A REUNION AT SEA

Three of us gals who’ve known one another for more than seven decades, ever since the first grade, decided we should have a reunion on a short cruise from Long Beach to Ensenada last week.
WE had enjoyed friendships since our school days, but after marriage. children and jobs, we were busy and only visited each other rarely, so now it was time for a good reunion now that we are retired.
Our backgrounds were very similar in many ways: WE each came from large, poor immigrant farm families in the same rural village where “everyone knew everyone else” including the parents, kids and their respective names. WE all went to the only church that was the meeting place for the community, and for twelve years caught the bus at the highway to the same elementary and high schools.
Following high school, we each studied to be teachers ans though we taught in different schools in HI we decided we needed a break in the same year and took our leave from the state school district to teach in Southern CA.
Within the first year we met and quickly married wonderful guys and never returned to Hawaii except for visits to family.
I was the first to have children while the other two waited a few years, but we each had two boys And although our homes were not far away, we needed to to drive on congested freeways to visit so that was the excuse we used not to get together besides the excuse that running our households and working kept us busily occupied so for at least fifty years we rarely visited one another and contacts were via Christmas cards.
Our first reunion was two days in Monterey, but that proved to be too short as we had to drive several hundred miles from our homes to meet there because we had moved to Chico while they stayed put in Southern CA.
This year another reunion was proposed, and I suggested venues in northern CA but they nixed them claiming the five hundred miles distance too far to drive. The problem was solved by Sandy, who still lived in Los Angeles, found a four day cruise from Long Beach to Ensenada and back for an incredible price! It included everything that we would otherwise pay separately–motels, meals and entertainment–on a land tour, so we agreed we’d drive the long distance if the dates included time to visit an old now ailing friend before the cruise and another old friend the day we returned. . A bonus was seeing a former student who’d been my aide in the eighth grade and now, twenty years later, was the mother of a toddler.
Sandy invited us to stay at her home before and after the cruise,and her son drove us to the port so that saved us parking fees too.
The other couple, Joe and Helen, drove from their home to meet us at Sandy’s the morning of the cruise.
On the cruise the ship made port in Catalina first, It’s harbor is too shallow for a large ship so we took tenders to go ashore. WE could’ve bought tours on the ship but being seasoned travelers, knew that independent purchases on shore would cost less, saving thirty dollas to ride a rickety old bus up to the airport on the steep hilly and rough roads. The ancient bus had no power steering and the driver had to really work to move the steering wheel around S-turns, the door opened manually and he didn’t have a seat belt to keep him safe. Although bumpy, it was still fun to enjoy the view of the harbor and its famous Casino landmark from above, and the driver who was an inveterate punster regaled us with non-stop jokes.
While meals on the ship were satisfactory and nothing to brag about, the wait staff of Filipinos gave us outstanding service that surpassed any we’d experienced on land tours, but the entertainment was a disappointment, geared to the younger crowd that favored loud,contemporary music rather than the musical shows and dancing we’d expected.
The final docking in Ensenada had us wondering what we could do during the eight hours there; we didn’t want to shop and people who’d been there said there was nothing much to do but shop. After taking the city bus to the plaza,however. we found a tour to La Bufadora, a magnificent blow hole a few miles to the coast. Not only was it a reasonable fifteen dollars each, it included a narrated tour of the sights along the way, and several hours watching the awesome blow hole spew sprays of sea water at regular intervals like Old Faithful. The guide claimed it was the “most beautiful” of the four blowholes in the world, though a tourist told her there was another in Kauai she hadn’t known.
To reach La Bufadora, we had to walk through a crowd of vendors, each hawking their various wares: candy, drinks, bags, clothing, hats and other items common at any tourist site no matter its locale. There was a stall that also hawked medicines that would require a prescription in the U.S. WE resisted each peddlers plea and returned to the ship empty handed. We should be downsizing and not adding more stuff of what we already have too many.
We also had to pay fifty cents U.S to use the restroom the guide said was the only clean restroom there, not much different from European ones with an attendant in the lobby taking the money and handing out a small piece of toilet paper to enter the stalls with flush toilets and slow running basin water.
At our meals we caught up with what each of us were doing. Sandy was widowed and now traveled a lot with her unmarried son, and enjoyed doing activities with her two young grandkids. Helen and Joe baby sat an infant and a toddler grandchildren once a week, and he was seemingly a very successful day trader, ordering wine, something we teetotalers didn’t, except for an occasional beer by my husband when we dine at Sierra Nevada’s.It was incongruous, however, that he didn’t drink coffee but instead had milk! And although we were contemporaries, our grandkids were already college grads while theirs were much younger. We were not the bragging types and no one passed around pictures or told how they excelled in whatever they did.
The return to Long Beach was early morning and uneventful. While we quickly disembarked, we learned the wait staff and housekeeping and other crew had to prepare for a new group of tourists who’d set sail at six o’clock the same day.
Soon after we arrived at Sandy’s, we drove to another part of the county to visit with my friend, a ninety-five year old former teaching colleague and happily found her just as spry, in fairly good health, and with an excellent memory as before. Would it be so for us?
After over nighting at Sandy’s we drove home the five hundred mile home with only a few rest breaks. She had made us a lunch so we ate it during one of the gas stops and drove the ten hours home. We had considered stopping at a motel along the way but the only city that runs along I-5 toward Chico had a high crime rate so we drove on. The McDonald’s there required a pass code to use their restroom so we decided an indication not to stop.
We had enjoyed a successful and fun reunion, perhaps our last as we are now octogenarians, but the memories of rare friendships will sustain us, if only through e-mailing.

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DIY XERISCAPING

Our front lawn was the least attractive of others on our short cul-de-sac as Bermuda grass and other weeds overtook the original fescue. WE used thousands of gallons of water to keep it looking reasonably green but it was never as nice as the neighbors’. The back yard was no different and I kiddingly suggested we take them up and replace with hydroseeding or ready rolls of sod, but that would not decrease the use of water especially since the long drought called for rationing water and the governor’s suggestion green lawns were a luxury that should not be continued. The water company also had us on a budget and that spurred us to consider xeriscaping. We’d seen rock front yards on a trip to Denver which is said to be the origin of xeriscaping or dry landscaping.
WE scoured the yellow pages for names of licensed landscaping contractors and called three. One came immediately and conviviably chatted about how he’d do it based on our suggestion for a dry creek and even artificial turf might be a consideration. He told my husband how to kill the Bermuda grass and remove the sod. He said he would draw up a plan and send us a bid. “See you in a bit,” he said, but never followed up with a phone call or a letter.
The second contractor who was recommended by the big box building and supply store quickly responded to our call and also arrived to measure the lawns and survey what would be needed. He spoke briefly with my husband and the next week followed up with a diagram and a bid. Although we liked the diagram, we were astounded by the prices he quoted for the front and back yard. especially that the smaller back’s was higher than the front’s. We could not afford his price so I wrote to ask him if he’d lower his price if we did some of the work. He sent us a new abbreviated bid but the total price was still beyond the limit of what we could afford. We had naively thought it would cost just a bit higher than what an E.R. writer had said about what her mother’s had cost.
The third guy never called. WE heard that landscapers had more work than they could handle and were months behind on their projects, but I think a business that advertises should have the courtesy of calling back even if extremely busy, just as the cold calls made when work is slow.
My husband had already stopped watering the lawns and taken the sprinkler heads off assuming that a landscaper would do the xeriscaping for a reasonable price. But when we learned from the bid that we could not afford to hire him or anyone else, we despaired; the lawn had gotten brown from lacking water except for the Bermudas that stubbornly remainded green. Hubby felt he was not up to the work of removing the sod himself although a man in the neighborhood whom we saw doing his own said it was easy and a way to work off stress. Of course he was much younger; just the thought of doing it ourselves seemed formidable. But Hubby had an idea that the equipment rental place could recommend someone who’d do the work and then we could do the rest of the work ourselves.
They recommended a handyman who often rented sod removers and was honest and reliable. The man returned my husband’s call the following day and made an appointment to discuss the work. He quoted a reasonable price to remove the sod and take it away and said he’d spray an herbicide to kill the weeds.
We agreed to both and upon its completion, he said he had landscaping experience and could help to fulfill our desire to xeriscape. By then we’d decided we should change our minds about dry creeks after driving around to look at some. They looked overwhelming to the size and position of those yards and because we had three trees in front and five in the back around which they’d need to be placed dry creeks would be overwhelming and use a lot more rocks that were expensive..
Hubby had seen a picture of a Japanese garden with a path of stones and the handyman said he could copy it. Using orange spray paint and a long piece of rope, he drew how he thought it should be done and we agreed that was the way we’d like it. Besides the path made of white stones, the rest of the lawn was covered with blue gravel and salt and pepper pebbles both front and back. WE paid him for the materials as the work progressed and we went to plant nurseries to learn about perennials that could withstand the Chico summers and drought tolerant. We bought yarrow, sedum, mallow, lavender, a few blue fescues and pansies to give winter color around the trees.
He and his dad did the work in about three weeks, and though his labor cost a bit more than our budget, it was still about one-third of what a contractor would have charged and we are satisfied with the new stone covered lawns that never need to be mowed again.

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A BICYCLE IN A TREE

News reports via radio, TV and the daily paper inform us there is an epidemic of bikes stolen in Chico. I believe the last statistic I read was the loss of one bike each day. That may sound like a drop in the bucket but in a town our size, that’s disturbing news.
The thefts are mainly thought to be by transients and the homeless. although I don’t know if any has been caught in the act or arrested.
However, we have seen men riding small bikes meant for children, riding girls’ bikes, and one day saw a man pulling alongside him another bike as he rode down Main Street.
But the most astonishing sight my husband and I witnessed as we were walking one evening in our neighborhood park was a van that stopped next to a curb adjacent to some trees, and a man got out and reached up into the branches of one from which he pulled out a white bicycle! The man wasn’t bothered that we had seen him in the act and even greeted us with “how ya doing?” We have no proof it wasn’t his, but I told my husband it appeared suspicious that a person would know there was a bike stored in the tree. I surmised it had been stolen and hidden in the branches tree for pick up later. Who knows, perhaps he used the van to pick up other bikes hidden in trees!

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VISITING MY ALMA MATER AFTER SIX DECADES AWAY

In late July my husband and I joined a Road Scholar group that began in Denver to tour the scenic byways of western Colorado in six activity filled days. At the conclusion of the tour, we independently rented a car to drive to Estes Park to enjoy magnidixwnr Rocky Mountain National Park reached by Hwy 34West.
I noticed the same highway east led to Greeley, a town whose attraction, like Chico’s, was the state college and surrounded by farmland. So after leaving RMNP and en route to Denver for our plane trip home, we drove from down a mountainous region to high plains with the purpose of visiting my alma mater, the University of Northern Colorado. When I attended six decades ago, it was called Colorado State College and confined to an area between two avenues north and south and several streets east and west. Greeley was a small town of about 10,000 and the student body about a third of the current university that has about 9,000, after the college expanded south to a former farm and now boasts new buildings and a larger faculty and staff which led to the renaming of the institution.
I had not received any communication from the college about alumni activities so had been out-of-touch other than when I requested my transcripts. I wondered, as we neared the campus how much of the old campus had remained and whether the new annex had radically changed the old’s.
Upon arriving there, we went to the Visitors’ Center, formerly the President’s house, and inquired about the new campus that sprawled south, but the young summer employee did not know much of the history of either the old or new campuses but said we could sign up for a tour that began at 2:00. That would make it too late to get to Denver before the traffic rush hour so we declined and instead walked the old campus to see if the buildings where I had attended classes were still there.
The iconic Gunther Hall, the most beautiful building with its cathedral-like facade stood prominently as before. One would be surprised to learn that it was the physical education building,a contrast to the drab, boxy buildings that housed the familiar disciplines of music, art, social sciences and physical science. A mass of colorful annuals graced the lawn near Gunther, and as we walked the old campus, noticed some buildings were no longer in existence. WE heard those had been demolished to comply with earthquake standards, and now there was a small quad in their place. I also recognized the English architecture of the Faculty Apartments and some of the student dorms.
I had been a transfer student so didn’t live in the dorms but rented a room in off campus housing, generally where owners lived downstairs and rented the upstairs. That made me want to see if the first house six other housemates and I rented was still standing, and to my amazement, there it was! The same three windows of the upstairs above the porch roof, and the same three windows of the rear that my two housemates and I lived in for a quarter until one of them tragically died of double pneumonia during the cold winter. She was a fun-loving and popular gal and liked to show walking barefooted in the snow was nothing special.
Upstairs the gals shared three rooms, each occupied by two, with a shared kitchen and a bathroom with a claw foot tub. The telephone was installed inside the broom closet. Each room took a turn cooking and washing dishes. I remember one of the gals who lived in the front room didn’t know how to cook so her specialty was GOOP, a mixture of spaghetti sauce and macaroni. The other pair hated to do the dishes and waited until bedtime,and by then the plates were crusted from the extremely low humidity and more difficulty to clean.
The alleyway we took to go to classes still exists but the house and its neighbors, except for one with a flourishing garden of colorful flowers, looked in need of paint.
I would’ve liked to go to the door to inform the current resident I was a former tenant, but there was not a person there or at the other houses seen on that Monday morning so I merely had my picture taken with the house numbers to prove my visit.
We next drove six blocks east to the second house where I resided with three others. It was the home of farmers and the housefather said it had not rained in seven years so things were looking bad. But they were a wonderful family who included us in their activities, and at this house we didn’t have to cook or clean, the housemother did. She only charged $5/week and provided us with two good meals daily we ate with the family, and a brown bag usually of a peanut butter sandwich and a fruit.
The house is still there, looking white and pristine with new paint and neatly trimmed shrubs. But I saw two mailboxes so assumed it was now shared by two different families or tenants who were not students.
I had expected to see changes in the town, but still rather shocked the formerly bright, clean downtown now looked shabby, there were no fast food eateries that signifies a vibrant town or even a strip mall. As I had forgotten the exact avenues where churches of different denominations occupied each corner of the block, we began our drive south on the old route to Denver that we used to drive on. Adjacent to I-25 that was built after I left is the site of businesses, and so I surmised the unatractive downtown was the result of it breaking through the farmlands that still exist.
The saying “You can’t go home again” holds true, but I was happy to see some of my old haunts still are there after sixty years!

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MY MISADVENTURE

On a recentThursday while walking with my husband across the street from the Saturday Farmers’ Market, I suddenly stumbled and in a nano second sprawled on the sidewalk face first! The sidewalk was smooth but I think at the indentation where each square meets the one that abuts it, my backless Birkenstock sandal caught on the slight dip, and without a back strap my sandals flew off while my feet was still going forward.
Immediately I felt blood in my mouth and knew I had hurt my upper lip. I also bit on a rice-grain size pebble that turned out to be my left eye tooth. Before a kindly stranger, who turned out to be the associate of my neurologist, rushed forward to help me, blood was already splattering onto my shirt. She asked me to open my mouth and said, “Oh, you need ice,” and went into the hot dog cafe and got some in a baggie. By then my lip was swelling and she advised us to call for an ambulance, but thinking my chipped tooth had to be cared for first, we hied over to our dentist. Alas, he was out-of-town, but had arranged with a fellow dentist to cover emergencies and I was quickly taken care of. After cleaning out my mouth, he put on a temporary crown, and said I should go and get a permanent one from my dentist when he returned to his office. He also advised against chewing and said I should eat only soft foods like jello. Trauma to the mouth is especially bad and even a sandwich could exacerbate in more problems.
When we got home, we further assessed the damage to my body: there was a quarter sized abrasion on my right shoulder, a small lump on my forehead and a bruise on my left thumb. My upper lip was swollen like a bull frog’s and there were small red streaks around my eyes, but since I was wearing plastic lens that got scratched, did not injure them.
The next morning the red streaks had turned to ugly black and blue circles and now my upper face resembled a raccoon’s albeit not cute like it.
When our son came to visit the next day, he said, “Ma, since you’re taking warfarin, you ought to get your head checked out for bleeding in the brain.” He related his friend’s dad had fallen backward and hit his head hard, but the ER decided he was OK and sent him home. That evening he had a terrible headache, and by the time he was back at the ER, it was too late. He died of bleeding in the brain. I hadn’t had a headache, but following his advice, went to Enloe’s ER and had a CT scan done. While waiting on the exam table for the result, I noticed my left knee was swollen. Five days later a golf-ball size lump appeared there, soft to the touch but not painful. WE decided to go to my doctor who said it was the bursa around the knee that had filled with fluid. She said to just leave it alone to heal by itself, because removing the fluid with an instrument might result in an infection.
Later my ankle swelled, and there was a big bruise there as well as on my left foot. Either the other problems had left them unnoticed till days later, or they just took time to show up. Now there are other bruises on my thumb, and on some fingers, and it may be more weeks before I’m whole again.
I am glad, however, I did not break any bones nor bleeding in my brain.
Falling is especially dangerous for seniors like me; it’s the leading cause of injuries and death among the elderly over 65. I shall have to watch my feet regardless of wheres I’m walking, and
perhaps stick to wearing sturdy shoes instead of backless sandals and slippers.

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A SURFEIT OF ADDRESS LABELS

Before e-mailing became my passion, I regularly wrote personal letters to friends and a few relatives. In fact, my best friend and I corresponded weekly as she lived on the East Coast and we rarely got together for a visit, and were too frugal to call long distance. Address labels would have saved me from me from handwriting my return address on the many envelopes , though spending for the shipping and handling deterred me from taking action.
By the time my best friend died in a tragic traffic accident, I only had two friends with whom I exchanged letters on about a monthly basis because they do not use computers.
Lately, however, I am practically overwhelmed with address labels I don’t want nor need sent by charitable organizations soliciting donations. (Some even send a nickel or dime to encourage me to add to a check they hope I’ll send.)
What to do with this ‘deluge’? A friend says she sometimes sends them back but I just put them aside and use them for the occasional business letter or the bills I can’t pay on-line or for sending cards required by rules of etiquette.
I believe any charitable group that sends a ‘gift’ of address labels soliciting for the organization they purport to support, gives but a small percentage to them and spends most of the moneys received for overhead.
It’s a turnoff and they shall not get donations from me.

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USING SURGICAL MASKS TO PREVENT SPREADING GERMS

Cold and flu season are here and epidemic in many states. WE are advised by health officials to wash our hands, use hand sanitizers, cover our coughs or cough into our sleeves. They suggest we not shake hands but bump elbows or greet others without touching them. The practice of bowing to one another or as in prayer like the Thais are
ways to acknowledge others in alternatively.
The Japanese also use surgical masks as a preventive against airborne diseases. We have observed them in crowds or on the airplanes wearing surgical masks. At first we wondered about that practice, but when we visited Japan, learned that it is their consideration of others as a cultural practice not to spread germs or to prevent from catching them. It is a practice that is acceptable among school children as well as among adults; we saw kids on outings and adults wearing business suits and no one stared at them. They appeared to be unselfconscious about that while we would not think of doing the same in the United States for fear of derision or the object of stares.
Although I did not find statistics about the effectiveness of wearing surgical masks by ordinary persons who aren’t doctors or dentist or those in health professions who are in close contact with patients, a 2008 study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases of a study group of persons who wore surgical masks stated an 80% reduction in catching diseases
Thus I think wearing surgical masks is probably an effective way to prevent the spreading of colds and flu viruses.

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JAPAN, THE LAND OF ‘OMIYAGE’ AND INCOMPARABLE PUBLIC RESTROOMS

With Christmas only a few days away and a frenzy of buying gifts and wrapping them harried and unwelcome  or  unnerving to some, it is different in Japan where wrapped gifts for ‘omiyage’ or gifting is an art in itself. At every rest stop or shop whether large or small, one is greeted by large displays of foods and other items beautifully  wrapped and ready to give to friends and relatives at home where the customers have come from. The Japanese never want to be obligated to anyone so a gift means giving back not only at Christmas but whenever one travels or for which an excuse can be found.

There were pickles, candies and cookies, clothing and  chinaware and novelties that customers could buy without needing   to wrap each. In fact, the wrappings are said to be more attractive than the contents as ‘presentation’ is very  important to the Japanese.

That said, their public restrooms are ubiquitous, clean and free. On our trip there in November, we were always guaranteed there would be restrooms where there were people shopping or taking a rest break.  There were large signs with international symbols pointing to the locations of the restrooms that are a universal necessity. In the cities, most toilets were western with warm seats and bidets, though in the country there were a mixture of ‘squat ‘or Asian,  included.

Their toilets also had the convenience for mothers with babies besides the changing tables we have in the U.S.: a high-chair-like seat attached to the wall of each stall where baby could be seated while mother used the facility! We had never seen any comparable anywhere else we’d traveled.

In  Europe the opposite is true where we’ve traveled:public toilets are fewer and one must pay to use them!  If any city is unsanitary because the residents or visitors didn’t have the cash necessary to use the facilities, it is probably due to the demand of paying to use them.  In our experience we’ve had to pay a restroom attendant to use the toilets and given a piece of toilet paper after paying money  ranging from the equivalent of 25cents to 75 cents , we’d go into to a poorly lighted stall, and often odorant.  When we didn’t have the necessary change, someone who did would go into a stall and then keep the door open for others. I remember in Scotland being scolded by the attendant  for that act, and being made to pay. She even had change for those who only had currency.

Or there is  a turnstile where one deposits a coin to enter the restrooms. At  a museum in Prague where we had paid admission to visit, we still had to put a coin into the turnstile to get into the restroom. While there.  a class of youngsters came with their teacher, and we wondered whether she had  a coin for each, but no, she merely instructed them to   crawl under the turnstile! Did that teach them to cheat or a defiance of a stupid rule to pay to satisfy a biological need?

We even encountered a  turnstile at the Vatican restrooms,  a change window conveniently located to exchange for coins.  Oh, when we went  to an eatery   we were allowed to use the restrooms without charge, but the need to use them didn’t always occur when it was time for a meal or a snack, or when the places were not open.

In fact, speaking of cleanliness, a traveler on a recent trip told us in some  Asian countries  not as modern as others,  the odors were so noxious they used Vicks vapor rub to smear their noses so they could stand to use the restrooms.

This blog is not a promotion to visit Japan, but as going to a restroom is a necessity for everyone regardless of  their differences, it’s good to know they welcome visitors and natives to use them free and readily  available.

 

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VISITING THE LAND OF MY ANCESTORS

My parents were immigrants from Okinawa and led a hard life working in the sugar and pineapple plantations  until they struck out on their own to become truck farmers. The latter was independence from the hard-driving plantation supervisors known in Hawaii as “lunas” but it did not guarantee a salary. So for many years they dreamed about going back for a visit to their homeland but stymied by poverty and a  large family to support. Then World War II made it impossible to even contact the few relatives who had remained there.

Until WWII, Okinawa was an obscure island province of Japan, and few people had heard about it nor could  place it on a map. Okinawa had once been an island kingdom and had  their own culture and dialect  different from the mainland Japanese, and often treated as second class citizens much as the native Hawaiians and American Indians have been. But  the War made its strategic location very important to the United States and troops station there helped modernize it and become  famous for karate and the longevity of its people.

After fifty years my parents were  finally able to go for a visit.  Their homeland had suffered severe destruction that   left the relatives destitute, but eventually when the economy changed in Japan’s favor, Okinawa  towns were modernized and my parents were awed by the tremendous changes to their home villages.

They were able to reassume contact with the few relatives who had survived the War, especially my mother’s sister and her family. They visited them often, as did some of my siblings, and I being a curious person and aware of my ancestry, desired to visit as well, but raising a family in faraway California and the high yen-dollar ration made it practically an impossible dream. Moreover, I could not find any agency other than those in Hawaii that led tours there and nearly gave up going for a visit. However, in November we had opportunity to go and figuratively ‘broke the bank’ to go with a stop over in Hawaii to visit my siblings.

Upon arriving in Naha, the capital city bustling with shops and modern buildings replacing those destroyed during the War, we began our hectic tour of eight days after a stay at a hotel as upscale as any five star’s in the U.S.

Our hotel room had amenities not found in American hotels we’d experienced , providing us with toothbrushes and tooth paste, razors,and hair brushes, as well as nightwear they call yukatas.

Each morning we enjoyed Japanese and American foods available at the buffet tables loaded with many choices; it was not a place for anyone on a diet!  I loved being able to eat rice and miso soup,cooked vegetables and vegetable salads and grilled fish and pickles along with o.j. and coffee, while my husband stuck with familiar western foods.

Okinawa is a narrow island of three main sections  and easily toured in a few days. The first journey took  us to the southern section where much of the fierce Battle of Okinawa had taken place. There we saw caves where natives had hidden during the bombardments and several thousands had jumped into the sea rather than being captured, and some firebombed because they would not come out. There are monuments on Mabuni Hill to commemorate that ugly history and strands of origami cranes hung from them.

In  the northern section we enjoyed touring their aquarium touted to be the second largest in the world. They  have a whale shark and marine animals only found in the region of the Okinawan and Philipping Trenches. It is aptly named “Churaumi” or beautiful sea. After there, we went to the Orion beer brewery that is perhaps comparable to Sierra Nevada on a larger scale.

 

At the middle and central section where my parents were born and spent their childhood, we visited Shuri Castle, once the seat of government and home to their kings. It is as grand as any castle we’ve visited in Europe albeit smaller than most. One has to take off his/her shoes to walk thru the hallways and look at their exhibits of the former kingdom. Alas, we did  not get to see their home villages that they said had radically changed owing to the War and the passage of time.

After visiting the main island, we flew to the offshore island of Ishigaki and then to Iriyama where the lifestyle is  the “old Okinawa.”   The natives appeared to enjoy an easy lifestyle and tourists can ride a water buffalo taxi on land as well as ferried thru a lagoon by the hard working animals. The guides sang native songs accompanying themselves on the samisen, a three stringed instrument perhaps comparable to the banjo.  The weather in late  November was tropical and beaches sandy altho not like Hawaii’s.

Back to Okinawa after two days in the smaller islands, we stayed at the same hotel as the first two days  and luckily got to meet my maternal first cousin and his family of ten members  for the first time! My mother had often spoken of them and it was a thrill to finally be in contact with relatives in a faraway land. One of his daughters had studied at the University of Massachusetts and translated for us, and although the language barrier made  it difficult to converse much, I can state the cousins look as westernized as we. Perhaps some of his grandchildren will come to the U.S. to study.

We left Okinawa with full hearts that made the long and expensive  trip a splendid experience. Anyone who desires to visit his/her ancestral homeland should be as lucky.

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REMEMBERING FDR

MThe recent Ken Burns documentary, THE ROOSEVELTS, jogged my memory about FDR as  a wartime president. During WWII I attended a rural elementary school in Oahu, and we experienced an environment on alert for military action. Behind our school  was  an Army encampment, there were trenches dug behind our classrooms in the event of an air raid, we had to carry gas masks and ID cards , and there were stamp and war bond assemblies every Friday.  When the USO came to entertain the troops of the camp, they performed at the school’s outdoor stage, and we were invited to attend. For the first time we saw a magician, listened to a classical violinist and heard a brass band.

A daily occurrence was the sight of convoys  of Army trucks full of soldiers rambling on the narrow, two-lane road that skirts the beaches,  going to maneuvers at the northern end of the island. If we missed the bus we had to walk on the shoulder of the  highway and watch out as we darted across it to cross to the other side.

The most memorable occurrence was the day FDR passed away on April 12, 1945. The principal came into our third  grade classroom and tearfully announced, “The President died today. you may all go home.”

Surprised but not stunned, we gathered our books and began the 3-mile trek home. He had not called the bus company. nor notified our parents–an impossibility anyway as most of use didn’t have telephones; in fact we didn’t even have electricity in our home.

About a week later there was a memorial service during a school assembly. At that time, we had religious education every  Friday afternoon, with representatives from the various Christian denominations. If you were a Catholic, for example, the teachers were two nuns and a priest, while the Protestants had their own ministers.  The unchurched could go to any to visit, but usually went with friends,  perhaps an easy opportunity to proselytize.

I remember the service was ecumenical: a nun red the Bible passage about the resurrection, the priest and ministers took part in other parts of the service. The entire school sang patriotic songs they’d practiced in their classrooms, and we ended with “Home on the Range,” because it was said to be the President’s favorite song. We had no concept of “range,” “buffalo,” or “antelope,” but sang lustily as kids will when directed by their teachers.

My classmates and I had been born during FDR’s first term and he died during his fourth. We thought of him almost reverently, and I think no other that followed him in office has matched his charisma.

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