Maybe it was the fact that we were being chauffeured around in a spacious, air-conditioned bus, or maybe it was because it was an escape from the extra effort of just planning the day (internet research is a little more difficult when it’s all in Chinese). Maybe it was because we got to touch the ocean again, after realizing we didn’t take enough advantage of living so close to it before. Whatever it was, the four days we spent just an hour’s plane ride away from Taiwan on the little island of Okinawa, was exactly what I needed.
I know what you’re thinking – for three months I have literally been hanging out halfway around the world. I’m already on a little island away from the day-to-day for most Americans. Well, I hate to say it, but we are now past the point of everything in Taichung having that new, exciting sparkle to it. We live in the middle of a city – a HOT, HUMID city – with no real wilderness within the reach of public transportation. Poor Kyle can’t ride bikes, and riding bikes is what keeps him sane (for those who don’t know us, I’m talking mountain bikes – we ride city bikes on the asphalt all day, but he needs a few trees and some dirt). Not having friends or family around is starting to take its toll. We have a lot more exploring of this island to do, but without a job, I’m trying to keep spending at a minimum. Lame right?!
It’s definitely not my goal to be pitied, so why don’t I save the job hunt bit for later. I didn’t know much about Okinawa before this short trip, but it is a truly beautiful and culturally vibrant place.
We landed in Okinawa and stopped right away for some katsu and Orion beer. We weren’t looking forward to the shopping mall stop, which apparently caters to the Taiwanese traveler, so we went instead to Mihama American Village. My research before the trip didn’t make it seem like much. I thought it would just be some American-style restaurants and shops, but as we strode along the sidewalk, we saw a beach. The beach had warm, bright blue water and a mojito bar. It’s typically overcast in Taichung, but the sun was shining while we hung out at this beach. I can’t really describe how excited we were to touch that water, and I couldn’t believe it when our Taiwanese counterparts didn’t want to take off their shoes.
After a mojito and a taco, we had to go meet the rest of the group at the mall. Luckily, we found some interesting Okinawan spirits in decorative vessels to explore. We went to a traditional Okinawan spot for dinner and tried the goya chanpuru – a dish which features bitter gourd. It was… bitter. Maybe this is the tourist in me – but it’s the first time I sat on the floor for a meal, I thought it was really cool. Aside from the bitter gourd, we had some really amazing Japanese curry and some coral-ground coffee (versus stone-ground). I tried some kind of intestine (not sure what animal it came from) and some BBQ squid. Didn’t like the intestine due to the chew factor, but the squid was actually quite good.
We walked through Gyokusendo Cave, saw a traditional Okinawan dance, and walked through Shurei-mon Gate to Shuri Castle, an old Ryukyuan castle inhabited mainly between 1429 and 1879. We also visited Naminoue Shrine (literally, “Above the Waves Shrine”), which is the primary shrine in Okinawa and sits above some more of that clear blue water.
At night my goal was to listen to some live music, traditional if possible. We found it. We drank a beer and listened to a group play their Sanshins and their Sanba. Very cool.
The next day, instead of spending much time at the Churaumi Aquarium, we walked through quickly and headed over to Emerald Beach. More tropical water with tons of coral and bright fish to wade near.
We also went to a traditional Ryukyuan village, had some afternoon tea, tasted some of the Okinawan spirits and saw some of their pottery. We really enjoyed learning about all of the Shisa statues in Okinawa, which are lion-dogs typically found at the entrances to houses or other buildings. They protect the home from evil spirits.
The hotel on the last night gave us a view of Cape Zanpa, which has a beach on one side, a lighthouse at the end, and some staggering cliffs along the other side.
It felt like we had done so much more in 4 days than we had in the time since we’ve been to Taiwan. Although there are a lot of destinations on the “Places I Want to Go” list, I really wouldn’t mind going back to Okinawa at some point. It was beautiful, and such a whirlwind. We are also excited to go to the main island of Japan. Okinawa has its own distinct, rich culture and is apparently a different vibe than that of the main island. I can see that, and I appreciate it.
I think we really need to find ways to explore more of this island – we can find ways to appreciate Taiwan which don’t drain the bank.
As for the job hunt, there are good days and bad days. I had an interview for a teaching position at the top private university in Taiwan, to teach critical thinking skills in an English setting. This would be for students who will spend their junior & senior years in the US or Australia, and need to be able to integrate into the same curriculum as their English-speaking peers quickly. How cool would that be?! I’m also helping someone who is opening up a new English school for young students. I’m not sure I can bring myself to sign a year-long contract, but I am helping her as she builds her student base by holding open houses, and am proctoring their placement tests. I have also thought a bit about what it would be like to go back to the US. Would I feel defeated? Potentially. Would I make more money? Definitely. Would I miss Kyle? Uh, yeah, a TON. But I also have to do what is right for me. If teaching English to young students is all I can find, and I can’t bring myself to sign up for a year of it, I’m in a bit of a pickle.
It is still three weeks away, but I look forward to our visit back home for a couple of our friends’ weddings, some family visits, and some pine trees. I think it’s perfect timing. I know we should be spending more time traveling around Asia, but while we figure everything out, it’s nice to know we only have to make it a little longer before we get to taste home again.