Thursday, April 21, 2011

and then there were five

Sora-chan and her mom have moved out, and today, my sister-in-law's two friends who'd been staying over the past week returned to Tokyo. Finally, the proportion of people (5) to bathrooms (1) in this house has reduced to a reasonable ratio. I'm also thankful that I'll have less dishes to wash from now onward. My mother-in-law has been so wonderful, doing almost all the cooking; I try to pitch in here and there, but then my recent disastrous attempt at boiling eggs had her firmly reclaiming the kitchen reins. So I've been extra diligent about helping with all the washing and clearing.

The only thing is that Japanese meals always require a million different little plates and bowls--which adds up to a lot of dishes to wash. I used to work for my college's catering company though, so all the time spent at the sink actually brought back a few good memories. Like wearing a bow tie, sitting and chatting with the kitchen ladies with their pouffy hairdos while decorating endless cookies, and singing really loudly and going a little stir-crazy with a coworker in a banquet hall while doing a formal setting for sixty tables.

R's Japanese comprehension is really developing and she's beginning to switch languages correctly--it's "yada" when she's talking to grandma, "no" when she's with me. She adores having grandma, great-grandma, and her aunt around all the time, but she's been extra clingy with me, since we got to Okinawa. I was hoping to leave her with my in-laws and try to get my Japanese driver's license--a lengthy and time-consuming process--but so far, I haven't had much luck going anywhere without her.

Today, my MIL asked me how long I planned to stay in Naha, as my SIL apparently is planning to return to Tokyo at the end of this month. It's been reported that the nuclear plant situation could take as long as nine months to resolve. We laughingly agreed though that after going through the big production of moving down here, we had to at least stay a few more weeks to make it worthwhile.

Monday, April 18, 2011

today's walk

this is why I make her nap

R, after waking up from her nap. A slightly blurry shot. She was running at me pretty fast.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

missing words

I thought tonight as I was getting ready for bed that perhaps I was starting to feel a little lonely. But I'm hardly starved for company, and then realized the problem: I miss speaking English. It's been over a week since my last casual conversation in my native language. Oh well, hopefully, my Japanese will get a little boost from this total-immersion program I'm currently living.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

naha dress code

I'm uneasy about taking pictures of random people on the street, which is why I have no images to back up my recent observation that people in Okinawa dress a lot more warmly than I think is necessary. I don't know if it's because to the locals, 25 degrees Celsius is considered chilly or if it's that common Asian fear of sunshine touching one's skin (I do see a lot more women using umbrellas on sunny days), but so far, everywhere I look, people are well covered up. Everyone is in long pants and sleeves, but many go further, layering it on with cardigans, jackets, scarves, and gloves. I even spotted one fur-lined hooded coat. Today, I felt rather self-conscious, traipsing outside of the house in my knee-length skirt and--gasp!--short-sleeved top. I was, without a doubt, the most scantily clad person on the street and I thought I got checked-out by an old geezer waiting for a bus. Probably called me a hussy, in his head.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

clouds, sky, castle, donuts

When I look up at the sky in Okinawa, the clouds appear startlingly close, as if they'd get tangled in a tall building, if there were any around. Combined with the fact that I'm always standing on a hill, this makes me feel like I'm at an incredibly high altitude...though I don't think I am.

You need strong legs to live in this place! I ventured out with R to Shuri Castle this morning and although the distance I walked wasn't so great, the number of torturous old-style Okinawan steps (I'll post a picture of them some time) I climbed with a toddler strapped to my back, and the steepness of the rolling hills I traversed, had me groaning a bit on that last upward slope toward home.

I bought some malasadas donuts--am not a big sata andagi fan (shhh, don't tell)--at a curry shop situated at the bottom of the steps to the Shuri monorail station. It's on the left side of the road, if you're heading toward the castle. Look for the yellow awning. The donuts were satisfyingly large and had a wonderful texture, pillowy and tender. They also came in a variety of flavors: matcha with azuki beans, cinnamon, chocolate, custard-filled, and plain. They were just a little too sweet, though.

R and I enjoyed the monorail ride. The windows are big and clean and we got a terrific view of the city from an elevated height. The castle grounds have been spruced up a bit and we were even in time for a traditional dance, which was an interesting contrast of gaudy colors, deliberate movements, and somber facial expressions. R took in the performance with an equally serious expression, but I think she enjoyed it, since she declined leaving early, when given the option.

In the evening, after dinner, she and Sora-chan wrestled, tumbled, and chased each other, risking concussions at every turn and resembling exactly a pair of rambunctious puppies. I have to admit it was an adorable sight, even as we all yelled and tensed every time one of them went flying backward toward a sharp table edge. Sora and her mom will be moving out the end of this week and I think R will miss her first real friend--which is what I realize Sora is.

Just as I thought we'd finally get a little extra room in the house though, it turns out my sister-in-law has invited two friends to stay from tomorrow. Can someone please join me in a moment of heartfelt groaning? True, I did say my in-laws are good people...but COME ON. So for at least two days, we'll have nine women sharing one tiny house and one bathroom. I've been doing my best to avoid this, but with the additional visitors, I'm going to have to stay in the same room as R. I'm pretty sure I'll lie awake in bed the whole night, tense, and waiting to hear her little voice telling me she's up and "all done" with sleep. Ungh.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

moving in

This is what our new neighborhood looks like. Maybe I could have picked a sunnier day to take pictures, but I must admit I've never thought of Naha as a pretty town. As you can sort of see, it's a hilly place, and obachan (grandma)'s home is perched on a fairly steep slope, right smack next to an elementary school. From our second floor veranda, you can look right into several of the classrooms and watch--if you don't mind being watched back--the kids during class.

I've been deliriously happy with the weather. Apart from the odd cold evening, it's been shorts-and-t-shirts warm. Everyone in the neighborhood keeps their windows open, to let in the fresh air, and when Edward and I take one last walk before bedtime, the night is filled with the sounds of people talking, dishes clacking, babies crying, and children playing. I like this.
Below is a shot of obachan's ceiling. It's an admittedly older house, with cracked windows, creaky floorboards, and rickety window screens--I've already managed to yank down three of them. And there's one step going up to the second floor that I swear is not going to tolerate a person's weight for much longer. But as I've mentioned before, my in-laws are really nice people and probably the best people to live with if you were to find yourself in my situation. Despite the fact that there are seven women living in a three-bedroom house with only one bathroom, we've been getting along great.

Admittedly, there have been fluctuating tensions between two of our housemates: R and an almost-three-year-old named Sora-chan. It's been extremely interesting living with a child so close in age to R. Sora-chan is A's cousin's child and she is currently experiencing the terrible-twos in a most spectacular and loud fashion. R, who has never been possessive of her belongings before, is suddenly experiencing the frustrations of having her things snatched from her. The two girls have a funny hot-cold relationship--taking turns being the pursuer and the rejecter--and when they do play together, it's sometimes hard to tell whether they're really having fun. There's a lot of competitiveness, taunting, pushing, and whining. It's great, though, watching R running after Sora and laughing, wanting to hold hands with her, and trying to stand up for herself. These are rare sights.

I am starting to get a little cabin fever though because Naha is one of those cities where you really need a car to go anywhere. And we don't have a car. Heck, I don't have a Japanese driver's license.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

first night in naha

This will be a rushed post because I need to get to bed ASAP.

I'm in Okinawa with R, in my own little room, in my in-laws' house. Typical situation with being in a brand-new place: I don't know where any of the light switches are, my clothes are exploding out of my suitcase because I'm not sure where to unpack them, I can't find a single stupid pair of clean underwear, and I'm not sure what R and I are going to do for breakfast tomorrow, since I'm pretty sure we'll be the first ones up but I don't feel comfortable digging around in someone else's kitchen.

The good news is--ta-dah--I managed to set up the wi-fi thingy and so we have Internet connection. The bad news is the rental baby crib we ordered never came, and so R, who has never successfully slept anywhere without a crib, is going to have to sleep on a futon tonight, in an unfamiliar place, with a bronze bust of some man I don't recognize looming above her (there wasn't anywhere else to put her futon and I'm not going to offend anyone by trying to move that admittedly heavy head). She's out cold right now because she got up early this morning, didn't nap on the plane, and ran around this evening like a crazy person with her three-year-old cousin. Whenever she crashes from exhaustion like this, though, she *always* wakes up a couple of hours later, tired and furious but wide awake. This is why I've got to get to bed soon, since there's no telling how much sleep total I'm going to get tonight. Unfortunately, this old house is so dusty--I thought I'd be escaping my seasonal allergies by heading south, but am currently so congested, I feel like my head's about to implode. The summary: not much sleep tonight.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I realize my last few posts have been whiny and annoying, and now feel the need to add something redeeming, if I can. I realize how lucky I am to be able to go to Okinawa--to get away for a while, like a vacation, really. I just dislike the uncertainty of the situation. When will it ever be truly "safe"--how do you define that term?--to return to Tokyo? It's not like we even have to go, in the first it? Is A going to be okay here if something sudden and drastic occurs (sorry, my mom's still sending me daily news predictions of epic disasters to come)? What if something happens to A, while I'm over there gorging on sun, Spam (the porcine type), and goya? It feels so wrong to split our family apart, like this--that's all. I wish, when A had first sprung the idea on me to leave Tokyo with R, that I had stood firm and told him we'd stick this out together, no matter what. Maybe he even hoped I'd say that.

Did this post ended up whiny and annoying as well? Crap.

warm spring evening

The weather has been near-perfect, the sun has been sticking around longer in the late afternoons, the cherry blossoms are reaching peak gorgeousness, my seasonal allergies seem to be weakening, and yet R and I are all set to leave Tokyo this Saturday. I've been scrambling to find a way out of this fix, trying to think of excuses to delay our departure, but somewhere along the way, the ball got rolling, the air tickets got bought, the number of in-laws joining us in Okinawa increased, and the bulk of our belongings have been shipped over. Uhhhhh.

It's rather amusing how the females in my husband's family seem to be on the verge of a mass exodus to Naha, where the maternal side of the family is originally from. Here's who's going, along with R and I: my mother-in-law, my pregnant sister-in-law, my grandmother-in-law who broke her arm yesterday, my cat-in-law, my dog who loathes the cat, and my husband's cousin's wife and daughter. The latter two intend to remain in Okinawa for four years, while the rest of us have vague plans to hang out at least a few weeks, for now. Obachan (grandma) has an old house there and that's where we'll all be bunking. Cozy.

My two biggest concerns are whether I'm going to have to permanently wear a bra my entire stay in that house and if R's going to find out that people eat pancakes with syrup. Oh yeah, then there's the concern that R's crying from being forced to sleep in an unfamiliar place may prevent all seven of our fellow housemates from slumbering peacefully. Groan.