Okinawa: Japan Round II

9:13 PM Jmo 0 Comments

If wandering is a crime, I'll be serving time forever.

Day 1:
The flight from Seoul to Okinawa, Naha was a short and comfortable 2 hours: An amount of time that seems too small to completely jump cultures and climates, but there I was, touching down in a land full of palm trees. And, unlike my previous trip to Japan, I was prepared with a dossier of logistical planning. Simply put: I knew where I was going and knew how the hell I was going to get there.
To get to my hostel from the airport I needed to take the monorail. Naha City has one monorail line that runs from Naha Kuko (airport) to Shuri. It's a very small line that only spans Naha City which, by looking at a map, only takes up about 1/7 of the main island. The rest of the island is accessible only by bus or car.

I landed in Naha and was immediately hit with a swell of fresh, island, air. My surroundings were little of what I initially imagined them to be. My only previous experience in Japan was Kyoto, the site of the old capital. So here I was confronted with blue skies and a modern backdrop. I felt like I landed in Hawaii. Where was my flower lei?

The monorail was cute and played music en route like I was on a Disney ride. My stop was directly in the center of the monorail line: Meibashi. From the Meibashi station I had to walk until I found Kokusai-dori, the main shopping district in Naha City. I felt good about my navigational prep-work and assumed my directions were sound. But what I failed to assume was the scale of Naha City. It was huge! It was huge and English was scarce. I was running on pure instinct at the beginning and needed to get my bearings.
I finally made it to my hostel which was tucked away in a side street just off of Kokusai-dori and the Heiwa-dori arcade. My hostel was perfect! It was a hippie-haven -as most hostels are, and was lined with artwork, old books and musical instruments, concert posters, and traditional Japanese iconography. The hostel itself was 4 levels: The ground level used to be a restaurant and still had booths and balcony seating which were connected by a series of haphazard, wooden steps and ladders. And, next to the ping-pong table, was a back entrance that led to a small garden that was mostly used for storing kayaks.The second floor housed the kitchen, the common area, and staff rooms. The common area was great. It was raised up and covered with tatami mats and the walls were strung with guitars and Okinawan musical instruments. The third floor was where my dorm was. I slept in a bunk bed cubby that had a drawn curtain and little shelf which I later used to display my spoils at the end of the day. The third floor also had the showers and the most interesting bathroom door I've ever seen. Apparently, as well as once being a restaurant, this hostel was also once a furniture store and they had since converted the elevator shaft into the bathroom. The door had to be pulled up and down like you were opening an old storage garage. The hostel manager said to me when explaining how to use the door, "Like Ninja Turtle!" Haha, yes!
Then there was the roof. The roof overlooked the surrounding colorful rooftops of the city. It gave you a swell of city life along side a dose of calm and reflection. Japan is quiet. I spent a few nights up there.

I left my hostel and took the monorail to the end of the line to see Shuri Castle. Shuri Castle represents the Ryukyu Kingdom's old seat of power in Okinawa. I use "represents" intentionally because unfortunately the majority of the complex was a reproduction. The Battle of Okinawa during WWII leveled most of Naha City, including Shuri Castle.
Walking about the outside of the castle walls was interesting. The building style of the walls reminded me of something you'd find in Scotland. They were quite minimalist and kept the natural texture of the building material. There was little to no ornamentation on the outside and the walls themselves cut paths into the side of the hill walking up to Shuri Castle. I was more interested in the outside walls rather than the castle itself because reproductions, unfortunately, aren't for me. But there was a viewing window in one of the floors of the castle that you could walk across and look down into to see part of the original castle ruins and structure. I finished the castle tour and by this time it was already around 3:30 and shops and museums start closing up, off-season, here around 4-5pm. So I thought it was best to head back to my hostel area, explore, get my bearings, and find some traditional Okinawan fare for dinner.

I found the "public market", which was pretty touristy (geared toward Japanese tourists) and marked-up, but it was still incredibly interesting. The market was compressed into an internal, side-street of Heiwa-dori and was composed of three different sections: Meat, Fish, and Other. Quick side note: Okinawa is famous for their Soba noodles. They're actually listed as "Okinawa noodle" on any English menu, though anyone who has a rough eye for Japanese food would know the term "soba". And an important component in Okinawa soba is pork, so you can bet that the market was full of pork and pork products. One of the most popular cuts was actually "pig face". Yep. Anthony Bourdain would've been in heaven! The faces were cut off in one whole piece and vacuum sealed in a clear package for you to buy. Pig feet were also popular, but I think pig face won by a landslide. The fish market was incredible. Absolutely incredible. And it gave me some real insight into the world of a Japanese fisherman and salesman. They were selling every type of beautiful coral fish and crustaceans you could eat. The most popular and reoccurring were parrotfish, skinned blowfish, red fish, massive conch shells and lobsters, and octopus. The Japanese tourists where actually in the market to purchase and bring something to dinner while I was just there to photograph. I got a few laughs as I pushed my camera up to the eyeballs of skinned blowfish and redfish alike, so I bought their patience with a small purchase of sea grapes (a type of seaweed). They were very happy that I bought from them and each member of the stall came out to thank me. I only spent Y250 (approximately $2.50).

I followed a group, who had just bought a fresh catch, upstairs because it looked like they knew what they were doing. It turns out that above the market was a cluster of restaurants serving up traditional Okinawan dishes. These restaurants would also cook your purchase. I was sat down at a table by an adorable hostess who pleaded for me to come to her business. I ordered a goya stirfry, peanut tofu, and an Orion beer. I deemed this to be the quintessential Okinawan tourist meal and decided that this was what I was going to have my first night here months ago. Goya is a bitter melon that grows on Okinawa that is treated like a vegetable. It tasted bitter like it was the rind of a different fruit or vegetable and was stir-fried with tofu, eggs, and I assume bits of pork fat. The peanut tofu was delicious and had a shape and texture similar to flan, but slightly more dense. It tasted like peanuts without being overly sweet and was drizzled with a dark, brown peanut sauce. And an Orion beer because that's famously brewed on the island. It was goooood. Okinawan food and I were going to get along nicely.

I was spent and running on two hours of sleep so I called it an early night.

Day II:
I woke up multiple times during the night because it sounded like the entire cat cast from Batman Returns were reprising their roles in the alley outside of my window. It was a rough night for some cats, I tell you what... So I was once again running on fumes. But! Adrenaline was running through me as today I designated as "Bus Day". I'm typically not a fan of buses. They make me nervous. I'm always afraid I'm going in the wrong direction and I rarely even take them in Korea (a language I can read). So. Here I am heading to the Naha City bus terminal to catch a bus outside of the city. Time to conquer this ridiculous fear.

Once again, I am so glad I planned ahead. Okinawa buses are strange. (Maybe bus systems are like this elsewhere, but I wouldn't know because, like I said, I tend to avoid them.) And here's why: Different routes, and different stops are owned by different bus companies. So not only do you need to know the bus number and stop and route, you also need to know which bus company you are looking for. Oh yeah, and it's most definitely all in Japanese! haha So, needless to say, I was a little nervous about missing my bus. I'm usually a pretty relaxed traveller, but when the site I want to see is an hour outside the city and things close down early, I was trying my best to stick to a schedule.
I wandered about the bus terminal for a wee bit trying to figure it out. Sure, there were maps. But English was scarce. The most likely English to be found would be "map" and then the map would be in Japanese. A glimmer of hope quickly squashed.
I walked into a few offices and finally figured out where I needed to go with a lot of pointing, smiling, and bowing. I crossed my fingers, took a deep breath and boarded a bus bound for what I hoped to be my intended destination: Gyokusendo Cave

With great success, I got off the bus at Okinawa World. (I know, I know...Okinawa World you say? But Jessica, I thought you were trying to avoid touristy gunk? It's true. I was. But, hear me out!) Okinawa World surrounds one of Japan's most impressive cave systems and in order to get into the cave you had to buy a ticket for the park itself. The ticket was Y1200 (appx. $12) and it was completely worth it. No amount of cheesy tourist shops could take away from the natural wonder and beauty of this place. It was absolutely incredible. Aside from the lava tubes in Australia, I've never been down inside an actual cave with stalactites and stalagmites. I can't stress what an experience it was. Photos do not do it justice at all.
I separated myself from a tour group and was left to wander the caves alone. The air was cool, balmy, and fresh. The cave walls and stalagmites looked soft, as if permeated from the moisture, but were hard and calcified. One area of the cave opened up and the ceiling boasted a collection of 1 million stalactites; the most in any cave across Japan. It was called the Spear Ceiling. The entire walk was said to take roughly 25 minutes, but I'm sure I wandered around down there for much longer.

After I surfaced I strolled about the "traditional Ryukyun village". I onced again felt like I was back in Disney World. If they would just ease up on the touristy factor and rely more on the natural beauty of this place they'd be a lot better off. There were a few highlights though: You could watch glass blowers make vases and walk through a fruit orchard full of pineapple, but after every attraction you would be shuffled through a gift shop to buy glass or fruit and it took away from the experience. I finally bit the bullet, metaphorically and physically because I was starving, and found a microbrew to have lunch. Nato Brewery is famous for brewing Habu or, more excitingly named: Snake Liquor. I passed on the snake liquor and opted for their beer. By far the best Asian beer I've ever had. But, I couldn't steer clear of danger for too long because I accidentally ended up ordering Habu curry as well. Which of course, I later read on the menu, was laced with poisonous snake venom! haha! Long story short: I'm invincible.
 I also stumbled upon the Okinawan version of the donut here (Flavors like taro, purple sweet potato, brown sugar, pumpkin and sesame). They were so good I managed to track some down every day thereafter in the market by my hostel. Just mentioning it makes me crave one.

It started to rain so I decided to run with a theme and stay underground. I made my way to a different bus stop to take a bus to the WWII Japanese Navy Undergound HQ. This was an incredibly humbling experience and one that I will never forget. [To get to the HQ tunnels: Take bus number 55 or 98 from Asahibashi Station across from the Naha terminal. Get off at Yamada and walk to your right and continue up a set of stairs. Keep walking straight along this road until you see a long road leading up to a serious of small parks. Follow that road and you will soon be at the museum entrance.]
Before entering the small complex, you can climb up to a lookout point and see the Naha skyline. This was an interesting and extremely helpful experience. Looking out at the city you can really see its scale, and unfortunately once you go inside the museum and view the exhibit, there is a photo that shows the exact same view after the conclusion of the Battle of Okinawa. It was insane. The city was completely leveled. And now I felt like an ass for not being interested in replicas...

I walked around the small museum prior to the actual tunnels with a small, Japanese family and a Korean man. We were the only ones in the entire complex. I felt this to be an interesting and historically tense combination in a very interesting and historically tense environment. I did feel a few looks from the Japanese family. I had been asked the night before if I was 'military' and this could of also been a result of that assumption. Either way, I felt a little uncomfortable.

The museum was put together tasteful and stark. It did not glorify war. Instead in focused on the devastation of the Okinawan civilians. There was a small paragraph dedicated to Pearl Harbor, but it was cold and referred to only the Pacific War and not WWII as a whole. The entrance of the exhibit was a little...strange as well. It featured a portrait of Japanese Admiral Ota, hung higher than eye level, and featured a passage from his last telegram titled How The Okinawan People Have Fought The War. It was a little unsettling and I think it may be fair to assume that he is still held as a hero.
[I've been reading a lot lately on how Japanese history is being taught to the Japanese people, especially in textbooks, so this was really interesting to me. Here's a good overview here: BBC. Now, it's fair to say that The States is a little guilty of this as well. I remember reading maybe one line in a 5th grade Social Studies textbook about the Trail of Tears or the use of Chinese slaves to complete the rails of the West. We are all guilty. But it seems that in Japan, it's more the result of government oppression and an attempt to change history.] I'm also a firm believer that the actions of a government do not directly represent the views and actions of an individual. It's never black and white. There is rarely a true good vs evil and war is awful on all fronts.

There were 1,000 origami peace cranes hanging before the entrance of the tunnels. I took a deep breath and began the walk down. I had to duck along most of the passages and watch my footing because the doorways were all so low. The tunnels themselves were pretty basic, but it was interesting to see where they were rigged for electricity and lighting. By far the most gruesome part of the tunnels was the communications room. This is where Admiral Ota and his last officers committed suicide via hand grenade. The walls were riddled with holes.
Overall the tunnels were interesting, unsettling, uncomfortable, and humbling. Though my eyes were welled up with tears my entire time down there, I highly suggest you go if you are ever on Okinawa.

I needed a pick me up. haha, Simply put!
I returned back to my hostel and walked a little further to reach the Tsboya Pottery Village. Okinawa, like most of Japan, is famous for its pottery. Tsboya pottery, from what I could see, had a few distinct styles; one of them being arayachi. Arayachi is pottery that has been fired unglazed and is red in color, similar to terracotta. ~I forgot to mention shisa! Shisa statues are everywhere... Shisa are mythical, lion-dog, hybrid creatures that are seen as guardians. (You've probably seen a few at your local Chinese take-out place. haha) Shisa guards are found on practically every home and business on Okinawa and there are always two of them. So, when I set out in the pottery village that night, I set out to find myself a pair of Shisa. They weren't hard to find by any means, every touristy spot had them. But I wanted to buy a pair from somewhere special. I ended up walking along the pottery street, popping my head in and out of shops along the way, for a while. I was addicted and could've spent all of my money there. I bought a few chopstick rests made out of wads of clay (something only a potter could love) and walked a little further. I went into a little shop owned by a little, old, woman that looked like the Japanese version of my Scottish, Great Aunt Gene. (I know that's a very specific reference, but it was the perfect shop for me.) I bought a pair of handmade Shisa from her and she was more than happy to box them up for me. SO CUTE.

It was dinner time and I found myself wandering the market again. I walked passed an old man sitting at a stall full of colorful foods, packed in liquid in little bins. He offered me to sample some. He gave me Okinawan squid, sardines, and dried fish. He asked where I was from and gave USA a thumbs up. Naturally, I had to buy something from him. So I bought a little bag of Okinawan, sesame, squid for Y300 to take up to one of the restaurants above. I tried a different restaurant this time and ordered once of the best, if not the best, seafood noodle dishes I've ever had. It was seafood soba with onions, mushrooms, squid, a large clam, and one large shrimp. I could write a poem about that one shrimp alone it was that good. I had a little sesame squid on the side and was good to go with a huge brew.
I sat across from an older Japanese couple who ordered a huge, seafood, spread. They had a plate of sashimi that they barely touched when they got up to leave. I felt guilty about eating my seafood let alone watching them walk away from theirs so I asked them what was wrong with it. They waved their hands and said "no good" as they slid out of their booth. No good? Highly doubtful considering we are on an island paradise and the fish market was directly below us. They even left tuna! No! My face felt red.

I decided to head back to my hostel, plan, and swicth gears for tomorrow. I was ready to leave the city all together and explore. And I'm so glad I did.

Day III:
I had originally planned on whale watching this day but the seas were too rough to go out. So, I went with my plan B and headed off to the bus station to take a bus even further out of the city to a place called Cape Maeda. It was an hour and a half bus ride up north along the coast. Along the way we passed some interesting sites that reminded me, once again, of the US military presence here. We passed by Camp Foster and a few other US military bases. I was blown away by the amount of military vehicles, tanks, etc. out on display. It was a miracle that the island didn't sink from the weight of metal alone. We also passed by an A&W drive in (which tugged at my nostalgic heartstrings) and the American Village complete with ferris wheel. Where am I?!

I got off in a city called Yamada. It was a ghost town. But my research led me to believe that one of Okinawa's most beautiful and impressive coastlines was to be found around here. Somewhere! I wandered for a bit and let instinct take its course. Like I said before, Okinawa is quiet. I walked through a neighborhood, along a road, and up a hill, only to the tune of a few barking dogs, until I finally saw the coastline. This was my first sight of attainable ocean.
I walked along the road a little further and walked down to the beach village. There were a few hotels, restaurants, and shops but they all seemed to be closed for the season. I walked along the beach til I reached a cluster of rocks, boulders, and jungle that formed a cape out into the ocean. I looked up at it and wondered if I could somehow get on top of it. I walked back up to road level and ended up finding a path that led to, what I assumed, was Point Maeda. (I, Jessica of Detroit, claim this here point...Point Maeda!)

The path was overrun. The tin map was covered with vines and the stairs leading up to the dirt hiking path was taken over by jungle. It was stunning and I felt like my adventure had started for the day. I walked along the path taking in the jungle plants, taking in the sounds, and taking photographs. I was startled a few times by the rustling of birds, and the thought of snakes at one point, but I really couldn't be bothered. This is what I wanted out of this vacation. I came across a path to my right that was unmarked and quite narrow. It was steep and the tree coverage was low. I looked at it for a second, took one step forward in my previous direction, then quickly changed my mind and decided to follow it. I could always turn back, right?

The trail was extremely narrow and thick with vines and palm tree branches. At one point I had to crawl through a hole made in the brush to get through to the next path (Yes, my mind went straight to snakes. More proof that Indiana Jones is my spirit animal.). After the crawl the path became steeper and rockier. There was a rope to my right attached to the base of one boulder leading down the ledge. Well, looks like someones done this before. -I situated my backpack and eased my way down the ledge. I made it and walked a little further until the coverage cleared and I saw the prize. The path opened up to an open crevice facing the ocean. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park. I was determined to reach the bottom and unpack my lunch by the sea. I couldn't imagine finding a better place. I found another rope and lowered myself down the rock face. I let go of the rope, slung down my pack, looked at my surroundings and sighed. Was this real life? Or did I fall down the cliff, bump my head, and wake to find myself in Oz? This place was stunning. I sat down on the lava rocks and looked out at my view. I was flanked by two cliffs and had the honor of looking out onto the sea as it crashed and cut away at a large boulder reminiscent of the Balancing Rocks in Arizona.

I sat there for some time thinking about just about everything that has brought me here. Here to this moment. Even how I acquired the glasses I was using to see this beauty. I was thankful for everything; though I did wish I had someone there to share it with. I was a little bit lonely, but it was okay. The loneliness was fine. It was nice to just sit and feel a part of the world; coming to terms with your own insignificance and being swallowed up by nature.
Amidst all the existentialism swirling about in my simple head, I also thought to myself: How can I quit this? And really, how can I? I don't think I can. I might just have a  perpetual wandering soul.

I climbed back up the cliff (harder than on the way down) and found my way back to the main path. I continued on, stopping off to take in the coastline a few times, until I reached the end. The tip of Cape Maeda is incredible. It's said to be one of the top dive and snorkel drop offs on the island, but that's exactly what it is: A drop off. There is a single, metal, staircase leading into the water where snorkelers and divers can jump in. Pretty incredible and no-frills. I walked a little bit further and found a path that let out onto more lava rocks that went out into the sea. Standing on these rocks I put my hair up in a ponytail and distinctly remember never wanting to let my hair back down because I've captured the sea air in it.

I took the bus back into town and wandered around a few antique shops, bakeries, and settled on having dinner at a little noodle shop tucked away in a side alley. English wasn't a factor here so I ordered a classic soba and beer. The soba noodles came with two pieces of fatty pork belly layed overtop of the dish. I was a little bummed out as I always try to avoid these things but, I was here and it was here and I couldn't waste it. Good thing I'm not as strong a willed vegetarian as I would like to be because this was probably one of the best meat dishes I've ever had. Maybe it's because I haven't had meat in forever? I'm not sure. But, whatever may be the case...this was definitely one of the most guilty of guilty pleasures. So incredibly delicious. Ridiculous. The noodles also came with two pieces of eel sushi and green tea. The man and woman who served me were adorable and I could see them watching me out of the corner of my eye.

Day IV:
I had originally planned on taking a bus up to Nago and then transferring to another bus to hike the Hiji Falls in northern Okinawa on my final day. But, I felt that my jungle trek in Cape Maeda was incredible and didn't feel the need to compare it to anything else just yet. So, I did a little research the night before and decided to take a ferry out to a different island.
The Tomari Port was about a 20 minute walk from my hostel. It felt more like a commercial wharf rather than a passenger port and that made it equal parts stressful and exciting. English was scarce but I knew that there was a ferry company that had a ferry leaving for Tokashiki Island at 10am. I just had to find it.

I boarded the ferry and headed for the bow. My ticket was %100 in Japanese but I could match numbers and convert military time. I was departing at 10:30 and heading back to Naha at 15:30. I wasn't all together sure if I was going to the right island or not; I assumed I was as there was only about 12 people on the entire ferry. The ride took about and hour and ten minutes. Once we reached port I looked at the map I snagged from ticket counter and decided to walk straight across the island to, what I assumed was, the closest beach. The hike was approximately 4km which really isn't that far of a distance, but what I failed to take into account was the terrain. This was an island for a reason. It was formed by a volcano. So. It was full of steep hills and winding roads and I was walking through the dead center of it. The destinations on this island were obviously meant to be driven to. Halfway through the hike, my calves felt like they were being carved out by an ice cream scoop.
But I made it across the island to Tokashiku Beach in an hour and a half. It was beautiful and once again, I had the place to myself. There were a few diver pensions and other little beach side shacks but it was off season and they were mostly empty. I took off my shoes, dumped my pack off on a rock and started to wander. The beach was composed of bleach-white coral bits and rocks. The stark white butted up against the bright peacock blue of the water and the charcoal grey of the surrounding lava rocks. It was stunning. The water was clearer than both Hawaii and the Great Barrier Reef. I didn't even think that was possible. It was like nature turned up the sharpness on Photoshop.

I started to climb along the lava rocks and dipped my feet in a couple times. I climbed across some seaweed covered rocks and found a small, green, sea snake winding along the bases. I jumped and headed up to higher ground. I climbed a bit further and noticed little flecks darting out of a small wave rolling up on a rock. These little flecks catching the sun's light turned out to be a small school of mudfish. I've always loved mudfish and have always wanted to see them in real life. They are cute little things with big eyes and fins that look like they've stopped mid evolution. I tried to get closer, but every inch I moved forward caused them to skirt across the rocks with their flipper-hands further away from me. Such a great experience.

Unfortunately I couldn't spend that much time here because I had to slot time for my walk back to the port. But I managed to do a little bit of swimming, exploring, dragonfruit eating, and coral collecting. I even brought back a little souvenir: a sunburn. I felt so alone and secluded that I almost forgot how to speak.
I walked back to port in record time and tried to find a place to eat but every shop on the island was closed except for one: One lone convenience store. Things started to make sense: The 12 people I saw on board my ferry were all carrying bags of groceries. I bought and apple, some chips, and milk tea and ate lunch on the top deck of the ferry. And, in true fate fashion, halfway between Tokashiki and Naha our ferry passed by a few migrating humpback whales. Seeing whales in Japan.... Incredible.

I showered back at my hostel and took in one more dinner above the market. I went to the same restaurant that I had the 'best noodles of my life' at because this would be my last dinner in Okinawa and wanted to go out with a bang. The place was packed and I actually had to wait on a bench! But the cute waiter recognized me and said "Thank you! I love you!" for coming back. I ordered a sea grapes and rice dish with sashimi. Incredibly delicate and fresh and the rice was unlike any I'd ever had before. I think it was drizzled with a bit of sweet soy sauce to contrast with the slightly salty sea grapes and the pure taste of the sashimi. It was beautiful, colorful, and subtle. A perfect ending and metaphor to my time in Okinawa.
After dinner I walked about the market one last time to see if there was anything that I missed. I ended up meeting a woman working in a small pottery shop named Joanie. She greeted me in Japanese and I did a double take. She was a tall, white woman working in the shop. I talked with her a little bit and it turns out that she was originally from Kentucky but met her Japanese husband in New York. So, now she works here and travels back and forth between the mainland and Okinawa. So great!

The interesting encounters didn't stop there. I was invited to a going away party for one of the guests at my hostel by a woman named Yumi. Yumi was a beautiful Japanese woman who lived on a self-sufficient farm in the heart of Australia. She had long dread locks and had a kind face and elegant hands. She invited me to sit down, eat, drink and exchange with the others. This party turned out to be on par with climbing down that cliff. I met the most interesting, inspiring, worldly, and kind people that night. Yumi and her friend were darling, but I also met a beautiful, petite, French girl named Beatrice. She was from Paris and studied Greek Art History, but, was currently taking a break from her studies to live in Australia and travel around Japan. I wanted to be her. Her English was perfect, maybe better than mine even (!), and she was currently learning Japanese. Inspiration #1: Get back on track learning a second language. I've become lazy and realized how easy it is to be an English speaker. Too easy. Too lazy. I guess I can't be too hard on myself though: I was actually surprised with how well my French stood up! My pronunciation was there and Beatrice understood everything I tried to say in French to her. Yay!
Then there was Uchin and Ryu: two Japanese hostel workers. Uchin was a party animal. He spoke very little English but his fun demeanor permeated any language barrier. He had tan skin, an orange mohawk, and chest tattoos. I ran into him a few times during my stay. If he wasn't eating, drinking, or smoking...he was busy piercing his ears in the hallway mirror.
Then there was Ryu. He was tall, had a long sleek ponytail, and wore relatively traditional Japanese clothes. He travelled all across the US and lived in California for a while to study. His English was good and he wanted me to teach him more American idioms and slang phrases. His current favorite was "Brother from another mother". haha! It was safe to say I had a little crush on Ryu. Yeah, I'll admit to it. He was also very familiar with Korean culture and spoke a little Korean as well. Inspiration #2: Learn another language dammit!
Next up was Zach. Zach is by far the most interesting man I've ever met. I honestly doubt his name was even Zach. He was born in Jordan to Palestinian parents but claims no citizenship. Anywhere. He has three passports. One from Jordan because of his birth, one from the United States because he lived and worked in Chicago as an engineer for years, and then ...get this, this one is the best: A world passport. I had no idea that these even existed! But sure enough, I looked it up and it does exist and does in fact back up Zach's claim that he is in fact a "citizen of the world". Zach has been backpacking for 12 years ever since he quit his high paying job in The States. He's lived everywhere from 5 years in Thailand to 2 years in Korea. I asked him some pretty forward questions but I was curious and considered him to be a high authority on backpacking culture. My guess is, if backpackers were a mob family he'd be Don Corleone. I asked him what he does for money and how he budgets himself. He does odd jobs here and there and also works as a free lance natural healer. (Of course he does.) I also asked him about family and if he ever think he'll move back to Jordan. He didn't consider Jordan his home and connected with family via email. I think he felt more tied to the road and instantaneous experiences rather than long ties. He was a sweet man and believed in living in the moment and doing what you feel is right for you. Inspiration #3: Anything is possible.

-If I could bottle up all of their traits and keep them for myself I would. Beauty, intelligence, strength, and wanderlust. They were quite the combination and I've missed that night every night since.

The night went on til 6:30am. We exchanged stories, languages, and drinking games. The accents got thicker and thicker as the night went on, haha. I also engaged in a few tense ping-pong matches with Zach, Uchin, and Ryu. Apparently, I was the fiercest opponent they've had in a while. Like Ryu said: "Ping-pong and drinking is universal. If you can do them, you will have friends all over the world." Haha.

I think I went to sleep at 7:30am. I set my alarm for 10:30. I slept through it and woke up naturally around 11:45. My flight was at 1:45. That was a close one. I guessed being stranded in Okinawa wouldn't of been so bad. ;)

Written on the plane back to Korea:
My parents have instilled in me a zeal and appreciation for everything. I was just handed a little box of food on my flight and though of how my Mom would've reacted to seeing that mini chocolate bar hiding behind the water cup. You would've thought it was the last chocolate bar on Earth, wrapped in a golden ticket from Willy Wonka's factory.

What I learned from Okinawa:
- Planning is key: Give yourself options and it doesn't hurt to look up bus numbers and time ahead of time. I'm so glad I did.
-I need to learn a second language. I've decided. No more maybes.
-Follow the unmarked trail.
-History is incredibly powerful.
-Go after what you want.
-If wandering is a crime, I'll be serving time forever.


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