Maybe my upbringing was an elaborate plan to keep me wandering the earth, walking different paths, living different lives, taking-on different roles forever. Come to life, learn a language and be part of this culture for some years then move to the next one—REPEAT sequence—and so on…
It makes growing up diverse and fun, not to mention how it broadens the mind. As an adult I think there are a few factors that most definitely make moving around a bit more of a challenge. First of all, learning a language become progressively more difficult with time and therefore requires some real effort on my behalf.
Second, and a factor that is very much tied in with the first one, is being exposed to the language through the purpose of the move. I used to move to a new country and have an automatic activity to keep me occupied: school, work, volunteering, tourism—SOMETHING. And as soon as you have a local activity you're a part of, you are learning the language THAT much faster—out of necessity, really. If it’s your mother tongue, maybe you're picking up new slang and most definitely making new friends.
The issue with being a military spouse is that there is no real necessity for any of these things. It’s like the most at home out of home experience you can have. Want an American product? Stay on base. Want to be surrounded by your language and culture? Stay on base. Want to live in a bubble where nothing has changed except the side of the road you drive on? Stay on base. This is the easiest way to learn absolutely NOTHING about a new culture, NOT interact with any locals and AVOID learning a single word in Japanese. They make it so easy! Here is a beautiful home twice the size you need but don’t worry, you don’t have drive more than two minutes to get to a Chili’s and we’ll pay for everything. There’s also the challenge of not having school to attend or a job to fall into when you arrive which makes making friends and getting out of the house that much more difficult.
Not to mention the fact that leaving base, you run into almost any type of business that caters to Americans. I mean, come on, there is a place here called American Village! Even when you leave base, you can hop over to another part of the island where everything will be made to your liking. Cowboy Steakhouses, American-style sushi, Antiques from the U.S. Even “Taco Rice” which, come on, I know it mimics Mexican food, but let’s face it—Mexican food is the official food of America. And then there's the evil trifecta: McDonald’s, KFC, and Starbucks. McD’s is self-explanatory: they own the world. KFC I’ve loathed ever since they put one in front of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Starbucks—annoyed the crap out of me ever since I saw the around the block line at one in Buenos Aires…the place with the best tiny little cafes! Yes, a fucking Starbucks thriving. Globalization is a bitch.
But what can I expect? Businesses need to make money and it’s smart to cater to your consumer. What scares me is that the consumer’s tastes are turning Okinawa into a mini-America. Is it THAT difficult to adapt to something new that we now have a place that sells apple pie, and French fries being sold at Hama Sushi… Even the housing agents use this as an incentive to rent off-base housing right next to the base. Don't worry, she said to me in the car, you are next to American Village and all of your neighbors are also American. Robb and I just looked at her and said--that's the OPPOSITE of what we want. She was shocked. But you are American, you want a big house, next to the base and next to other people just like you. THIS IS THE STEREOTYPE. It almost hurt to hear this and to be put in this category.
I understand there being American restaurants and products on base—I mean, that’s expected and don’t get me wrong—I LOVE finding my face lotion and favorite chocolates when I want them. But the rest of the time, I like to feel like I’m living abroad. I want to be surrounded by Japanese people, language, and culture. I want to go somewhere and have NO IDEA what I am about to order and be forced to use the little Japanese I’ve learned so far. After all, isn’t that the whole point of living abroad?
YES, I came here under the best circumstances I can think of. We chose to extend and stay out here for three years. Not only that, but I arrived to a house full of friends, open arms and people who are just as eager for adventure as we are. Friends who have not only gone out and tried so many local things, but who can also serve as sources of guidance when it comes to Okinawa and it’s endless recreational activities. Friends who have crushed so many stereotypes I had in my fretful mind about what it means to be in the military and abroad. They introduced me to our current neighborhood, which is mainly Japanese families and businesses, even though it's near a base.
I was lucky, I know not everyone lands on two feet and in paradise. But if you haven’t found that place here, or those mind-opening friends yet—why not make every effort to find them?
During my bike ride the other day I wandered into the crop fields and through the culture center and on to a local beach where I did not run into a single English-speaking person for the entire afternoon. I was definitely the out-of-place blonde riding around clueless and without much form of communication other than “pointy-speaky” and a few phrases I’ve learned in Japanese so far. The whole afternoon I felt some sort of euphoria riding around, not just from being surrounded by beautiful landscapes, but from being so lost within an unknown place. It was just so comforting in a way, knowing that even in this world where globalization has made everything available to everyone anywhere, you can still have moments of complete isolation from the outside, and complete immersion into a culture—even if it’s just for an afternoon of fun.
|Also a nice reminder of home--Spotting Messi Jersey at the supermarket.|
|Taco Rice! Believe me, if it were Mexican, it would be called "Arroz".|
|These are the kitchen tiles in our Japanese house. Coming from Arizona, I still can't believe this is randomly in our house!|