8 hours alone in Okinawa
I wake up completely energized and not exhausted at all around 3am. Instantly restless and of course hungry; thank goodness for Clif bars. I kill some time writing another stupid story about my silly life and watch no less than one hour of fail videos on YouTube. 7am finally rolls around and I am extremely excited to get to the island. I cash in my breakfast voucher and enjoy delicious undercooked bacon, scrambled eggs, miso soup, and a weird machine that poured something resembling coffee.
Then I get on the shuttle bus far too early and wait for the driver; there's no way I'm gonna be late for this flight. Slowly I watch people get on the bus, but, to my confusion all these people are dressed the same and all these people are women. I, am on the airport crew shuttle bus. And I, am an idiot. I scurry off the wrong bus and find the right one just in time.
Then, once arrived at the airport everything goes so much smoother than the night before. Security was a breeze and now I find myself 30 minutes before takeoff in a sea of noisy children in school uniforms and I also find myself praying I don't have to sit next to one of these little brats. Once I board and find my seat I profusely thank the Airplane Lord above, I have an entire row to myself.
After 3-4 coffee refills I am excited as ever to get off this plane. While I'm trying to keep my properly caffeinated brain occupied, I bear witness to something I have never seen in just over 10 years of flying on planes. I'm in the exit row, which is so awesome for leg room etc, but a few rows up ahead there is a baby crying at an un-ignorable volume. A symphony of wails permeating everyone's eardrums and showing no signs of slowing down. Without even hesitating, one of the pretty Japanese attendants walks over, scoops up this stranger's baby and brings her (the baby) to the exit row area, right in front of me. She then starts playing with the child, walking her around on her feet, hand claps and high fives, and finally gets an apron and dresses this now-giggling child up and continues to play with her and keep her laughing. I've never seen anything like it. Could you imagine that happening on a flight out of Houston? A flight attendant picking up and playing with a stranger's baby? I imagine a lawsuit would follow. However, in this case, the mother comes back and laughs and takes a picture of her little girl all dressed up. What a different world.
I make my way out of the front doors of the airport into the hot and humid island air. Even though I had done some basic research on the area and some places we needed to go, I was still very surprised to see palm trees. As I'm revelling in this subtropical paradise, a tiny taxi pulls up, honks, and the back door swings open: operated by a lever pulled by the driver. I get in and try my hardest to explain where my hotel is. I show him the address, he mutters something in Japanese, and we're off.
10 min later I am being ordered to get out of the cab. I ask him where the hotel is, as we are literally stopped in the middle of a street, and he replies with a thick accent: "somewhere", and motions in a circle with his hand.
Okay I guess I'll find it myself? Turns out I'm only a few blocks from the hotel, thanks to some classic language barrier hand motion directions from a random (helpful) person on the street.
The hotel is most definitely not the Four Seasons, but it is exactly what you’d expect of a run down 2 star hotel squeezed between a scooter repair shop and an abandoned office building. The balcony has an epic view and the toilet has more options than most TV remotes. It’s about 1pm and it is also about time I find a convenience store for groceries ie: beer and snacks. Aaron doesn’t fly in until about 11pm so I have the whole afternoon and evening to explore on my own. Again, I’ve done very minimal research and have absolutely no idea where to go, which in my opinion is usually the best way to experience a new place.
So, I begin my journey. I find out where the downtown area is and start walking in that general direction. Its 31 degrees celsius and I’m in Naha Okinawa Japan and I am here to shoot a commercial: life is amazing. Now, finding good food sometimes is harder than you’d think. In the band days we would always walk around for hours, passing up perfectly acceptable restaurants with the absurd notion that there is a better place somewhere up ahead (spoiler: there never was). So I try my best not to fall into that trap but also, absolutely no clue where to go. I settle on a hole in the wall bbq place, where I again go through the hand motion sign language communication until there is a ton of raw meat and vegetables and a pint of Orion beer in front of me. Lunch? Nailed it.
I have about 4 hours to kill before Aaron arrives so I decided I would do what I do best no matter what city I’m in: hit as many shitty bars and pubs as I can. I make my way out of the fairly busy downtown and land somewhere on the outskirts at a tiny alley bar that has a comfortable capacity of roughly 10 people. Surprisingly, this bartender knows a decent amount of english and fixes me a pint of Sapporo, as well answers my incessant questions about the island. Well, one pint turns to four, as they do, and I continue on, arriving at the conclusion that I absolutely love Japan so far and beer essentially tastes the same no matter what continent you’re on. I am kinda surprised though, at how empty the streets are, I mean downtown was fairly busy but now that Im out of the city centre there is literally no one out and about. Which I don’t mind, but hey so far Okinawa is extremely different than the Japan I had expected.
Three to seven blurry bars later, its dinner time and I am ridiculously hungry. Great, now the food search expedition begins again. I wind up at a steakhouse with a giant neon smiling cow on the sign, complete with servers dressed in traditional kimonos and makeup. Steak and beautiful Japanese women? I may never leave this island after all…
After I am sufficiently fed and boozed to American standards, I start to feel the effects of jet lag. The roughly 2 kilometre walk back to the hotel seem to last forever, as my eyelids get very heavy and the exhaustion starts taking over. I get back to the hotel and into my room, where I decide one more beer won’t hurt and I might as well take a short nap before Aaron’s arrival. As I’m moving through what feels like quicksand, the haze of jet lag and countless beers, I very quickly pass out and embrace the cousin of death ever so willingly.
I wake up with a jolt to a completely dark room, illuminated only by the glow of the city outside my window. Instantly I realize it is nighttime and I may have overslept. Check my phone and laugh, for I clearly did not set an alarm. As well, there are many semi-angry texts from Aaron, demanding to know the location of the hotel (which I obviously sent out well over a week prior, y’know, like a good tour manager does but one can’t expect one to actually read emails can one?) and why I wasn’t answering my phone. I make up some barely believable excuse and forward the hotel info and wait patiently for my partner in crime for the next 5 days by pouring a little Suntory whiskey over ice and enjoy it on the balcony. After 10 min of this, I recall my cab drivers inability to find this specific motel and head down to aid Aaron’s cab driver with finding the hotel. So there I am, standing on the sidewalk when I see a cab slow down and again, in the middle of street, Aaron climbs out of the back seat. Dark circles under his eyes, somewhat disheveled from the 10 hours of being on a plane, and a grin that could be seen from a block away. We embrace in the street while the driver barks in Japanese at us until we close the trunk and pay the fare.
Back in the hotel we receive two noise complaints from the little bitch backpacker with a man bun who had the room next to ours. Catching up it seems requires talking at a much louder volume than normal. We finally settle down and make plans to wake up early the next day. Day 2 of Japan and Day 1 of Okinawa was a resounding success.