About Me

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Yilan, Taiwan
I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Pensive Independence Day: Penitence and Prayers for Peace

Okinawa Peace Memorial Park, Itoman
Another 4th of July came and went, and unlike the usual oblivion and neglect I regard the 4th living abroad, this year's was quite meaningful. It was saturated with historical significance, perhaps foreshadowing murky and morose nuances. In light of the current atrophy of the geopolitical world, my day was suggestive; full with sinister symbols and of ominous forebodings.

Of course if I wanted to celebrate the 4th of July, in Yilan, I could go to Taipei and join the younger expats at bars with their theme nights, but that's not my scene. The only other American I know here is my coworker from Brooklyn and Independence Day is really not highly regarded enough to merit any mention. Somehow synchronicity had a different agenda.

It was day two of our two week holiday in Okinawa. I had an itinerary of course, but we were always open to what the day had in store. It was morning, we ate our breakfast (muesli and cereal we brought from Taiwan) and I decided we walk to the nearby bus station in Naha City and see about getting a bus to the second royal residence outside of town (also a World Heritage Site), as we saw the Palace the previous day.

On our walk we passed the touristy Okinawa Bus headquarters. They have day bus tours that can hit 3 or 4 sites in one go, plus lunch. It's not exactly my way to see a place. At 8:25 in the morning it was incredibly hot, so we decided we might as well check it out as we passed by, it had AC. I walked up to the counter and asked about what was available. There was a bus about to leave and it was hitting some of the places on my list anyway. Plus my kid was begging me to go. It seemed like fortuitous timing, and I'm not that dense, I bought our tickets and quickly boarded.

Into the bowels of the Underworld, Gyokusendo
There were 3 other passengers on board. Fortunately it wasn't a gas guzzling coach, but more of a mini bus, yet it was so empty. There was a friendly Chinese couple from Shanghai, who has been living in Oregon for the past 10 years, and a Japanese woman from Tokyo who acted as or interpreter as our guide spoke zero English.

Habu mating (so the exhibit said)
We did a quick stop at Okinawa World, that was far too rushed. This place was on my kid's list for the Habu Snake Museum (and show which our tour didn't have time for), and on my list for their famed Eisa Show. The most famous snake in Okinawa is the venomous Habu. We saw warning signs for it everywhere but fortunately didn't run into any. 

What was on both of our agendas was the Gyokusendo cave.  Caves are a familiar travel adventure for my daughter and I. We have been to some massive, dangerous caves on our Borneo travels. Gyokusendo was more like Disney Land, the pathway was stable, man made, everything was lit, sometimes with colored lights for effects, there wasn't the chocking stench of bat guano that layered handrails. Even so, the safety and sterility of it all, was relaxing, unlike our previous cave encounters.

Serenditous crossing of paths with my old friend Monica at her luxurious hotel, ANAクラウンプラザホテル沖縄ハーバービュー.

The 25 minute Eisa show was everything I expected. Unfortunately we couldn't film or photograph the show itself. Although we sat in the back, Z was called to the center to put her head into one of the Dancing Lions for good luck. It must of worked because we had an intimate turtle encounter while snorkeling a few days, had an unplanned crossing of paths with a dear friend, and another providential Eisa encounter at the more interesting Ryukyu Mura.

Before lunch we stopped at the extensive Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Park. It was blistering outside. I had to drag my kid away from the air conditioned museum to check out to me, the more interesting grounds, which were once the site of the Japanese military headquarters. The memorial commemorates the 3 month Battle of Okinawa in 1945 and the end of WW2. It honors the deaths of 149,329 Okinawan civilians, Japanese soldiers and 14,009 American soldiers by unit. Their 240,000 names are inscribed on The Cornerstone of Peace, a set of onyx stone walls that stretch out for meters in all directions from the pond to the ocean cliffs. It was overwhelming. Okinawan families were instructed to commit seppuki (hari-kiri) or ritual disembowelment if the Japanese lost. Locals were mobilized to fight for the Japanese as Okinawa was the only site of Allies fighting on Japanese soil. Entire families' names gone in a flash to a bomb or ritualized suicide. The place was pulsating with melancholic grief. Just a few days in Okinawa and already I had a vague understanding that Okinawans weren't necessarily Japanese, which made their exploitation all the more bitter.

I was thankful that my maternal grandfather who was in the Navy in Asia during WW2 survived, or there would be no Kathy and Z story. I explained all this to my daughter, along with how my paternal grandfather (who is still alive and she knows) fought in the same war (in Japan and Germany) with the air-force. She was immensely fascinated that this war somehow radiated its tentacled effects even to her- to her very existence.

Facing that wall of names, death was so indiscriminate against which side was who, in that glaring summer light all were pawns. Peace is a park beyond accusation, where all can be guilty and paradoxically innocent. It reminded me of one of my favorite Rumi quotes, "Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doings is a field-I'll meet you there."

My 4th of July prayer

The Japanese commander has his ashes in a special tomb as he also committed seppuki. We made our way there, past the pond to a shaded gazebo. It had a stunted tree adorned with people's written prayers on colorful paper.  Behind was Peace Hill, where all the collective ashes are resting.While my daughter rested in the shade, I was moved quite literally, to a do few round of peaceful warrior and write my own prayer.  I saw a blank piece blown to the ground which invited me to participate. I wasn't condemning of any particular group.

The whole world or my understanding of it, is like that flimsy yellow paper, that even a small wind can blow it off, so fragile. How events could snowball into the atrocities of war is a meditative discipline worthy of daily devotion. It starts somewhere, with someone.

Himeyuri Monument
Down the road, we hopped on our bus beside the southern tip of the island and came into another grim memorial of the Battle of Okinawa, the Himeyuri Monument. This was perhaps even more personal, as a teacher, with my daughter. The site was where 222 girls and 18 teachers from a Confucian "Lily Girls" were recruited to be nurses for the Japanese military. Unlike most Okinawan students, they practiced a strict form of gender separation and were discouraged from talking to boys. Suddenly, they were thrust into the ugliness of war and living in unspeakable conditions (See the Himeyuri Girls). Their clinic was in a network of cave that in the end had to be entered vertically with a rope. I could see a bit of the cave entrance and tried to imagine how it must of been to be a teenager nursing dying soldiers in such conditions.

Afterwards we lunched and got to know our fellow travelers a bit better. We made our way to the Outlet Mall outside of Naha City, which I totally needed to hit, as I forgot to pack my clothes! I was wishy-washy if I should come here and shop for clothes for a 2 week trip, seemed like such a waste of limited funds. The Universe answered my question by just our coming on board this day tour! All we had time for was an hour and I spent the whole time at the Gap trying on clothes.

We were stuck in a traffic jam on our way back to their bus depot and all along I was occupied by what the day meant, seeing these memorials on this day, couldn't be a coincidence. The day was full of happenstance.   Why this day, the Battle of Okinawa, of the effects of WW2, and of the state of the political climate now, the US presidential election, Brexit. I could only interpret that I must be emancipated from the ugly and horrific tyranny that is always around the corner for us humans and our systems, our comfortable choices to be manipulated. That the foundations of America, of world war and Asia, are closer and closer intertwined. Do we never learn that we must repeat history? Praying for peace, practicing peace continually is more a necessity now than ever, and yet I've always ever grown up in a Cold War mindset.

Peaceful  Warrior in front of Peace Hill

 The mystery and peace practice is applying this enigmatic truth of Grace to my dualistic psyche (Ponder the Rumi quote, which is also the essence of real Christianity). The dilemma is that this is impossible without a superlative, universal Being/state of Being, to absorb my ineptitude. The nightmare is when a country drowns in the collective shadow of following a charismatic medium who embodies all that is undeveloped, ugly and hideous in ourselves. The world we are in today is in that trippy, Hypnagogia state between waking and sleep. We are on the threshold. What will they ask of us civilians, soldiers, girls and teachers next time?

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