Looking In The Rear View Mirror

Tree in Okinawa
Tree in Okinawa

Lately (since November) I’ve found myself looking back at where I was last year or even further.  I suspect I will be doing this throughout the year.  I suspect I’m still in a state of disbelief that in November of 2015 I was sent to Okinawa, Japan to work and lived there until the end of August 2016.

I wish I’d returned to blogging when I arrived as it would’ve been an interesting read and reflection on what I learned and experienced.  Can’t change the past as I’m all too aware.

I came to really embrace Okinawa, but it was not as appreciated as it might have been because I left home so suddenly and left so much undone.  My decision to accept this position was influenced by the fact that I am in relatively good health and my parents (who live apart) are also physically well off enough not to require care.  I had someone to stay in my house and take care of pets and day-to-day activities.  The money was too good to pass up and having visited my son in China made me realize that other countries are no big deal to visit or reside.

What I didn’t know when I left was that I underestimated just what a control freak I truly am.  I knew I liked to be in control, but to not be able to focus and enjoy the new culture because of constantly trying to control what could not be controlled at home is the sign of an out of control maniac!  Sometimes you just need to accept that things are getting handled even if it’s not the way you would handle them.  That’s hard for me.  Ask anyone that knows me and you’ll hear a resounding ‘Amen’.

I also underestimated just how much my family does rely on me.  That’s also a relatively bad thing.  Yes, I do anything for anyone and ignore my own needs far too often.  It’s how I’m wired.  I am learning to say ‘no’ and to try to not over commit.  I have spoiled people too in what I can do whether it’s figure out technology to solve a problem or fix some problem they have or help them make a decision.

While I did have Skype and talked to people at home with the 13-14 hour time difference (I was ahead of them) between Okinawa and Virginia/Pennsylvania, the hours I spent with each family member on calls every week were exhausting and they always let me know what they really needed me to help them with at the time.

It was also a bit of a strain supporting two households and helping other family members, but I was appreciative that I could afford to do it.  I admit I was jealous of two of the single people on my team there that gave up apartments and cars and put belongings in storage.  They were both able to do a lot of travel and enjoy their stay much more than me.  But if I were to blame it on finances it wouldn’t be entirely fair.  I didn’t try hard enough to go explore.  I could’ve done more.

I did take one trip over Memorial Day weekend to Hiroshima, Japan.  In my usual way I packed too much into a short weekend, but I did have a good trip and am very pleased that I was able to visit the historic sites there.  I would recommend it to everyone!

Since I’ve come home and perhaps about two months into time here I’ve found myself homesick for Okinawa.  That’s a complete shock to me.  It’s not what I didn’t get to do, but silly little products that I became accustomed to from the 100 Yen store (equivalent to our Dollar Tree).  I also was completely comfortable with shopping at the local grocery store.  I had certain products that I purchased and liked the small portions.  The fresh salmon that was my staple, the rice I liked the most for it’s flavor and stickiness, the little glass bottles of herbs for 100Yen and even the scented, colored toilet paper.  I miss my favorite restaurants and dishes at each and the warmth and friendliness of the Okinawans.

I’ve noticed that several things have changed both while I was there and since I’ve come home.  One is that before I left I had become very lazy and depended on someone else to do everything for me.  The problem is two-fold.  First, the person is always there to serve me.  That’s bad though some would be jealous.  Second, I’ve always done everything for myself and now I had turned into a person that I didn’t know and didn’t like.  Okinawa gave me my independence back.  I shopped for myself, cleaned my apartment, and cooked my own meals.  It was good for me to regain my independence as well as my confidence.

I started eating a lot differently.  The portions are smaller both at restaurants and at the grocery store.  I’ve always been one to use my own shopping bags when I shop and I was in the right place.  In Okinawa most people do use their own bags in the local markets (my preference for shopping rather than on base), it’s also an economic move as those people that don’t have a bag have to pay for a plastic bag.  What a great concept!  Imagine what it would be like here in the U.S. if we charged people for their bags?  We wouldn’t have landfills of plastic bags or see them blowing around the streets and countryside.

I was very fortunate that I was paired to work with someone local on the island.  He taught me a lot and took me to many different places to eat and helped me try many dishes that I love and miss now.  I would never have learned so much on my own.  I owe my friend, Fernando, much!

I only bought fresh salmon in small packages and bought a mid-grade rice that in the U.S. we would call sushi rice.  I ate fresh vegetables.  I bought a local rice cooker that I brought home with me.  I drank oolong tea and ate miso soup.  I started drinking Naked Juice Blue Machine for breakfast or buying smoothies at the gym.  I started putting chia seeds on or in everything.  I was eating as clean as anyone could want to.  I became a vegetarian except for my salmon.  That was just the kick-start that my mind and body needed.  I was thinking more clearly than I had in decades and my creativity returned.

When I was sitting in my apartment in Okinawa, there wasn’t much to do other than read, listen to music, or watch movies and t.v. online with my Kindle.  I deliberately didn’t want a lot of belongings not just because of the expense, but when I left I would either have to ship home or get rid of and neither made good sense.

The last two months I was there when the work was complete and we were just in a holding pattern I began reading voraciously.  I used to read a lot, but also hadn’t done that in so long I couldn’t remember.

In hindsight, it would’ve been ideal if I’d experienced the changes months earlier.  Certainly can’t go back and change that now.

I began rejecting any fast foods easily and going out of my way to shop naturally.  It was harder and more expensive.  Gradually my partner kept bringing home cheaper foods and I returned to eating as too many Americans.  I suffered brain fog and lost ambition, energy, and creativity.  Before I knew it I had fallen back into almost where I was before I left.  Luckily I have had a chance to realize this and am working at eating much closer to vegetarianism and my mental and physical state is returning to where I want it to be.  Sure, I’ll have an occasional treat but it will be occasional.

One of the big differences is that in Okinawa I was limited in my ability to get around.  Here in America you can just get in your car and wherever you go there are ads to entice you and you might stop just to get gas and have all sorts of temptations.  I can see now what a difference there is and it makes me miss a lot of my life in Okinawa.   I’m home sick for life there and almost wish I could just go there on weekends.  There are foods I miss and the simpler, laid back life was wonderful.

Returning home was more difficult than I imagined.  I found myself happy to be home conflicted with missing Okinawa.  It was more than the overwhelming stuff and need to embrace minimalism.  It was the food, people, customer service, and culture in general.  I was also in culture shock.  I didn’t realize some of the disrespect and hatefulness that’s been here all along.  It took living there for it to stand out.

A couple of examples are men that don’t remove their hats when they enter a building.  Seeing people in stores with ball caps or sitting in a restaurant wearing a ball cap is still driving me so insane that I want to go slap it off their heads!  I’m sure some of that is because I worked on military bases and soldiers must remove their caps (covers there referred to) immediately before entering a building and then put them on immediately when they exit a building.

The rudeness of drivers has also really got me.  Okinawa is slower paced.  To the Okinawans driving is a privilege.  It costs thousands of dollars I’m told to be able to get that privilege and that doesn’t include the expense of buying and insuring a car.  The inspections are insane there and very expensive as well.  I don’t have to tell you that even in a small city like Roanoke you have people who cut you off, don’t use turn signals, speed, and are just generally jerk drivers.  That doesn’t even count the drivers who are driving without a license or insurance.

From time to time now I look at today and last year.  What was the weather like in Okinawa?  What was I doing?  What did I try for the first time?

I realize that many things I believed in and or was passionate about over the years have faded.  It’s not just a difference with who I became in Okinawa and who I was here, but a drifting away from who am.  I am slowly moving back to ME.

I’ve long been a naturalist.  I believe in natural cleaning, composting, gardening, eating clean foods, gardening, and living simply.  The only thing about me that tends to create an element of eccentricity or some might consider conflict is that I was raised in a car club culture.  Having old Jeeps and old cars and especially Studebakers, Mopars, and Corvairs are just part of who I am too.  But I know now that I need one thing to enjoy and don’t have to have a mass of vehicles and parts.  So even that’s on the chopping block.  It’s back to cleaning out and listing on eBay.

I am returning to reading, but it’s hard.  I’ve starting coloring (thank heavens for the invention of the adult coloring book) and plan to get my cleaning and craft room in shape again (it became a disaster while I as away) and get back to crafts and sewing that I enjoy.

I returned to only t.v. via antenna along with my Netflix and Hulu accounts.  I’m spending more time listening to music and less time watching t.v.  I’m also fairly busy with eBay sales in clearing out ‘stuff’ from my life.

Returning to consulting but expanding my offerings as well as eBay and Uber will allow me to stay independent.  I don’t need to be wealthy in my bank account, but need to be happy.  I work at my own pace and have freedom and variety.

Reflection is healthy as long as it doesn’t become regret.  I hope you’ll reflect and find what’s slipped away for yourself.

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