Memorial Day Adventuring: Fukushuen Gardens & Katsuren Castle

Not everything about this past weekend was depressing. During the “up” times, Chuck and I ventured out twice to explore some local Okinawan attractions. The first was Fukushuen Gardens in Naha, which is actually a Chinese-style garden established to honor the relationship between China and the Ryukyu Islands (of which Okinawa is a part.) The relationship goes back over 600 years, and as I have noted in previous posts, there is quite a bit of Chinese influence here. ImageThe gardens were lovely and expansive, even if the water was rather sickly green. I particularly enjoyed the large waterfall, the numerous turtles and fish, and the gazebo-like structures scattered about for relaxation and shade. Of course, there could always be more flowers! I told Chuck that when we are older and richer we can have a garden like that… so long as we get a professional landscaper to do all the work, since I have a brown thumb! 🙂

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The second trip took us to nearby Katsuren Castle, which is only 25 minutes from where we live. In fact, we could see our Tower from the top of the Castle! Now, when I say castle, I actually mean ruins. There isn’t much to the place, but it makes for a fun excursion nonetheless. It dates back to the 15th-century, when a lord named Amawari reveled in its golden era. It is perched on a magnificent hill with a simply stunning view of the ocean and the village below.

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Side note: it’s really interesting to see how the Japanese manage their tourist attractions. There were quite a few occasions where I thought to myself, “This would NEVER fly in the U.S.!” Case in point, the fact that there is no railing on the top of the castle (note the lower left corner photo of me standing on the ledge in the above collage.) There were a number of high-risk areas in the Fukushuen Gardens, as well – gaps in walkways over water, slippery stones, etc. Not that I mind. I actually really like that there is no added hindrance to the beauty of the sites. But in my American mind, I could only think of the lawsuits that could come out of places like these. The accidents! The children! Oy vey.

Anyway, here are some more shots of Katsuren Castle and its surroundings. I kinda want to go back for a romantic late-night picnic someday. It was completely unsupervised 😉

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In Memoriam: Habu Lily

ImageAs you may have guessed from the title, this is not a happy post. At first, I didn’t want to talk about it at all, but now I feel the need to write about it – almost as an act of closure.

Earlier this month, I described how I found the local cat hangout, near the beach among the Japanese graveyards. Well, my Facebook and Instagram friends will know that a few days ago, I found an adorable kitten there – not truly alone, since there were the other usual cats around, but without an obvious mother or siblings nearby. Ultimately, I brought her home and gave her a bath, food, Frontline for parasites, and as many cuddles as I felt was safe given her unknown health condition. She was an affectionate and bone-thin little thing with fluffy fur but gooey eyes – sweet and social, yet uncertain and nervous in my apartment. I even let her meet Annie (albeit from a safe distance that precluded any physical contact.) Chuck returned home from his trip, and after discussing the situation, we agreed to return her to the shrines the next morning to grow up with the other wild cats (and hopefully Mama Cat), cleaned and fed and with regular visits. As I’ve mentioned before, we are not yet free to keep a kitten, much less a feral one that wasn’t fully litter trained (I had several unhealthy looking poops to clean up the next morning…)

She seemed excited to be back at the shrines the next day. She recognized the other cats and pranced around in the sunshine. Without fail, I had brought tuna with me, and fed her and the other kitties like normal. Then, she approached Thomas (the male alpha cat), who promptly swatted her down with a force that made both Chuck and I cringe. My eyes watered as the other cats looked at her with recognition, but not fondness. Maybe this was just the natural order of things… putting a kitten in her place? I prayed that Mama would emerge and find her soon. Chuck and I forced ourselves to walk away, while the cats finished their nibbles. We agreed to check on her the next day, and if she was still alone and didn’t seem any better off, we’d take her back home and commit to keeping her – whatever it took.

We did return the next day and eventually found her lying between two graves… barely conscious, eyes sealed shut with goo. Dismayed and feeling horridly guilty, I Googled for a local Japanese vet while Chuck drove home for supplies. I wet a large leaf and wiped her eyes clear, and managed to get her to drink some water. She could barely hold her head up, and was even bonier than the previous day. I perched her on a shrine to examine her more closely, reached back around to grab something, and she promptly fell off… hard. I hated myself for adding to her pain, but she barely seemed to notice as I gingerly got her comfortable again…

Upon Chuck’s return, I wrapped her in a towel and cradled her as we drove to the vet, periodically checking her breathing. I fully expected her to die in my arms by the time we finished the 35 minute drive, but she didn’t. The clinic was amazing, and there was even a translator. They checked her temperature, which was low, and fed her before hooking her up to an IV. They determined she was only 4 weeks old, and explained that sometimes a mother will abandon a kitten she believes to be ill. They also said a kitten this young must be fed every hour. I immediately started to fret about the rich tuna I had fed her (not every hour), as well as the Frontline dose I’d given her that was intended for kittens 8 weeks and older… twice her age and probably more than twice her weight. Fresh guilt filled my heart.

“Will she make it?” I asked the translator. It is possible, was the answer. They will do the best they can. Chuck and I agreed to take full responsibility for her and adopt her. I filled out the paperwork and momentarily paused at the space for her name before filling in “Habu Lily” – my Japanese equivalent for “Tiger Lily.” I watched as she was pumped with nutrients and fell fast asleep. We were told to check back the next day, to see if she was ready for release. I started to relax knowing she was in expert hands. Maybe I would be bringing home a kitten after all!

About 4 hours later, I missed a call from the vet. My Imagegut sank, as I assumed it couldn’t be good news. They called back moments later and told me that she had stopped breathing. Despite having prepared myself for that possibility, my heart broke, and I burst into tears. I couldn’t help but think that it was my fault, or that I had contributed to her hasty downfall by making the wrong decisions and not knowing what I was doing. Every step of the way, I thought I was helping her and doing the right thing – for her, for Annie, and for us – but now she was dead, and there was nothing more I could do for her. Knowing how much she had suffered in the 24 hours before hand made me even more morose. She was so sweet and so innocent. All I could do was cry and cry, and speculate as to what exactly killed her and how perhaps there could have been a better outcome if I had done a few things differently.

Chuck was an absolute gem during the whole ordeal. He never once made me feel like I was overreacting for a kitten I’d known for only a couple of days. He had been looking forward to adding her to our family and shared in the trauma of the experience with me, but he said not to blame myself and not to waste energy over “what if’s”, pointing out that she was sick and malnourished already. After all, we had to keep Annie’s well being in mind, too. Even though I couldn’t accept all of his rationale, his comfort and support were amazing. We drove to the vet the next morning to finalize the bill, and they offered to let me see her one last time. My tears came anew and I hastily said no, of course not – but I changed my mind  on the way home and asked Chuck to take me back. It sounds morbid, but I am glad that the last time I saw her wasn’t in the misery of suffering and sickness. She was not alive, but she was not in pain anymore either. She was at peace.

The Japanese are so respectful of their dead – even homeless animals. They handed me a brochure (that I couldn’t read) and explained the cremation and funeral services for deceased animals, adding that there would be a group service for her and others that evening. There was the option for a private ceremony too, if I wanted one. That made me cry all over again. It was so touching they would do that for her. I am so happy that in her death, she has love and recognition… and a name. Love was all she wanted. From me, from Chuck, from the other cats…from anyone who would give it. And as it turns out, Nature can be rather loveless sometimes.

I’m not sure when I will have the heart to return to the shrines, but I hope I can, as it has brought me so much joy to visit (though I am not sure I can look at some of those bully cats the same way again.) I’m also not sure I deserve another opportunity to save a kitten, given that I got my chance and royally f*cked it up. But I like to think I learned a lot from this experience and know better what to do if I ever do find myself in a situation like this again (bring it to the vet immediately and not take care of medications and feeding myself, especially if it’s that little.) I now know what 4 weeks looks like.

In the meantime, I imagine I will eventually recover. Annie’s been getting more squeezes and snuggles than usual (much to her chagrin), but it helps make up for the fact that Habu Lily is not here to do it herself (as a kitten, she desired that very much.) I know she must be in a better place, getting all the affection she could ever want, from cats and humans alike. That’s my hope anyway.

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Rest in Peace, Habu Lily

 

the Rose Garden Tea Room

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While browsing recommended restaurants on the America-focused website Okinawa Hai, I stumbled across a little spot in Uruma called the Rose Garden Tea Room. Decorated with flowers, dolls, and sculptures, it looked like one of those garden-like establishments that would only be suitable for a girls’ lunch. I needed a way to get to know some of the girls I’ve met in the Tower better anyway, so I rallied a few who I knew weren’t currently working and planned a visit.

It was…interesting. Kinda pretty, but mildly creepy, especially considering it was dead silent when we walked in, overwhelming in terms of sights, smell, and temperature, and off-putting when a rather disgruntled and shaggy looking employee eventually did emerge from some unseen back room to clumsily hand us a menu. I don’t think he cracked a smile the entire time.

The food was good but not great (it seemed unsure of if it wanted to be Japanese or American), but the tea and coffee were fun and the place itself was memorable, if nothing else. I’m glad I went, but I probably wouldn’t go again!

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Culinary Delight #12: Egg, Bacon, & Basil Breakfast Pizza

Generally, Chuck is the Breakfast Master. He is capable of whipping up pretty much anything and it will be delicious. Since he is gone, I resort to the basics (cereal and yogurt), but the other morning I was feeling adventurous. I found a recipe on Pinterest that looked relatively simple, in addition to delicious. As it turns out, it was messier and more awkward than I anticipated, but it ended up being totally worth it in the end. Besides, if the recipe had included a bit more detail, I would have known what to expect and it probably wouldn’t have been such an ordeal. It literally listed ingredients (not quantities) and said combine. So, I am re-writing it for those who are like me, and less adept at “just winging it!” 🙂

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Ingredients

1 tube of Pillsbury crescent rolls
4 large eggs
8 bacon strips
Basil leaves
Shredded cheese (as desired)
Pepper

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease a cookie sheet (original recipe said to leave it ungreased, which was disastrous. I am still trying to salvage my poor cookie sheet.)
3. The Pillsbury rolls should naturally unwrap into a set of 4 squares (or rectangles – whatever.) Lay them out on the cookie sheet.
4. Lay 2 strips of bacon on each square. I cooked the bacon first, but the original recipe didn’t specify if that was necessary. If anyone knows that bacon can adequately cook after being baked in the oven, please let me know, as it will save a step for next time! Plus, I hate cooking bacon.
5. Crack a single egg over each square. THIS was the extra messy part. Try to keep the egg centered and not on a bumpy bacon-y part. It’s okay for the liquid to run all over the place, onto and in between other rectangles, but the yolk should stay on the dough.
6. Sprinkle cheese of your choice (I used shredded 4-cheese Mexican because that’s all I had). Be generous, if you love cheese like me! 🙂 Next time, I will be adding crumbled feta.
7. Tear up basil leaves and sprinkle (or strategically place.) Top with some cracked pepper.
8. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until “pizza” is golden brown.

I feel like this is the type of thing where you can customize however you’d like. I bet it would also be delicious with avocados, for instance, or tomato, not to mention any combination of herbs or cheeses. I think next time I will also add olive oil for a tad more moisture. Some parts were a little dry for me!

It feels like Time is flying…

…already. We just passed our 1-month mark in Japan, and it seems so much has already happened that I wasn’t quite ready for yet. I knew Chuck’s work trip was on the horizon, yet it still felt abrupt when his departure date arrived. I had early leads for jobs, but it still felt sudden when I actually got one. It feels strange and QUICK to be headed back the U.S. so soon (for job training), and for 2+ weeks no less. Before I know it, it will be time to start school come August.

It probably feels more intense because Chuck’s work just killed 3 weekends in a row. I’m glad we hit the ground running with exploration, because we are losing free time now and we are about to lose more when I head out. Additionally, a friend from home will be on the mainland the weekend after this and I am trying to go meet up with her, which is more travel and time away in close proximity to all the other time and away.

I have this idea that between my job, Chuck’s job, and my school, these next few weeks are the last of relative freedom. I am so happy that things are falling into place for us, and I don’t mean to sound like I am whining, because that’s not what I’m trying to do at all… But it really does make everything move far quicker – far sooner – than I ever would have anticipated! I tend to feel overwhelmed when everything happens at once 🙂

The one thing that is NOT moving quickly, however, is this week. You’d think I wouldn’t mind time away from Chuck after being with him 24/7 the past couple of months, but I wish he’d hurry home! 🙂 It’s lonely here without him.