Hello all. I am going to help Karena out here since her little laptop has imploded. This is going to be all about my time in Okinawa over the New Year’s holiday. There will probably be two to three more posts about my trip.
My close friend (aka Tater) is currently working at Kadena Air Base. He really lucked out with his posting because he doesn’t have to work in the snow, wind, and frigid temperatures that I work in. His workload is about ten times mine…so I guess it evens out. Most of yall already know that we were both TDY Kadena last year. We had a great time and got to explore a bit of the island. I have been trying to figure out a way back ever since I returned to the States. The food is excellent (lots of pork and seafood), the people are very friendly and helpful, AND it is a nice tropical island with mountains and beaches.
It has all of the necessities for the type of place I could see myself living. Ahhh….daydreams are nice :)
My trip from Gunsan to Inchon Airport was a little nerve-racking. I got on the airport bus (it is about a 3.5 hour ride to the airport) and within one hour we had hit the mountains and a nasty snow storm. We’re talking four-ways on, single lane, 25 mile-per-hour slog through snow and ice. It was very depressing as we continued on and on and thoughts crept into my head about how the airport would be shut down. I really thought I wouldn’t be able to leave Korea and visit Tater and his wife in sunny Okinawa. Luckily, about 45 minutes outside of the airport, the snow stopped and the sun came out. WHEW. Crisis one avoided. I got inside the terminal, walked around, ate some dolsot bibimbap, and took a two-hour nap since I was a bit hungover from my night out with the subs.By the way, Inchon Airport is absolutely beautiful inside and out…there is also tons of shopping and places to eat inside. It was easy to spend an hour just cruising around and window shopping. Once I woke up from my nap it was time to board my Asiana flight to Fukuoka, Japan.
We arrived at Fukuoka early, so I had an additional hour between my flights. This extra hour proved useful as I was about to be faced with crisis two. After I came out of Customs & Immigrations in Japan, I entered what I thought was the airport at Fukuoka. I had to check into ANA to continue on to Okinawa so I wandered over to the check-in terminals…all of them were down :( and there was nobody at the ANA desk. I thought “this could be normal. when flying abroad in other countries, they sometimes don’t open ticket counters until two hours before the flight.” So I decided to wander around the shops and see if I could find an information kiosk. Well, an hour went by and I decided to try the ANA counter again. Same deal as before, but at least there was a counter representative. So, I pushed aside the metal barrier meant to keep people like me away from the check-in counter and walked up to inquire about my flight. I pointed to the portion of itinerary that said FUK – OKA, 30-DEC-09, 2030. The ANA rep just gave me a confused look. I said “Check in?” Another confused look. I said “cancelled…delayed?” Nothing. Finally, he came around the counter and motioned for me to go with him. He took me over to a door where he had to swipe his ID and punch in an access code. I remembered now how I thought it was weird there were no flights listed for Naha on the Arrivals/Departures board. At this point, I started thinking that Okinawa was having some bad weather and my flight was cancelled…depression struck again.
A nice lady came out and asked to see my itinerary. I handed it over and she read through it and asked if I was going to Okinawa. There was a slight bit of disbelief in her voice, like “haha, this guy has another thing coming if he thinks he will be in Naha tonight.” She thought for a while and said “this is the international terminal, you need to go to the domestic terminal.” I felt like such a bonehead. I had no idea that there were two terminals. I had only seen one when we landed. Of course, that makes sense. That is why Okinawa was not listed on the Arrivals/Departures board and places like Seoul, Beijing, and Hong Kong were. She said that all I had to do was catch a bus to the Domestic terminal. They were on the first floor and outside of the door. So with time ticking down, I dashed out the door and managed to catch a bus that was loaded up with people. After about a 15 minute ride, we arrived at the Domestic Terminal. I hopped out and wandered off to find the ANA counter. Like anywhere else in Asia, there was a line to check in. I waited and waited and finally got up to the counter. Everything was smooth sailing after that. I made it to the gate about 15 minutes prior to boarding. This gave me time to chug a nice hot can of coffee and ponder downing a chu-hi. Ahhh chu-hi a vice of mine that, luckily, can not be found outside of Japan. Who else would think of mixing akahol and fruit juice into such a delicious can of happiness that you can buy anywhere…restaurants, gas stations, corner stores, etc. It is like drinking a Snapple that has an alcohol content of 5%.
I arrived into Naha Airport on time. It felt like I was coming home. There was a smile on my face from ear to ear. I reached the baggage claim and there was a gaggle of angry looking Marines that must have landed just before me. They were all waiting on their bags. The carousel wasn’t even moving. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait at the same baggage carousel and big red soon popped up on the conveyor belt. I was done and out the door and Tater was waiting in the lobby for me. Ah, there is almost nothing better than good friends being reunited. I was very happy to be in a place that I love with my good buddy. The weather was about 60 degrees and misty at about 1000pm. Better than 16 degrees and snow at 300pm! I was immediately reminded of the challenges of driving in Oki as I went to open the driver’s side door (on the right side of the car). Hahaha…I thought I was getting in the passenger’s side. Then we started driving on the wrong side of the road, up one-way streets, and towards oncoming traffic. We also had a nice cabbie start yelling at us in Japanese. We had no idea what he was saying as he made hand gestures for us to pull over. So we did just that and don’t you know, he sped right by us. We had to turn around to get our bearings set and head out of the airport.
It took about 45 minutes to reach “home, sweet, Hamagawa” the lodging facility where Tater and his wife are living. It took me 46 minutes to crack a chu-hi and ask about dinner. Let me tell you, that Tater, he is a lucky man. He has his wife living with him, is within a five minute walk to MOS Burger and has a steady supply of tasty foods at his disposal. I was very excited to return to MOS Burger, a place that will put any burger chain back home to shame (this Singapore site has some menu items in English). Just look at that menu; hamburgers, hot dogs, soups and stews. They also serve fresh milk and fresh, healthy juices (orange, mango, guava, etc) for the little ones. Trust me when I say it is all good! My personal favorites are the shrimp cutlet burger and the original MOS Burger. The shrimp cutlet is served piping hot and is a fried patty of diced whole shrimpies (you can actually see them) topped with shredded lettuce and tartar sauce.
It is about the size of a hamburger or cheeseburger at McDonalds. The MOS Burger is a purely decadent combination of a hamburger patty, cheese, diced onions, chili, and a thick slice of tomato. Oh. My. Goodness. Prepare your eyes!!!!
You need about five napkins to keep yourself clean but you will still find little bits of chili somewhere on you. You’ll also find yourself licking the wrapper to get the bits that may have fallen off the sandwich. Of course, I guess that is why you can also order fries or onion rings (good – but not MOSB’s strong suit). After that delicious dinner Tater and I headed back to the Hamagawa to catch up on old times and chu-hi. Around 300am we got another hankering for food and decided to wander around his neighborhood looking for dining options. Well, none were open. Actually, we did stumble into one spot and were told that it was for locals only. Okay. We got the message. Tater and I entertained the idea of catching a cab to Gate 2 Street, but decided against it (wisely). Walking home we decided to stop at the all night soba hut that is on the side of the street. These places sell up some good Okinawa Soba at all hours of the night. I decided on the soki soba and a side order of fried gyoza.
Of course we also had some Orion’s. It was very delicious and I had to add some splashes of awamori infused with hot chili peppers to clear my head from those flights. It was the perfect end to a long day.