Well, in Okinawa anyway.
Driving on the left turns out to not be that hard to get used to. It did take a little longer to get used to the turn signal and windshield wiper things being opposite, but I hadn't signaled a turn with my windshield wipers in weeks before we went to Tokyo for the Memorial Day weekend. Four days off from driving and it was a couple of turns before I was back in the groove. The tricky part is remembering which way to look first, both when driving and crossing streets. You don't realize how ingrained it is to look in only one direction first and then step off the curb until you have to jump back because a car is coming at you from the other way.
As I previously mentioned, speed limits here are deceptively low. The fastest I ever get to drive is in 60kph zones on the highway and the Air Base. The other day I looked down and realized that I was doing 70! Which felt like flying until I did the math and realized that I'd been traveling at roughly 43mph. Whoa! The fastest you can go on Okinawa is on the Expressway, where the limit is 80kph, which gets you legally to almost 50mph.
A really strange and lasting effect has been the way it's messed with my concept of right and left. Apparently, when driving, I strongly associate turning left with turning across traffic and turning right with not turning across traffic. Because now that those are switched, I constantly mix right and left when trying to give directions. Weird.
The other continuing problem is difficulty with which side of the street to run on. I'm really compulsive about running against traffic, even when no traffic is expected (e.g., during our 6am Saturday runs through Pensacola neighborhoods) and automatically stayed to the correct side. Except here, that's backwards. At first, if it felt wrong, I knew I was on the correct side, but now I really have to think it through.
Humidity. Oh my God, the humidity.
I can't tell you how many women I've talked to who have said they never had curly hair until they moved here. I am getting somewhat better at making my wavy/curly hair look presentable, thanks to a shorter haircut and following the advice left here (thanks Kristine and Emily!) And to hairspray. So much hairspray. The humidity also means keeping up with these Dri-Z Air things in the closets and assuming that anything left outside will rust. We bought a grill that, at only two years old, is already rusting and which we assume will probably be rusted through by the time we leave the island, even with protective spray and a grill cover.
On to food. I'm happy to report that while I may have yet to learn very much Japanese, my chopstick proficiency is greatly improved since our arrival. I'd been told before that the proper technique involves only moving the top stick, but never really understood how that worked until the lady from Cultural Affairs demonstrated for us at our newcomers brief that you hold the bottom one tucked into your thumb. Like so:
Then you just move the top one. At first, my ring and pinkie fingers would cramp quite often and I'd have to go back to my old, less efficient method until they recovered, but now I guess my hand has adjusted. Our first meal out on the island was udon, which is fat round noodles in soup that I love very much. I learned that you are not only allowed, but expected to slurp your noodles, then you drink the soup. I am also deeply enamored with Japanese salad, which is basically shredded cabbage, sometimes with carrots, and toasted sesame dressing.
I can't read the nutrition information on the dressing since it's in Japanese, but I have to assume that this stuff is really, really terrible for me since it's so incredibly delicious. At least I can feel pretty good about my other favorite thing here, sashimi from our nearest Japanese grocery store. For around $5, we can get enough sashimi for both of us and it is so very delicious. I know some of you have objections to raw fish. All I can say is that we have it about once a week and never get sick. I can't do the octopus though - too rubbery.
An unexpected food thing about Okinawa is the huge popularity of A&W. They're everywhere. I don't know the last time I ate at an A&W, but we feel like we should probably go to one here since apparently it's a big part of the Okinawan food scene. And I guess some marketing genius convinced Okinawans that it's an American tradition to order KFC for Christmas Eve dinner. It worked so well that you have to place your order well in advance if you're going to get your (pretend) traditional Christmas Eve fried chicken and cake.
Here's something I didn't know until I moved here: Japanese has not one, not two, but three separate alphabets. Which is pretty much enough to just make a person want to give up on trying to learn to read anything. There is kanji, which is Chinese characters, probably what most people think of when they picture Japanese writing. Then you have hiragana, which like kanji is used for Japanese words, and katagana, which is used for foreign words. As I understand it, both hiragana and katagana (unlike kanji) are phonetic alphabets. I can write my name in katagana and read the kanji for Okinawa, which isn't super-helpful since it's not like I need to find it on road signs or something. Thankfully, the numbers on the road signs are the same and if I can find 58, 330, 23, or 24, I can find my way home.
I've definitely learned that the military makes living overseas a lot easier. When road tax was due, they set up stations on base where English speaking people walked us through it. We have the advantages of living in another country with continued access to shopping, health care, auto repair, cable/internet/cell phone providers, and even salons where people speak English. It's definitely given me new respect for people who move to countries where they don't speak the language and are on their own to figure everything out.
Coming soon: typhoons! I don't mean a post about them. We're officially in typhoon season, which may be a whole new adventure. Not to worry, I've got a typhoon kit. Flashlight and weather radio, extra batteries, candles, matches, duct tape and tarp, water containers, nonperishable food, wine and corkscrew.