Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Nagasaki Road Trip Part 2: Peace, ice cream and the quest for an arcade...

Note from the Blogger: I highly recommend that you read the Nagasaki posts in order. There are references that build on each other and you may not get the full effect of my attempts at humor otherwise. Click here for the previous post.

For those who are not knowledgable about American history, to end World War II in 1945, America dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, one in Hiroshima, and the second one a few days later in Nagasaki. Of course, as many Americans are, I am conflicted by this history and sense of responsibility that comes with it. Of course, part of me thinks, "Well, Japan started it! They bombed us first!" (Again, those of you unfamiliar with history, Google 'Pearl Harbor.') But once my inner 5-year-old is scolded by the 37-year-old me, the guilt of the death and destruction in the wake of the bombings niggles at me. That's also the part that makes me wonder if the Japanese people I meet secretly hate me and are planning some intricate plot for my demise. Or maybe I've been reading too many espionage books lately....

Either way, I have made it a point to visit both Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Museums, and take my family with me. I think that is important for people to see the effects of the bombings, so that, perhaps, better choices can be made in the future. Of course, I was not alive during the war, much less involved in political negotiations, so maybe the best decisions of the time were made. Do I think that many American lives were saved by the bombings? Yes. But, at the expense of innocent Japanese lives. And, if teaching Global Communications courses have taught me anything, it is that the world is getting "smaller." So much of what happens in one place affects others across the world, socially, economically, environmentally, etc. After all, there are motorcycles washing up on the beaches of Canada after the Japanese tsunami. If that doesn't tell you that the world is smaller than we think, then I don't know what does.

So, in the interest of teaching my kids about the good and the bad in the world, and to better enhance my understanding of the country I am currently living in, the main attraction of Nagasaki for me was the Peace Park and museum. Of course, being only an hour from Hiroshima, we have been to that Peace Park and museum a few times. Nagasaki's is smaller, and not nearly as well organized, as far as the locations of the park and museum, but it is still worth seeing.

Isn't the spouse doing a great job of faking "happy"? Good job, honey! :)
The Nagasaki Peace Park is the the location of a former prison. All that is left are the foundation and small low stones from the walls.

It's not nearly as awe-inspiring as the Hiroshima dome, but the absolute destruction is obvious. As you walk farther in to the park there are the requisite anti-nuke volunteers requesting signatures to stop the construction and use of nuclear weapons. You can see their tables lined on either side of the walkway. They are not pushy, like some American petitioners are, which is reassuring, since the spouse can't sign them since he is a member of the American armed forces. I didn't sign them because I like to keep my options open... just kidding.

And I thought it was a little too chilly to wear my mini skirt to the memorial, so I left mine at home, but more power to that Japanese lady... way to brave the elements!

The big peace statue is a muscular Japanese guy. I have yet to see a very muscular Japanese man while living here. Most are about 5' 7" and more wiry than muscular. But this is the main peace statue.

According to a Japanese travel site, "sculptor Seibou Kitamura, a Nagasaki native, created this statue as a symbol of the divine love and mercy of Buddha. The raised right hand points to the heavens to signify the threat of atomic weapons while the left arm is raised horizontally to represent the wish for peace. The figure's eyes are lightly closed in prayer for the souls of the atomic bomb victims." The artist is also quoted on a plaque in the park.

There were plenty of other sculptures and statues dedicated to the bombing victims displayed around the park. These were two of my favorites:

Like Hiroshima, there is a memorial dedicated to the children who died, complete with chains of paper cranes.

My family complained very little as we perused the park, although I was asked several times what time I planned to leave for Sasebo. Will and Xan were eager to shop for Skylanders at the NEX (our exchange did not have any) and play in the video arcade (our base does not have one kids can access). Rodney just wanted to get back to "America" (in other words, a base) as quickly as possible. He's not really a ramen noodle and public transportation kind of guy.

I don't know what they are talking about, but I'd place money that they were talking about the wonders of the Sasebo navy base.
The museum was about a 10-15 minute walk from Peace Park, but tucked away. You definitely need a map to find it. Even the road signs were somewhat helpful, but not as exact as I would have liked, being directionally challenged. After walking a slightly steep hill, we managed to find the museum... we just followed the tour buses that drove past us.

The Nagasaki museum seemed to focus on more of the Japanese military's history and role in the war than the Hiroshima museum did. But everything else was quite similar, only with the details of the Nagasaki bombing. A slightly different type of bomb was dropped on Nagasaki than Hiroshima, but being with three males who wanted to do what they had to as quickly as possible so that they could move on to an arcade, I did not bother to read the literature on the scientific differences. But it's all there.

Below is a replica of a church that was destroyed in the bombing, lights dim and brighten in time with a video that played in Japanese.

The kids were very interested in how these glass bottles were melted together.

I think this photo below tells the story of the bombing aftermath very well.

The bomb hit at 11:02 a.m. Like the ones in Hiro, the clocks that weren't destroyed completely stopped working at precisely that time.

As we left, we were much more sober in our attitudes than we had been when we arrived at the museum. There is plenty to consider.

We hopped back on the trolley system to head back to the Glover Hill area. It was about a 20- to 30-minute ride, but the Nagasaki map we got from ITT on base made it very easy to see where we had to switch trolley lines, etc. Also, our hotel sold adult and child all-day trolley passes, which made trolley hopping more affordable. We checked out the Oura Catholic Church, which was built by French missionaries in 1864 and considered the oldest church in Japan.

Ice cream break! Ice cream is sold in every tourist spot in Japan, think, and at all times of the year. The ice cream break kept the boys' mouths busy so they would stop asking me how soon we were leaving for Sasebo.

Like any good tourist spot, there are American' license plates for sale for about $11. Just kidding... I have not seen these for sale in Japan before and found it odd that they were on sale here. I've been able to find them in the States at fleamarkets for as little as $1. I think I have found my next business venture...

We had lunch in Nagasaki's Chinatown. When I posted this photo to Facebook along the way, my father cleverly pointed out that it looks very much like Chinatown in San Francisco. Maybe if you've been to one Chinatown, you've been to them all? Either way, the food was delicious.

And, finally, to the mens' delight, it was time to leave for Sasebo, which is about an hour from Nagasaki. The kids moved toward the car faster than I had seen them move all day, and the spouse did not seem to have to work so hard at faking being happy. He knew the arcade the kids were excited about was overlooked by a place with adult beverages. I have to admit, a margarita sounded pretty good... be continued.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Nagasaki Road Trip Part 1: Prying the spouse away from his comfort zone

As any of you who know him have come to realize, extricating my spouse from his comfort zone (i.e. house/normal routine/TV remote control) is like untangling a strand of twinkle lights... a strand that is 1,000 bulbs long and was tangled up by a tornado. It's time consuming, tedious and frustrating, but it's not impossible, and very rewarding once the challenge has been conquered. That's basically how this vacation felt.... like a tangled strand of twinkle lights.

My oldest son, Will, 11, takes a bit after his father. He doesn't complain as much about traveling, but his displeasure at the activity results in stomach issues. He throws up every time he travels. Not, in the car, like motion sickness, but usually in the middle of the night the second night we are gone. No fever, no one else gets sick, I can almost count on it every trip ... not great for a military kid who moves and visits family a lot.

My youngest son, Xan, 7, is like me. As long as he has his iPad and fuzzy baby blanket he sleeps with, he is good to go anywhere at any time. Only, when it comes to me, substitute the iPad for the iPhone and fuzzy baby blanket for Sweet N Low.

Veteran's Day weekend allows most of the military a 96... which means 4 days off. I gave Rodney fair warning more than a month in advance: we are going on a road trip to see Nagasaki and to enjoy the meager amenities Sasebo naval base has to offer that Iwakuni does not have... like a Chilis restaurant and Dunkin Donuts. I love my husband, but as the trip got closer, the whining got to a point where, as my anniversary and birthday gifts, I requested that he be in a good mood for the long weekend. No other gifts necessary. Just fake being happy for four days. That would be present enough.

We left Friday afternoon and enjoyed the 5-hour drive to Nagasaki without incident. Rodney actively attempted to be cheerful as he guided our rental car on to the Sanyo (Japanese freeways that are not at all free.. in fact it was about $5 cheaper to rent a car for four days because the tolls are free with the rental). His mood was further enhanced when the rest stop we ate dinner at also had a Starbucks.

I found the rest stop choice of toilets amusing...

I chose the Western Style, if you were wondering. I am just not comfortable playing with the buttons of a "shower toilet" in a public restroom, although I am sure it is probably sanitary.

We got to Sasebo at about 8 p.m. We had reservations at the Crowne Plaza Nagasaki Glover Hill. I love ITT and Academy Travel on base... so helpful! The hotel was very nice, cusomer service excellent, and the breakfast buffet was included in our stay and had a huge selection of both Western and Japanese choices of food. Since most Japanese hotels charge per person, including children, we paid about $270 a night. Which is why we only stayed one night. But I wanted us to experience a Japanese hotel, so I happily plunked down the money. You would think my kids had never seen a hotel before... when the bellboy took us upstairs, the kids ooohed and aaahhed over EVERYTHING. They claimed it was even better than the Embassy Suites in Birmingham, Ala., and, coming from them, that is very high praise, indeed.

Rodney and I stayed in two separate beds. At 6' 3", Rodney was too tall for his, but I was OK at 5' 9". The mattresses were VERY firm and there was just one thick comforter. I was fine, but Rodney was hot all night. However, the complaining was kept to minimum... he was honoring my anniversary/birthday request.

The kids had beds that flipped out of the couch, but much nicer than any flip-out couch in any American hotel I have stayed in.

A desk with storage and refrigerator divided the room, which had two TVs. Two TVs were oddly unnecessary in my opinion, but so be it.

A vanity mirror flipped out of the desk.

Japanese style bath and shower.

Rodney had to explain the faucets and order of things to the boys, with demonstrations.

The complimentary toiletry items were plentiful. No, I did not steal them... all. I thought it was odd that there was shampoo and body wash because there were huge bottles of it in the shower.

And, of course the toilet was fun. When you open the bathroom door, the toilet lid pops open and a night light comes on. When you sit on it, birds start chirping. Plus, I finally got to play with all of the buttons. I now know the difference between the "shower" and the "lady's shower." That was a fun-filled five minutes.

Despite the excitement, we did manage to get some sleep. Nagasaki Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Museum were the first items on the agenda the next day. To be continued...

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Ahh, the commissary... my take on shopping for groceries in Iwakuni

A couple of weeks ago I heard from four different people who recently moved to MCAS Iwakuni, or are getting ready to move here. All four said they found my blog helpful since there was limited information about life on base. This was a huge compliment for me and one of the reasons I started blogging about my adventures. I couldn't find much relevant info about life on base, either. But there are other reasons I blog: 2) to keep family and friends informed about what we're doing (and to keep my parents off my back when it comes to pictures and news "of the boys"), 3) to have an outlet for all the things in my mind that I find entertaining about life here, after all, if you are choosing to read this, you are now my captive audience, bwah-ha-ha-ha! 4) to keep my journalism and writing skills honed, and 5) to irritate the spouse when I write about him, especially when he does brilliant things like ignore vehicle dashboard alert lights. I think reason 5 is my favorite...

One of the four people requested more information about the commissary on base. Did it have a certain dog food? Well, I don't know, but here is the dog food aisle:

Hmmm... and it's kind of a trick question. The commissary might have those products currently, but you never know if that will be the case next week, next month or next year. And, as much as people like to complain about the commissary, it is not necessarily the fault of the Iwakuni commissary.

So, with these misconceptions in mind, I have created some things to help you along the way when you realize you will soon be shopping at the MCAS Iwakuni commissary:

1) This is all going to change in 90 days.

Really. It will. Things seem to run in 90-day cycles here aboard MCAS Iwakuni. I have no idea why or if that is really the case. It could just be my imagination. But, there is a lot of construction and growth on this base right now, and our commissary will be more than doubling in size sometime in the next four years. All of this info will probably change. I'm sorry, but hopefully another blogger will monitor it once my time here is done.

2) Like any good government entity, bureaucracy rules.

I am going to say this simply and with the idea of not being too boring: There are about 14 layers of bureaucracy that your milk and tomatoes go through to get on the shelves here. You have the suppliers, the U.S. government, the Japanese government, the military/Department of Defense, MCAS Iwakuni requirements, transportation and distribution people and companies. There are A LOT of policies, requirements, procedures and red tape. Somebody might get their panties in a bunch and throw a wrench in to the whole thing. And don't get me started on stuff that happens when there is some kind of multi-day Asian holiday. It's like the food world as we know it comes to a halt. The key thing I want you to remember is that the employees at the commissary are just a cog in the huge machine, so unless you can prove it was THAT PARTICULAR PERSON'S WRENCH THAT GOT THROWN, STOP YELLING AT THEM. Actually, you shouldn't be yelling at them at all... and yes, you know who you are. I saw you and you're embarrassing yourself, not to mention that you're rude and unkind.

No, of course, bureaucracy is not OK. In a perfect world, I would be at the helm, making stuff more efficient and effective. I have a lot of ideas for this. People who tried to misuse the system would be sent to Antarctica with a coat and a fishing pole so we didn't have rewrite the guidelines and punish everyone for the actions of a few. But the world is not perfect, no one listens to me and everyone involved in the bureaucracy wants their cut of the financial pie. OK, OK, no more soapbox... well, maybe one more thing....

3) Like anything else, the commissary is what you make of it.

Yes, there are issues, like running out of orange juice, but you just learn to like apple juice as a back up, or "become a hoarder," as one of my fellow Iwakuni residents said.

We had some milk shortages a year ago. I keep a frozen half gallon of milk in my freezer just in case. Six months ago, cottage cheese was hard to find, so I buy three at a time (I eat it daily) and go to the store for more after I eat the first two. Last Fall, there was a marshmallow shortage, so my Mom sent me some... they arrived in a week (USPS Priority Flat Rate shipping is pretty reliable here). And then she sent me more. And more, until I finally Skyped and kindly said that I appreciated the marshmallows, but I wasn't making any giant Stay Pufft Marshmallow Men anytime soon. Even eating on the South Beach plan, I have been more than happy with what I can find at the commissary. My vegetarian and organic-food-only friends are also managing not to starve. Like everything else in military life, you have to be flexible. Semper Gumby people, Semper Gumby.

4) Yes, you have must have your ID

Yes, you must have your military ID card. No exceptions, don't argue, just go get it and present it to the employee at the front door who asks. They are just doing their job and protecting your privileges. You can snort, stomp your foot and look like a cow if you want (I did once and am not proud of it... in my partial defense, it was 95 degrees in August, I had had to walk half a mile to get there and no one had told me it was required. We had just arrived in Iwakuni a few days earlier and I didn't frequent commissaries in the States.) but it will do you NO good. So, make sure you have your military ID on you at all times. Side note: when you have non-military family and friends visit, only under special circumstances that have to be approved by God-knows-who can your friends or family shop at the commissary or exchange. Their stomping and snorting doesn't work, either.

5) Coupons rock!

At the overseas commissaries, you can use coupons for up to 6 months after they expire. Which means a lot of great people back in the States bag up old coupons for us, ship them over here and we can use them. The commissary actually has drawers full of coupons for anyone to use, sorted by product, right at the front door. How nice of the employees to do that! Thank them next time you are in there.

Also, go in Building 411, the library building, and walk in to the first door on your left on the first floor. That is the Relocation and Referral office and they have buckets full of bagged up coupons for you to use. And while you're in there sign up for a free or seriously discounted (we're talking less than $10) cultural trip!

I have never been a coupon cutter before now. I did not care/had no interest/did not live somewhere that had a lot of coupons in the Sunday paper/who my age subscribes to the Sunday paper anyway? But, since it is so easy to acquire coupons for the items I buy, I feel dumb at the checkout counter if I don't plunk down at least a few coupons. I even managed to win a free massage this past spring for saving over $220 in coupons in three months (a free program offered by the base's financial management office - how cool is that?) Even the spouse and kids are in to it. "Look how much I saved," is now a family board game. And speaking of family, have your family back home send you expired coupons in your next care package. And now that I have mentioned expirations...

6) Expiration dates are merely a suggestion!

Some products at the commissary are "expired." The Iwakuni Classifieds page blows up over this sometimes (among other asinine topics, such as pizza delivery, but you can go lurk on there for entertainment on your own time... don't get me wrong, it is a great resource, but some people are just bored and/or have their own agendas. You'll learn who they are soon enough.) First, many of the expired products have been frozen before they expired, so the expiration dates can be extended months longer if they are kept frozen. Second, take a look at this article from Time magazine. Many expiration dates are a marketing ploy, anyway, getting you to toss out old stuff that is perfectly fine so you'll spend money on new stuff. Use common sense (I know this is a stretch for some people, but work with me...), if it is discolored, looks weird or smells bad, don't use it. Don't simply toss stuff out because the date printed on it is from two days ago. And, hey, can't bad milk happen at grocery stores in the States, too? Of course it can! "But wait Jessica," you may be thinking, "I can simply stop going to that grocery store and go to a different one. That's not possible in Iwakuni." Wrong! And here's why:

7) People in Japan eat.

I know! I was surprised, too, since they are such skinny people. But, yes, they do eat, and many of them eat a lot. But they walk and bike a lot more than we car-loving Americans do, so they burn it right off. But the good news for us car-loving Americans is that they have grocery stores filled with all sorts of tasty foods... some of them you can easily recognize. Like salmon (the commissary is often out of frozen salmon), eggs, veggies, Activa, and so much more. If you like Acme-brand low-glucerin, three-calorie, cage-free, legume-flavored popsicles, no, those may not be easy to find. But you complain, kick the couch, shake your head and then grab your purse to go out and find something else to crave. Or, you order it on the Internet and hope it doesn't melt before it manages to get here.

Aside from the standard grocery stores that are located all over Japan, there is Mama-san and her produce shop 100 feet from the front gate of base. Bonus: her produce prices are WAY cheaper than the commissary's in most cases. And that brings me to my next point...

8) Produce is expensive!

Yes, the commissary's big marketing push is that you save up to 30 percent when shopping there. That is probably the case if you buy a lot of stuff that comes in cans, jars or boxes. And hooray for that. But, those of us who shop more in the dairy, meat and produce sections, these fresher foods can be expensive. Please see item #2 above for what I believe to be the reason.

No, I do not like spending $4 on two bell peppers, or $15 on a spaghetti squash, but then I remember that the spouse gets several hundred dollars in Cost of Living Allowance, or COLA, each month and understand that things like my bell peppers are what the extra money is for. And finally...

9) Yes, the commissary is closed on Mondays.

I have no idea why, since most grocery stores are open 7 days a week now, but no amount of complaining is going to change it. So, plan accordingly and be glad it wasn't like sequestration this summer when it was closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Why it was closed two days in a row every week, I have no idea, but it would have been better to be closed Mondays or Thursdays... something that made it easier for people who have kids who forget to write things on the grocery list to get often-used items. Waiting 48 hours to get Sweet-n-low (not available in Japanese stores!) can be agonizing for some of us.

Thanks for reading, I hope you found this post helpful. Also, I have some more photos of products currently (remember point #1!) in the commissary... enjoy!

Batteries are low because we just had a typhoon warning a week before this photo was taken.

Yes, the Gatorade aisle is the same length as the baby aisle... you have to remember that the majority of inhabitants on this base are single people under 25 who are required to work out. Gatorade is a food group. Babies are not.

Just a warning: Certain brands and types of bread go moldy before others. I am not going to tell you which one my family prefers because I want to make sure it's there when I need it and don't want all you people buying it up. Just kidding... sort of.