Wednesday, September 29, 2010

House of Curry

So, I know this is going to be a little hard to believe (especially to those of you who used to work with me in California), so brace yourselves - I have NEVER tried curry before. At least, not to my knowledge... I guess it is possible that it was slipped into something I may have ordered at a restaurant in the past... so I guess I'm almost positive that I've never tried curry before. I've always had some sort of aversion to it that stemmed back to my childhood. I haven't confirmed this with her, but I'd bet good money that my sister has the very same aversion... something about a certain smell that surrounded one of our neighbor's house (of Indian descent).

Okinawa has a very, VERY popular chain of restaurants called Coco's Curry House, which, Matt and I will both admit, we've been avoiding this past year. It hasn't been easy - all of my co-workers LOVE Coco's. All of Matt's co-workers LOVE Coco's. Last week, we were having a kind of "date night" and decided to give in and see what all the fuss was about.

We have one of the restaurants really close to our house, right off-base, so we went to that one, and it was packed! One thing about Coco's Curry House is that its open really late, so it's a popular place for Americans to grab food after going out to bars. In fact, the honchos (taxi cabs) line up in their parking lot to pick up stragglers that need to get back to base. Those drivers aren't dumb - they know where the money is! Anyway, Coco's is somewhere between a fast-food joint and a nice restaurant. You order your meal in parts:

1. What kind of meat you would like
2. How much rice you would like
3. Which veggies or other ingredients you would like
4. What level of spiciness you would like your curry

They sell their own sauces

The spiciness range from 0-10, and there is a disclaimer that no one is authorized to order levels 8-10 unless they have prior experience trying at least a Level 7. No, I'm not making this up. I guess its THAT spicy! I got a Level 1, and Matt went with the Level 2 - both of these seemed to be great choices for the two of us. I think I'm going to stick with my Level 1 - plenty spicy for me! Maybe a Level 2... someday...

Coco's served us enormous portions - especially for Japan! The curry just tasted like spicy sauce, not at all weird like I expected it to. It was, however, extremely filling, and I only ended up being able to eat half of mine. One great thing to note about Coco's Curry - It makes even better leftovers... and that only took us one year to figure out;)

Good Smell. Good Curry.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

The One Year Mark

September 11th is a very memorable day for Matt and I (as it is for most Americans, no doubt). Not only was it a day that changed America forever, but it was also one of the reasons that Matt decided to join the Marine Corps - changing our lives forever and shaping them into what we are today. September 11th will always be memorable to the both of us, because it is also the date of our very first day in Okinawa, Japan (or "Oki" as we now lovingly call it along with the rest of the locals). We stepped off that plane into the overwhelming heat and humidity on Friday, September 11, 2009. Yes, that's right - we have just passed our ONE YEAR mark living overseas! And if you've been following this blog since we left the good old USA, then you've been listening to me ramble on about our adventures here for a YEAR now! Congratulations;)

Looking at photos and reading my blogs from a year ago, it really amazes me how much time changes things. I have to admit (and anyone who has talked to me on the phone in the past year can attest to this) I had my share of problems here in Oki for about the first six months. I was confused, nervous, sad, lonely - you name it - when I first arrived. As I look back, I realize that one of the largest contributors to my rough time was dealing with having to pick up and leave my job and co-workers that I loved so much. It was a huge part of my life in California - including the source of all of my girlfriends.

However, it truely amazes me how someplace so foreign (literally, in this case!) can begin to feel like home - like you actually belong there. Things that once confused me or made me nervous now feel like they've always been that way. It makes me laugh that I was once frustrated that I couldn't read any signs or store names here, because I am now just completely used to not knowing what anything around me says - used to guessing at what is in every store. While I still miss my job and my friends back in the States like crazy, I've gotten quite used to not having as many friends around anymore. And the ones that Matt and I do have here in Oki are amazing, and I know that they are going to be friends that we will remember always after this experience - just like friends we've had to "leave behind" in the past. I always wondered how Matt was able to deal with change and leaving people he's grown close to so often in the Marine Corps. It's something, I've learned, that is definitely not easy, but it is a growing experience nonetheless.

I can tell you exactly when everything changed in Okinawa for me personally - about six months in, I started to recognize that there were things (people, places, food, etc.) that I was really going to miss once we had to go back to the States. I realized that I needed to stop yearning for home and accept this place as my new home, because I knew I didn't want to leave Okinawa in 3 years and regret not embracing it. And that's what I did;)

So what HAS or HAS NOT changed over the past year??

- I am MUCH better at counting and converting Yen

- I no longer freak out when I see a red light with a green arrow at an intersection

- I haven't slipped up and driven on the right side of the road in a long time

- I still cannot speak much Japanese, unfortunately (beside the handful of phrases we use on a daily basis) - still on my "to do" list!

- Although I don't speak much Japanese, I do feel more confident communicating with the locals

- I have fallen in love with the Persimmon fruit

- I'm not as nervous about Typhoons, but still just as nervous about the earthquakes

- I still get aggravated at Japanese drivers who let their babies free to roam in their cars

- I don't know how I ever lived without my iPhone

- I don't know why America doesn't have a vending machine around every corner - what if you really need a cold drink??

Over the past year living in Japan, it has all boiled down to these two truths for me: how fast time really goes AND just how blessed we are. If this past year is any indication of how fast my life is going to go, then I sincerely hope that I can live every day to the fullest and take the adventure that we have here and apply it to the rest of our lives. I never want to stop seeing and experiencing new things in this world - after just this first year here, I can't imagine life without adventure and travel! And if God continues to bless Matt and I even a fraction of the amount he has this past year, then I know we will always have amazing family, fabulous friends, and incredible experiences in the years to come.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

And Then There Were Four: Don & Leanne's Visit to Okinawa (Days 7-9)

And if you thought there couldn't possibly be more to share from Don and Leanne's trip to Okinawa... you were wrong! Below are some highlights from our last few days together:

Us in front of the huge drum from the dinner show

Traditional Okinawan Eisa Drummers

Check out this video clip of the drummers:

The first Shisa Dog I've seen that's NOT made of concrete

Check out this video of the Shisa as it eats our camera and random babies:

Jet-ski day started off a little rainy, but quickly became gorgeous - the water was like glass!

Matt pulling Don & Leanne on the tube

Don going for a ride - he really held on for a looong time!

Okinawan cliffs @ Cape Zampa

Ocean caves

Don on one of the jet-ski's

Don & Leanne in front of one of our favorite restaurants on the island - Arin Krin (aka - the garlic house)

We had sooo many yummy things - the pizza, the spicy fries, even the radish salad was amazing!

Us at home;)

Playing games while waiting for our breakfast at Jakkepoes Pancake House

Yummiest pancakes EVER

Peace Prayer Park

War memorial museum - it was sad, but actually very well displayed and educational I thought

Don holding a canteen from the war that still has water in it today

This room had books to read that were full of eye-witness stories from the war - most of them were written in Kanji (Japanese symbols) but they had a few in English, and the stories we read were extremely sad

What a crazy family - I think we're scaring this woman behind us

Outside the museum

Unexploded Ordinance and etc. from WWII

Don & Leanne at the Cornerstone of Peace

I like turtles

Suicide Cliffs from the war

Ticket Restaurant - more amazing fried rice that cooks while you eat it

Goofing around at Jusco Mall on the last night

Matt with a poo hat on (yes, a poo hat)

Me as the birthday pimp

Do you like my new Anjolina Sunglasses Stand?? LOL

Check out this video clip of Matt demonstrating how to use the cool Japanese refrigerators:

Don finally found those treats he likes... all we know about them is that they have have a flying girl with a crown on the package, and they taste really good!

Leanne saying goodbye to Yogurtland and her favorite flavor - Toasted Coconut

We had an amazing time with you guys - thanks for such great memories! Love you!


Sunday, September 5, 2010

And Then There Were Four: Don & Leanne's Visit to Okinawa (Kerama Islands Boat Dive Trip)

The Kerama Islands (also known as 慶良間諸島) are a group of 22 islands located 32 kilometres (20 miles) southwest of Okinawa. They are part of the chain of southern Japanese islands that make up the Ryuko Islands (Okinawa is also part of this chain). Most of the islands are uninhabited. So, why would anyone take a trip out to them? Because the Kerama Islands are known to be the best diving in all of Okinawa! Matt and I have been wanting to go out on a boat dive to these islands for quite a while now, but we decided to save it for Don & Leanne's visit. And I'm glad we did - these boat dives were like the 'frosting on the cake' to the whole trip!

We started off by meeting at Kadena Marina early in the morning - the dive trip was chartered through them and included 2 air tanks for each diver (as well as the ride out there) for $75 a person. There were also a group of snorkelers that came along with us ($60 per person). Again, there was no sea condition this day - the water was really smooth, which made for a quick and easy ride out to the dive spot. From the time we left the marina to the time we anchored in the Keramas, about an hour had passed. The captain was funny and really knew the area well. We also had a few Dive Masters on board with us that helped us get in and out of the water.

Getting ready to board our dive boat - the "C Falcon"

Matt and I as we were leaving the marina

Don & Leanne

Check out this video clip of the ocean on our way out to the islands:

We anchored right off one of the smaller islands that our captain was familiar with - I don't remember what he told us the real name was, but he was calling it "Goat-Shark Island", because there are little goats all over the island, and there are sharks in the waters around the island. I'm not going to lie - I was a little nervous about diving where sharks would be, but they assured us that they were just small, White Tip Sharks that would be sleeping in deep crevices below us. After gearing up, we entered the water using the "giant step" method (not sure if this is the technical name) which was our first time ever. It was super easy just stepping right into the water and not having to walk in from the shore and swim out to our destination. I have to say, I definitely became a fan of boat dives because of this trip!

Approaching the island with the goats (it's hard to see them - they were so tiny from where we were!)

The crystal clear, brilliant blue water - it was like jumping into a pool

That's Leanne in the water ready to snorkel

Don & I getting ready to step off the dive platform in the back of the boat for our first dive

A large Trigger Fish

Check out this video clip of a sea turtle I spotted:

The absolutely stunning underwater cliff - it went down for over 100 feet

Me dropping down

A couple of interesting shots we got of the area around the cliff (maybe around 60 feet below the surface)

Check out this video clip of Matt, Don & I right up against the underwater cliff:


Matt & Don

One of the walls along the cliff-side had a group of small Lion Fish on it - not the best shot, but it still shows the fish

Matt & Don swimming through crevices (Matt top & Don below)

And, we couldn't complete our first dive without getting to see these White Tip Sharks - here are a couple of them (about 4 feet long) sleeping on the floor of a crevice

Check out this video clip of Matt getting up close and personal with a couple of the sharks that were trying to sleep:

Back on the "C Falcon" after the first dive of the day - Leanne, Don & I

Instead of changing locations and re-anchoring somewhere else, we did a Drift Dive for our second dive of the day. A Drift Dive is where you jump off the boat, drop down in the water, and swim in a certain direction. Instead of turning around to go back toward the boat, you keep going in that direction and the boat goes and meets you to pick you up when you're done. While our second dive didn't quite compete with the turtle, the sharks and the amazing underwater cliff of the first dive, I'm still glad we got to experience our first Drift Dive.

Don swimming through some more underwater crevices - this second dive had a TON of them

We surfaced for a little while in order to help a snorkeler that had gotten sick by getting the boat's attention

No, that little brown spec in the center isn't a rock - its actually our boat!

A large Sea Star

Don taking a rest on the bottom of the ocean

Some cool soft coral

A large shell that Don found - still had something living inside, too!

Cool sea plant

A bright red Sea Star with 6 legs

An eel I spotted in a hole

Check out this video clip of Matt messing with the eel - it eventually comes out of his hole, and we get to see how long he actually is:

We ended up being the VERY last people back on the boat and took off back home to Okinawa. We were so tired from all the swimming, and the ride back was so relaxing - Matt even took a little nap! We are already talking about taking another trip out to the Kerama's - diving on other parts of Okinawa seem to pale slightly in comparison to this trip! We had an amazing time, and I'm so glad we got to share our experience with Don & Leanne as well!

Thanks for following - Matt and I love and miss all of you guys!

'Till next time!