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Delia Wilson, Writer Posts


Dear Mama

Your request for the phone number in our new home made me take a moment to reflect on the “phones” here on Okinawa. I’m sorry, Mama, but we have no phone. Not only that but we won’t be able to get a phone off base. “What no phones?” I know it sounds un-American and even foolhardy, but to install a phone is to invite financial ruin (in­stallation costs one arm, an eye and ten teeth).

However, that does not mean that people here do not rely on phones. Quite the contrary! One must resort to pay phones, stealing phones or just using base phones (categories A through Z).

Soon after our arrival we tried to phone the base from our hotel. My brave hus­band dialed digit after digit after digit and sat expectantly. Without a comment, he hung up and dialed again. With a quizzical expression, he listened and then hung up once more. “Honey, what’s wrong?” I asked. No answer.

Finally deciding he had been struck deaf and dumb, I hesitantly dialed about ten or fifteen digits. (Surely, this phone system is no different, I thought.) When a voice answered and I didn’t understand a word, I quietly replaced the receiver in much the same manner as my husband. Later that afternoon we did get through to an English speaking voice but by that time it was too late, our voices failed us and the communication seemed lacking.

Today things are different. No matter who answers I have learned to speak right up in English (keeping fingers crossed in hopes of comprehension). One gets further that way usually. Ignoring pay phones that beep at you.(“Oh, no, all I’ve got are quarters!”) lousy connections and numb fingers, I end up one of several ways:

(1) Ring, (or should I say,’ “BRRRR”!), “Moshi, moshi”, “Hello, may I speak with John?” pause “John who” “John Smith” “OK, you wait maybe I find.”

(2) No ring, as I interrupt a conversation, “Sorry, the wires are crossed.” “Nani?” “Oh, well,” I hang up.”

(3) Ring, “Moshi, moshi” “Hello, may I speak with John?” Answer in Japanese, “Oh, well,” I hang up.

(4) Ring “Moshi, moshi” “Hello, may I speak with John?” Answer in Japanese, I hear the phone drop, ten minutes later American voice and conversation ensues.

At this point I should stop and figure out the odds. Jimmy the Greek could start a whole new betting line here. “Ten to one it’ll take me three tries to get the right number and person.” I’ve also noticed that guide books and Japanese conversation books don’t include telephone etiquette. Perhaps they are trying to tell us something!

Sayonara from Okinawa, the land of baby blue pay phones and lousy odds.


Okinawan Cherry Blossum Festival

Note: this was the first column; I took over an existing column named Dear Mother.  At the time I had no idea I could do humor!


Despite a dismal morning recently, we decided to brave the Nago Cherry Blossom Festival. For those unfamilar with the rock, Nago City lies nestled in the “Mountains” (you know, towering hulks at 1,000 ft.!)  on the northern end of the island.

Rushing along our merry American way, we zipped to the expressway. The Okinawa expressway has a maximum speed of 70 kms. per hour or 44 miles per hour. We whizzed on at this breathtaking speed past the no smoking signs, casually hiding the cigarettes below window level. At this snail’s – or maybe sea creature’s is more appropriate – pace we arrived within the hour at Nago amidst the ever present dripping sky.

Not to be outdone by the local residents, we set out, carrying children, with only 2 umbrellas between the six of us. No matter what the previous weather the typical Okinawan can materialize an umbrella or other rain gear when rain threatens. Being the average American new to this wonderful (wet) isle, rain gear is not yet an established part of our wardrobe. As I stood on a corner licking the rain from my lips, I marveled again at the dry Okinawans around us.

One young mother took pity on us dumb, wet Americans and gave us her um­brella. Feeling like charity cases in this land of stunted bananas, we went on to explore downtown Nago. The cherry blossoms were a vivid pink. Our expectations died out quickly when upon closer examination they turned out to be wire and plastic.

A bathroom was decided upon as the first priority. Standing in the middle of a fresh food market I grasped at the correct Japanese for “where is the bathroom?” Within five minutes I had it, but it took another 10 minutes to raise the courage to ask. (Thank heavens it wasn’t the 3 yr. old who needed that bathroom.) I carefully started “Benjo wa….” gesticulating wildly. The woman led me to another who kindly escorted us to the correct facilities. I hate to dignify it with the term restroom. Oh my Koshi! (that’s “back” in Japanese for you illiterates(. To squat or not to squat.) The decision made and acted upon we ventured on.

At 1400 the rain stopped and the parade began. We eagerly awaited the arrival of the floats, fire engines and dragons. A lull followed the six or so school bands and four cops bearing a large Think Left sign. Our mouths gaped open as we watched the same bands and police do a reverse and parade back past. With a “well, I guess they wanted to make sure we got enough pictures,” from our American friend, we followed the parade to Nago crossroads.

Street dancing was scheduled next and the cop with the green arm band (You speakee English?) was prevailed on. “Where will the dancing be?” Standing in the cross­roads directing traffic, he solemnly answered by pointing down to the pavement. We laughed. Some minutes later as we watched up to 200 women run, Okinawa style – dressed in traditional costumes, through the intersection, the truth dawned on us. This time, taking few pictures, we watched knowing they would dance past again just like the parade rerun. The joke was on us though because they never returned!

After hours trekking through the streets and climbing the 500 steps up Mt. Nago, we returned to our car for the finale of fireworks. At eight on the dot the fireworks and the rain began. It was as spectacular as I had hoped, I thought as I gallantly wiped the rain from my collar.

Exhaustion was the main byproduct of the day. We returned home physically and mentally spent and culturally full.

Sayonara from the land of the spluttering fireworks.