Monday, October 26, 2009

Okinawa, part II

On the second day of the trip, we woke up at 7am, and ate a delicious breakfast at the hotel. The day before, as we ate fried goya (bittermelon) at lunch, Rika informed us that the hotel had goya juice. So in the morning, Erin and I downed a glass of it. It was very good. And very bitter.
(*Erin and me with our bittermelon juice and breakfast ^_^)Since we woke up so early, we were able to walk around the hotel grounds a bit, admiring the scenery. This is looking down at the pool, and moat(I think it's a moat anyways). Another view of the pool. This is taken from the library. Erin and I were actually able to rent DVDs from the library, and it's set up so if you get a book from the library, you can enjoy it on a sofa poolside.Enjoying the pool. ^_^ Well, enjoying the chair next to the pool.

Unfortunately, Erin had to leave on a early flight, so Laura and Takashi took her to the airport. Then, Rika, Takayuki and I drove to the Churaumi Aquarium and Ocean Expo Park, it was amazing!
Situated right on the edge of the water, there's a public beach where visitors to the aquarium can go and enjoy the ocean.
Inside, there were giant aquariums filled with whale sharks, turtles, manta rays, weird looking fish...dolphins. It was very cool.

Seriously, weird-looking fish. ^_^
After the ocean park, we drove to an island (Le Island?), that was connected to mainland Okinawa by the longest bridge in Okinawa. It was beautiful -- around the entire island were beautiful, white sandy beaches. The water was so crystal clear you could see the coral below. We drove around to Awase, Laura and Takayuki showing me where I was born, we drove around trying to find Camp Lester -- and we did! And I think we found the hospital I was born in!Oh! And the food!! I had Okinawan saimin, and it was delicious!! This was a "small" bowl, and I ate the whole thing. It was hilarious, because Rika had to remind me it was OK to slurp my noodles. Living in the states, I always had to be extra cautious not to slurp...but it was so nice to eat normally again! hehe. I loved it!

And Okinawan Andagi!! It was so yummy! Although, I still think Grandma's is still the best. ^_^
One thing I absolutely loved about Okinawa were the shisas everywhere. Even around the city, you could see the lion dogs protecting the houses on many rooftops.
Rika explained to me that the open-mouthed shisas were supposed to allow good fortune to come in, and the closed-mouthed shisas were made to keep bad things out. Which is why every house had a pair. ^_^I wish I had more time on the island. Honestly, before I visited, I always thought of Okinawa as just a place I was born. Not anything more than that. I never really thought I'd go and visit it (although I always thought it would be nice). But now, going there, seeing the places I've heard about, and seeing relatives I didn't know I had, made Okinawa more real to me. It made me want to learn more about my family tree, my culture, and the history.

I can't wait to go back.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Okinawa, part I

Back in May, Erin and I had an idea that we should go to Okinawa for my birthday. We thought it would have been a nice circle to be able to spend the day in the country, on the island where I was born. But life got busy, and things got in the way, plus the marathon was two weeks after my birthday. So we put it off.

But we were determined to make it to the island this semester. Before leaving for Okinawa, I checked to see how big the island was compared to Maui. It was roughly 300 square miles smaller. But a lot longer. Erin and I really had no idea what to expect. Besides, a year and a half basically backpacking around to different places, we were used to living in unique hostels where the showers were on the rooftop, or staying in rooms roughly the size of closets (seriously around 6 ft by 6 ft). We were not prepared to be pampered as much as we were.We landed in the Naha airport, right along side of the ocean. I restrained myself from throwing myself from the plane, trying to run to the ocean. While Taiwan is also an island, most of the water isn't this crystal-clear or blue. Plus, we live inland.

We were lucky that as soon as we landed, the rainy clouds that pounded the island the week before parted, and for the rest of the weekend, and for the rest of our stay, it was blue skies. We took it as an auspicious sign.

Dad's cousin, Morimasa "Paul" (as he later asked us to call him) Goya sent his employees to the airport to pick us up. Rika (our translator), Laura, Takashi (son of Morimasa's sister), and Takayuki (who drove us around everywhere) were incredibly nice and willing to answer any questions we had about anything. As they drove us around, they pointed to large buildings in the city telling us that they were part of the Kanehide Group -- it was all very impressive! They also had drawn up schedules for us, to maximize our stay in the island. Erin and I commented that we had never been treated so nicely!

The streets and cities in Okinawa were so refreshingly clean! We didn't see a single stray dog while we were there (very different from Taiwan). We ate lunch at a very delicious buffet-style restaurant, with tempura and I had my first bite of Japanese sashimi. Everything was delicious. I had forgotten how much I love fresh seafood! Erin had her first taste of bittermelon. ^_^Next, we went to visit Hindenobu Goya and his wife at their house. They were so sweet and kind! I was very nervous about meeting relatives I had never met before, but they immediately made me feel like family.Living in Taiwan, although they normally do remove their shoes at the front of the door, they also have slippers for guests to use inside their houses (but living in the dorms in the school, we always wear shoes inside). I really enjoyed going barefoot inside the houses and buildings.

Grandma Masako's cousin is the picture on the far left. They had printed out a family tree, and showed me some of the connections. They told me they remembered Aunty Amy when they visited Hawaii, and that I looked like her.

Next, we went to Shuri Castle, overlooking the city.It was very nice to be traveling with Rika, Laura, Takashi and Takayuki who were very kind in explaining some of Okinawa's history as we tour the ancient castle. It was also nice to hear the strums of the sanshin too, almost a familiar feeling.

After Shuri Castle, we went to visit the Goya O-Haka (family tomb). We met with Tadayasu Goya. That meeting was far too short. I wish I had more time to talk to the elders and get to know them better. I would like to learn Japanese enough to be able to converse instead of having to rely on someone to translate for me.Afterward, we were shown our room at the Kanehide Corporation's Hotel & Spa. It was incredible. I have never stayed at a place so nice. When we checked in, they offered us drinks and towels. It was intimidating. Everything in our room was so well-made and efficient, to the Japanese-style pull-out screen doors to utilize space, to the bathtub next to the large window overlooking the golf-course. The Hotel & Spa overlooked the hotel's golf course -- it was made to resemble Shuri Castle, with its occupants being able to see the ocean from their rooms.

We ate dinner with Morimasa, his wife, his brother (Moritaka), and uncle, along with Rika, Laura, Takayuki and Takashi, at the hotel's restaurant. This restaurant was probably my first fine dining experience. Morimasa wanted to show Erin and me the best Japanese food the restaurant had to offer. We had a 7-course meal with each course being so beautiful I was afraid to eat it. The sashimi was so fresh and delicious, that for the week I was back in Taiwan, all I craved was some more raw fish. I still crave it. The restaurant has contracts with special farms that only provide meet for this restaurant. It was incredible.

Erin and I fell asleep exhausted, and completely satisfied with our stomachs full and our minds reeling from the day's events. Started the day in one country, and ended it in another, surrounded by friends and relatives we had never met before but who told us, "Ichariba Chode!" which I think means "now you're also family forever." It was a good day.