Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Sep 13 2007

Okinawa Trip, part 2


Woke up this morning to rain streaming down my cabin window, aggressive looking clouds outside. Went to breakfast where I once again ate too much, staring at a particularly good-looking Filipino chef, or at least a Filipino in a chef’s uniform, who was waiting for everyone to finish so he could take care of the remaining food. The band that was at the gate was serenading various tables; I hoped they wouldn’t chose mine, and they didn’t. I did overhear some of the crew members talking, and it was almost gibberish to my ears, bits of Chinese, English, Hindi, Malay, and other languages I didn’t catch. I wondered what the ship’s lingua franca was, and if the crew was divided into cliques based on nationality, language, etc.

watching the tug

After breakfast I went up top. Islands were visible off to port, islands that could have been our destination, but the ship didn’t seem to be headed for them. As we approached Japan, the song Nagasaki found its way into my head. Behind us was a brown spot on the horizon, the same as I’d noticed yesterday. It would seem that we were leaving a trail of brownish haze wherever we go. Ew.

Okinawa is clearly visible from the sea, unlike Taiwan, which is clouded in haze. The harbor pilot came aboard from a tug that matched our speed for a few minutes as it pulled up next to us. The tug then pulled away and beeped at another small craft that was crossing our path. The Libra also let out a huge blast with its horn. As we passed the airport, a plane took off and was consumed by the low-lying clouds. The water went from clear blue to murky green.

On deck, people were out watching the approach. The gangster contingent sat in the Jacuzzi, showing off its collection of tattoos and making a point of smoking next to No Smoking signs.

We were almost at the dock, so I went down to get my landing pass. So did everyone else, all 3,500 people on board, apparently. The resulting wait was extended because, according to a Chinese crewmember, the Japanese authorities had showed up late. Children were crying and old people complaining as we waited. I counted the games in the cabinet, among them Life, Pictionary and Monopoly. Now it was Whinin’ Boy running through my head.

Eventually I got to the head of the line. They’d taken our cards and were calling out names for the landing passes.

“Lin Tao-ming!” they called.

“Yo!” I answered.

“Your landing pass,” the woman said, holding out the paper. I took it and she finally looked at me, only managing “Thank…huh?” in her confusion. I took the paper and quickly walked away before The Questions began. I wanted to go ashore. The only map the staff could provide was a cartoony tourist map. You’d think they’d have real maps of the city on hand, but no. A GPS phone would have come in handy as well.

The ship was docked in front of a huge expanse of empty concrete in the middle of nowhere. Buses were lined up outside, but nobody seemed interested in getting on them. I grabbed a ride in a taxi with a family and we headed downtown. The rain had stopped; it was cool. Mr. Li’s mother was along, and she got tired easily, so they only planned on sticking around for a couple of hours before heading back to the ship, so I walked with them through the old covered markets. Streets, entire blocks were covered, making a huge maze. Inside, I found some do-rags I liked, and Mr. Li helped me find some black tabi shoes as well, at an old traditional shoe store. Mr. Li is a real talker. He said he just bought a house in Ankeng, not far from where I live. He’s also interested in alleys, and took off down a few despite having his family with him.

Naha neon 2

The sun sank towards the horizon, casting the street in a golden light. Spatterings of misty rain came and went. I noticed that there were no 7-Elevens anywhere, nor any convenience stores at all. Eventually I did find one, called “Lawsons” something, but they still seem few and far between compared to Taipei.

The Lis headed back to the ship, and I set out on my own, finally feeling like I was in a foreign country. It’s been many, many years since I visited a land where I don’t speak the language; it was refreshing and kind of strange, as I can read a good part of the signs.

Night fell, and not long after I set off down the street by myself, the rain began in earnest, a hard, driving, Blade Runner-esque rain. I began to notice what I call “Takashi Music” everywhere. I call it that because the MBR’s friend Takashi is from Okinawa. I probably should have looked him up. The clanky, jangly music is heard in stores, shops, even at crosswalks and broadcast in alleys with loudspeakers.

Oh, the alleys! The lovely, lovely alleys! I was on cloud nine, exploring an unfamiliar city full of rain-drenched alleys lit only by neon signs. Little bars and restaurants seemed especially comfy looking in the rain, which came and went, though I could only see customer’s legs lined up at bars from under the curtains at the doors.

I took the monorail out to Tsubogawa after figuring out how the ticket machines worked. A group of Taiwanese tourists was having trouble at the ticket window; the ticket machines turned out to be faster. On the train, I got a good nighttime view into average Okinawan apartments, which for the most part seemed to be sparsely decorated in a minimalist Japanese style. It was appealing and fresh after the clutter with which most Taiwanese apartments are filled.


I chose Tsubogawa because it was on the river, but it turned out to be rather uninteresting, so I went a couple of stops further to a shopping center called JUSCO, where I browsed the incredible-looking Japanese phones, imagining all the amazing things they must do. The shops were closing, though, and instead of pulling down metal gates, they merely wrapped nets around their areas. “Auld Lang Syne” was their closing song.

I took the monorail back to Makishi Station, rescued an abandoned, broken umbrella from the station’s bathroom, and walked through more alleys. Half the cars seemed to have GPS systems on their dashes, and more than half of the drivers were talking on mobile phones as they drove. I found one particularly interesting alley that I’ll bet even money is either full of whorehouses, gay bars or both. Still, I wasn’t about to ask anyone in the vicinity, due to some irrational fear of beatings.

Naha street

The older Japanese houses are familiar, as they are just like the old Japanese houses in Taipei. The newer apartments all look like Los Angeles motels, with open parking lots underneath and white, clear windowed units on top. No bars on windows here, or if there are, they’re uniform and neat; it makes a huge difference. It’s not pristine, but it’s a lot neater and cleaner than Taiwan.

It was closing in on midnight, and though I would have loved to keep exploring alleys, I was both tired and wet, so I hailed a cab. The cabbie at first tried to take me to the naval base, but I managed to convince him that mine was a civilian vessel. We made it out to the docks eventually, and I got him to let me out a ways from the ship so I could take some pictures of the cranes parked nearby.

ship dock

After being chased off the cranes by the guard, I walked over to the ship, noting that the rat protectors were hanging off the ropes leading from the dock to the ship, one of the banging against the side. I mentioned this to the crewmember at the gate, but he didn’t seem to know what I was talking about.

Back on board, I peeled off my wet shoes and socks, replaced them with my new tabi shoes, and went for a midnight snack at one of the restaurants. I sat next to a table of excitedly gesticulating gangsters and read Anansi Boys while slurping up eggs and fruit.

Now I’m back in my cabin. It’s almost 2am, and I need to recharge my batteries for tomorrow.

posted by Poagao at 1:02 am  


  1. you took pictures of all this, of course?

    Comment by Prince Roy — September 13, 2007 @ 11:18 am

  2. Yes, yes, I’m still sorting through them. I’ll post them soon-ish.

    Comment by Poagao — September 13, 2007 @ 11:25 am

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