Should You Bring The Kitchen Sink?

CONTRIBUTED BY STEPHANIE LONG

Konichiwa!  My name is Stephanie and I’m 25 years old.  I am not a dependent, a spouse, or contracted by the government — nor have I ever been exposed to life in or around the military.  But I was bored in Dallas, TX, and needed a change.  And boy howdy, did I ever get it.  I applied for a restaurant management position in Japan and learned Macaroni Grill was in need of a manager on a Marine Corps base in Okinawa.  On November 30, 2009, I was on a plane, by myself, moving 10,000 miles across the world.  And soon after I was being shuttled into a military owned hotel, starting my new life.  Of course, big change doesn’t come without a few trials and tribulations but overall, my experience has been wonderful here which I think brings us up to the point when I can say…

Whelp.

I rented a house, I have a car, I still have a job.  I furnished the house from off base, have braved Japanese gas stations, restaurants, roads, and work is still going alright 3.5 months later. I was able to open a military bank account.  I have stood hand-over-heart at the movie theatre while the Star-Spangled Banner played, with a Marine at attention by my side.  I know what kind of sushi I like, what I want to try, and what I will never eat again.  All of this begs the question:

Now what?

So much of my time here has been consumed with figuring things out.  Where to live, where to eat, shop, buy milk, exchange yen, which side of the road to be on, what the heck that animal is outside my window making noise at six AM.  The list goes on and on.  But now I have answers to all of those questions and my list of questions and to-do’s has finally been exhausted (for today at least).

But I’m realizing that if I’m not on a mission to get something done, I’m a little bit lost.  And today when I woke up and found my sinuses have attacked my entire head, I began wondering, what am I doing here?

Don’t get me wrong, I really love Okinawa so far.  The people are incredibly nice, I feel much more knowledgeable about the military than I ever thought possible, and I have always wanted to live within walking distance to a beach – and hey, a 2-for-1 — I can get to two different oceans here!

Part of the problem is that as my life goes on here, on the other side of the world, my friends and family’s lives go on as well.  Is it selfish for me to want everyone at home to just WAIT until I get back to have babies, get married, experience love and loss?  WAIT to see the new release movies until I can go with them?  WAIT to have Christmas and birthdays?

Of course.  It’s incredibly selfish.  But at least I can admit that this is what I really, truly, want more than anything in the world.  I want to be able to CALL my friend to talk for 2 hours and not be worried about the cost.  Or better yet, meet and talk and have coffee.  I want to be able to HUG one of my best friends when she is going through an awful time in her personal life.  I want to fly to San Diego for Mimosa Friday and go to a concert with my best friend.  And just SEE my family.  Is it too much to ask?

Not to worry, I’m not sad and mopey everyday.  If you are wondering about the state of my mental health, I have done several pretty awesome things recently.  For starters I went whale watching a few weeks ago.  How wild is that?  I took the plunge, braved the awkwardness of not knowing another soul on that boat, and I went whale watching.  It’s fun just to say.  And to top it off, I actually saw a pack of whales.  Pack?  Group?  Pod?  Herd?  I don’t know.  But regardless, they were there, right off the shore of Naha.  It was such a crazy experience to see WHALES so close to where I live.

I also braved the 67 km drive up to the Churaumi Aquarium.  I was nervous about driving 90 minutes north by myself, but the signs directing you to the aquarium started about 3 km north of Camp Foster and repeated at least once every 5 km.  I think the drive there was as beautiful as the actual aquarium.  You know how you see postcards or pictures of oceans that have about 14 different shades of blues and greens?  And you tend to think, if only this was real and not created in Photoshop?  Well, I’m here to tell you, it exists.  If you need a little aquarium motivation, Google whaleshark and just think about being on the other side of a piece of glass from one of these creatures.  You won’t regret it.

I guess I am writing this for those of us who need a little inspiration to get up and GO.  I am well aware that sometimes when the errand list is complete, you don’t want to walk downstairs to the “wrong” side of the car to drive on the “wrong” side of the road and find something to do off base.  For those of us that have somehow, found ourselves alone on this island I’m here to say, it’s worth it.  Make yourself get out of bed, get off of Facebook, and just DRIVE.

Go to the beach, go to JUSCO, the little coffee shop down the road, or even just on a walk.  I am living breathing proof that you do not need a partner in crime to enjoy life on this island.  And if you’re scared of getting lost on this island, remember, it’s only so big.  And even though some of the locals can’t speak English and you probably don’t speak fluent Japanese, I assure you, if you say “Kadena” or “Foster,” they WILL be able to come up with enough hand signals to direct you back.

One way or another we have all found ourselves here.  Let’s make the best of this unbelievable opportunity and have a little fun in the process!

18 COMMENTS

  1. Stephanie-

    Are you still living in Okinawa?! I am moving there at the end of June and would love to meet up with you for coffee and hear about all of your experiences, good and bad!

    Hope you are still enjoying Japan.

    -Liz

  2. Hi Heather,

    I just saw your comment on here. Oki Hai has great ideas for activities, but if you’re ever looking for some company, let me know! I know it’s hard (or at least it’s been hard for me) to make friends on this island, and I’m always up for a little adventuring!

    [email protected]

  3. I am also a 25 year old single unaccompanied civilian living here on Okinawa. I decided to take a physical therapy job over here as my next adventure in life. I have been here for 3 months, and been a little afraid to try new things by myself. I read this post at just the right time! I was feeling seriously home sick and wondering if I would make it the remainder of my two years so. So I decided to just get on Okinawa Hai and find someplace cool to go, and just do it! So Sunday I am starting at Okinawa World and going from there! Thank you for being inspiring!

  4. I loved reading your post. Kudos to you for having the heart of an explorer! It is scary to get out by yourself… but if you do, you will see and do and meet and have so many wonderful experiences! And so many of us know exactly what you mean about missing your family and friends— you can get down about it from time to time, but then you pick yourself up and get outside. Walking by the ocean, or sitting on the beach or the rocks always lifts my spirits. Thank goodness for vonage and Yahoo Messenger! Besides, I fully expect some of my friends and family to fly over to see ME!! come on, just one of you guys??!!

  5. hey guuuuuys! just wanted to say thanks for all of the positive feedback. like i said in the post, it’s not without it’s difficulties but I am truly enjoying my new life here. for those of you that have stopped in the restaurant, i’m so sorry i wasn’t there! hopefully i’ll be able to catch you next time. funny we are missing each other since i feel like it’s my second home 🙂

    i was able to get skype all squared away, thanks to yall that gave me suggestions with keeping in touch with folks back home. i also broke down and got an iphone, something i said i would steer clear of here. there’s a skype app for it as well which is awesome. only catch is you have to be connected to wifi to use it, but all in all, it’s definitely a good thing for me.

    anyway, thanks again and i hope to meet some of you guys soon!

  6. Love to see a post like this that counters all those that I hear of, that are afraid to leave post or try anything new!!!

    This is my second time here and I knew when coming back I was going to try even harder to get connected with the local community. I was active the first time with going to festivals and restaurants and parks but didn’t really get to know anyone.

    This time, I have changed that…I joined OIWC (best decision I ever made here), tutor a local girl in English and even teach English parttime at one of the local preschools. Because of these choices, I have had some experiences that most people never get to have while they are here and I am so thankful for all of it.

    I hope your time here continues to be an adventure that you remember for a lifetime…keep the positive outlook and take advantage of every opportunity you can get while you are here to experience the food, culture and people of this amazing little island.

  7. Hey there Stephanie I really enjoyed reading your story! You are a brave soul to move to the otherside of the world and make your own way. As far and talking to your friends for two hours, well we bought a phone system from Best Buy (they sell this at the exchange here too) called Ooma. This system works through the internet and cost $200 up front and there is no phone bill and you can talk all day if you want and it’s like talking to your friends in the states. There is absolutley NO PHONE BILL at all! So you can pay for vonage or pay once for Ooma. So inbetween your adventures give your friends and family a call and fill them in on your adventures without emptying your pockets.

  8. I loved reading your post. Thank you for sharing your experiences! Even though I don’t live in Okinawa anymore, your words are a good reminder to live life and see all of the magical things that aren’t meant to stand out! Enjoy Okinawa for me. I wish I could have stayed longer!

  9. Stephanie…you are awesome!!! As a dependent son many years ago I got to experience the island with my step mom who is Okinawan. Some 30 years later I still have a need to go back and visit. It seems as though I have a lost portion of my soul in Okinawa. My step mom is back on Okinawa and this July I will be taking 4 of my best American friends over to experience the culture and lifestyle of Okinawa. I commend you on your bravery, but I caution you in that Okinawa is now forever in your soul and you too will want to bring your family and/or friends over to experience this lovely place too. Good luck and if you weren’t on the base, I would bring my group by for dinner or lunch.
    Domo Arigato gozai masu….
    Bill

  10. Thanks for a great post! My family is also here not associated with any military anything, and we’ve lived overseas for a while now… so if you ever want friends to explore with or exchange funny stories about trying to find food according to pictures on the label, just let us know! 🙂

  11. Thank you for this inspirational post! By the end I felt my eyes tearing up! I’m brand new to this island and I feel so motivated by your experience and I think I’ll go up north this weekend.

  12. I absolutely loved reading your post! Kudos to you!! I miss Churaumi Aquarium! I wanted to go whale watching, but the weather didn’t cooperate and I never had a chance to do that before we left. Bummer. I’m so glad you are enjoying your life there. I totally understand what you mean by feeling selfish and experiencing difficulty having such distance between your friends, family and yourself. My husband and I live a life like that, too, but with Facebook and Skype, I sometimes forget about the distance. Good luck to you in your new adventure!!!

  13. I really enjoyed reading your experience. Good for you for taking on the plunge of new job, new life, new adventures. To be honest, I really don’t know if I would of been brave enough to do it alone but I admire that!! I have been here for one year and it does take time to find your groove. Another thing you should try is geocaching, you will LOVE IT and it will take you to places you never knew existed before. Just go to geocaching.com and it will explain what it is and how it works. My family and I go about every weekend. I have learned my way around from geocaching. Best of luck to you!!!

  14. I admire your brave independence. I just got here about 1.5 months ago and I feel the same way do. My 4 year old and I go on these “get lost and find our way back adventures” and we love it. I think there is so much to do here. My hope is to learn the Japanese language so that I can communicate my way to get to know the locals here. Anyhow, You do whatever your heart desires and make a journal of your memories. Another phone choice is MagicJack. I bought mine at the Foster BX for 39.00 bucks, hooked it up to my internet and I was able to choose a phone number with a local area code from home (San Antonio). Now my family can call me any time for free. The fee is 19.95 per year. I love it and i havent had any problems with it. Good Luck in you new job and your new life! 🙂

  15. Or try Skype. 2.95$ a month for unlimited calls to US numbers. You use it through your computer and can even video chat if both parties subscribe (accounts are free and calls to other skype users are free) and have webcams. The only downside is that they can’t call you on a phone. But, the price is totally right and we love the video chat feature.
    I wish moving here had been an option back in the day when I worked for Mac Grill – I would totally have done it!

  16. Wow! You’re brave. I might have moved overseas without my husband, but probably not to Japan. Good job on taking the plunge. To help with the phone calls, have you tried Vonage? It’s one set price a month and then unlimited minutes to the U.S. as well as many other countries. Good luck!

  17. Thanks Stephanie for sharing your story and for inspiring others to get out and make the most of their time here in Okinawa. As I read about your experience I couldn’t help remembering some of my own miserable moments when I came out to Japan almost ten years ago, alone with my then five year old daughter. We lived on an island much smaller than Okinawa, and with no other English speakers residing on the island, it was weeks, maybe even months, before my daughter and I were able to comfortably adapt to our new and totally foreign home. I can certainly relate to some of the trials you’ve been going through, but I think it’s great that you have such a positive attitude and are willing to force yourself to get out of bed everyday and see what new opportunities and adventures are awaiting you. I definitely had my share of ups and downs while living on Yoron Island, but I wouldn’t trade those two years for anything! I wish you all the very best and hope that the remainder of your time here just gets better and better.

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