Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Old Man and the Sea

Originally posted at JPG Magazine dot com on 17 April 2008

My friend Mike and I are both retired military and living the expatriate life in Okinawa Japan. Avid amateur photographers, he and I now make it a point to get together at least once every couple of weeks to go out shooting our cameras. We usually get off some pretty good shots but sometimes, more often than not, it's an excuse to get away from our wives and regain a little sense of sanity in our lives.

Both of us recent converts, we wish we had taken up the hobby much, much earlier on. Often we lament the fact that if we had saved all that money we wasted going out drinking and chasing women in our wilder youth, we'd both be professional photographers now and sporting Nikon D3's vice the cameras we now have. Admittedly, his camera equipment is quite a bit better than mine. Fortunately for me I am learning a lot more about the craft just from getting out and about with him.

We tried to make an early start of it that day but the weather that morning was threatening. Instead of going out and facing the possibility of getting soaked, we retreated to what I will refer to as his study. There we got out our laptop computers and started to edit photos we each had taken only a few days before and posting them on some of the various sites we both visit. By lunch time the threatening weather looked to be over. But it was still overcast and getting warm. We decided to wait until after 3pm when the lighting would be better and the probability of finding a shady spot to wait would be greater.

When 3pm came along, we went out to a spot where he goes and quite often gets some really great shots of egrets feeding along the shore and ospreys soaring overhead. We picked a spot under the brush near the shoreline and waited. This spot gave us a pretty good view of the bay and the sun would be off to our right. This gave us a great chance for a shot at anything coming from the north and east. After about an hour or so, it appeared that the God's were conspiring against us. I had about an hour drive back to my home as well as a whole list of "honey do" things to pick up before heading back.

As we made our way back toward his house along the shoreline to drop him off, he suddenly perked up and said to me "Doc, get a load of that!" He had spotted an old man, probably well into his 80's walking along the beach with a cast net slung over his shoulder. Mike's practically deaf from his days in the military so he tends to speak more loudly than normal. He's got a booming voice to boot. He practically popped both my ear drums when he excitedly said "pull over hear, we gotta get this, this is a story for you man! This is old Okinawa!"

We pulled off the narrow beach road and got both our cameras out. We stayed in the car so as not to disturb him. The old man walked the water's edge looking intently into the waves. He'd walk a few steps and then stop for a moment. He'd look a little more and then continue on. It was obvious that he was following a small school of fish swimming along the shore. We hadn't shot a single thing all day and now here we were sitting in the car like private detectives on a stake out. Our camera shutters were clicking like mad. It was as if we had been waiting and watching for a cheating spouse to leave a motel with someone to whom they were not married.

To our delight, the old man didn't seem to mind that we were taking his picture at all. He glanced our way on several occasions and slyly smiled back at us. It was the smile of someone who knows something you don't. He walked up the beach about another 20-30 meters and paused near a large rock. On more than one occasion it appeared as though he was readying himself to cast the net, only to relax his shoulders and lower it. We observed this scene repeat itself at least a half dozen times before he turned and returned to his bucket that contained his supplies and his catch for the day.

Although we didn't actually see this old man cast his net and bring in a big catch, it was a thing of beauty to watch this old master studying the waves and stalking his prey. We both realized that we had the opportunity to see a master in action. Our afternoon out wasn't really a total waste after all.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

An Old Buddhist Proverb

An old Buddhist proverb goes "The nail that sticks up will be hammered down." Japan is a nation of conformists. The average Japanese person doesn't aspire to greatness but rather to just fit in and be one of the number. They tend to be on the shy side and because of national honor, do their best in everything.

Okinawa is now one of Japan's 47 prefectures. Once upon a time, it was once its own independent kingdom and was known as Ryukyu. Commodore Perry once visited and toasted the king of Lew-Chew. They are proud of the fact that they were once great sailors and traders who embarked on successful commerce throughout Far East Asia.

They mastered the Kuroshio (black current) similar to America's Gulf Stream and traded with present day Malaysia, Indonesia Vietnam, Thailand, China, Korea and Japan. When Japan was closed off to the rest of the world, tiny Ryukyu was prospering economically. This prosperity didn't go unnoticed.

The Daimyo of Satsuma, present day Kagoshima Prefecture, without the consent of the Shogun, invaded and subjected Ryukyu and made it a puppet state. The King was for a brief time deposed and onerous taxes imposed on the general population. Ryukyu as an independent kingdom existed in name only.

Ryukyu was formally annexed to Japan shortly after the Meiji Restoration when the Shogun abdicated and the Emperor assumed supreme power. The name changed to Okinawa which in Japanese translates into "middle of the ocean rope." A look at a map of the region and you can see why.

A plan was put into place to Japanize the people of Ryukyu. Japanese became the official language and people were publicly ridiculed for speaking the Ryukyu Hogen language. When WWII visited their island in the spring and summer of 1945, the tiny island was sacrificed to save the mainland. For years the island fell under American control and only reverted back to Japanese control in 1972.

So you can say that Okinawa is Japan but the people of Okinawa remember their glory days. They love freedom and to have a good time. Throughout the year they hold many festivals and each one of them is a celebration of life. So even though they are legally Japanese, unlike many of their mainland Japanese brethren, Okinawan's tend to be a bit more independent. They have a tendency to stick out in a crowd

Every year in Late October and early November, the people of Okinawa celebrate their heritage. They call it the Ryukyu Kingdom Festival and it is a extravaganza of pomp and circumstance. During the ten day festival, three main events take place. They are the royal procession and coronation ceremony at the old castle and the grand royal procession down the main street of Okinawa's capitol city.

This year my friend Mike and I ventured downtown to get a few photos of the hoopla. A couple hours and 800 photos later we came home and downloaded on our computers. What you'll see here is from the grand royal procession which was held on Sunday October 26th. Please click on the individual photos for detailed descriptions of the action.

This is from a photo essay originally posted 28 October, 2008 on the JPG Magazine website which is linked (Here) and may be viewed for as long as the JPG site remains up and running.

The pictures from top to bottom are: 1) a member of the court poses with a tourist. 2) the Queen, isn't she lovely. 3) the King, both the king and queen were selected from local college students and made repeat performances at several celebrations throughout the year. 4) Traditional Ryukyu dancers in their Ryukyu style kimonos.

If you like you can order these post cards that feature the famous Shuri Jo Mon Gate. It was through this gate that American Commodore Perry entered the castle during his historic visit with the black ships fleet.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Global Worming

Posts originally posted at Everywhere and JPG are posted to this blog without photos. To see photos, click on the link below. Links will remain active for as long as JPG and Everywhere Magazine sites are operational.

Originally Posted at JPG Magazine

Suffice it to say, I'm not a big fan of Al Gore and all the global warming hype that permeates every aspect of our lives these days. My thinking is, the recent rise in temperatures are all part of natural earth cycles that we can't possibly influence let alone control nor, do we fully understand how it all works. After all, having been around for more than two-to-three decades, I do remember once upon a time when a public education meant something. A teacher of mine once said that a long, long time ago, Vikings were farming in Greenland. I also remember, back in the 70's, the big crisis was the threat of a coming ice age. Back then, Time Magazine thought the crisis serious enough that they did one of their magazine covers showing New York City buried in a glacier.

All that being said, I do firmly believe that we are stewards of what life presents to us and great care must be taken to leave the place as good, if not better, than the way we found it. As such, the car I drive is a real gas miser that gets around 50mpg. As hot as it gets where we live here on Okinawa island, we only use the air conditioner when its time to go to bed. It's not because I believe this is my little way to save the planet. It's because I'm a retiree with a limited income and I try my damndest to live within my means.

Another thing that I do is compost my garbage. Again, it's not my vain attempt to appease the "Global Warming Police." I do it because I love the benefits that composting does for my tomatoes and the wife's flower garden. The truth be told, even if I were more well off than I am now, I'd probably still drive the same car I do now, I'd probably still use the air conditioner sparingly and for damn sure, I'd still compost my garbage.

I really got started into composting shortly after my retirement. We moved into my wife's grandfather's old house in the countryside. It's a quaint old Okinawa style farm house with a pretty good sized yard. Not the postage stamp property one finds in the cities over here. It's a whole lot more comfortable than any apartment we could have afforded to move into. We considered the benefits from our living there in the countryside. First, the place is very quiet and in-laws didn't have to worry about it sitting empty or becoming the target of vandals. I would enjoy the physical activity of taking care of this old house. Lastly and most importantly, we just couldn't pass up the free rent.

Adding insult to injury, a good friend of mine and fellow military retiree who lives here too had become a gardening fanatic during his retirement. He let me borrow a book of his called "Worms Eat My Garbage" and it changed everything for me. It helped to convince me that I needed to start doing something about the situation too. Before reading that book, my idea of composting was the same thing that my parents always did. Unused household or kitchen refuse was always thrown into the garden and when the pile got too stinky or too big, it was either burned, buried or both. I had no real idea what a compost box was or how to build one. The book shows you how.

My first attempt at building one for myself worked okay but if I could add one word of advice, "If your going to do the job, you had better do it right." The first compost box we had was originally an old cage that the wife's grandfather used to transport his chickens to market. It had a lightweight wood frame and wood on two sides and each end. The top and front side was wire mesh which would allow plenty of air in for the worms. I trimmed off the wire on one side and used that as the top for dumping our vegetable food waste. It worked great for the first year but, unfortunately it just couldn't stand up to the elements. The frame had rotted through after only a year and it developed a real bad starboard list.

The other problem was it couldn't keep the less than desirable varmints out. Worms, of course, we love because they do all the work. Some insects and even mold are unavoidable. The bad part was that, on more than one occasion, when I went out back to dump our waste at the end of the day, I was greeted by a rat when I opened the cover. Clearly something had to be done. I began to think about buying a couple of sheets of thick plywood and building a box meant to do the job right. The only thing stopping me was the lack of tools needed to do the job and the lack of funds. As I mentioned before, I'm a retiree on a budget. Things are expensive in Japan. The cost of the wood alone would be well over the equivalent of $50.00 U.S.

Then one day while surfing the net, I saw a video someone produced wherein they made a composter from a used garbage can. They simply drilled a few holes in the side for air and Wa-La, instant composter that was not only inexpensive, it easily kept the varmints out. From that day forward, the hunt was on! For the next few weeks as I traveled about the island on business, I always made it a point to check out the various hardware stores as well as the U.S. base exchanges here. To my disappointment, the stuff was more expensive than I had imagined. Even more surprising was that it was even more expensive on base. Fortunately, we played it smart and didn't rush out and buy the first thing we saw. By taking our time and staying flexible we found a garbage container that was both sturdy and cheap.

My personal opinion is that composting only makes good sense for anyone who has a yard or garden. The benefits for your garden and the environment are tremendous. Why pay big money for fertilizer when you can make your own for next to nothing. The nutrients created by letting worms eat your garbage and yard waste are far better than anything you can buy on the market. Less garbage has to be incinerated or buried and it's just so easy to do. Now if I could just get old Al to pony up some of those millions he's making and pay me for the carbon credits I've REALLY EARNED, I'll be more than happy to let him and all his mindless minions in the live in their fantasy world!