I love challenges. Reading challenges, puzzle challenges, fitness challenges. I’m not motivated to compete against other people. For me, it’s all about competing against myself. Can I read more than I did last time? Can I put together more puzzles? Can I lift heavier weight? Can I go further, faster?
For me, when it comes to competing against myself, I will nearly always say Challenge Accepted.
Finally after months of being under a state of emergency due to the pandemic, Okinawa lifted its state of emergency on Friday. What this means is that parks, beaches, museums, and other sites are open again! And Sunday morning, I headed to Naha to visit Shurijo Castle Park & the Tamaudun Royal Mausoleum, two of the 9 Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu (a combined registered UNESCO World Heritage Sites).
Saturday, my friend L had a great idea of heading to Ie Island to bike and see the sights. Ie Island (or Iejima) is north west of where I live, about 62km (38.5mi), and so we headed to Motobu to catch the ferry to Ie.
I haven’t done a lot of exploring in the past couple of months. January had quite a few dreary, rainy cool days. January also saw a spike in COVID cases after the new year holiday. I do not want to be infected, so I tend to treat COVID like the zombie apocalypse and try to avoid as many people as I can.
But February has entered with magnificent weather. The past couple of days have seen sunny weather near 70° F/21° C. And COVID cases have gone down in the last couple of weeks. And I received my first vaccination this past week. So today I decided to have a mini-adventure to get out and enjoy the weather.
I’m sitting here on the cusp of the New Year, looking back over the last 12 months. And what a year was 2020.
And in looking back, I decided to list my Top 20 of 2020 broken down into Top 5s in 4 categories.
1-5 — Top 5 Books I Read in 2020
I had a stellar reading year. I read 235 books. Yes, some of these were rereads, but I always have some rereads. I always have a hard time choosing any fave, but I highly recommend these 5 (in no particular order).
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune – a young adult urban fantasy about a group of orphaned magical youth and their case worker. I found this story so enchanting and whimsical with beautiful prose. The book has great character development, wonderful world-building, and imaginative characters. I fell in love with each and every one of the orphans. And as lovely and wonderful as the story is, this story is also a timely read. Because this is a story about being different, about living authentically, about fighting prejudices and stereotypes, and about changing the system by changing the minds of one person at a time. This is a story that asks tough questions. That demands us to question our preconceived notions. That examines what it means to be a family, to be our authentic self, to be alive instead of just living. This is a story to be read and reread. To be cherished. And to be shared.
Becoming by Michelle Obama – I always liked Michelle Obama. Now I even respect her even more. What an amazing and inspiring story. I listened to the audiobook while following along with the physical book. I loved hearing Michelle read her own story. I particularly enjoyed hearing about her early life growing up on the South Side of Chicago. I understand her desire to not be in politics, but I think she would make a great political leader. And then I recommend following up with the Netflix documentary about her book tour.
Claire lived by the firm moral philosophy that one could never have too many pockets, too many books, or too much tea.
The idea that unwritten stories exist in their own library that’s in hell, but not completely a part of hell. And that librarians are normally deceased mortals who once were these unwritten stories authors. So imaginative with fantastic world-building and character building. I loved it so much I read it in one day. This is truly a book dedicated to stories.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge – this book provides an eloquent discussion on race and institutional racism in the UK. While it is UK-specific, the broad discussions about racism, structural racism, feminism, and class are applicable anywhere. Ms. Eddo-Lodge clearly did an immense amount of research and is a testament to the book’s truth. This book is an important read and a great resource to start the hard discussions. Racism is a real and persistent problem. And it’s going to take voices like Ms. Eddo-Lodge to help facilitate the tough dialogue to find solutions
The Wolves at the Door by Judith L. Pearson – a nonfiction book that reads like a fiction spy thriller about America’s greatest female spy. She did so much important work during WWII that THREE governments honored her with their highest civilian honors. This was such an incredible read. Not only did she have to overcome the challenges of gender (which funnily enough she faced more after the war), but also disability. Her story is one that should be a must-read.
5-10 — Top 5 Puzzles I Completed in 2020
As an avid jigsaw puzzler, I completed a lot of puzzles this year. I don’t keep track of numbers (haven’t found a puzzle tracking app yet).
The Season Tree by Schmidt Puzzle Rebel Girls by Gibsons Puzzles Waiting for Our Humans by Better Co. Garden Peacock by SunsOut Sleepy Time by Vermont Christmas Co.
I haven’t been venturing out much. Like many places, COVID has been on the rise out in town. Okinawa is a tourist destination for mainland Japan, much like Hawaii. So even though Japanese do wear masks, I have opted on the side of caution and have just stayed home.
Staying home has never been a problem for me. As an introvert, I prefer being alone than to be in public with strangers. Also, my home has all sorts of fun activities, including books, jigsaw puzzles, and crafts. You will never hear me say that I’m bored.
But Wednesday was a U.S. holiday but not a Japanese holiday. Since most locals were working, I decided to take a day trip to Yomitan. And while there were people out and about, there weren’t many and it was easy to keep my distance.
Yomitan, on the western coast of central Okinawa Island, is approximately 16 kilometers north of where I live. Yomitan is known for its incredible beaches and abundant nature. If it wasn’t for the commute, I would have liked to live in Yomitan.
In addition to the gorgeous beaches, Yomitan has several attractions—the Yomitan Pottery Village, Zakimi Castle Ruins, and the Cape Zanpa Lighthouse.
Yomitan Pottery Village looks just like a residential area, which it is, just filled with artists. Not every studio was open, but most were. I had a lovely time browsing and found so many beautiful pottery pieces. I can’t show what I bought because most will be gifts.
After I spent all my yen at the Pottery Village, I headed to the Zakimi Castle Ruins, which is a Ryūkyūan gusuku (castle or fortress). The castle was built between 1416 and 1422 by a Ryūkyūan general. Okinawa is part of the Ryūkyū Islands, which were unified as the Ryūkyū Kingdom in 1429 until 1879.
While the castle is in ruins, the walls and foundations have been restored. In 2000, Zakimi Castle was designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, as a part of the Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu. Read more about the castle here.
The views from the castle walls are stunning.
From the castle, I then headed toward Cape Zanpa, which has a 30-meter tall lighthouse. As I walked from the parking area to the lighthouse, I saw a statue of a man pointing towards the sea. After I got home, I learned the statue honors Taiki, the first man from Okinawa to be sent to Ming China in 1372 to establish tribute trade.
The lighthouse sits on the point of the Cape. And for 300 yen, you can climb its 99 stairs to the top for magnificent views, which I did. As I climbed (and counted), I estimated the diameter of the stairwell to be maybe 10-12 feet.
I only met one couple coming down the lighthouse stairs as I went up. So I had the top of the lighthouse to myself. The day was super windy as the video below will attest, and I almost lost my hat a couple of times. But the view was totally worth it.
Turn down your sound before watching the video as the wind is really loud.
The Cape also has a couple of stunning beaches and a food bus that serves Blue Seal, the ice cream of Okinawa. I had Ube (purple yam), also known as beniimo in Okinawa. I don’t know how to describe it. Some liken it to a cross between vanilla and pistachio, with hints of coconut mixed in. Whatever the flavor, it was pretty yummy.
Overall, a fun day trip. The views were incredible and I got to mark a few more items off my Okinawa to see list. Plus, any day that ends in ice cream is a good day.
OMG. Today is October 15. The Ides of October. I just got over that it was October 1 and now here it is mid-month already.
Seriously, I’m about 7 weeks behind. I couldn’t believe when the calendar flipped over to October. At the beginning of the month, I started writing a completely different post. I set that post aside for, I swear, a day or two. Now here it is mid-month and that post is out of date.
So here I am writing a it’s-mid-month-where-has-this-month-gone post instead of the previously started it’s-October-and-I-have-so-many-things-to-get-done.
This has been the weirdest of years. If tomorrow the news reported that aliens were invading, I’d probably shrug and keep going about my day. Alien invasion? That’s a slow news day after a year filled with as much emotion as 2020.
I’ve been thinking about the weirdness of 2020 quite a bit because I’ve found this year hard to reconcile. My brain struggles to wrap itself around everything that has happened. All the emotion, all the heartache, all the WTFs and awful things that have come to define the year-that-shall-not-be-named.
But one thing I do know, as weird as this year has been continues to be, I cannot say 2020 has been the worst year ever.
I’ve had some challenges the last two or so weeks, including two typhoons in one week. I started writing about my pain, but it’s still too raw, too fresh right now. Instead, I thought I’d talk about how I’m trying to be more conscientious about book diversity and I’m recommending some books I’ve read this year to help you diversify your shelves.