Monday, 16 February 2015

another side of the island

and there's Spam in the supermarkets
Before we arrived in Okinawa we had written to Couch Surfing hosts and got a positive replay from Erik.  He could host us three nights, no problem, and suggested we meet outside Starbucks in the American Village.  Yes, you guessed, Erik isn't Japanese.  He's a medic working in the US Navy and has lived in Japan for over ten years, although only came to Okinawa about 18 months ago.  He arrives late to meet us because he forgot we were coming.  This feels embarrassing because we are probably putting him out although clearly it's not our fault.  Effortlessly he whips up some lovely food for us, with leftover coq au vin and fresh salad and wonderful bread which we cannot but enjoy despite the fact that there's only enough for us two and Erik has to make do with instant noodles.  When he kindly offers us his own bed, we decline and opt for the airbed in the lounge.  


We aren't Erik's only guests.  A bit later a young Korean couple return from a day trip and we chat a little with them.  Erik seems a little quiet and reserved at first but finally warms up and we're just not sure if we've messed up his evening or what, although he assures us that we haven't.  Erik started hosting with Couch Surfing last autumn and has had over a hundred guests in this short time.   Now we understand a little more about how the evening started. Erik's not surfed himself but we think he should - especially if his trip to Europe comes off.  In the night the airbed slowly deflates and Erik's two cats race about jumping up on the bed chasing each other.   We wobble together as if on a waterbed and if one of us turns over the other is suddenly thrust in another direction.  Finally we switch to our thermarests but there's no escaping the crazy cats.
ah, that must be Sunset Beach then
The next day we get to talk more with Erik.  He tells us that there are about 50,000 Americans, service personnel and families, living on Okinawa.  He used to be based near Nagasaki on the mainland where he married and had two children with his Japanese wife. They are now divorced and Erik has difficulty getting access to see his children, although they do live here on the island too. He thinks that the Americans get on okay with the locals despite widely-publicised anger at crimes committed by American servicemen in past years.  The bases provide employment and these days, with China gnashing its teeth, maybe it's good to have a friend on hand...? It's only when we look at a satellite image on Google Maps that we realise how much land is used up by the bases.  Some of them are huge.
a special lunch date
When we leave Erik's we have a dinner date with a Japanese friend that Gayle made when we were hanging out in a hostel in Samarkhand back in May.  Hitoshi is retired and lives in Kawasaki when he's not travelling.  He got in touch as soon as he saw we were coming to Japan and suggested we meet for lunch in Naha, the main city on the island.  He's about to head off to India for 2 months on his first visit there and we think he might just be coming to Okinawa to see us.  We are delighted and slightly horrified that someone would do this.  Gayle remembers talking a few times with Hitoshi about different countries and he seemed normal enough.  But is he?? Well, yes, he is, and generous too.  We meet on the main tourist street in Naha and he leads us with our bikes to an indoor market area and to the fish market.  "You can eat raw fish, can't you?" he asks.  "Yes," we both say, although we've never actually done it before.  Hitoshi takes us inside to inspect the huge lobsters flicking their antenna around, obese clams writhe in their shells, and fat fresh fish lounge on the ice before us.  Hitoshi has already explained to us: lunch is on him.He chooses some fish and we are led upstairs to a table while the food is prepared. Here we catch up with Hitoshi.  He wants to know how many countries Gayle has visited.  "88, if you count England, Wales and Scotland as three.  And you?" "India and Sri Lanka will be 89 and 90" he replies with a smile.  Hitoshi used to work for a Japanese oil company and worked abroad for many years.  He learnt English on a crash course in Brighton over thirty years ago.  The food arrives - a large platter of shashimi, raw fish and shell fish sliced with soy sauce and wasabi on the side. 
We happily tuck in.  There is a mention of blowfish and I wonder if this is the highly toxic fish that can kill if not prepared properly.  At the same moment my right hand and forearm go numb.  But I shift around and the feeling comes back.  And I keep eating and I'm alive.  I'm alive and I can eat raw fish and it's all rather tasty.  Afterwards, Hitoshi orders a bowl of pork noodles and some rice to make sure we are not hungry.  We are not hungry after all this and after more conversation and an invitation to visit when we get to Tokyo, we part ways.  Tonight we camp wild at the most southerly cape on the island, close to a lighthouse.  We spotted it on the flight - a nice bit of land sticking into the ocean.  It's a lovely spot and far removed from the tourist street we were on at lunchtime.

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