Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tsunami Block Party

For the second day in a row we were under a tsunami warning, this time from the quake in Chile (yesterday was from our own quake). It's hard to believe that energy from a quake in South America could reach Japan in such short time, but the predictions went that way.

The warnings started by loud speaker at 8:30 this morning and continued through out the day. "This is an emergency announcement..." Basically letting us know that we were under a tsunami warning, then as the day progressed that there were mandatory evacuations for anyone living at less than 30 feet above sea level. Which is half of Camp Lester where we live. Fortunately, that fabulous hilltop location where we live is far above the evacuation line. In fact, that fabulous hilltop location where we live is where people were evacuating to. So we ended up having an impromptu block party as people awaited the fate of the tsunami. It was predicted to hit around 3:00 this afternoon, but as the crowd grew on our hill, and people were passing the time eating ice cream or drinking margaritas (thanks, Kelly!) 3:00 came and went and nothing. It was very much like the whale watching tour we went on yesterday - scanning and scanning the water and nothing!

So tonight as we bed down we can be thankful that another natural disaster was averted.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Earthquakes, Whales and the Fish Market

Our biggest excitement planned for today was supposed to be a whale watching tour off the coast of Okinawa. However when we were wakened at 5:30 this morning by rattling windows and shaking beds, I knew that there was more excitement in store for us.

Although it was a 7.0 quake centered just off the coast of Okinawa, there's nothing to show for it, much to CNN's dismay. They had requests on their website "Are you there? Send video and photos!" and I thought about sending a picture of all our concrete bunkers still standing just as pretty today as yesterday, but we had a whale cruise waiting on us and had to get out the door!

So despite the standing tsunami warning we boarded a boat and headed out to see. Isn't that the safest place during a tsunami anyways? The humpback whales are in the area for two months supposedly frolicing and being frisky, but alas, not today. Maybe the earthquake woke them too early too. So we did see some whales, but just a fleeting glimpse of fins and tails and a puff of water. It was beautiful out on the boat, although a bit of a wild ride coming home as the chop picked up. Some of our boatmates obviously didn't take their Dramamine. Our kids unfortunately were less than enthusiastic about the ride. I had London and Emmy stuck on me on the way out and you can see what happened to them on the way back!

After reaching port we found a local fish market that I had heard about and finally hit the jackpot for fresh fish! Loads and loads of fresh tuna, parrot fish, octopus, squid and all other types of fish. They even had flying fish and unicorn fish which I've never seen except in one of Cannon's books! Stevie was in heaven.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Comprehensive Park

Emmy and I joined our neighbor, Liz, and her little girl, Lydia, at a new park (new for us) on Wednesday. The girls had a great time feeding the very hungry, very boisterous, very big fish. I found out that Japanese fish slurp their food too! They made very funny slurpy noises as they were battling for the bits of bread.

The girls then enjoyed playing on the park even though most of the equipment, while fun for kids, gives the parents a heart attack. Safety is not priority number one for the Japanese when planning playgrounds.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesdays at Tiara

I have a confession to make. Since last October I have been indulging in a guilty pleasure almost every Tuesday. But it's ok, my mom knows about it (she started it with me) and Stevie knows too (he's accompanied me on his off days ), and even Carlos and Diana partook. Real your imaginations back in, it's only an indulgence in pastries, not anything more. But now almost five months later, I'm addicted. Who knew that Japanese breads were soooo good? And this is coming from a gal who worked at a German bakery and lived in France. No one ever thinks of bread when they think Japanese - rice, yes; fish, yes, but bread? No way! This must be the best kept secret of all.


So it all started back when my mom was here in October. One Tuesday we were a little early to pick Emmy up from preschool so I was nervy enough to stop at a shop that had piqued my interest each time I drove past on the way to Emmy's school. I was fairly confident it was a bakery as the sign said "Tiara: pasta and bread". You see, identifying a store here is much more complex than it should be, but that's another topic. Anyways, on that fateful day , we parked outside of Tiara and ventured in. The first thing you were hit with was the aroma, ahhhhhh, the smell that started the mouth watering before the eyes even took in the sights. But the sights were good too! Beautifully presented breads, bagels and buns of varying kinds all set out in baskets begging to be eaten. At the beginning, there were no signs in English so every time was a surprise. Now, the owner has kindly started writing the descriptions in English (for me, I 'm sure!) But it didn't matter if you knew what was in them or not, the buns melted in your mouth and made you want to slap yo' mama. (Which, since she was with me, I fortunately didn't.) The breads (called pan in Japanese) varied from savory selections full of cheese or meat with spices to sweet selections made of honey and walnuts and cream cheese and chocolate and black sugar and sweet potato and bean paste (not all in the same pastry). Oh, the selections are endless and are different each time I go in. One of my favorites is the "mugwort with bean paste" - had to try that one because of the name, and it was good. Emmy's favorite (for we go to the "brakery" every Tuesday after school) is the hedgehog - an adorable little bread filled with chocolate. The cute part is that I am given the task of "de-spiking" the hedgehog before she can consume it. I must admit, they are quite spiky (see photos).


The whole operation is run by the nicest man and his assistant. Neither of whom speak but a word or two of English, but smiles and nods and "arigato" goes a long way in this yummy bakery.

Monday, February 22, 2010

5 Down, 2,995 to Go!

That would be the Japanese islands that we’ve seen. According to Cannon’s Japanese Culture class at school, there are over 3,000 islands as a part of Japan and today we visited 3 just off the coast of Okinawa. The sun came out so we decided to take advantage and drive to the island of Ikei on the east side of Okinawa. There’s not a whole lot there, in fact basically one resort (Big Time Resort, which didn’t look like it was having a big time) and some farm fields, but I thought it would be neat to see so we picked up our friend, Dr. Tom, and another visiting doc from Hawaii and headed out to see what it was about. The island is just a short bridge ride from Okinawa, actually three bridges one to the island of Henza, then Miyagi and then another to Ikei. The water around here is so awesome, dotted with time-weathered rocks jutting out from the shallow azure water. It never ceases to amaze me.

Ikei had a beautiful beach peppered with tidal pools which included sea anemones, urchins, poisonous cone shells and other sea oddities. At one point Cannon points to the sky and calls out “paratroopers!” Except, when they came closer, what we thought were paratroopers were actually men hanging from parachutes with what amounts to giant fans strapped to their backs! They really looked like fun, but we had no idea how to sign up for our turn!

From the beach, we stopped at a roadside café for a cup of coffee atop a rooftop dining area with a breathtaking view of the surrounding water. The property would have been worth millions in the States, but here the structure was fairly rudimentary and definitely not a high dollar dining spot.

Finally, we passed the castle ruins of Katsuren, a World Heritage site of a castle believed to be the oldest in Okinawa. It was a steep climb to the top on some fairly treacherous steps, but the view from the top was incredible.