Monday, 30 December 2013

T-shirt wearing day

Date: Monday 30th December 2013

MP3 track of the day: The Sun has got his hat on - Ambrose & his orchestra

Weather: Cloudy in Ishigaki; sunny in Naha.

I woke up at 6am and was ready to leave by 6:45am. As I had mentioned yesterday, I booked a taxi and, within a flash, a man who was way too happy for 6:50am beckoned me into his cab. He asked where I wanted to go and I told him. Within seconds we were off into the night.

Though out the trip this 'happy' taxi driver kept chatting to me about all sorts. My attention was split evenly between him, and the meter (plus road signs indicating how far the airport was). Doing some reasonable mathematics, I worked out that the trip shouldn't cost more than 3,000 Yen and, given the 'short cuts' we seem to be taking (at one point, I thought we were going to drive through a sugar cane field), I felt as though we should be at the airport in no time. At one point during the trip, I saw the airport from an elevated position; due to still being dark, the runway was lit up like a Christmas tree. The driver stopped and asked, no told me to take a photo. I agreed that the airport did indeed look beautiful however, with this level of light, I knew the photo wouldn't come out well. Still I took a photo so that the taxi driver could hear my camera's shutter close and, with that, he seemed content to drive on.

We arrived at the airport shortly after 7am where I gave the driver 2,800 Yen (£20) and thanked him. In return he smiled and wished me a safe trip.

Now you know when you've arrived a 'tad' too early to an airport when you, and the cleaner, are the only ones there. I sat down looking at my flights check-in desk which, unbeknown to me at the time, wouldn't open for another hour (just in time for the bus to arrive). I therefore sat down, ate chocolate and watched the cleaning lady go over the same area over, and over again. Either she was a perfectionist, or her 'area of cleaning' was the smallest area known to man. Either way she cleaned it with an array of cleaning tools.

Once the check-in desk opened, I checked-in and proceeded to the waiting lounge. I didn't have to wait long and soon I boarded my flight. On-board was a beautiful flight attendant and, luckily for me, she was the 'designated English speaker'. I therefore made more inquiries than anyone has ever made in the history of passenger aviation travel (I really need to learn the Japanese for: 'doing anything tonight?').

I had a window seat and, though the flight was empty, both seats next to me were occupied by a man and his wife. My lovely cabin attendant came past and said that some of us could move to the plethora of empty rows in front of us. The man told his wife to move and then he remained to chat to me … until he fell asleep. As the plane pulled out of it's 'lot', I looked out of the window to see the ground crew lined up and standing to attention. As we rolled past they all bowed, and then waved us off. I waved back, having never witnessed this 'act' before, wondering if it was a good sign.

Once we had taken off I started to read my book keeping one eye on where the cabin attendant was. She soon came around with drinks and I had whatever she was offering (I have no idea what it was, but it was nice). I then continued to read my book, with my tray down, until an announcement came over the speaker saying that the plane expected some shaking. I, of course, did not understand the announcement but my friendly cabin attendant translated for me and put my tray away. I said her English was excellent, which is always a winner over here.

I soon peered out of my window and noticed that we were very low indeed. I hoped that there wasn't a problem because, it was way too early for my flight to land. Maybe the flight was calling into Miyako-jima. In fact we were just about land at Naha but I couldn't work it out; it had taken forty minutes to get to Miyako-jima, and another forty to get to Ishigaki-jima and, here we were, forty-five minutes into the flight and we were landing. I checked my flight ticket and yes, forty-five minutes was the flight time. I therefore found myself back on the main Okinawan island at 9:45am.

I don't think I'll ever get used to just how fast 'domestic arrival' procedures are but, once I'd said thank you to my cabin attendant, I picked up my holdall luggage and walked straight out of the door and onto the monorail heading towards the hostel I'd stayed in a week ago.

I arrived at around 10:30am, put my bags within my dorm and checked the internet. Within half an hour I was back on the streets armed with my camera and a coat. I intended to spend the day walking around and getting lost however, my first 'port-of-call' was Naha's market. On the way I went into the largest bookstore on the island to discover that they only had one 'Okinawa photo book' (which was the same one I'd bought yesterday).

Once at the entrance to Naha's market I wasted no time at all and dived straight into a hive of activity. The market was made up of a labyrinth of individual streets all enclosed with a large plastic roof. Within the centre was a food market which I will get to later. First though, I walked around the outer-streets peering into the many tourist shops which lined each side of each street. Sure there were other shops (restaurants, supermarkets and such) but tourist shops outnumbered the others 4:1. It was here that I bought a few more gifts as I walked this way and that, viewing many different kinds of garments and 'tack'. After thirty minutes I was sure that, if you wanted something that didn't have a useful purpose, it would be sold here.

After looking around every side street, I forced my way through the crowds and into the food market. There was the usual Japanese fish market however, I'd come to see the pork market. Okinawan's love pork (when the American's arrived to occupy Okinawa after WW2, spam became an instant hit with the locals) and here you can buy every part of the pig; the organs, the trotters … even the head. It was all being sold and quickly by the look of it. I watched as the stall workers cut meat to the purchasers requirements before putting it in a bag. I took a few photos when I could however, the place was so crowded I didn't stay long. With all that pork on sale, I then headed to McDonalds for lunch where I ate beef and chicken.

After lunch I went back through the market and out the other side. The reason for this was because, on the other side of the market, was an area of town where old kilns and workshops are still in operation making the pottery I'd seen dotted around the Okinawan prefecture. When I arrived within the area however, you couldn't really tell that the buildings were kilns or workshops; to me, they looked like old Okinawan houses. They were made of wood and had sliding doors; the roof was tiled and inside were home-made goods for sale. I didn't spend long within this area as, frankly, it consisted of a street.

Once at the end of said street I found myself on a main road. I headed south along said main road which would eventually lead me to Naha's bus station and the southern part of town. Along the way I took photos of this, that and the other enjoying the sun that had now made an appearance (though I wasn't enjoying holding my coat).

The walk to the bus station had been uneventful, but fun. Lost within my music and photography, I'd stopped every-so-often to take a snap or two. Once at the bus station I headed back north though this time, I followed the river which split the city in two and had the monorail line running above it.

I soon found myself back at the monorail stop for my hostel. My plan was to keep going north, following the river, until I came to the main street. I would then walk down the main road towards the market to complete my walk around Naha however, first I went into my hostel to drop my coat off. Once I resumed walking I found the north of the city to be the same as the south though, maybe the 'high rising' buildings weren't quite as grand. Once back on the main street I was bombarded with more tourist shops, restaurants and bright illuminated signs pointing to eventing possible. I walked down said street trying to improve my tan before stopping for an ice cream at Mcdonalds. Once eaten I realised that I'd seen all that I wanted to see. Overall Naha is a mess of high rise hotels, government offices and apartments mixed in with a horde of tourist shops selling 'tack' and biscuits with 'Okinawa' written on them. To say that Naha isn't my most favourite place in the world would be an understatement. It's not that I don't like it; it's just that it hasn't got that 'family feel' the smaller islands are absorbed by. I therefore bought a mountain of 'omiyagi' (biscuits / cakes for work colleagues to you and me) for my work colleagues at school, before heading back to my hostel at 4pm.

Once at the hostel I wrote this blog, uploaded my photos and put my expensive 'omiyagi' within a locker, which I had to give a 1,000 Yen deposit to use. Annoying the staff here don't start work until 9am; I have to leave tomorrow at 8am and so I have to hand back the locker key tonight and pray my biscuits don't get stolen during the night. After that I headed out for something to eat before getting an early night.

So tomorrow I leave Okinawa for Tokyo. I wonder if I'll notice the temperature difference.

Toodle Pip!

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