Island life. For a few days.

Since my last travel posting (from Hong Kong), I’ve had trips to Norway and South Korea. I didn’t write about them because, well, I’m not sure that the people who sent me want me to put it out here on my blog. When enough time has passed, I probably will, because they’ve all been memorialized, just waiting for the right time to be told.

One thing I’ll note about South Korea. I went there when the little crazy guy in the North was hollering about destruction and the opposing Commander in Chief apparently lost track of a pet armada. Many of my friends were worried about me going there at such a time.

But I’ve been there before when similar noises were being made, and the attitude of the South Koreans is pretty much a mass shrugging of the shoulders and saying, “SSDD.”  (For those of you who don’t know what that means, you’ll have to look it up, because I’m being a gentle Grandpa in a family-friendly environment here.)  And they’re the ones who have experienced this 12,482 times in the past six-plus decades, so I’m following their lead.

But a side trip on my latest sojourn has brought me to a Pacific island. Now, I’ve lived on a Pacific island before, but it wasn’t a place of cabana kids and resort-strewn beaches. No, it was Okinawa when I was stationed there in my Devil Dog years, and Grandma and the Firstborn came over to join me, and we even had our Secondborn there before departing.

Now, nothing against Okinawa. We lived in the town, met nice people, ate well, hunkered down through a couple typhoons, We enjoyed Okinawa, but it wasn’t a tourist trip, and that stay was not like this stay, except…

To this Colorado boy on his sea-level ground now, the initial reaction is that it’s harder to walk through this wet, warm, thick air, and to that extent, it certainly is reminiscent of some days in Okinawa. You step out from the airport terminal into a wall of water. You open the hotel door to the veranda and struggle to pull the thickened air down your throat. It takes little imagination to feel that, when I walk, the atmosphere is pushing back against my movement. Breathing is stifling compared to the more rarefied air at a mile high in my regular semi-arid environment.

But socialization and exploration call. After an email exchange with a colleague, I hit the street for one of the bus lines. It was a fun, almost comical experience. The driver pulls up, hollering for anyone who’s going to get on. I get on. “Whereyagoin?” I tell him, and he says, “Okay, pay me when we get there!”

The bus is open-air, and I find a seat on one of the wood-slat benches in front. People with hats are desperately hugging them to their heads, and when we start, I see why. The air blast through the interior and against my face is still pretty warm and thick, but it’s enjoyable after the confined breathing in the more still halls of the hotel. The driver is yelling at us now and then, or maybe at passing traffic, but between the rush of air and the clattering of the engine, I can’t understand a word. It’s fun. Things are fine.

We pull up to stop after stop, him yelling for people to get on if they want, stopping if they do, slowing then speeding off of no one steps up. We come up to one hotel, and a bunch of people disembark. He turns back to me. “Whereyagoin again?” I tell him. “Okay, you stay on, I’ll get you there!”

The streets are fairly quiet. This place’s development codes apparently have a casual acquaintance with Chaos, with lovely houses here, a dilapidated, deserted commercial building there, but all in all, nothing bad. Nothing much stands out, either, except that everything is pretty clean. It is a world of clear pavement and tan adobe.

We get to the stop, and he calls out the place. I get up, money in hand, and he says that it costs four. I already knew that. I give him a five and step off the bus.

“Wait! Wait! I give you one back!”
“I’m good!” I call back.

The previous night, getting in from the airport, I had caught a cab for a $25 ride that lasted about three miles. That driver also offered a dire warning about renting a car. Not a warning to my physical health, but that car rental places can’t be trusted. I can see why he’s concerned about the competition. Cabs are painfully expensive here. So after that entertaining, wind-blown bus ride, I was happy to surrender a five.

I met the colleague for lunch. We had met before when we were both doing work for a mutual trade group. It had been at least eight or nine years, and she was as delightful and smart as I remembered. We ate, chattered, hit the store next door for “trinkets and trash” (my friend Ben’s term for tourist loot)(“tourist loot” is my term), and I got a whole new round of local-brand t-shirts for the Descendants. We also got some food to cut down on meal costs. We bid adieu and went back to our separate hotels, her walking the much shorter distance to hers, me sauntering back to the bus stop.

As people gathered at the bus stop, a Japanese family came up, the father holding a wee boy, and he was encouraging the little boy to interact with me. I smiled, I waved, he waved back, we high-fived, we shook hands, and just had a grand time. Their girl, about five, was dancing around and waving and smiling at me. The mom was most cordial. It was a young couple. I was old enough to be the grandfather of the group. They didn’t know English, and I didn’t want to pretend I knew Japanese by exhibiting the twenty words that I know. I don’t know why they picked me out of the crowd to play goodwill ambassador, but they were gracious and it was fun.

I got on the same bus line. This time it was pretty crowded, and plastic curtains were rolled down on parts of the bus. Nothing special to this ride, it just got me there, and I happily coughed up five more. Then to the room to get work done.

A good day, with added weight for the checked bag when I come back. Between a previous stop on this trip and this one, I’m starting to look like a t-shirt vendor.

— Grandpa

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