Saturday, July 28, 2012

Strategic Communication needed... stat!

I haven't yet seen much of the actual country of Japan. Sure, two days ago I rode in a car for an hour and half, from the Hiroshima airport to MCAS Iwakuni. However, I had been awake for 24 hours at that point, with about an hour nap, and had enjoyed three plane rides totaling 20 hours of travel, so I can't recall much of what I saw. A couple of things did make an impression: (1) the "semi trucks" the Japanese use are about the size of a U-haul truck to move someone who lives in a two-bedroom apartment and, (2) that motorcyclists tend to ride in packs and have little regard for the lines painted on the road denoting things called lanes. Everything else seems to have escaped my then-exhausted brain.

So far, since arriving on base, I have seen this much of Japan:

See that hedge and fence just beyond those parked cars? Just on the other side of that is Japan. So the buildings are homes in the city of Iwakuni. Clearly the Marine Corps is not worried about any malicious attacks from our host country. Chain link and razor wire is apparently enough to deter any irate Japanese people from doing anything to tick off 5,000 Marines and their families.

Being limited to travel on base has actually allowed me to use my skills acquired through my Strategic Communication and Leadership masters degree I earned in May. This is very exciting for me. I never thought I would be able to use my degree in such a situation. Let me explain...

Because we have not yet gone through the Marine Corps' orientation class, held every Monday, Rodney is not allowed off base. Since I am adventurous, but not THAT adventurous, I am perfectly content to wait until Rodney is allowed off base. Besides, there is plenty of stuff we need to learn ON base. Such as the fact that you need to push a button on the wall of the bus if you want the bus driver to stop at your stop. It was not safe to assume that the driver would stop at every actual stop. Are there instructions for this? Yes, there are. They are printed on a 3 x 4-inch sheet of paper taped to the bus wall above the button. I rode the bus three times before the button became an issue. I watched as my stop flew by my window and said, loudly, "Wait! That was my stop!" A Marine in front of me said, "You have to push the button for the stop." She pointed at the dime-sized silver button below the small white sign two seats away from me. The same button I had never noticed until that moment when it was pointed out. Strategic Communication Suggestion: Have a large sign at the front of the bus informing people of the "stop" button, and make the "stop" buttons three times bigger and red. Some glitter or blinking Vegas lights around the button wouldn't hurt, either. Maybe put a notice on the bus map. And since we are talking about the bus map...

Again, with the theme of learning things on base, I am dutifully taking the bus around base and studying my map as I ride. As you can see on this photo of the map, there are very helpful lists of places at the bottom of the page, complete with grid locations and building numbers. Also, each bus stop is numbered in order so you know exactly what direction the bus will be heading so you can estimate the amount of time it will take you to get to your destination. An entire circuit of the base takes a half hour.

All of this information is very helpful. Sort of. While the list of destinations at the bottom of the map has the building numbers, and each building on base has a corresponding number displayed on it, the map itself does not have any building numbers printed next to the building silhouettes on the map. Unless the building happens to be one of the lucky ones that is spelled out in a blue square on the map, the building number at the bottom of the map does you no good. Additionally, the very helpfully labeled bus stops on the map do not actually have the numbers displayed on the bus stops themselves when you go to one. You have to check your map and see what buildings are near your stop, and then check to see if the building numbers match up. Oh, wait... no building numbers on the map. So, then you play the "matching" game. Does this aerial silhouette configuration drawn on the map match what the building configuration near you might look like from above? Hmm... Strategic Communication Suggestion: Put the building numbers on the map and displayed numbers on the bus stops so this printed material Uncle Sam paid good money for is no longer half worthless.

A third item I would like to mention is the "game room" offered near the restaurant on base my kids now call "our new Waffle House." Here is said children in said restaurant:

But down the hall from this restaurant, between the restaurant and the door to leave the building, is a small room with a sign that says "Game Room." Nothing else, just "Game Room." There are no other signs. Believe me, I looked. You open the door and this is what you see:

My kids were thrilled. "Video games!" "An arcade!" Um, no. Not exactly. This is an arcade for adults only. Apparently slot casinos in Japan are a lot like Starbucks in America: There is one on every corner. So, not to be outdone, the Marine Corps made sure there is one on base. With a sign that says "Game Room." These "game rooms" are for persons 18 and older only. When I explained this to the kids, my 10-year-old quickly pointed out: "It doesn't say that!" Strategic Communication Suggestion: Put a notice under the words "Game Room" to explain who is allow to partake of said games. I'd rather not have my child delivered to me in the back of a military police car, crying, and saying, "But it didn't SAY that!"

I am sure I will come up with some other Strategic Communication needs soon. After all, the government is not exactly known for its stellar communication practices. In the meantime, here are some Japanese forms of communication you might enjoy:

"Proceed Slowly," or, as Americans would say: Yield
"Main Road Has Right of Way," or, as Americans would say: Stop
Clockwise from top: Speed limit is 30 kilometers per hour; no passing; and no blue cars are allowed on this section of road. Just kidding. The red circle filled in with blue and then crossed out means no parking.

And, by the way, the Japanese drive on the left side of the road and the steering wheels are on the right side of the car. This should prove interesting for my in a few weeks when I have a license and a car...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

International Househunters, Iwakuni style…

It can take months of living in temporary lodging (TLF) before a family is offered a home on base. You can only live in TLF for 60 days before you have to go out in town to find a Japanese home, so a waiting list that is more than two months long presents a stressful challenge. Luckily, this does not appear to be a challenge we will have to face.

Today, less than 24 hours since we arrived on base, we were offered not only one place to look at, but three – we had a choice! This may sound like a small thing, but in the military, when it comes to housing, choice is not usually a word used in related conversation. So here is our international househunting experience, which took all of 30 minutes this afternoon.

First, all three choices were mid-rise apartment homes. Mid-rises are 5 to 6 stories high and house about 36 families each, six to a floor. They have three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, living area and some sort of storage outside the apartment in the center of the building floor. There are elevators, assigned parking spaces, and the base is pretty small, so nothing is too far away from what I like to call “the shopping district.” Plus there is a bus that circles around base every half hour and cars here are cheap – most families have two they have paid for with cash.

The shopping district includes a “mall” which includes a food court, a Navy Federal credit union, a Bank of America branch, a cell phone store, a beauty shop and a dry cleaner. The other two buildings are the Exchange (think department store like Sears or Dillards) and the commissary (grocery store). The schools, restaurants and post office are in this general area, as well.

The apartments were all roughly similar with a few subtle differences, which I’ll describe. If you feel like playing an International Househunters-esque game, answer this question:

Which one do you think we picked?

Apartment #1: The first stop was the one that had been renovated recently, but was the furthest from the shopping district, about a mile away. It is located on the second floor, the first apartment when you get off the elevators.

The building on the outside.

Boys in the master bedroom with balcony overlooking the flight line.

Kitchen - with Marine boots. We had to take our shoes off since the carpets had been cleaned.

Dining/living room with a view of a warehouse. The bedrooms and bathrooms are located through the door.

Locked storage cage in the center of our building on our floor. This storage area was the largest of the three.

Apartment #2: This apartment is scheduled to be renovated in 2014. That means that the government would pay to move us to a newly renovated building (one that is scheduled to be completed in 2013) in the Fall of 2014 so the work could be done. It is located about 2 blocks from the schools and shopping district. The apartment we have been offered is on the third floor.

The outside of the building.

The kitchen - new carpet had just been installed.

Living space with a view of the parking lot. Central A/C was added after this building was built (vented box on the ceiling).

Storage cage.

Master bedroom - all of the bedrooms in all of the apartments had lots of storage that looked like this.

Master bathroom - all of the bathrooms were very much like this one, although the "guest" bathrooms usually had tubs, as well.
Apartment #3: Located across the street from the schools and just down a block from the shopping district, this apartment was closest to all the amenities on base. It looks just like Apartment #2 on the outside. This apartment is scheduled to be renovated in 2013. That means that the government would pay to move us to a newly renovated building (one that is scheduled to be completed this year) in the Fall of 2013 so the work could be done.

Master bedroom - all of the rooms in this unit has central A/C added later, so the vents were there large boxes that took up wall and floor space.

Master bedroom with a view of the Monzen River.

Living space and kitchen  - also with a view of the Monzen River.

The view

The kitchen - this apartment has the washer and dryer in the kitchen. The other two units has a separate laundry room across the entry hallway from the kitchen.

So which one of these do you think the Guthrie's picked? After weighing the pros and cons of each option, we selected Apartment 1. The plus sides of this apartment are the fact that we (hopefully!) won't have to move out of it during our time here, the separate laundry room, the large storage cage, no boxy A/C vents and the fact that all four Guthries liked it best. We'll learn to live with the distance from the shopping district and warehouse view. We move in August 6!

4:47 a.m. in MCAS Iwakuni's temporary lodging...

... and the kids and I are wide awake. They are eating Honey Nut Cheerios and I am soothing the Internet withdrawals I was suffering from. For whatever reason, the internet in our "temporary lodging" room on base was not working last night, which rationally, I knew was not the end of the world, but emotionally, I felt completely cut off from the world as I knew it. I had a small panic attack and fell in to an exhausted slumber at around 11:30 p.m. Only to wake up at 3:37 a.m. to the sound of my two children watching Brazil and Egypt playing soccer for the Olympics on TV. I kindly explained that they could watch TV for a little while but then they must turn it off and go back to sleep. I had a failed attempt at going to back to sleep and decided that, if you can't beat them, join them.So, I, too, am watching an Olympic soccer game I couldn't care less about as I type this.

I don't have too many pictures to show off here, yet. It was dark was we drove from the Hiroshima airport to the base. I have learned that planes and airports pretty much look the same where ever you go. San Francico, Tokyo Narita and Hiroshima all had a familiarity to them. Japanese customs was a breeze - they didn't even look through any of our bags. However, the flight attendants only gave us one immigration form for the whole family, which was apparently wrong. We needed one for each family member, so there was a delay while we filled those out. But the customer service at the Japanese airports was amazing. They actually went above and beyond to make sure our entire family was able to sit together - something American Airlines didn't bother with when we flew to California (my kids sat with another adult while Rodney and I got center seats in other rows nearby.) We were never charged anything for our eight VERY HEAVY bags. And Rodney's friend and fellow Marine was kind enough to pick us up at the airport in a rented van so we didn't have to navigate the Hiroshima train and bus system after being up for nearly 24 hours. We were upgraded to Economy Plus seats so we had more leg room and the flight to Tokyo was not full, so we had plenty of room. Overall, the trip was as good as we could have hoped for.

Here are the few pictures I have from my iPhone:

A huge touch-screen memory game kept the kids busy for awhile at SFO.

On the flight from SFO to Tokyo Narita you had an option for a hot ham sandwich or noodles. I chose noodles.

Blurry but proof we made to to Tokyo.

My first purchase with Japanese yen... three bottles of nasty iced tea. 450 yen is about $5.75 USD.

Waiting for our ride in Hiroshima - the kids are tired and a bit like zombies.
So, now I am going to try to head back to bed for an hour or two. I know I am feeling OK now, but I am sure it will hot me about 3 p.m., this afternoon, right when i am trying to memorize the way to the grocery store or something.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

A brief hiatus

I know I have not posted in several days and I have had every intention of doing so, but life got in the way, as it often does. My father-in-law was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in October, and has been fighting it ever since - radiation, speech therapy, the works. Unfortunately, he is losing his battle. He is under hospice care and my husband, Rodney, is working with the Red Cross and the Marine Corps to extend his stay here in his hometown to help his mother care for his father. If our stay here is extended, then our arrival in Japan will be postponed, up to several weeks.

My overall wish for this blog is to inform people in an upbeat, humorous, sometimes sarcastic, manner about people, places, things and situations I encounter. Yet I can find nothing appropriate to write about as I watch a family member pass away slowly and his family stand by fairly helplessly, doing all they can to ease any discomfort he may have.

So please know that I do intend to return to writing in my quirky journalistic manner, but not for a week or two. If you are the praying kind, please pray for peace for my father-in-law, strength for his wife, and comfort for everyone here.