for a bird’s eye view of Japan. I planted potatoes and cauliflower in India and John planted a “Hollywood” sign on the sandy mountains of an undisclosed location in southwest Asia. John got his chops trying eight courts martial, and I knocked out a grad degree. Best of all, we got married.
But most of our memories will come from just bumming around the island. Crocheting and watching movies on Cortney’s couch, dropping by the Bowman’s for some Mad Men and home cooking, or running into friends at Uroko’s and sharing a bottle of Awamori. Living on the Sunabe Seawall reminded me what I loved so much about college, and what I’ve missed since then: living in a walkable community, surrounded by friends who take care of one another. It makes life so much more enjoyable. Doors on the seawall are always open. I hope we find the same sense of community in Spokane.
We even had some international visitors, who will forever hold special places in our hearts for braving the journey. Andre, Masumi, Scot, Renee and Mark, I hope you loved Japan as much as we did! (BTW…Prestons & Lawlors, you had better make it to Spokane, because John’s side of the family is out-representing you big time!)
I think about where we’d be if we’d said “no” to this adventure. Would we always lament what we had missed? Or like the people who stayed in Plato’s cave, would we not even know we missed anything at all? I have John to thank for putting the fire under me to close my eyes and jump. I always thought seeing the world was something I would do later in life, on my two weeks of vacation a year. I’m so grateful that I was forced to move out of my comfort zone. I hope that I never get too comfortable, and that I continue to seek out adventure every place we go.
Off to Spokane at 5 am tomorrow. Gunner Bunner is hiding under our hotel room bed right now, dreading the inevitable 25 hours and 4 flights of travel. Eegads, so am I.
I will especially miss the Okinawans I’ve gotten to know. When you say “goodbye” in Japan, you say “Mata ne” which is loosely translated as “see you later”. You never say “Siyonara!” because that means a final goodbye. “Siyonara” is what action heros utter before they blow up the bad guy. It is permanent. My Japanese sensai, Miyagi-san, told me I could say it when I finally left the island. So, the other day, after waiting for 2.5 years, I said it to my wonderful hairdresser, Rumiko, after my last appointment. She said “No! No Siyonara! You must come back to Okinawa!” Maybe some day we will. But for now, all that’s left to say is:
Aviva and her family have been some of our closes friends here on this island. Ever since the first day she stalked me on the internet (same way she found her husband) our lives together on the seawall have been an absolute blast. They feed us, entertain us, and keep me sane when John is deployed. I will miss them more than I can say.
I’m sitting here working on a project. School is done and jewelry is done until September so of course, and in typical fashion I find it IMPOSSIBLE to sit still for our remaining month on island, so I’ve got not one but two writing assignments I’ve given myself. One is a children’s book and one is a grown-ups book. Both fiction. Both impossibly difficult and gut-wrenching. I am constantly beset with waves of inferiority complex, uncertainty and the urge to crawl back into my mother’s womb and call for a rematch. On life. Good grief, no wonder writers drink.
Went to watch John’s trial today. I have spent a good many years sitting in court watching trials - I always feel like I am watching Broadway performances of Law and Order. But when it’s your husband who you knew way back when he was a goober, hockey-jersey-wearing-law-school-hopeful, it is easy to become swollen with pride. He has a natural way about the court room, and I could tell that he was putting the very nervous witnesses at ease, thereby getting the best testimony. I wish you all could see it first hand.
Must get back to the writing. Promised myself 1000 words a day. I’m using the “driving across country at night” approach - basically writing one sentence at a time. I have no idea where that sentence will take me, but all I can do is go along for the ride.
I just left you hanging there in Vietnam, didn’t I? No, we didn’t decide to pack up and move there. I just got a little lazy about the updates. After Vietnam was a wonderful 4 day stay in the Smiley Kingdom of Cambodia to visit with some of the happiest people I’ve ever met. Happiness, as we all know is relative - especially in the context of Cambodia. But the Cambodian’s joy was sure contagious.
It was the closest to the equator I’ve ever been, and hotter than sin, but I’m sure I will be back there.
So, In a whirlwind tour, we got back from Vietnam and Cambodia, our cousins from England came to visit for two weeks…
I graduated from grad school…
we went to Tokyo…
had our photos taken by the talented chef and photographer Aviva… (Photos to come. REALLY AWESOME PHOTOS to come.)
…and now I sit here on my rented Government couch, pooped and in need to some strong coffee. In a mere matter of weeks (7!) we will be on the road AGAIN. This time for good. John, Gunner and I are moving West (East?) to Spokane Washington. I haven’t fully processed this, but I need to because this house is going to be a nightmare to pack.
Now that I’m done with my schooling for now, I can enjoy some pleasure reading, so I’ve joined this website “GoodReads” which I’m totally hooked on now for reviews and recommendations. I changed the Widget at the left to reflect what I’ve now reading, and you can become friends with me to see all of my recent books. Click on the books to the left to go to the site.
Oh and PS, Gunner says “hi”. Actually, no, wait- I believe he actually said “fill my bowl with milk or I will claw your face off.” They sound very similar. Gotta run.
Perhaps because my last trip allowed for weeks at a time to absorb a city, this 5 day tour of Vietnam seemed like a whirlwind. First of all, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is as developed as Seoul, as it seemed to us. The streets are incredibly clean, there are gorgeous buildings boh new and old. Despite it’s socialist roots, Vietnam seems to be hurling itself at the market economy with breakneck speed. The streets are completely dominated by endless throngs of motorbikes, some carrying entire families. Much like India, there is little regard for traffic signals, but the lack of errant bovine makes the ride a little more predictable, I’d assume. Walking around the city streets at night felt a little like New York City in the peak of summer. Much like in India, life happens on the street, from gambling to gossiping to slurping up their famous Pho soup on mini plastic stools.
Up north in UNESCO Heratage City of Hoi An, the unyielding temperature had us stopping for a zesty beverage about every hour or so. John got some shirts made at one of the tailoring shops. Hoi An mirrored a phenomenon I noticed in India: in each town, there are only three or four different kinds of souvenirs to buy, and every single shop carries them. In Hoi An, literally every third shop was a tailor with the exact same clothing in the display. Same fabric, same samples. So after a few blocks, the average shopper gets either gets bored, or is able to bargain down a new wardrobe to practically nothing. It seems the locals would be better served by adding some variety. Say a basket shop or something. To carry home all the newly sewn clothes. While hoi an was lovely and picturesque, it did appear to be expressly created for tourists.
After we could take no more shopping we drove off to explore the marble mountains, these three lumps of marble jutting out of a flat expanse of nothingness. From the peak there is a lovely view of China beach. The hike to the top (more likely the raging heat) almost put me in a bad mood, but the Giant cave inside was one of the most serene and awe inspiring places I’ve been.
Greetings from hoi an! Located half the way up the Vietnam coast from Ho Chi minh city. We were in HCM city for half the day yesterday and it was smolderingly hot. We stayed at the historic Majestic Hotel on the river. Last night we arrived at our gorgeous hotel, on recommendation fro Lu and Tracey. The lush grounds sweep around a beautiful pool and line the oceanside. Every hotel here offers complementary breakfast buffet. The tropical fruits! The cheeses! The pastries! If there is anything good (anything at all) that can come out of Frech colonization it’s a tradition of delicious breads and pastries.
I have to say, though, that as we are swept down the absolutely crazy streets in our air conditioned SUV, dodging oncoming mo-peds, I keep looking longingly at the congregating locals on the side of the road. Backpacking on my previous trip, I seemed to be traveling in a different dimension. John and I are both looking for a little more “authentic” Vietnam and hopefully we’ll find it in the historic city of Hoi An today! Get this, you can even work for a day at a local farm, and as excited as I was about his, John did not really consider that to be good use of our limited vacation time. I’m going to try to convince him to rent bikes today, but the madness of he mo-ped circus has him a little nervous. I say, if you want to live like the locals, you gotta be closer to the ground.
I am cramming for my comprehensive tests this week. I wish I could say that I’m cramming for my comprehensive tests this month or this quarter, but like most things in my life, I am doing it at the very last minute. This entails going over dozens and dozens of my typed notes and papers, and thinking to myself “wow, this stuff’s pretty good. Fascinating, really. I wish I had the FAINTEST IDEA WHAT ANY OF IT MEANS.” This is the inherent dilemma with being a student for 20-some odd years. For self-preservation’s sake, you master the art of cramming all the info onto a temporary cerebrum loading bay, spilling it all onto a few bluebooks, then purging it immediately upon exiting the classroom that evening. A shot or two of sake always helps clean up the remnants. There’s just no other way to do it. The typical brain simply cannot hold that much information - especially when other things, like the lyrics to 'Parent's Just Don't Understand” or every line in the Sound of Music simple REFUSE to dislodge themselves from the grey matter. I’m starting to wonder how useful this method of education really is, and if it has qualified me to do anything but, well, pass a test. I can always retake if I fail. And retake again. Cringe.
John and I are planning what will be the second to last of our Asian-persuasion-vacations. This one to Vietnam and Cambodia. Let’s just sit here an reflect on my current situation. I live on the beach in Okinawa where my grandfather fought about 60 years ago, and I’m planning a vacation to a place that only 4 decades ago saw one of the longest wars in American history. I’m not sure what this says about American history or American foreign policy. (Although I probably should…NEED TO STUDY.) It’s just amazing how the world can change in a few generations. Can any of you imagine in 25 years planning a spa vacation in Iraq? Or learning to mountain climb in Afghanistan? I said to my mom when telling her about my trip to Vietnam, “I’m so lucky to be able to travel there!” She remarked that she didn’t really call that “lucky.” No doubt for her generation, Vietnam was a place you tried to stay away from. And the world turns. One of my favorite places in Korea was the demilitarized zone, where you could actually take a tram down into the tunnels dug by the North Koreans. I do like history in my vacations. Even it if it is tragic and relatively recent. I like to walk on the bleeding edge of how the world is changing. Beyond all that, I hear that the Vietnamese people are wonderful and that they really do like Americans.
We are working largely off the itinerary of our friends Lu and Tracey (who just got engaged, yay!). They went to Vietnam a couple years ago and raved about it. Who would have thought our lives would have taken us from a tiny apartment in West LA to traipsing around Asia in only two years?
Our friends the Bowmans introduced us to a man who brews his own beer here on the island. It was scrumptious, and it inspired John to attempt a batch of his own. We purchased all the equipment and now there is a giant vat of honey-cream ale brewing in our dark and temperate bedroom closet. Washington state is apparently the birthplace of Microbrewery, and so we figured we should get a head start learning the process. Will also be a good way to entice new friends once we get there. I’m looking forward to renditions of pumpkin beer in the fall and cranberry ale come the holiday season.
Over at the Foster library, there’s an exhibit with influential people and their quotes. Closest to the table where I normally do my work, there’s a photo of Oprah Winfrey, and the quote “Do the one thing you think you cannot do.” I pass by it about 10 times a day, every time I get up to buy a zesty japanese beverage from the vending machine.
The one thing I think I cannot do, but would really like to do, is write a book. Not just for the sake of writing one, but because I have an idea of something I’d really like to say. I fear I cannot do this because I can’t possibly imagine that I can create something that would actually be taken seriously. Who am I to be offering my opinion? There will always be someone more qualified to write it. There will always be someone who could write it better. This self-defeating attitude is really sticking in my craw, but I can’t seem to shake it.
I have mastered the art of giving a prof what he wants to read. I can dissect a prompt, do adequate research to compile 30 pages of work enough to get a good grade. But even in the best papers I’ve written, I’m really only sampling the ideas of others. When the topic is “The Israeli/Palestinian conflict” or “the monetary policy of the EU”, there is nothing truly original I could claim as my own. It’s all been said, by smarter people than I. I’m simply reading all the arguments, deciding which makes the most sense, and then regurgitating it back in some stylized prose. If someone were to say to me “write a book about this particular topic, using these resources, addressing these issues,” I could churn it out, no problem. It’s the insecurity that I feel from having to own the entire thing - the idea, the execution, the argument. It’s the argument I’m afraid of. I’m afraid I’ll make an easily defeated argument. Thank god I didn’t go to law school. You’d think that I would have more confidence in my own brain after all this freaking schoolwork. I had more confidence before I even started.
I’m fired up by the idea. I come up with thoughts about the project in my dreams. (Usually I’m having these thoughts on the jungle island in LOST, since we’ve been watching about 3 episodes a night in an effort to catch up to the current season.) I’m terrified that if I don’t follow through with this, that I will have caved to my fears, my mediocrity. I will have taken the easy way out. And this is why I’m putting this on the darn blog. Because I need to say it out loud so that the embarrassment of never following through with it will actually force me to do the one thing I think I cannot do.
It’s a dark and rainy day on the Sunabe Seawall, I lurve it. Can’t wait to get to Spokane where it really knows how to rain!
John has been back in town for almost a month now. He got in amazing shape (belly be gone!) while in the desert and now he’s got me dragging my sorry tush to the gym every day. Peer pressure is good in that department. He got the opportunity to be chief of military justice while deployed and also to advocate in three courts martial (trials) so I think the whole deployment really amped up his experience level. The 5 month separation, while lonely, was worth it.
I just finished a class on Islamic Fundamentalism which was equal parts annoying and informative. Annoying because it was taught by a history PhD with a specialty in African-Islamic studies, so while I was expecting to apply all I’ve learned about realism and rational choice, none of this really applied. It was basically a history class for which I had absolutely zero background.
Although the class was not taught in Arabic it might has well have been, what with all the “urf’”, “hadith”, “Qutb”, “takfir” and other really high-value scrabble words he just assumed we knew because this was a Master’s level class.
"This class really should require a prerequisite in Islamic studies" he says. Fantastic, since I’ve spent the last two years studying the Cuban Missile Crisis. "That’s why I’ve assigned you the Qur’an as one of your text books, to get acquainted with Islam." UGH.
"Any suggestions of things you think should be on the final exam?" He asks the class.
"Yes," I plead. "Can you in some way relate all of this BACK TO POLITICS? - You know the stuff we actually study and understand??"
I will say that the class readings were really interesting, and totally separated out for me the various strains of Islamic Fundamentalists, from Hamas to Al Qaeda, which have little in common. Perhaps it’s because of our history with the monolithic Soviet enemy that makes Americans think we’re up against one giant Islamic Fundamentalist monster. After taking this class I’d say that’s not really the case. The student presentations (each of us had to write on a separate group) were really informative too. In the end, I’m glad I took the class.
Having lunch with a friend from school today and excited to catch up since I haven’t seen her since October! Then off to the travel agent to start planning out trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. After having the freedom to jaunt acound India for 2 months, I just don’t know how we can squeeze two countries into 10 days, but I’m going to try my best. Quite the spoiled traveler am I.
John got back last night after 5 months in an undisclosed location in southwest Asia. I got to meet him on the flight line. It’s funny how I have been used to being completely alone in my home for 5 months and then all of a sudden there’s this other person there, which is kind of strange, and yet it feels like he never left. It’s great.
It was a hot and sweaty day, odd since last week was chilly with sideways rain. And just as I type this I hear the thunder and pitter patter on the roof. Man, i love weather.
For some reason John’s homecoming triggered in me a kind of Julia Child madness and I spent the last 4 hours making (and simultaneously eating) some serious food. No wonder the chef never eats with the table - by the time the food is done they are completely stuffed!
My mom is a great cook, and very frequently we’d come home to a steaming hot bowl of Leek & Watercress Soup, or powdered sugar-crusted Pound Cake, or individual shells with creamy Coquille St. Jacque. Not a pot or pan in the sink - just the end result, ready for our greedy bellies. As we scarfed down the goods, she’d tell us with pride about how the recipe called for such and such, but she thought such and such would taste better, and doesn’t it? Can you taste it Jenny? It’s easy when all you see is one pot of soup to dismiss the hours that went into making it perfect. She used to do that with other things to. Like hand-scrub the entire white carpet, and “doesn’t it look good Jenny? I just used a little bleach and voila! like new!”
"Sure does" I’d mumble, swallowing a slice of pound cake whole. Why she put so much time into hand-scrubbing a carpet, I’d never understand.
But, after spending all day in the kitchen, making the first meal for my husband in 5 months. I finally get it. Every detail is done with love. Every precise measurement and impromptu ingredient swaperoo makes the dish taste that much better. The rug that much whiter. And after using every pot in the house to make one soup, and washing them all before we sit down to dinner, I finally get it. And it was worth every minute.
This weekend kicked off my final master’s class - Islamic Fundamentalism. It was the only class offered this quarter that I had not previously taken. After several hours of mind-boggling dissection of the various Caliphs of early Islam, the professor looked at our blank faces and repeated his admonishment that this was an advanced class that required some previous study of Islam, which sorry to say, I do not have. So, I went to the library and checked out “Islam for Dummies” which I hope to credit with saving my academic tush.
It seems to me that if a master’s program offers a course that requires a prerequisite, they should also OFFER that prerequisite, but I am too tired to fight, and so off to the Qur’an I go. (The Qur’an is one of our 4 textbooks, as is “The Al Qaeda Reader”) Unfortunately this is not a Middle Eastern politics class (which seems to be the point of a masters in politics, no?) but a religion class. I’m so irritated. I was hoping to read book #7 on the Cuban missile crisis and call it a day.
In college I took a a Greek Mythology class, and after a few classes of countless indecipherable names, jealousies, battles, deaths, rebirths, it occurred to me that I was being forced to memorize someone else’s fairytale, which seemed like an incredible waste of brain power. The wave of deja vu is washing over me.
Recently, I started to think that teaching religion in school wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I stand by my feeling that creationism needs to steer clear of science class. Things taught in science must be subjected to the scientific method. But in a world where so much of history and current events revolve around the religions of the world, shouldn’t we at least be getting as much of an introduction to Islam as we do to Greek Mythology? I mean, here I am, at the tail end of a Master’s program in International Relations and I barely can tell the difference between a Sunni and a Shi’ite. And by barely, I mean that I know that they’re spelled differently. For example, I’ve written entire papers on Hamas from a “how do we deal with them” perspective, but I really know nothing about them or how they came to be.
The information is out there, sure, and any curious person can take the time to find out more. But I also think that a world religion class taught in high school might open up a group of say, Christian Fundamentalists, to see that even though everyone they’ve ever met is Christian, that a good portion of the rest of the world is not. Might a few of those kids then be encouraged to find out more about those non-Christians instead of thinking of them all as heathens? Maybe not all, but definitely a curious few.
Of course, this can never happen in the public schools - I mean can you imagine development of the curriculum? Activist school boards, trying to skew the way certain religions are presented. Parents, refusing to sign the waiver to let their kids learn about certain religions. The Gubernator, appointing a panel of theologists on the government payroll to come up with a testing scheme? It would be a nightmare. Even if you say that religion is the reason for so many of the world’s problems today - that’s the best reason to teach about it I think.
Until then, I will continue to lament my public school education and make up for lost time.
I’m sitting here stewing in my own juices - a nauseating feeling oddly similar to the night of Nov. 2, 2004. Just like that fateful night, here I am in a kind of mouth-open, stupefied slump. Although this time, my cupboards are cursedly devoid of booze to lull myself to sleep. I just read that the Supreme Court has handed lobbyists and the corporations that employ them, the power to spend unlimited amounts of money to intervene in our supposedly democratic process.
I sound dramatic, I know. I’m sure many people would say, “well that sucks, but what can you do?” Indeed, what can you do? Don’t worry, this is a democracy! And every 2 years you get to go to the polls and do your part to make this country great! (sorry, my “facetious” font is not working).
Increasingly, I’m finding that so many of the problems I concern myself with studying - the food industry and global hunger, the demise of independent media, the alleged health care reform - stem from a problem that has to do with corporate personhood. Corporate personhood is the (in my non-J.D. opinion) absurd notion that a corporation is a person, and entitled to the same rights are individual citizens. Did you know that it’s illegal for a person in Texas to criticize the beef industry? After all, beef companies are people, and you might hurt their feelings. Just ask Oprah - who spent upwards of a million dollars defending herself in a Texas court for saying she didn’t want to get mad cow disease from a hamburger. So please, if you’re in Texas reading this, I beg of you to close your browser, because frankly, I can’t afford a lawyer.
So, I went to the library tonight and rented The Corporation - a really fantastic documentary about these issues. I’d seen it for free on the internet - and you can too, although it’s worth a purchase of the DVD, which is much better quality, and a mission worth supporting.
Here is a particularly savory slice of the film. This clip is only about 11 and a half minutes of your time, and it shows a real world example of just why these issues affect you and me every single day. You will never watch corporate media in quite the same way. And you might never want to drink milk in the US again.
Meanwhile, I have to figure out a way to channel my anger. I’m thinking… a white russian at Eclipse - who’s with me?