As I write this, it is my one year anniversary of living here in Okinawa. It feels so bizarre that a year has passed already. As anyone knows who reads my blog or talks to me, I have found the love of my life and it is the Ryukyu Islands.
I have done a fair amount of traveling in the past year and have attempted to pack as many experiences into my time here as I can. I have always had a personality that embraces exploration and adventure and I’ve certainly been able to indulge that here.
So in that spirit, I would like to pass along some of my advice on what to do and not to do in Okinawa and maybe anywhere outside CONUS (Continental U.S.).
- Be loud – I know this is something we are generally not even aware of, but I can tell you when I’m in a restaurant and I hear a commotion or loud laughter, it is almost always American. People over here are quiet and respectful, if you visit somewhere, pretend you cannot speak (because most of us can’t speak the language anyway) and just nod and bow a lot.
- Be afraid to appear foolish– bear with me on this one. You are going to appear foolish at times regardless… you can’t help it! There is no way to know that taking food off someone else’s chopsticks is a bad thing unless you know the story…that’s just one example. There are a hundred little things that I’ve done wrong and have been corrected on, usually politely with a little explanation…culture, culture…
- Attempt to impose your cultural standards while you’re visiting or living in someone else’s country – I am a guest in someone else’s home. If you live in a foreign country, you do not live in America. I know that sounds self-evident, but it is not. I hear this over and over in sessions and in my day to day life…why can’t they have this? Why don’t they do this? Because we are living in another country and they do it their way….let it go or live within the confines of the US. Seriously, make the effort to learn about the culture you’re living in…ganbatte kudasai!
- Assume the local people are foolish or stupid – In Okinawa, most of the local people have learned English in school and they have been exposed to Americans and American television. So they understand more than you think. Do not think they are not intelligent because they are not responding in a way you think they should. I have found that when I make an effort, I am rewarded with smiles and friendliness, not only in Okinawa, but also Mainland Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
- Be aggressive when you drive – In Okinawa at least, I can’t speak for driving in Tokyo. Something I learned very quickly is that if you are sitting in traffic (you’re always sitting in traffic in Okinawa) and people want to merge in, the locals let everyone one in. I never realized my well-defined rules of the road before, such as one person let’s one car go, then the next person does the same….oh no….over here, if five cars are waiting, five cars go ….in front of you…forever and ever amen. Also, if there is a little old lady or little old man struggling to get across the road, you wait, it doesn’t matter how long. Some people get out of the car to offer a ride…it’s a sweet place.
- Sing or dance like no one is watching – I don’t know who said this, but I can tell you that I’ve been seen in my car singing, practicing karate and kobudo and dancing….people are definitely watching…and they think I’m crazy (or foolish – baka).
- Explore every chance you get – There is so much to see in this world. I don’t care if you’re in Catskill, NY or Ginowan, Okinawa! Get out there, see everything you can. Every moment is a lifetime, don’t waste it. Learn as much as you can about where you are. Be curious, ask questions, open your mind to understanding. When you are somewhere you have never been before, ask yourself, what have these trees seen? Who were the people who lived here? What was their greatest ambition?
- Try the foods, even if you don’t know what it is…especially if you don’t know what it is – Okay, from miniature fish on tofu, to boiled sliced pigs ears…I’ve tried so many things…I still have no idea what that was in Korea I ate, but it was spicy and delicious, so maybe it’s best I don’t know. There are so many different foods to be tried and tasted, how many chances in your life will you get to sit and eat and share stories with people who so different yet so similar to yourself? Food is a wonderful way to do this and to learn culture.
- Put yourself out there – I heard a wonderful colloquialism over the weekend, build a bridge and get over it! New Zealanders (Kiwis)! If you are living in a foreign country or visiting one, chances are you will never see these people again, so ask questions. Take the bus, take the train, ride in that cab. Try things you wouldn’t ordinarily do. I used to be a newspaper editor and I had a rule after reading about all these boats going down, to never take a ferry in a foreign country….I’ve been on quite a few now and I’m still here. Don’t limit yourself based on anxiety, just go for it.
- If you see it, photograph it, now! – If there is one thing I can impart as a photographer it is this, if you see a shot, take it. Stop what you’re doing, pull over, put down what ever it is…take the picture. The moment will never happen again. Heraclitus was right about this, you cannot step twice into the same river. The light will be different, the air will be different, the moment will be different, you will be different. Maybe it’s the first time or last time you’ll ever meet this person. Take the picture, don’t wait. Also, ask people if they will be in a picture with you and shoot the selfie. I have had so many wonderful experiences meeting people and getting their picture with mine… leave only footprints, but take pictures (and memories) with you!
- Lastly, but it’s probably the most important – See the people around you, if you live in US or somewhere else. See people for who they are and accept them for that, don’t try to change them. We all have awful sides as well as parts of us that shine, be easy with each other. Surround yourself with people who are amused with your peccadillos and celebrate you for your uniqueness. Make sure that you are loved, not judged for who you are!
- I could go on and on, but there will probably be another blog like this in the future! Have a great week and I’ll see you soon!