Saturday, 4 February 2012

How We Didn't Do Okinawa - Part I

During the usual 'What are you doing for Chinese New Year?' discussions I told a friend we were going to Okinawa.

"Oh, are you going to the hot springs?"

"No, I didn't know there were any."

"But that's why people go to Okinawa.........."

Okinawa is (I learned) famous for hot springs, snorkelling, Pachinko gambling and the Okinawa diet. We did none of these when we went to Okinawa.

We were there for six days and got off to a slow start. It took me a day or two to come to terms with how expensive everything was compared to Taiwan. I would go to pay for things only to find my purse shrivelled and trembling in my bag.

"Come on, I need some money to pay for the monorail," I would say.

"No, no, it's more expensive than an amusement park ride and not as much fun!"

The first hotel we stayed at was out at the harbour rather than in the capital, Naha's, centre and we spent some of the first day wandering around lost. We finally found the main street, which consisted of endless souvenir shops, restaurants and amusement arcades. In the evening hawkers would stand outside on the pavement trying to persuade customers in. I realised what this all reminded me of. Yes, I had travelled thousands of miles across the world, to a completely different country and culture, only to find that I had come to a place remarkably like Blackpool.

The second day Andy had a work crisis that necessitated our hanging around the hotel for much of the day. We had not got off to a good start anyway. The disadvantage of sleeping near a harbour is that ships have fog horns, and the disadvantage of sleeping in a hotel is the other guests. We had some chatty Korean women on our floor, who managed to talk loudly in the corridor throughout the early morning at intervals of just-long-enough-to-go-back-to-sleep.

We did manage to get out in the evening for dinner. I said earlier that we didn't eat the Okinawa diet while we were there. The Okinawa diet is famous because the Okinawans are one of the longest-lived people in the world. I think our chances of living to a great age were reduced significantly by the meal we had that night. Vegetarians should look away now.

We went to a teppanyaki restaurant, where, as you probably know, a chef cooks your food in front of you and often performs juggling tricks with his knives and other implements to entertain the guests. I had another 'this reminds me of something' moment during our chef's performance. Then I had it - Tommy Cooper! Our chef kept dropping his condiments and knives etc., so that at some points I was seriously concerned for his safety.

But the food was delicious:

These started the frying show. They are little gelatinous fish. I didn't find out what they were made of and probably don't want to know.

Next came this mildly healthy dish. Large rings of onion, tofu, potato, purple sweet potato and the green stuff in the middle is bitter gourd (I think) with some very fatty ham to go with it.

My lobster is on the right and the thing on the left is a giant prawn of some kind.
Here comes the meat.

The steak and now empty lobster on my plate.

So the day didn't end too badly.

The next day we travelled halfway up the island with the intention of visiting the aquarium at the other end the day after. This day was the best weather we had all week, and luckily the place we were staying at was near a beach. Okinawa has beautiful beaches. We saw them all along the west coast as we went up on the bus. It also has world famous coral reefs, where you can go snorkelling in the summer. As we were there in the winter the best we could manage was a few wonderful hours paddling and relaxing in the sun:

That's all for now but I'll write more on Okinawa later this week, including the foibles of Okinawan men and the twittering of birds.


Alec said...

Really looking forward to hearing about Okinawa! I lived and worked in Onna-son (恩納村) for 3 months a few years ago and had a great time and LOVED the food. Hope you tried some in the end.

As for the 'gelatinous fish' in the first photo, it looks a lot like konnyaku, which is a Japanesejelly made from yam and seaweed. Are you sure that's not what it is? If it is, it's incredibly healthy!

Jenny J. said...

Hi Alec

Yes, I'm sure you're right about the fish, and I'm glad to hear it's very healthy to eat.

The place we stayed at on our way up the coast was near Mount Onna, so I think it was about the same place as you? It was beautiful there.

We did manage to have some lovely meals while we were there, but I'm not sure how close they were to traditional Okinawan cuisine, which I've heard is similar to Taiwanese. We ate, and saw, lots of fish, which I'll write about in my next post.

Alec said...

I was working at Rizzan Beach Resort, don't know if that's where you were. Had more than a few Taiwanese tourists throughout the year.

Jenny J. said...

I'm not sure.... We were on a beach that was very close to the village, in the curve of a small bay, and on the opposite side of the bay there were low cliffs and rocks. One thing I forgot to mention was that the local cafe had set up a loudspeaker on the beach that broadcast a radio station. We had to walk a long way down the beach to get away from the noise of it, and we had the beach entirely to ourselves.

JJ said...

I am a westerner living in Taipei (with two kids) and just stumbled upon your blog. Fascinating to read about your experiences and perspective.

Jenny Green said...

I hope you continue to find it interesting, and maybe even useful.