Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Newcomer's Orientation

Our hotel where we stayed before we got our apartment.

On our first Wednesday here in Okinawa, we had to attend a day long event, called the "Newcomer's Orientation". Everyone over 10 years old have to attend, and that meant that Benjamin and Isabella had to stay in daycare that day. They were not very excited for this at first, but had a great time while they were there.

The hotel's Japanese garden from the entrance.

It was an early morning, as our sponsor picked me and the little kids already at 6.45am, as we had to be at the meeting at 7.15am. It was a long day of information. Most of it, very informative and interesting about the different bases here, the history of why and when, and every organization had their own 15 minutes with slideshows and handouts. Everything and anything you could think of being important while here. Where to go for what ever need you have. Hospital, schools, FRO, what to do in a typhoon, car shopping, driving rules, police, terrorist threats, Japanese culture class and a lot more! Well you get it, a lot of information about anything that they could think of that is important as a newcomer to know.

Half in the meeting, the kids/teenagers were taken on a tour around that main base that we were on, showing them the library, teen center and driving past a few other things. Cassie met up with a sweet girl that sat with her family at the same table as us, and they were the same age. Instantly hit it off the two of them, so nice!
In the end of this very long day, the ones that wanted could wait for the driving license test. You have to take a theory test to pass the license. You have to have a valid American driving license and SOFA status to be able to take it in the first place. It was pretty tricky, some new rules, and distances to remember, a lot of new signs etc. 40 questions. You got 20 minutes (or was it maybe 30?) to complete the questions, and then you had to wait for a while when they checked them. In advance, you had to fill out some forms, and also sign your signature etc, there is no picture on the license, and they were already prepared. They came back with a big bunch of yellow notes, those were the ones that didn't pass, and a much thinner bunch of the white laminated cards for the ones that had passed. He started to read out the names in alphabetical order of the ones that had passed, and with us being in the end of the alphabet, it was a nervous waiting. He had only a two cards left it looked like, (I stared at that bunch in his hand sitting in the first row) and then he called out my husband's name! Great, he had to pass as he has to drive for work, and that was all that mattered in this moment, and when I congratulated him, I almost overheard the name on the last card - MINE! Wohoo, we both passed!!

One thing to check off the list! You have to have a valid license to even buy a car, so with that, we now could start planning this next step, buying a car here. More about that later.

When I picked the kids up from daycare, they had had so much fun and didn't want to go home, so that was nice to see, as they were so hesitant to go there in the morning.

Ben was very busy building dinosaurs when I got there. 
Isabella was playing grocery store with a girl, but came running when she saw me so no picture of her playing.
Thirsty kids!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Our First Look At Our New Home

So, back this is how it looked when Chris and I had our first look at our apartment. It was a very cold and gray day - kind of suited the mood we were in...We had as I mentioned before, two options. They were both in this tower. One apartment on the fifth floor, facing the other side, and one on the seventh floor, facing this way - count up, and you see our windows. As the other side were under construction, and we were told that they were going to continue working on that side until June, we really didn't want that. Then when we saw that the second option, on the 7th floor, had a tiny bit of water view - our decision was made.

 Close to the park, just crossing the parking lot.

I thought that I took a lot more pictures, but I guess after looking through them, that I missed taking a few pictures from some places.

This is standing in our living room - looking at the front door. 
To the left: our laundry room with new washer/dryer. Above there are two wall cabinets. Wall across - storage shelves. Opening to the right: entry into the kitchen.

Our dining/living room area. It's not very big.. and with the large white AC/fan unit taking up the biggest wall, makes it hard to place furniture as they can't be covered or furniture in front of them..

Standing by the window wall to the balcony in the dining area, by the far end of the breakfast bar. Notice the awful white linoleum floors that we have throughout the whole place. They are most likely put right on top of the concrete floor, and are freezing cold. Not to mention how slippery they are - kids have been slipping and falling several times already. They are used to run around barefoot, here it's still too cold on the floors to do that, and with socks it's a safety hazard. We don't use shoes inside, so I'm trying to tell them to use their Crocs for now until we find something better, but they are on for one minute, then they kick them off somewhere, uncomfortable to have on when playing, sitting on the floor..Hopefully it will soon warm up a bit more even inside - YES, I didn't mention - we do NOT have central heating in this building. Only AC. But with temperatures just in their 60's some days, (16-18C), it makes it COLD inside! 

So, as you can imagine, one of our first trips to the store was to buy two space heaters, that we can have on in the kid's rooms to keep them warm, and to be able to use in the big room too.

 Same corner in the dining area, here with the door to the short hall way with the bedrooms.

Standing in the living area, facing the kitchen. I DO love the long counter top and bar!

We haven't had luck with the kitchen in any of the houses that we have rented, and we do cook and love to entertain a lot, so the working space or I should say - lack of working space - in the kitchen has always been something that bothers us. Here, we have way more counter top and storage space than we are used too! Nice also that the appliances are new- far from great, but still new and functional. Now used to the gas stove top, it will take some time to get used to the electrical stove top - the pans just don't seem to get hot enough! And - we do miss our big fridge!

Here the balcony outside the dining area. It's not very big. It's only about 3x12 feet, so you can't really utilize it for anything else but put a small gas grill out there. Maybe get an outdoor rug to cover it up and a few plants later on. The safety net is not a very pretty sight, but at least it makes it safer for the kids. From the balcony, you can also see our designated parking spot for the car. The white car is the one from our sponsor that drove us there that day, but that's our spot. No garage here, not even covered parking and only one spot per family. If you get a second car, you have to use the visitor parking lot.

Trying to get a picture from the side view of the balcony, 
facing the playground and the water view in the background!

First room to the left - Cassie's bedroom. 

Second room to the left: the twin's bedroom. Now imagine two beds in there and the room is pretty much full.

I didn't get pictures of first room to the right - kids' bathroom. Standard with a tub. Second room to the right, master bedroom. Small, and with a connection small master bathroom, with shower. We also have a 3x4 feet big balcony - enough space to get out and open a door to the emergency exit stairs that run down the sides of the building. We also have a small storage room next to the entry door outside in the hallway. For some boxes and suitcases etc.

Coming down again walking to the car, looking up this hill and part of the heavy vegetation that is starting there. The "jungle" as we call it. In there is where there is a tomb and then there is no path to walk. And one should stay away from heavy vegetation- think large venomous Habu snakes and other creatures that I don't want to see could hide in the bushes...

Next tour I'll give you when we have gotten all our things and stuff organized. I should have taken pictures of the house when we just moved in, with just the loaner furniture in there, before we started to unpack and before we got our things everywhere. Oh well, there will be more pictures later to show you the furniture.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Housing Appointments & Disappointments...

I've been downloading some pictures from my "old phone" and the ones that I have taken from my "new phone" I can't download yet, so there is a lot of pictures still to come. When ever we were out and about Chris and I and had to leave the kids with Cassie in the hotel room, she would have my phone of course,  I took some pictures with my old phone. But when we are out and about all of us, I take the pictures with my new phone. But, as I can't figure out how to make my laptop accept my new phone as a device on here, I have to wait to sort the pictures out later when my hubby has had time to fix that for me.

Anyhow, therefore, I have to sort through some things that we have done to see what I could start writing about and also post pictures, as a post without pictures is pretty boring.

We arrived to Okinawa on Friday, February 27th, and on the following Tuesday, we had an appointment at the Housing Office at Kadena Airforce Base, who are the ones that regulates the housing for all the military branches here on the island. We had already back in the States filled out an application in advance for a house, with all the information, but this was for no use when we were here. They threw a lot of information at us for about 2 hours, and it was no happy news, or no news at all at that point..

  • There were hardly any houses available at the moment at all.
  • It's all luck and depending on what base your active duty member works on where you will be living and how fast you can get into housing. 
  • It's normal to stay in a hotel and wait for 2-5 weeks.
  • Even if you have pets that you have paid a huge amount of money to bring to the island, they won't accept that as a reason for you to get a house or to where you will live. 
  • Everyone will get 2 different housing offers to choose from. One MUST accept one of the two. If you don't, you will have to leave the hotel on base immediately and live on your own expense out in town for three months, then you can be accepted to get on the waiting list again. You are with other words not guaranteed a house at that point, but only to be accepted on the waiting list. If you then are unlucky, you again will get two options that don't fit your needs....NO ONE can afford this, so you end up with having to choose one of the first two options that they give you.
  • Everywhere on the bases State side, you can choose if you want to live off base and get your own home, rent or buy. Here it's different. Here everyone MUST live on base. ONLY if the base house occupancy is over 98% one MAY be allowed to live off base. 
  • Biggest letdown for us. We only rate a 3 bedroom home in their rules. If you have three children following rules apply:
1. Children over 10 years of age rate their own room.
2. Children of the same sex 10 years and younger can share room until the age of 10.
3. Children of the opposite sex 10 years and younger, can share room until the age of 7.

Boom- that was not fun to hear! Our twins have never shared room, only in the very beginning in KS when they were newborn, but not since then. This will be a BIG change again, in the time when everything changes...

  • My husband's orders said that he would be working on Camp Foster, but that's where the HQ is, and they wanted him to work on Camp Courtney, so instead of being on the list for a house on Foster, we now had to call and get on the list of houses on Courtney.
This didn't seem like so bad, as we had heard that there was a lot of openings at Camp Courtney, and another family that we have gotten to know and spent time with, had just gotten a 4 bedroom house in the nearby Camp Mc. T (housing only), so we thought our chances still were good at this point, as the lady we spoke to at the first housing appointment thought that they would "work with us" to get us into a bigger home right away, instead of letting us move in awhile when the kids have reached the age of 7.

So, the following Thursday, our sponsor drove my husband and myself up to Camp Courtney for the first time to have a look and to have a meeting with the office there, as they already had something to show us.

 Driving on a toll road, it costs about $5 one way to take the Express Highway.

Top big sign says "half price"! 
Something we learned at the Newcomers brief that we attended. It symbolizes someone chopping wood in half, you can see the two "wood pieces" flying in two directions on the top. A handy sign to know when one goes shopping!

Typical car lot.

 First time at "our" gate.

For you that don't know this, every Camp (USMC) , Base (Navy/Air Force), or Fort (Army) have guarded gates where you have to enter and exit. There is no way to get on any base without going through this security. There is ID check at all times. Military ID, that is. If you don't have one, you are not allowed on base. Here they check everyone's ID in the car, not only the driver as it sometimes is in the States. All active duty and all their dependents over the age of 10 should always carry their Military ID. If you are a visitor, you have to be sponsored by someone that has a valid ID.

Before we went to the housing office, we drove by my husband's new "office" so he could drop off some of his gear in a locker there instead of storing it at home.

 Close to the Housing Office, a big sport field.

To make a very disappointing meeting short, we were offered two apartments in a tower, as they call them here. One on the 5th floor and one on the7th floor. We were so upset! Not only would we loose a room for the kids if we got a 3 bedroom house, we would also loose any kind of outdoor space. Patio, a small yard space. We, who use our BBQ several times a week all year around, spend time outside, the kids have spent endless hours outside on our screened in patio and outside in the yard playing with water table, pool and so many meals at our patio set. Now- that would be all gone.. Keep in mind- we had to accept one of the two options!

So, here is a sneak peak on "our" tower. More pictures from inside will follow.
Not a very welcoming sight....

Friday, March 20, 2015

Our Travel To Okinawa - Forth Leg To Our Final Destination

It was getting dark before we were flying closer to Okinawa, so we were not able to see our new home from above, and we were so tired at this point, that we didn't really care too much about it either. We arrived in Okinawa at around 8.30pm local time, and we were so happy to finally be here.

It had been a long trip, close to 20 hours, and we had been traveling through different timezones, so it was hard to keep track of what time it was here or there where we came from..Was it morning or evening? Our bodies and minds weren't telling us the correct information, as we hadn't slept at all good during the travel, so we were just tired. I'm glad that we flew in at night though, so we could go straight to the hotel and check in, and get more or less straight to bed, instead of arriving in the middle of the day, and being totally off schedule.

Tired little travelers didn't even want to try to get them to peek out the cutouts of this picture.

The kids were so tired, they had slept a bit and had to wake up right before landing, so they were not happy campers. They were troopers though, waiting while Chris and I got all our luggage onto carts.

If you traveled to the other side of the world, you are allowed to be tired and cranky..

We counted our luggage, several times, everything seemed to have made it, we got out the gates and this was funny, they called out one family by name at the time, so the sponsors that were there to pick them/us up knew right away who we were and there were no crowding or standing around looking, trying to find each other. Very efficient! As we had so much luggage, our sponsor had brought a friend so that they had two bigger cars for us, and I was busy getting the car seats and the kids in the car, so I didn't really pay attention to what bags went were. 

Arriving at the hotel after a short drive, first time for Cassie to experience sitting in front on the "wrong side", plus one stop at my husband's new work to "check in" as the military call it, which he had to do before midnight the same day, we were exhausted. 

So tired, that we didn't even notice that one suitcase was missing. Not until I had a shower the next morning, I realized that my suitcase was not there. We had one suitcase with some clothes from our traveling that I had packed for the whole family with some clothes, so I had something to put on. We were pretty sure that someone else had taken the wrong suitcase down in the lobby at the hotel, as there was a lot of families checking in and a lot of commotion. Most people were going to sleep long, so we weren't too concerned when we heard in the reception that no suitcase was there or that no one had reported a wrong one, we were sure that it would show up later the same day, when everyone was awake. 

That was not the case! So instead of just running out the next day to buy new phones that would work here, I also had to go shopping for some clothes. To realize that a whole suitcase with clothes are gone, pretty much all I brought with me, put a damper on our first day here for sure.. even with a brand new phone. After dinner, it was a very early night before we all went to bed!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Our Travel To Okinawa - Third Leg To Iwakuni

The flight to Iwakuni, took us over Japan, and flying during the afternoon, we were still able to see a lot outside. What totally took our breath away, was the sight of Mt. Fuji, that was appearing outside our windows. Sitting on the left side of the plane, we were lucky to have a first row look on this beautiful snow covered mountain top!

Already passed Mt. Fuji, there were quite a few more high mountains with some snow on top.

Islands and coast line of Japan.

Flying into Iwakuni.

The same thing here, we all had to exit the plane, take all our hand luggage with us, sit in a boarding hall for about 1 1/2 while they were refueling and checking in a couple of new passengers that were going with us for the last part to Okinawa.

The last flight we went on, gave us a nice little afternoon snack.

Our Travel To Okinawa - Second Leg To Yokota Airforce Base

Finally I can continue to blog. We have moved in in our new home and been here for a week now, but haven't had any internet. Not until yesterday, so I will try to catch up some here with some posts that I had prepared with pictures already when we were back in the hotel, but didn't have time to post then. The weeks in the hotel was very stressful, and there was a lot going on all the time, so I never found much time to sit by the computer, but a lot has been going on, and I'll try to catch up slowly but shortly with it all here, as I know that especially family are interested to see what we are doing.

But, to start with the trip over here. Boarding was easy after checking in all of our luggage and we were happy when we finally were on the flight, and could start to relax! It had been a l o n g night leading up to this departure, and all we wanted was to sleep! The trip itself was long! Much longer than any other trips that we have made, and I'm glad that I had prepacked a lot of entertainment for the kids and a lot of little snacks, as there was not even movies to choose from in the back of the seat in front of you, as it is on most over sea flights. I had even told the kids this, plus they knew about since our flight to Sweden last summer, so this was of course a big disappointment. There were some screens in the ceiling of the isle for everyone to watch, but no kid friendly movies at all. Cassie was happy, she finally got to watch the second movie of Hunger games - The Mockingbird, which she had missed when it was out in the movie theaters back in Yuma.

Otherwise, we tried to sleep some, but hard with kids that didn't sleep much, and we tried to close our eyes here and there but no hour long naps unfortunately. We also didn't know what times they were going to serve breakfast, lunch or snacks, as it was hard to predict when that would happen. I wish that they would have announced that in two hours we will serve lunch, or in three hours we will land on our first stop in Yokota. Now, it was a guessing game, as it also was hard to know what time it was, being out of routine and daily schedule anyway, the whole flight was like in daze..

But, at some point we could see on the big monitors that showed the route of the flight, that we were coming closer to land and with that said, we loved looking outside the windows to try to catch some good views over Japan.

We see Japan for the first time!
Above in the middle of the picture, Tokyo was spreading out beneath us. It's not such a good quality, as it was very misty outside, and we weren't close enough to see through the clouds totally, but here and there one could see the tall buildings in this huge city.

Here we are flying into Yakota
First time walking on Japanese ground.

Some were happier than others to get off the plane. And some where not that excited to take pictures- like father like son...We had to get off, take all our hand luggage with us, and wait for two hours in a small boarding hall. There were some on the plane that had this as their final destination, and there were also a few people getting on the plane from Yokota, to continue to Iwakuni or Okinawa. Not very great or convenient for us, no restaurants or anything, just a big waiting hall. BUT, we quickly checked the room before getting seated, and got seats next to an outlet, so with the extension cord, we were able to charge all our electronics again, but the wifi was terrible, so we could not post any updates on our trip here. 

First Japanese vending machine! There are everywhere here!

But, after some time, we were able to get back onto the plane again, for our third leg of our trip.