22 May 2013

Cultural Awareness Activities

Living overseas with the military definitely has it's benefits, especially when you don't speak the local language.  I often feel like I'm 'cheating' over here because of it, especially that we live on base (*sigh*).  I basically do everything I can off base, but I do also take advantage of what we have going on in our little American world inside this fence.

It actually blows my mind how many people I meet here who do NOT go off base unless it is absolutely necessary.  Honestly, I'm not sure if I feel bad for them or just want to call them stupid.  Maybe a little of both.  Asides from taking advantage of everything Japan and Okinawa have to offer (how often do you get to move and live in another country for FREE!?!?!?), that's gotta make for a really fucking boring few years.  A lot of people WILL NOT drive off base.  What the hell people?  Seriously.  Sheesh.  Yeah, it might be a little scary the first time, but just do what everyone else does, close their eyes and step on the gas.

Kidding.  I'm just kidding.

There is no excuse not to do stuff here.  When I get bored, I drive to a part of town I haven't been, park it, and wander.  I'll look up online of a store/restaurant/site I haven't been to, and I'll check it and it's surroundings out.  It's the same exact thing I do in the states when I move to a new area.  So you can't read anything? Big deal!  Just be polite, use common sense, and get out there...you'll figure it out.

Okay, enough on that tangent, I'm sure it'll be brought up again.  Back to my original meaning for the post.  Most of the bases here offer tons of stuff to do.  I guess, even if you didn't leave the base, you'd be plenty entertained if you involved yourself.  One department here (on almost every AF base) is the Airman and Family Readiness Center (A&FRC), which is kind of your one-stop-shop if you (military members & dependents) need practically anything.  They cover a million topics from career services (jobs/volunteer/resumes/education), relocation, transition (going in or out of the military), personal finances, emergency assistance, deployment readiness & transition, etc.  The offer classes almost everyday, and they are all FREE.  I've utilized this quite a bit in the past, and I'm sure I'll be using them again in the future.  I've taken new-to-the-military classes, finance classes (there are lots of different pays/taxes/investment options to watch out for in the military), relocation (military moves are crazy different), federal resumes (that'll make your head spin!), Space-A travel, and others.  I often go to these classes and come home with tons of notes and handouts and go over everything with Aaron.  A lot of information and benefits are out there for us, and you wouldn't know it if you don't go looking for it.

Well, another thing the A&FRC offers here is Cultural Awareness classes.  A woman from Okinawa works there and teaches a variety of things from a Japanese for Busy People class (which I took when I first got here), Japanese craft classes (like the one I'm going to show you now), a Kimono wearing class (ditto), and she even will go to a Japanese grocery store with a group to show you how it works and what's available (I've already got that covered thanks!).

I signed up for the Washi Craft class, where we made a Japanese candy dish.  I expected this 'class' to be a little different, more of the history and culture of washi, and maybe something a little more custom I guess.  It was still fun, and I met some new people, and it only took an hour.
We sat down at our stations and were basically just there to put it together step by step.  Okay, that's fine.  But I started to ask questions, because that's why I was there. Washi is a type of paper created in Japan.  Different types are made from different barks of trees, and traditionally, it's made by hand.  It's very unique feeling, much thicker than regular paper, and it has a wonderful texture to it.  It's also much more stretchy than regular paper, and has been made into clothes.  There's a new washi product called washi tape that you're probably more familiar with, it's getting really popular in the states, where it's freaking expensive.  I can get it for crazy cheap over here if anyone needs some!

I also learned that washi craft isn't really something that Okinawans do regularly, it's more of a mainland Japan thing.  It's something adult women will get together and do.  As far as the things you would 'washi', I would compare it to the modpodge craze, whatever you could and would modpodge, you'd washi!

Here's my finished candy box.  I sprayed it with acrylic and will probably put it in my bathroom once I get shelves in there.

Later that week I went to a kimono wearing class.  Here we did learn a lot about the culture and history of the kimono in addition to learning to wear them.  After learning about them and actually trying to get into one, I would actually consider buying one while we are here.  They are very comfortable.
We learned a whole bunch about them, and I'm sure you could wiki it, but I thought I'd share with you some interesting facts I learned.  A kimono is made from a entire single bolt of fabric, and each one is approximately 14 inches wide and about 38 feet long, and it's hand sewn.  If you were to want to clean it, you would bring it to a professional kimono cleaner and they would take all the stitching out, clean each piece  and then sew it back together.  There are also something like 10 different types of kimonos for women, each varying in material and pattern based on formality.  It was interesting to learn what an average Japanese person would wear these to today, mostly weddings and festivals, but there are still some people in certain areas of Japan that wear them daily.

It's also crazy complicated to put on.  There is a whole system, and I guess there would have to be if it's a one sized fits all outfit and should look the same on everyone.  Here our instructor is helping me into mine.  We put ours on over our cloths, but typically a kimono outfit would have an undergarment, which is like a thin lightweight kimono (think a slip!) to go underneath, obi (the large 'belt' looking piece), socks, sandals and other accessories.  To properly wear and adjust a kimono takes around 30-45 minutes and a very formal wedding kimono could take nearly 2 hours with multiple people helping.
I didn't do a very good job with my figure in the kimono.  The point is to have very straight lines, no chest, hip, or butt curves.  For those that have curvy hips, you're supposed to wrap a folded towel around your waist under the kimono to create a straight line.  I failed on all parts of this.  Here's a picture of me & my friend KayCee with our group.  Thanks for the photos KayCee!!!
When it's all finished (well, as well as it was going to get in this class), the kimono is very comfortable to wear.  It's snug without being too tight, and it makes you sit and stand up a lot straighter.  This helps when sitting because you aren't allowed to lean back into a chair while wearing a kimono.  The shoes were another story!  It was pretty funny to watch all of us with our giant American feet wear these tiny wooden shoes.  They have a little platform on them and are made to wear on either foot.  All my toes were hanging off and gripping on to these things for dear life!

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