Thursday, July 21, 2016

Some sayonara words about leaving Iwakuni

Author's note: Everything I write about here (and, actually on this whole blog, unless otherwise stated) are my experiences and mine only. Yours may be, well, probably will be, different. But these are some things I have learned and would like to share with you. Your results may differ...

Leaving Iwakuni is like pulling a Band-Aid off veeeerrrrryyyyy sllllooooowwwwlllllyyyy. And you feel every hair as it's pulled and tugged along the way. Every one of them. And ultimately, the bandage is going to take a little skin with it too. The adhesive is just that good.

I made the mistake of loving people, places and things here in this country. I started having to say good-bye to close friends last year, so, really, my departure began about a year ago, I'd say. The spouse and I went to our last Marine Corps ball... riiip! The kids had their last Homecoming dance and Mini Marine Corps Ball... rip, rip. Ashleigh and Carolyn left in December... riiip, riiip. I had my final cherry blossom season as a photographer... riiiip. I said good-bye to KC, Amanda, Teresa and Britt.... riiiiiiiiiiiiiiip!!! I went to Kuju, my most favorite place in Japan, for the final time... riiiip! Gwen left... riiip. I said matane to my lovely English students.... riiip. I gave up my volunteer responsibilities and said goodbye to the amazing people I was fortunate to work with... riiip.

I organized my entire house into "luggage," "express shipment," "household goods shipment," "mail," "sell," "giveaway," and "toss," and then executed each of those things, hoping I did not make some grave mistake in my categorization... riiiiiiiiiiip! I watched the movers carry away my belongings, I cleaned my apartment for the last time and we handed the keys over, never to set foot inside the place again... riiip. I sold the reliable, utilitarian car that had managed to get me all around Japan for a respectable sum, but couldn't watch as it was driven away... riiiip. I went on my last day trip and onsened for the last time... rip, rip. I said goodbye to Chie... riiiip.

Today I say goodbye to the balance of my close friends left in Iwakuni... rip, rip, rip, rip. Save one. Cortney... who is kind enough to drive us to the airport tomorrow morning and will be there for the completion of Band-Aid removal. I apologize to her now for anything that might happen then.... RIIIIIIIIIP!

No one but military-affiliated people can understand this. Oh, they try to, they really do. Many have empathy and compassion, and do what they think might make you feel better. And thank you for that. But, honestly, when we arrive in the States with our exposed wound without any hair left, we just want a shower, a greasy American meal and a soft bed. Because we are tired, physically and emotionally, it will take weeks, if not months, to completely heal. And we pretty much have to do that on our own.

And I am saying this as a person who is leaving Iwakuni willingly and is excited about the future. I'm not regretting anything or feel like I am being torn away from my life here. All is well as far as the big picture goes. For some people, that isn't the case. Everyone has a different story. Try to be kind and patient.

Well, OK, sniff, the sappy crap is over. Here are some helpful tips that are more practical the torn Band-Aid advice... and shows you how much fun it is try to move out of here:

* No one knows anything about what you need to do to fly with your pet until the morning you show up for your flight. Seriously... it does not matter how many times you ask about the type of kennel you have, the size of your pet, the procedures or the guidelines... it will be WRONG. The information the people provide you may be correct for somebody somewhere, but, inevitably, it does not pertain to you and your situation for some reason. You find out that your cat is not actually flying in the cabin with you, like you have thought for months, but is now under the plane. These two situations require two different types of carriers, one of which you do not own. If you have a connecting flight on a commercial carrier (95% of people do) you may have an entirely different situation on your hands, and a different type of carrier might be needed. The resources available for assisting with these procedures here in Iwakuni is nil and I have yet to hear of anyone ticketing and flying their pets out of here without some sort of major problem at some point along the journey. There was a Japanese woman at the Iwakuni terminal named Yoshiko who was my husband's savior today (I say 'husband' because I refused to deal with the cat when I had the bulk of the other household responsibilities). If it wasn't for her, Iwakuni may have had yet another abandoned pet. Our cat will not be flying until tomorrow, so there is still plenty of time for something to go wrong, of course.

* This next one is both a bad and good thing... Because we are overseas, the military member must be present for or conduct most of the checkout procedures. There are, not kidding, about 40 of them. And you have to go around on base to each building to do them. And each entity, from housing, to the cable company to the armory, all have different days and times that they will sign your checkout sheet. Nothing is streamlined or easy. It takes an industrious person at least three days to check out of base. The system sucks, especially in 85-degree heat with humidity. The good news? For once the Marine Corps spouses who usually help do all of this crap when they leave other state-side duty stations while their husbands are hiding out at "work" can just sit back and drink mai tais at the hotel room. Just kidding. I was changing the addresses on all of our banks and insurance companies online and packing necessities for the plane ride. No mai tais. The good news is that I got to do it in an air conditioned room! #winning

* We were entitled to 7 days reimbursement at TLF (hotel we stay at on base until it's time to leave). HOWEVER, you can only have an overlap between checking in to TLF and checking out of housing (your apartment) of two days. No one will tell you this until it is too late. We used three days because of when our housing appointment was scheduled. We may not be reimbursed for one of our days of lodging. Basically, because the USMC thinks he has nothing else better to do, the Commanding Officer OF THE BASE has to sign off on us getting reimbursed for that one day that we had no idea would be an issue. Or, we have to pay out of pocket and lose food money for that day. But, with the super cold A/C, daily trash pickup without having to yell at my kids, and amazing water pressure in the shower, the extra money out of pocket is almost worth it. Almost. Not quite. Show me the money!

* If you have a house phone, you cannot turn it off and pay your last bill on the same day. This is just too much to ask. So, go on one day (they are now located in the Torii Pines shopping center) to shut your service off, and then go the next day to pay your final bill. Our final bill was twice as much as our usual bill. I have no idea why, but after a bunch of abuse by the check-out system, you start to not care anymore.

So, these are just some of the things I've run into through this leaving Iwakuni process. I do still have 18 more hours left until my plane is supposed to take off, so there is time for something more to present a challenge... let's hope it doesn't... wish us luck!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Iwakuni Takeaway: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

So, I wanted to save this sayonara post as my last one, with a bold, resonating message and an epic mike drop as I boarded the plane bound for the States Saturday morning.

But blogs don't have microphones (well, at least mine doesn't... I'm old school like that) and I think I'd rather end my days in Iwakuni on a more positive note. Plus, I'm not cool enough to execute an epic mike drop. But the two purposes behind this post are incredibly important to me, so I am going to write about them.

Purpose #1: You're gonna have a lot more fun here if you get involved in something you are passionate about.

Purpose #2: No matter what you do, you're gonna have haters.

I know some of you out there have followed this blog since the first moment I announced we were moving from Pensacola to Japan (thanks, Mom), others have happened upon it when you Googled "Iwakuni" and "commissary" in the search box. A handful of you have stopped me to let me know how much this blog helped you look forward to your time here and get acclimated to this amazing, yet unusual, lifestyle. Others just, for some crazy reason, find me entertaining. Whatever the reason, I'm glad. I'm glad I've improved your life in some small way, whether it was assisting with Space A travel tips, telling you what's going on in my life of adventures (you're welcome, Mom) or simply giving you a much-needed laugh at the end of a tough day. It has been my pleasure.

In 2012, I started focusing my blog on my life in Iwakuni because 1) that's where I was going to live and 2) there was little to no accurate information about life here. I Googled into the wee hours of the morning several times in January 2012, trying search word combinations that I thought would pop up a magical website that would answer all of my Iwakuni questions. Yeah... no. So, being the blogger that I became back in 2007, I figured I would share helpful - and sometimes entertaining - information as I encountered it. I wanted to help other people like me enjoy their time here and avoid pitfalls I may have found myself digging my way out of as I navigated the base community and galavanted across the wilds of Japan.

But it wasn't just through blogging. I volunteered to write for the base's Preview magazine. I became a LINKS mentor (for those of you who are not in the Marine Corps this is an organization for spouses to find support, information and, well, friends) and I often gave a speech about surviving your significant other's deployments... because I have survived a few and became stronger because of it. I also volunteered to teach English to Japanese spouses and to answer any questions they had about Marine Corps life.

With three other people I founded the Iwakuni Home-based Business Organization, or IHBO, to help people affiliated with the base grow their businesses, whatever they might be. With help, I planned two business expos a year so business owners could get their products and services out into the community.

I started a Facebook group to encourage spouses to get off base and go on day trips around the area, usually to take pictures of something and eat stuff. And maybe get naked together in a huge pool of hot water. (This is called onsening... see that search box at the top left of this page? Type in the word onsen and you'll see what I am talking about. Well... maybe not actually see...)

One time I even rented the Sakura theater for a night to show classic 80's movies and invited ALL of the ladies on base to join us for a night of Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and leg warmers. It was so rad!

I became a moderator on the Iwakuni Classifieds and Information Facebook Page. I was a command team advisor for the smallest squadron on base, MACS-4. And, despite what a lot of people think, it's tough to be a small squadron... fewer resources and a lot more red-headed step-child treatment. Although, my loud mouth did manage to get MACS-4 on the MCAS Iwakuni home page... finally. It was scary that January when I was Googling Iwakuni and I couldn't even find my husband's squadron on the official base web site! Uh, honey, are you sure that's where we're going? I don't see anything with a four listed at all... and nothing about a guy named Mack...

I launched a couple of businesses on base, and while I did charge for my services (I am not a charity, after all), I feel as though I helped people. Through my photography, I gave women the opportunity to see themselves as beautiful as the world sees them. I gave families priceless images of their time in Japan. I inspired more than 100 people to pick up their cameras and take their photos to the next level as they captured moments of their travels and kids. With my crafting business, I gave ladies a chance to break away from life and the left side of their brains, and allow them to create a scrapbook or home decor piece they were proud to show off. I think, through my work, I made some lives just a little bit brighter.

I know it sounds like I am listing off items on my resume. And I guess I kind of am, but my point is that I was INVOLVED. I chose things I was passionate about (education, sharing helpful information, business growth, marketing, travel) and put my efforts and talents where they were needed. I didn't just sit back and complain to my friends about how there was nothing to do, how the Classifieds page was an unruly mess, or how I couldn't get my business launched in a community marred by bureaucratic red tape. I jumped in and tried to make it better for everyone.

And I had so much FUN! It wasn't always easy, but it was so incredibly rewarding. Time has flown by, I have made some amazing friendships, met inspiring people and renewed my zest for life. The best part is that I think I am leaving Iwakuni a little bit better than I found it. And that's what everyone should strive to do.

So those were my good deeds.

I feel like I gave a lot of time effort and talent to the community, and there are many people who have said they appreciated it. You are more than welcome. It was my absolute pleasure. Thank you for your part in making my life here an incredible experience.

But, as I am sure you have heard, and as this blog post title says, the good deeds didn't go unpunished.

There are some people who don't like me. (Surprise!) Most prevalent are my lovely cyber bullies. Yes, I have enjoyed being cyber bullied by members of the community in public forums. And frankly, once the shock wore off (someone noticed me enough to hate me and write about it???), I found it amusing. A few examples for your viewing pleasure:

Oh, honey. I am not a teenage girl with a lack of self-esteem. This is not my first rodeo. I couldn't care less what you think of my ball gown, my "lady clique" friends or my pride in my son. I am having FUN and minding my own business... I'm just amazed that my life holds so much interest for you. Don't you have your own??

Scarlet O'Hara's curtains were harmed in the making of this dress.
You are a frightened little person who is screaming for attention from behind the supposed safety of your page. Well, here you go. Here is your 15 minutes of pseudo-fame. Enjoy:

I am ever so glad you picked me to harass. Because not everyone is as strong and self-aware as I am. Not everyone has at least a dozen (you miscounted) friends who would pick up baseball bats for me and charge on to a (figurative... we have a little bit of class, believe it or not) empty lot to throw down. Not everyone has a husband who had to be talked down from kicking your (not figurative) ass.

Some people don't realize how amazing they are. Some people lack confidence. Some people believe the bullshit spewed from a major jackass behind an "anonymous" post. Some people don't have the fabulous support system I do. Some people might have, God forbid, hurt themselves for remarks like the ones you made about me. And you, you sad little excuse for a human, would have had to live with that. For the sake of your victims, I hope it never comes to that.

And go ahead and use bravado to try and justify your actions. Call me names, tell me I'm "butt hurt" and that you have the freedom of speech. You are so right. You absolutely do have freedom of speech. I just hope you're prepared to live with the consequences of what you say.

OK, your 15 minutes are up.

So, Iwakuni community (or anyone else, really... this is a universal request), if you find some other jackass who likes to call out individuals in their public Facebook group rants, I hope you, as a member of the community, will make the effort to shut it down. It would be better for the bully if you did it, because who knows what NCIS would do to them...

And to those of you out there being cyber bullied... I urge you to raise your internal middle finger and keep being you. You are fantastic. You are unique. And you need to remember that mean people are scared people. Choose to be brave.

In conclusion, if you're trying to make the most of your time in Iwakuni, find something you're passionate about (unless it's belittling people, of course) and go do it! If you don't have haters, then you're doing something wrong! ;)  There are plenty of opportunities to create your own fun and make a difference. Peacock dyed hair and 80's costumes not required... but recommended. And always, always, choose to be brave.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Sayonara Dolls: No Sharpie Required

So, there was a phenomenon on the base here in Iwakuni, something reminiscent of high school yearbooks. I think I first heard about this about six months after I arrived here, as the first people I had met and had gotten to know started to move back to the States.

One woman simply asked, "Have you signed my sayonara doll?" and shoved a skinny brown cardboard box at me.

The box looked a lot like this one, although you can see that this one is actually mine. Pro tip: Write your name on the box and have a pen inside. Most boxes look alike and dolls have been inadvertently taken home by the wrong mama. As for a pen, it's better to be prepared, right? I like the ones that have four different colored inks that you can find at the Daiso for about a dollar. It makes for a fun, colorful scroll.

Uh, no. I have not signed your, um, doll. Do I want to? What is this thing? I imagined using a Sharpie to write across a baby doll's face. Hmm... that could be fun...

Ultimately these sayonara dolls are kokeshi with a bonus feature: they unwind to give the owner about five feet of parchment paper for their friends to sign. By the way, Sharpies are not recommended because they can bleed through.

My friend Heather's doll... the kokeshi was a virgin... I was the first to write on her. ;)

Now, I don't know what the Japanese natives use them for, although there are bride and groom dolls, so maybe bridal wishes? However, the American women (maybe some men...? I haven't been asked by a man to sign his doll, but I do not want to appear sexist here) use them to send farewell messages to the friends, co-workers, and close acquaintances they have met during their brief time here. Often a group of friends or a squadron's spouse organization purchases the doll for the person leaving, everyone signs it on the sly, and then the doll is presented at the going away dinner or party for the departing person.

But there is a problem with this tradition: Some of your friends leave before you do, so you end up signing their doll, but they aren't around to reciprocate when you leave.

Or, in my case, most of them leave before I do. That is not only depressing, but would leave me with a very naked sayonara doll.

At the suggestion of a fellow Marine Corps wife, I actually purchased myself a doll a couple of years ago. As my friends left, I could still get farewell messages from them. Because of this, my doll is far from naked and I still have a few days left in Iwakuni. Depending on how many people you meet and how long you stay, you may actually need to purchase a second doll. Two of my friends, Britt and Gwen, had to do that because they lived here five and eight years, respectively. My friend, Cortney, complained today that there wasn't any more space left on my doll because other people "wrote too big and bubbly!" So, pro tip: Don't hog the paper. Write in a small font and keep your comments concise. ;)

Sayonara dolls are fairly easy to find. The Four Seasons gift shop, located in the Torii Pines shopping area (for those of you who have left Iwakuni, this was the gift store that used to be at the top of the escalator in the MCX... there's now a whole new shopping center past the Sakura Theater that houses the gift shop, barber shop, salon, bike shop, cleaners and telephone office). If you go to the MCCS fall or spring bazaar (usually held in Ironworks Gym) there are vendors there who sell them. I have also heard that there are shops in town that have them, but I have yet to see them. But, wherever you find one, plan to spend between 3,000 and 5,000 yen ($30-$50) and have a tough time choosing between the different colors and designs.

Bittersweet Signing!

("Happy Signing" just doesn't fit. Despite the fact we military families are used to moving, it never gets easier to leave the people who have been your family for the past few years.)

Sunday, July 03, 2016

My Quest for Castles: Japan's National Treasure Castle 5

Author's note: To fully appreciate this post, I highly recommend starting with the first installment of the five-part series, which can be found here.

A Google search I did this spring indicated that there were four original Japanese castles on the National Treasure registry, but the internet LIED. All of the blogs and travel sites that I accessed had been written prior to July 2015. I know this because Matsue Castle was added to the registry in July 2015 and none of the sites I accessed had mentioned it.
After I got over my initial disappointment... because I did not discover there was a fifth castle until I was in the car and on my way to see the fourth (and what I thought was the final) castle, it was time to plan a day trip to the Matsue area, which is about a three-hour road trip from Iwakuni. So, we rented a van, added some adventurous women to the vehicle and headed off to check it out.

Castle 5, Matsue, check!

Also interesting to note: Before you actually reach the castle, you walk past this very Western-looking building, Kounkaku, which was built simply to house the emperor during his visit to the area in 1907. It was recently restored.

So, I have officially reached my goal to see all FIVE of Japan's original castles that are national treasures. Inuyama, Hikone, Himeji, Matsumoto and Matsue. Check, check, check, check and check...

And I am officially finished with Japanese castles. Case closed.

My Quest for Castles: Japan's National Treasure Castle 4

Author's note: To fully appreciate this post, I highly recommend starting with the first installment of the five-part series, which can be found here.

A Google search indicated that there were four original Japanese castles on the National Treasure registry, and I had now seen three of them. It was time to see the fourth. But Matsumoto Castle is about 9 hours away for Iwakuni by car... that's no day trip. But my friend, Shannon, was up for a road trip, and so was my mother, so we took four days and hit quite of few sites as we made our way to that final castle.

While, technically, I had already seen Hikone Castle, doing a sort of drive-by viewing, but since Shannon hadn't been (and is working on the goal of seeing all 12 of the original Japanese castles) we stopped by, allowing me to view it up close.

And there is, in fact a Starbucks just a few kilometers away!

We hit the road again and decided to stop at the oldest castle tower in Japan: Maruoka. I am not sure why this is not also a national treasure, but it's not, so I couldn't count it on the bucket list. :/

And finally, the next day... we got to Matsumoto... unique in that it has black walls while most castles are white.

Castle 4, Matsumoto, check!

And it was this day that I found out there are actually FIVE National Treasure Castles... Matsue was just added last July and wasn't on any of the websites and blogs that I accessed before. It completely ruined my day... actually, week. Until Shannon let me know that that fifth castle, Matsue, was only a few hours' drive from Iwakuni. Completely do-able as a day trip. So, while I wasn't expecting to add another trip to my itinerary before I left Japan, a group of my friends were ready to check out the Matsue area... and so we went.

Click here for the final installment.