I left my heart (rock) in Kourijima

Hello everyone!

It’s been another great week here on the Rock, my first holiday season and my first chance to experience the Okinawan New Year. It’s still going on, by the way, as I write this.

What I’ve learned in my short stay on the island is that Okinawans know how to have a good time. Okinawans have about three days off for any given holiday while we Americans have our one or maybe two (on special occasions) which means a lot of the restaurants, stores et cetera are shut down. What a lovely culture, at the New Year they honor their ancestors and settle debts and clean house (literally). And they don’t seem to drive anywhere at least until today, the roads were nice and clear so I could get to Naha in about 15 minutes.

I was taken out and about by an Okinawan native earlier in the week and introduced to some wonderful locals, who are convinced that I look exactly like, you guessed it ….Karen Carpenter? Well I still don’t see the resemblance, but there it is. I became Karen for the night. The people are so warm and welcoming, they laugh easily and hard. I read recently that a Buddhist expression is that ‘when you laugh you are spending time with the gods’. I have been spending considerable time with the gods I am happy to report. One other very Okinawan peccadillo is that you never know what you will get served with your beer (or in my case Ocha – iced green tea) – on this night we got cookies and M&M’s! What a  weird and wonderful place this is!

beiru and cookies
I wasn’t joking! Those cookies were out of this world!

Anyway…I got out of work early on New Year’s Eve and went to check my mail. I had ordered some flannel sheets and a duvet cover from LL Bean as it gets damp here and I do not like using the heat unless I absolutely have to. So normally everything takes 2 weeks minimum to get here. I wasn’t expecting anything, but after one week good old LL Bean had delivered me me a package!

These are the things we all celebrate over here as we stand at the post office window, grinning with our yellow cards in hand that says our package was too big for our mailbox.

Nothing says happy new year like flannel!

So, needless to say, I was thrilled that I would start the new year with my new sheets and duvet cover. Well I know that’s a lot of excitement, but there was more. I decided to go to the movies and see the new Star Wars film. The base movie theatre is very nice, it was the first time I was in there to see a movie. The first time I was in there was to listen to a speech by Justin Constantine of the Wounded Warriors project. This is his website: http://www.justinconstantine.com/  He is an amazing man, check him out.

I’m not going to write a review of the Star Wars movie other than to say that the best actor in the movie was killed in the first five minutes and  I had a momentary shudder when I thought those stupid Ewoks would be making an appearance.

So here it is, New Year’s Eve and I’m looking forward to having a quiet night. My feet had other ideas. Since moving here I have begun to take these long walks…I feel driven to go. I have always had a hard time just walking and not running but since Sensei explained (in very good English) that I need to walk before I run – I have been taking walks. Some nights I get home, get changed and end up prowling the beaches and the East China Sea front for hours on end. I decided to see the new year in on Araha Beach. I could not believe that I had the entire beach to myself. Someone had written Happy New Year on the sand, and I almost walked through it before I realized. About 11 p.m. there were a bunch of loud, giggling girls, Americans…, so I headed off to my favorite haunt, the seawall near my house. It was an amazing experience, just being on the rocks and contemplating the last year quietly, thinking about what might come in the new year.  Someone released a balloon or paper bag with a light or candle inside and it floated over my head as I walked home.

New Year’s night was spent with new friends in Naha City, making more friends, learning traditions and sharing stories and food with each other. A lovely experience.

Today I decided it was time to see some more of the island. When I was in Taiwan last week I found myself thinking about Okinawa. I missed it. I missed it the same way I’ve always missed Maine…like the way you miss a lover, how it calls to you at unexpected moments.

So instead of booking another trip away, I decided to go to one of the accessible islands. This one, Kourijima (-jima simply means island) has the longest bridge on Okinawa. I was beginning to get excited at the thought of that, but my buddy Amanda had already been there and wasn’t very impressed with its length. I’m still talking about the bridge, don’t get sidetracked people!

bridge at kouri
I am wild about the panorama feature on the iPhone. Here is the bridge!
beach at kouri
What do you say to that? I am left speechless daily on this island. Note the coral dotting the sand.

This island is breathtaking. It’s not very big but it’s potent. I drove to the northern point and discovered signs that had the big P on them…so there must be something to park and see. I pulled in a parking lot with a lot of other people, the parking attendant was thrilled to practice his English on me, I was equally thrilled to respond in Nihongo. We were both smiling at each other. I got out of my car and saw there was something in a cage. I miss animals here. At home I was always looking at the birds or whatever little four legged friend wandered into my back yard. Over here I don’t see that many…except for white cranes, they are as common as crows here. So I walked over and this friendly face greeted me!

happy goat
He seemed pretty happy!

I did my goat impersonation and two Japanese ladies told me it was good…in Japanese of course…I’m beginning to pick up words here and there.

Then I wandered down the path to what I discovered was Heart Rock. These rocks on the beaches are iconic Okinawa, I truly wish I could stop and photograph all these gorgeous rocks (coral actually) jutting up from the water.

me at heart rock
Hey, you knew there would be a selfie sooner or later!  Just Karen Carpenter at the beach having a good time!
feet and coral
For all the foot lovers out there…you know who you are…the sand is coral and sticks to your feet, you literally have to scrub it off.

So I wandered into the water…who would think on January 2, I would have my feet in water that was not part of a Polar Bear Plunge? It was delightful, in the high 70s.  I walked back up the trail and went left instead of right and had to walk up the road to find my way back to my car. I walked through sugar cane fields and again marvelled at the fact that I was actually in a sugar cane field! As I walked into the parking lot, the attendant with another local was laughing telling me I went the wrong way. I told him if there are two ways to go, I always pick the one that takes me on a more interesting adventure….well I tried to…remember, he only spoke a little English.

So I drove back home, it took quite awhile as it seems Nago is a hopping town! And arrived home safely and quietly. I am preparing for yet another New Year’s Celebration in Naha, near Shuri-jo, and getting out all my celebratory finery – read – Michael Kors dress and Roman sandals!

I hope everyone had a safe and happy new year….I’ll see you next week!

Hibiscus flowers are ubiquitous on the island.