Sunday, November 28, 2010

Marine Corps Ball 2010

November 10th, 1775. This date means something important to all Marines as it marks the birthday of the United States Marine Corps, the most prestigious and resilient fighting force in the world. This year, we celebrated the 235th birthday of the USMC in style at our 6th Marine Corps Birthday Ball. I may be biased on many subjects regarding the US Military, but the ball is not one of them - being in Okinawa, I have the opportunity to interact with spouses of all branches of the military. Some of my friends are Army, Navy and Air Force spouses, and I can tell you honestly, all of them wish they were married to a Marine - if only for the fabulous Birthday Balls! The other branches don't even compare in this arena - most of my friends don't even bother to go at all! The Marines have a very proud history, and just like they work hard, they like to play hard as well.

This year, I was lucky enough to get to see Matt actually in the ceremony. In fact, he wasn't just in the ceremony, but he was the one holding the American Flag and seemed to be leading the ceremony and even giving commands for marching - or at least he was leading the Color Guard Marines who were with him. It was definitely neat to see!

Matt in front of the Japanese, American & Marine Corps Flags

The enormous cake - first pieces are served to the oldest and youngest Marines present during the ceremony

Us in front of the cake

MACS-4 TDSM Shop Photo

Our professional shot


Friday, November 26, 2010

Foster Flea Market

When we lived in California, our neighbors would have yard sales almost every weekend it seemed. Matt and I never had one. I guess we just never had enough stuff stored away that we weren't using. In Okinawa, no one has yard sales. Instead, they take their old junk to the Flea Markets we have here. The Flea Markets are run by the US bases, and they rotate bases each weekend. There are a few conditions, however. In order to sell at the Flea Market, you must be an American (SOFA status personnel - basically, you have orders from the US Government to be here), you must pay $15 to secure a spot, and you must have patience while hoards of Japanese people practically mob you.

I had been saving up a bunch of my old clothes, jewelry, shoes and home decor items for the last year and a half, and I was planning on donating them to the Marine Thrift Shop that we have on base. It was only after a few of my girlfriends told me about the Flea Market that I decided to give it a try. Our base (Camp Foster) hosts the Flea Market the first weekend of each month, so a few weekends ago, Matt and I lugged all of our plastic garbage bags full of belongings down to his truck and drove over to the location, which is simply a parking lot. We were surprised at how many Americans were in line to pay for a spot and sell their things - there was literally a line of cars wrapped around the block! We were even more shocked at how many Japanese people were there waiting to shop! The basic concept is that Americans sell, and the Japanese locals buy.

The line to sell

Japanese people waiting at the gate like zombies ready to mob us

After waiting in line for about 30 minutes, we set up our spot right as the Flea Market opened at noon. Everyone basically sells their things right out of their cars. A few people set up tables and things, but most just lay everything out on blankets, which is what we did. Matt also fashioned a clothing line on the back of his truck to hang up some of the nicer clothes on. We were setting up our spot and selling at the same time. We were swarmed from the moment we got out of our car! They were asking us what we had and were even rummaging through our garbage bags that we hadn't even opened yet. It was insane! I don't know how I would have done it without Matt there helping me. He was trying to set up and deal with the money while I was constantly being bombarded with questions about prices. At one point, I was trying to untangle a mess of necklaces that had gotten balled up in one of the bags, and little Japanese women were everywhere, asking me for the necklaces. I wasn't able to untangle them fast enough, so one of the women actually purchased the tangled mess from me as it was! The market lasts three hours, and I would say it pretty much stayed at this pace until the last hour or so.

Check out this video clip of the Flea Market:

Matt and I started the day out with 6 1/2 bags of stuff, and we ended up with 1/2 a bag and $430! We were so impressed - the Flea Market was crazier than any yard sale I've ever seen, but it was fun and well worth it in the end!


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

River Trekking

I'm always baffled when I hear others that live here saying, "There's nothing to do in Okinawa". Really? Really?? Maybe they need to get outdoors or step outside the base even. Or better yet - maybe they need to read my blog... :)

A couple Sundays ago, we were having another gorgeous weekend in Okinawa, however, the sea conditions were not looking good. So, we opted for fresh water instead - River Trekking. I'd heard about this trek awhile back, but just hadn't gotten around to checking it off our "to-do" list, when our friends Nick and Amanda invited us to go with them. The trek basically leads to a gorgeous waterfall (Tadake Falls), however, the reason it is a "trek" and not just a "hike" is because there is no trail to this waterfall - the river IS the trail.

To begin, we simply got into the river and started walking up-stream. It was definitely a little workout - not only walking through water that ranged from a few shallow inches to so deep we couldn't touch the bottom when swimming in it - but a lot of climbing up rocks and "little falls" were required as well. We saw some little Japanese kids on the way up, but I'm not sure I would bring a child under the age of 10-12. It was definitely a real "nature" experience. No man-made wooden walkways and staircases here! The only assistance of any kind that we received were a few strategically placed ropes that previous trekkers had tied to tree limbs in order to assist themselves and others across difficult sections of the river or up steep hills.

Amanda and I at the beginning of the trek

A true jungle experience

Some of the mini falls that we had to climb up

Check out this video clip of Matt and Nick jumping off rocks into the river:

It took us about 45 minutes to get to Tadake Falls - the waterfall was awesome, and there was a gorgeous pool of water at the bottom to swim in

Check out this video clip of Tadake Falls:

If you're real adventurous, there is a trail (and I use this term loosely) at the end that you can hike up into the forest and come out up on the top of the falls. Naturally, we had to do this. I kid you not, the "trail" was basically us climbing straight up a steep incline into the jungle. Without the ropes that previous hikers had tied to tree branches and roots, we would not have been able to climb it. There is no way a child would be able to do it - on our way back down, we were literally repelling backward using these ropes!

Matt at the beginning of the "trail" to the top of the falls

Up at the top edge - looking straight down!

Getting ready for the hike back down

We had some fun swinging from the thick jungle vines that crossed the river

We ended up spending a few hours out there by the time we made it back down the river to our trucks. It was a great experience, and I loved that the trek was so natural and rugged with no man-made walkways. Definitely an Okinawan experience we'll have again before leaving!

Thanks everyone for following! 'Till next time:)


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Happy Halloween Weekend: Haunted Hotel Ruins

If you've ever seen the movies "The Grudge" or "Shutter", then you have a good idea of how superstitious and creepy Japan can be. No, Japan is not creepy in general, but the Japanese people are incredibly superstitious. On our little speck of an island alone, there are about a dozen "haunted" places that I could name for you. I might also add that I, personally, am not at all superstitious, nor do I believe in ghosts. Angels and demons, yes (but that's another story!). Nonetheless, there is one so-called "haunted" place on this island that I have been DYING (pun intended) to go visit, and that is the remains of the haunted Takara Hotel right down the street from our house in Kitanakagusuku.

What's the story, you ask? Here goes: Supposedly, back in the 70's, a Japanese businessman decided to build the large theme hotel/resort up on one of the hills in Okinawa, overlooking both oceans. The only problem - the site was said to be sacred ground. Instead of listening to the local villagers to stop the development, he went ahead with his plans... or lack thereof, as the place is said to be built without the use of blueprints. The hotel has an extremely haphazard layout with such attributes as stairs that lead to nowhere, maze-like hallways, walls built over sections of staircases, and columns that bulge into guest rooms at unusual angles. The hotel, in fact, was never opened to the public, never even finished. Some workers left after they heard the warnings, and still more left after their fellow workmen were killed or injured in a series of mysterious accidents. Finally, the businessman decided to prove his hotel was not haunted by spending every night there until construction was finished. He lasted three nights, went insane, became bankrupt and was committed at an institution on the island or, some stories say, he killed himself two weeks later. There are still rooms full of abandoned furniture and ragged curtains and crates full of once-new tatami mats, expensive items that were left abandoned.

In addition to the hotel, there is a strange, largely unfinished looking tower of several stories, a zoo, and a water park complete with slides and a pool. However, the hotel was never opened and it remains, undisturbed on its hill, overlooking the Pacific and the East China Sea, with the jungle slowly consuming the remains.

So, why haven't we been to check this out yet, you ask? Well, it just so happens that this site is apparently off-limits to Marines and their family members stationed here in Okinawa, not because it is supposedly "haunted", but because the place has been abandoned for over 30 years now, and it is falling apart and dangerous. The concrete structure is a mass of open windows and holes, broken glass, wood, rocks and rubble. However, this site only recently went on the "restricted for Marines" list - August 2009 - the month before we arrived here! In one part of the roof, there is a huge circular opening with a tree coming up through it. It was meant to be an atrium over the lobby but was never finished, so this gaping hole remains open with no glass enclosure. Last year, a serviceman (not sure if he was Navy or Airforce) was up on the roof with some buddies and fell down the atrium hole. He landed stories down, cracked his skull and nearly died. This injury is what ultimately led the Marine Corps to make this hotel off-limits to us. However, we were being very careful, and I just couldn't leave the island without getting some cool photography of this abandoned place! I may not be superstitious, but this was definitely the creepiest place I've ever been... hands down.

The main path that runs through the hotel complex - it is said to have been built to resemble a small village.
There were so many low ceilings - I'm not sure why they would build them so low. I know the Japanese are short people, but this was just ridiculous in parts! We really had to watch our heads.

On the roof of one of the first buildings in the complex with the tower in the background

I promise we were very cautious of everything we did here!

Creepy ceiling inside one of the guestrooms

It was a true haunted house - every hallway in the guestrooms building looked dark like this. I'm not going to lie - I was pretty freaked out the whole time, but I just tried to focus on photography!

My favorite photo - it looks like Matt is scared, but he's really looking into one of the guestrooms and saying "Wooooaaahhh, this is awesome!"

Mattress remains

Peeling corridor wallpaper

An area known as "the locker room" - I think it may have been meant to be an exercise room

More incredibly creepy hallways that I was scared to go down (the graffiti you see throughout the hotel complex was done by Japanese locals as well as American servicemen who have visited the hotel over the years. Before it was off-limits, Americans would go there to play paintball and have parties and bonfires.)

Just an unfinished hole in the ground - couldn't figure out what it was meant to be
The hallways really had no rhyme or reason - I don't think there was a right angle in the place!
Yet another example of the insane building plan - stairs that inexplicably jut into this guestroom

The Atrium - looking up from the bottom

Japanese-style toilets in the floor (also known as "squatty potties")

More graffiti

The lobby - complete with reception desk. We even saw desk chair bases behind it.


One guestroom that had obviously gone through some sort of fire

What a contrast between the hotel and gorgeous Okinawa

Unfinished staircase on the side of the tower - just a little scary

Concrete blocks hanging off the tower from rebar

The tower must have been the last part of the hotel to be built, because it was the farthest from being finished. It was basically just a concrete skeleton. I've heard rumors that it was meant to be a restaurant with a dance club on the top level... guess we'll never know

View from the one of the top levels

Overlooking the whole hotel complex - you can see all the roofs of the buildings

An outdoor passageway near some more guestrooms (we think these may have been meant to be suites)

Some of the drop-ceiling that hasn't held up so well. This section had actually fallen.

Some of the flooring tile

We're not quite sure why many of the windows had bars over them. It was possibly a precaution to prevent damage from typhoons. Either way, it really added to the creepiness of the place!

One of MANY ancient, overgrown tombs in the surrounding grounds - these were part of the reason this land was considered sacred.

The Zoo - an incredibly long walkway that led to the pool area. It was lined on one side with cages - some had bars, while others were windows that were meant to have glass in them. We couldn't figure out what type of animals were supposed to be in the cages, but they were almost completed - most had rock formations and even jungle themes painted on the back walls.

The pool/waterpark area is one place that many visitors haven't been able to locate in one visit as the area is greatly overgrown with jungle. We almost gave up on finding it ourselves, until we saw some old pool hose!
Matt and I ended up covering pretty much the whole complex in an hour and a half. As you can tell by the end of that last video, we were in a race against the daylight - there was NO WAY I was going to still be in that hotel when the sun went down! It was especially scary that the layout was almost like a maze - (for those of you in the Chicago suburbs, Matt thought it resembled Indian Lakes Resort in Bloomingdale). Although we saw almost everything (I think), we never did see any staircases that led to nowhere... I think what shocked me the most is how very close to complete this hotel actually was. I was expecting an empty building, but there were many rooms with remnants of beds and other furniture. There were fully completed bathrooms and even electrical wires. The pool area had waterslides, railings and patio furniture. I would have loved to see this resort completed!
Hope everyone had a fun Halloween!