Tag Archives: Okinawa

Life’s a Beach

How to Run a Navy Recreational Facility:

Congratulations! You’ve now assumed responsibility for and management of the fabulous White Beach Naval Getaway. It’s a proud location with a rich history, and not much else—you’re going to love it. Here are some pointers, some dos and don’ts to get you started on your adventure serving customers as a Navy Morale, Welfare, and Recreation facility manager.

First, keep in mind that the customers are probably mostly sailors. They’re used to a level of suck that you and I don’t put up with in our day-to-day lives, so when you need to cut corners and save some money, don’t hesitate to take it out of services you provide your guests.

In fact, if you’re honest, you’ll quickly learn that needy, whining guests are the cause of most of your headaches. They’re always wanting stupid things like someone to answer the phone at the Reservations desk, or to be there when it’s time to check in. You don’t actually have to put someone there all hours of the day; after ten or twelve unanswered rings, most customers stop calling.

Email is another dangerous means by which customers will contact you. Not only will they try to use the Reservations mailbox—they might contact your staff members directly. Here’s a pro-tip: no one has to actually read anything customers send. For example, when a customer mentions a problem with one of your required forms and asks for help, ignore that part and send them a six-word email to tell them you still need that signed form. Three exclamation points should convey the right professional sentiment.

Occasionally one gets through to reserve a room. That’s where your fun begins! People will show up expecting something like a hotel room or typical lodging experience, with basic provisions like soap, TV programming, or Internet access. Maybe something as simple as paper towels. You’ll save money and channel more customers to the overpriced mini-mart if you don’t provide standard accommodations. Kill two birds with one stone–after you squeeze some blood out of it.

It’s not really up to you, but if you can help it, make sure there are swarms of ants everywhere guests might go—zigzagging across the walkway leading up to the door, marching in columns up the doorframe, wriggling into the room, running on the walls, climbing on the couch or the bed or the people on those pieces of furniture. Don’t ever mention this—it’s part of the excitement of “roughing it” that guests obviously expect from a Naval Getaway. We have some standards to uphold, and they are low. You’ll do great.

This will be a great pic for the safety brief when I fall off this 15 foot wall…

When you advertise services, here’s a neat trick: don’t give specific details like hours or days of availability. At the check-in desk, for example, we’ve placed a convenient ad for breakfast in the solitary restaurant—which is really just a bar that also serves a variety of greasy food. Let the customers see that and plan for breakfast, then surprise them in the morning with locked doors and darkened rooms. “That’s just on Sunday,” you can explain, with a shake of the head and a condescending tone. Moments like that give you a chance to vent frustration while also channeling customers to the Subway stand—it’s good for everybody! They’ll serve up a freezer-aisle-style breakfast sandwich, “toasting” the frozen meat on top of the bread to keep it soggy and soft—easy on the gums!

When asked if everything is open, say yes, but mean no. For example, the beach is “open” but you can post signs with big red letters warning swimmers, “Jellyfish, swim at own risk.” They might see the enclosed pool across the street and think, “That’s okay, I’ll swim there.” That’s when you can spring the news on them that the swimming pool is closed… like the cable and Internet service in all the cabins. Be sure to remind them of all the ways they can incur additional fees, though, as this is valuable information—unlike interruptions of expected service you advertise as available.

You can throw guests a bone and place complimentary Keurig coffee next to the posted warning about lead in the water—you might help someone kick the caffeine habit! Now you’re paying it forward.

You’re off to a great start thus far, but there are still more corners to cut. Housekeeping workers shouldn’t actually have to scrub the shower clean; a slimy floor can be a fun adventure. A little dirt on the toilet seat never hurt anyone either, so you can leave those weird stains to set into the plastic. If you don’t put light fixtures into the shower, people will only use the water in the daytime instead of running up the electrical bill during the night. You know what would be a good thing to have in the shower? A towel to dry off while still getting sprayed. That’s why we feature a conveniently placed towel rack on the inside of the shower door.

On top of that, as long as there are no visible stains, bed sheets can totally be reused by multiple sets of guests. A stray hair or two in the already-made bed can be the source of fun contemplation as your tenants sort out the mystery of how it got there and what they might be sleeping in.

Beyond that, the little details and subtle touches are what separates your Naval Getaway from all the other available options. Ideally, your ceiling tiles should have a variety of shades ranging from peppered grey with mold or dust, to water-stained brown at the edges, to gleaming white like new. Think of it like a mosaic, and raise the price of your artistically designed and decorated cabin.

Griping aside, the views here really are quite lovely.

Armed with these ideas as a foundation, you’re ready to lead this facility into a mire of mediocrity… which is good in its own way. Even if customers don’t repeat their visit, the advertising and the panoramic vistas will still lure in enough unsuspecting sots to fleece. Striving to be the best on island would waste a lot of time, effort, and resources. Someone has to come in last place, and it might as well be you.

Beach Day

The clouds streak across the grey sky, obscuring the sun’s light if not its heat. Sea-birds squeal and call as they glide over the wide patch of coral-studded sand. Purple flowers pop in the clusters of green leaves that form a line to separate the grass from the advancing beach. The waves rumble at the shore in a soft rhythm like a drum swell to fill the silence every few seconds. And I sit on the cabin porch in the thick. humid air, looking over the scene when I’m not staring into the darkness behind my eyelids. 


This is a day “off” from work, the one full day of a visit to the resort at the north end of the island. I’m on leave from military responsibilities, though they still hover over my mind like a swarm of the mosquitos and gnats that nip at my exposed skin. 

Work duties may be on hold, but that doesn’t mean their voices remain silent. One of my programs requires more attention–something unimportant but neglected too long. Mysteries and technical difficulties loom over one of my aircrew duties–and another program that falls under my purview. We’ve asked for aid and channeled our questions in the right direction, so now we wait for additional details. I have personal responsibilities calling for attention, and my transition to retirement, put off as somewhere forever down the road, approaches next year with the inexorable passage of time. 

The waves crash in their unchanging pattern, one after another–splash… splash… splash…

“Later,” I tell the myriad concerns. “It’s a beach day. I’m taking a day off. You should too.” 

I hear their laughter as they continue their slow, constant pace. 

Commitments pepper my mind like a nagging wife, while my actual wife sits on the porch with me, chortling and giggling at hilarious videos on her smartphone. The woman I love is happy that I have this time to relax, happy that I have no timetable or schedule or task calling for my attention. “You probably need this,” she said as we made ourselves comfortable in our home for a day and a half.

I need to get caught up on weeks of writing courses I’ve neglected. I need to keep up with planning for the National Novel Writing Month events kicking off this week. I have to post something to a blog I’ve ignored for weeks, or perhaps finish one of a half-dozen drafts and concepts I’ve jotted down in various notes.

We snack on sandwiches of turkey and Colby-jack, food brought from home since everything on the resort is so pricy. I look over the groceries in the kitchen—more than we need—and the gym duffel full of too many clothes for the short stay. 

We dragged plenty of bags into the cabin last night, a couple pieces at a time, one trip after another from the minivan.

I always seem to bring too much. “What if we need this? What if we want that tomorrow?”

Urgent news from home occupies my thoughts. My mother is in the hospital, and needs a pacemaker. I’m on the other side of the world, unable to do anything but pray and wait for news. Suddenly some of the “important” things in life lose a little bit of their precedence. 

Wave after wave, worry after worry, tiny little turmoils and troubles that fill the background noise.

My smallest son, age six, proudly displays his catch–this time a water bottle full of hermit crabs, scrabbling and scratching over each other trying in vain to find freedom. “They can’t live in there, honey,” Mom tells him. “You need to let them go.”

“Oh,” he says with barely a tinge of disappointment. He dashes off in the direction of the repetitive rumble and disappears behind the slope of sand that leads down to the water’s edge. The concerned parent in me knows that his older brothers are looking out for him, watching to make sure he doesn’t go too deep or too far into the blue water.

To be young and fearless once again… but that would mean forgetting the truth: some concerns and fears are protective, instructive, the result of experience or maturity, an acknowledgement of reality. Some worries are voices to which we do well to listen.

The buzz of cicadas fills the air, and the noise of the sea dies down. The slight breeze falters, gives up, as if the oppressive humidity is too much to push through. The children return, their hearts light, their voices loud and silly. Water rushes from a hose to sweep away the sand, and then it becomes a puddle in which they splash and play while “drying off.” 

It’s a beach day, a day of rest, free from concerns and cares. We’ll roast marshmallows and make s’mores over a bonfire at sunset, then wonder in awe at the array of stars filling the night sky. In the periphery of our attention, in the background of my mind, the waves will continue their perpetual, rhythmic chant.

“Tomorrow,” I’ll tell them, like I always do… and they’ll laugh as they rumble ashore, one after another after another. 

Where Did The Family Go?

“Where did you get that idea?”

It’s a question people often ask writers, especially when the writing goes to dark places. My wife worries about where I come up with some of my plot lines, particularly if I’m describing some evil deed or villainous plan a character is going to carry out.

While we sometimes have an inkling where and why the inspiration first struck, all too often it’s hard to nail down… hence the superstitious talk of “the Muse” and other ways we describe the inexplicable. 

But oftentimes, characters, dialogue, plots, and details slip into our writing because of something we’ve personally noticed in the real world. It’s one reason why writers go to coffee shops or outdoor cafes to people-watch. There are some real characters in the world auditioning for a role in our books!

So the other day I was on my way to a different base on island, and I got behind a small car with one of those stick-figure decals on the back window. This decal was a woman holding a microphone and singing.

As I looked closer, I realized she wasn’t alone, at least not originally. Where there should normally be a stick dad or stick spouse, some stick kids and maybe a dog or cat, someone instead had placed cut decals of black plastic over the other figures so that it almost seemed like they had never been there.


This made me wonder why, a question for which I couldn’t come up with any good answer. 

At best, perhaps the woman bought some family’s used car on island. It’s not hard to scrape off an unwanted decal, though. I also thought, perhaps she got divorced and covered up the family.

But to be honest, I can’t imagine covering up instead of removing, unless you wanted it to be obvious that at one point these four family members were there, and now they are not. It seemed like a small memorial of sorts, a way of calling attention to the undesired absence.

Then because I’m warped  creative, I began thinking of less uplifting possibilities. 

Could it have been a vicious divorce she didn’t want? Perhaps a husband fought for custody of the kids (and even the dog), and convinced the court she was unfit.

Was there some terrible car accident?

Did the family home burn down, claiming those lives? Most buildings on Okinawa are made to withstand typhoons, and aren’t that likely to go up in flames. What about a collapse due to an earthquake?

What about a Yakuza hit? Maybe she double-crossed a crime boss, and instead of killing her, he took out the family, knowing that living with the loss would be harder than dying. I could have been right behind the main character of an action / revenge story, the Japanese version of an 80s Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal film playing out in real life! Who knows!

So… if you ever purchase a used car that has someone else’s stick figure family on it, do all the writers a favor and remove the remnants. Don’t simply cover it up, because I guarantee the story that gets made up will be way worse than the truth.

Japan Living

My family and I have been fortunate throughout my military career, and one such blessing is that the Air Force has seen fit to station me in Japan for the vast majority of my 20+ years.

Japanese culture is amazing. Honor and courtesy matter a great deal. Service is valued and something people take pride in. Offering a tip at a restaurant, for example, is frowned upon. The workers know the quality of their product and their service, and they charge you for what is fair. They don’t need a tip as a bribe to put in good effort nor do they want you to feel like you have to help them out financially. (I’m probably vastly misunderstanding the reasoning behind this but the point is, you don’t tip like you would in the States.)

It sometimes seems like the treatment or culture that is too good to be true.

There are some downsides… Traffic laws are such that any accident is partly your fault even if it’s clearly entirely the fault of the other party. If you hadn’t been where you were, they wouldn’t have hit you, or so I guess the logic goes.

So when a landscaping crew’s high-power weed whacker accidentally launched a rock into my minivan’s passenger side window, shattering it, I wasn’t sure what to expect. 

whoops!

While stopped and waiting for the light to turn green, I certainly didn’t expect the sudden pop and Pssshh of crumbling safety glass falling into my car. I may have said something unkind to the worker who–back turned to me, oblivious to my plight and rage–continued trimming the plants on the sidewalk’s edge. His co-worker noticed, called his attention to the situation, and helped start a rough conversation involving contacting his manager’s secretary who thankfully is bilingual. On the phone, she apologized and said someone was coming to take a look. 

In the States, I could almost imagine getting the finger and being sent on my way to sort matters out on my own. I worried that, like a traffic accident, this might fall into some mystical category of “But did you not contribute to the damage to your vehicle by placing your vehicle at that intersection, at that exact moment?”

The company offered to repair the window, which I at least hoped would be the case. I was happy enough with that.

Then they offered to get me a rental car in the mean-time. 

They repaired the car in less than half the expected time.

Then they cleaned out my car and (I’m pretty sure) filled up the gas tank. 

They paid for the rental–or technically, I paid for it on my credit card then they paid me in cash.

And then the manager handed me another envelope that looked like money. With some help and laughter from the bilingual ladies at the car rental office, I found out this was “for dinner.” It was a 10K yen note, which is roughly $100. I mean, the minivan might indicate a large family, but still… That’s a pricy dinner!

It would have been rude to refuse, because this is another custom. When you make a grievous error or do someone harm, you apologize and bring a gift of some sort to smooth the relationship.

As I type this, the taco style brick-oven pizzas my family loves are being cooked, purchased with the “dinner” gift, to be enjoyed with a family movie. Not too shabby. 

(Okay, being honest: the teens will probably thieve some pizza, opt out of family time, and hide out in their rooms watching YouTube videos. Just because we live in Japan, that doesn’t mean everything changes from what you might expect in the States.)

Beat the Snow

Yesterday was among the coldest days on record for Okinawa, Japan, to include a light bit of snow (barely noticeable and only on the highest part of the island, to be fair–nothing like what some of you see on the regular in the States).

We will try to rebuild and recover. 

Still, a chilly day inspires me to enjoy a nice warm soup and sandwich, something to beat the snow and fill me with joy. And my favorite combination is a bowl of robust and flavorful tomato soup, with what Panera Bread calls a “Big Kids’ Grilled Cheese.”

The sandwich is a thick toast triple-cheese parmesan-crusted taste of awesomeness with bacon in the middle. The soup that I’m making has been kicked up a notch with italian seasonings, extra garlic powder, and a sprinkle of southwest chipotle. 

 

The start of a satisfied smile on my face
 
Since I have a swarm of hungry kids, there’s a pan of tortellini boiling to ensure everyone eats their fill. (Confession time: I want tortellini and the rest is pure justification.)

Yes, this is going to happen today. 

The herbs count as a vegetable, right?

Bacon of course, plus some 5-cheese Italian sprinkled between two slices of cheesy Texas toast, then the top of the sandwich is dusted with parmesan and it all goes back in the oven to melt into delicious crispiness.

And since it wouldn’t be a reasonable facsimile of Panera without coffee… I’ve got a special pot of cherry chocolate coffee brewed up for me and the wifey. 

Suck it, “cold” mid-40s Okinawa weather!

Welcome to Okinawa

[Obligatory Trigger Warning: This post contains excuses for being absent from this blog for a lengthy period.]

My family and I moved to Okinawa Japan in June (more or less).

Just before leaving, I agreed to post more for the Omaha WordSowers, the writers’ group that my wife and I joined during our two years in Nebraska. I hoped (and still hope) to stay engaged with the group despite the distance.

So consider this the first post from Omaha WordSowers’ on-location overseas blogger in Okinawa, Japan!

Less than a month on island, and we were greeted with our first typhoon of the season (which stretches from June through October). Since Typhoon Neoguri appeared in mainstream news in the States, I figured a blog post on the subject is a timely way to return to this endeavor.

It might not be obvious from the reaction to this storm, but typhoons are frequent occurrences on Okinawa (and in this whole region of the Pacific). They’re essentially the same as the hurricanes that strike the East Coast.

The military installations on Okinawa are designed with this weather in mind. It would be no good if one of our primary airbases or Marine Corps camps got flattened every year by a common and easily anticipated natural weather threat.

Our housing is made like a concrete bunker, trading safety in a storm for the aesthetics we might prefer. Houses are not going to collapse, except perhaps in the most freakish of accidents. Occasionally we’ll see someone post a YouTube video of a tiny car getting pushed around or tipped over in the fiercest winds. But most of the time, a storm might mean a power outage or perhaps a small leak near a door or window.

(One wonders why they don’t make more houses like this in Florida and other coastal areas.)

The base did not escape completely unscathed this time. Some areas of the base are dealing with significant flooding. I’ve seen pictures online of water levels up to the windows of parked cars.

However, all military personnel and families are restricted to their homes for the duration of the storm, so one of the biggest problems requiring a solution is “What are we going to do to keep the kids occupied?”

As long as there’s electricity, that’s probably easy. But power can be fickle in a typhoon.

For my family, the power went out at 11:30 AM yesterday and stayed off until about 3 AM this morning. That led to some stir-crazy kids, a claustrophobic mom, and a frustrated dad thinking about how many dollars’ worth of food might spoil if the power didn’t get back on soon. We mitigated the boredom by taking advantage of the battery life of the iPad Air, on which The Lego Movie was previously loaded. I also read several chapters of Words of Radiance to the wife and kidlets, which is usually a treat.

The house really started getting stuffy and warm by bedtime. But this morning, I was able to take a hot shower and heat up breakfast. So I have no complaints, especially in comparison to what others are dealing with because of flooding. I’ll be in to work around lunchtime once the base finishes up recovery actions and releases us from our houses.

To those in the States who were concerned for me and my family personally or for the safety of our military personnel in general, you have my thanks. But I wouldn’t have you burdened with unnecessary worry, so I wanted to make clear that typhoons pose a fairly limited risk to all of us stationed out here. I’m more concerned about that flooding in other parts of the base than about the storm.

Here’s a picture of the view outside our house, from the front and back. You can see some busted branches and a tipped over can (not ours) that blew up against our van. All in all, the effect on us was minimal. Essentially I got a five day weekend.

Not a bad “welcome home” to the island where my family and I have spent 14 years already. We miss our Stateside friends and family, and I miss our writing community.

But thanks to modern technology, this is a first step to keeping in touch.

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The Cons

“We’ll probably never come back,” I told my wife as we left Okinawa, our home for a total of 14 years. We were headed to Offutt Air Force Base, a place I knew I never wanted to be stationed based on what I heard from my friends overseas.

Never say never, so goes the logic, especially where the military is concerned.

On the first day of our four-day Labor Day weekend, I got an assignment notification from the military. We are headed back to Japan at the start of the year.

I started thinking of the positives and negatives about this decision. If I say no, I lose the ability to retire. So although I say “pros and cons” like it matters, there really isn’t a choice involved.

Okinawa is beautiful, the additional money for living overseas is a useful financial blessing, and after so long overseas, Okinawa feels a lot like home. I know what to expect from my job there, and my family is eager to visit our favorite places. “The beach!” my teenage daughter exclaims. There are some fantastic pros to going.

Then the thought of actually leaving hits home, and I’m surprised by how bittersweet this news is. There’s the initial shock and the dread of moving, with all the hassle of outprocessing and air travel as a family. But the list of cons goes far deeper.

Even though we never thought we’d want to be in Omaha, Nebraska, this base and this town have captured a place in our hearts. Part of me doesn’t want to leave, and it’s because of people here:

The coworkers I encounter every day – I work at the school house, the initial training squadron for my career field. I train sharp students and have the privilege of collaborating every day with the very best of my career field. There is so much knowledge and experience in our building, I often feel like I’m learning as much as the students we train.

The true leaders – There are plenty of Air Force managers out to run programs and score great bullets for performance reports. But I’ve been lucky enough to work for several officers and enlisted leaders who go further, who are willing to take a hit in order to take care of their people. When I’ve succeeded, they’ve recognized it. When I’ve failed, they’ve corrected it with grace. And while I feel privileged to work for them, they’ve expressed confidence in me and gratitude for my contributions. I have rarely felt as valued in the workplace.

The sincere friends – There are many who know enough about me to look down on my faults, to point and laugh at my mistakes. Yet I’ve had friends come alongside to strengthen my weaknesses instead of exploiting them. When I didn’t perform in my job duties in one area as well as I should have, I found support and restoration to get me back on track. When I struggled with fitness, I had coworkers who cheered me on to success and stopped me from beating myself up.

The surrogate family – There are few things that touch my heart as much as when someone touches the heart of my children. When you take time to meet my kid’s needs and put a smile on their face, you’ve won me over. I think of the worship pastor who looked out at a mens’ meeting, saw my oldest son standing alone, and then left the platform to go put an arm around him when I was stuck at the piano. I think of the leaders and pastors that have connected my daughter to a passionate group of peers, so that she comes home each week bursting with joy. I picture the BX vendor who takes time to let my son share his rock collection and trade with her for the polished stones she uses to make jewelry. There’s the surrogate grandmother who stepped in to create a special birthday for each of my children – especially for the middle child who often gets left out by his older siblings. And there are the writers who not only push me on, but encourage my wife to share her experiences as a source of help for those enduring painful situations. I often get the spotlight, but some light shined on Jami when she least expected it, and more than anywhere in our past, she has been blessed here. So I have been likewise blessed.

My actual family – My brother and my sister-in-law offered to fly our oldest children to my hometown to visit with their grandparents. They traveled with their two small children to visit us when we weren’t able to come to them. My mother-in-law arrives in a couple weeks to do the same. My parents, along with them, have borne the frustration and the pain of separation from family with patience and endurance. The thought of travelling far from home again is unsettling, because I want so much to be closer to loved ones.

So, as I consider what lies ahead, imagine my surprise at the tug on my heart. I am not a Husker fan, so perhaps I am not a true Nebraskan. But I am grateful nonetheless that I have so many reasons to want to stay in the place that I never wanted to go.

You all are the cons, the reasons we will miss Offutt.

Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.

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