Monday, September 11, 2017

In the Spotlight: Thomas Corrao

An Ambassador for Okinawa

It's been awhile since anyone has appeared "In the Spotlight" on this blog.

If some singer, artist or rock climber, makes an impression on me,  they become the subject.

Because, I work like a fool and drink like a fish weekends, Monday is my day of rest.

Work, 7 days a week but, take my time getting to the office on Mondays.

Sleep in, until well past sunrise. Don't rush like a madman, to get to work. I'm my own boss.

Iced coffee and plenty of nothingness is my Monday morning routine. I love Mondays.

Okinawaologist Message 9:30 AM

Thomas Corrao: Are you up and about yet ?

Me: Yeah. What's up ?

Tom: You busy today ?  I've been cut loose. I have a car and GPS. I need a Tel #

Me: I'm goofing off. Wanna do lunch at King Tacos or grab a meal where we can eat buta.

There's a place that sells Okinawa pig meat, known as Agu, in Kin Town.

Tom: I'm in to the Agu suggestion.

Me: Google Maps has my office listed as Ryukyu Life

I never answer phones cuz I can't hear them. Text me. OK ?

Tom: On my way !

Thomas Corrao and Ryukyu Mike at a restaurant

Make a Short Story Longer

Tom Corrao is like some sort of  Okinawa Ambassador, living in the USA.

We've been online friends for probably, a decade.

About 6 years ago, I shot some photos of him, marching with a delegation of Okinawans.

They were a group visiting Okinawa for the Uchinanchu Festival in Naha, Okinawa.

But, I never met Tom in person. Today would be the day.

I told the wife, I had to hurry, shower and get to the office, right away. Important stuff.

By 10:30 I was in my office. The place is really a wreck.

Should I clean it because, some official visitor is coming ?

It looks like some sort of a landfill/construction site/cameraman's hangout/campground.

And, there's Japanese books, maps, computers, yoga mats and, weightlifting materials.

Cement blocks, a basketball filled with water and, other items are sprinkled in the mix.

Heck. If, Tom likes Okinawa, he'd probably love this place. Plus, I have cold air !

Around 11 AM

Tom showed up and finally, we got to shake hands.

He reached into the back of a rental car and, pulled out a small ice cooler gadget.

He gave me two frozen fishes, that he caught out in the sea, Saturday.

That, gave me an excuse, to invite him into my house of horrors.

There's a fridge, with a top-of-the-shelf-place, to stick frozen stuff.

Then, I explained, how the place got turned into a Romper Room for old folks.

I'm still, not sure, what kind of an impression it made on him.

Off, to eat some Agu pork, we went. I Googled, to make sure, they're open on Monday.

Yes. They were open and, it looked like they were ready for some business.

Some group of 35 customers had the place reserved. We weren't invited. Groan.

The woman, at the counter, was apologetic, almost crying because, she had to turn us away.

She knows me and, I'm always bringing business her way. She's really a sweetheart.

Once, I was the only customer there and, I forgot about my beard.

After consuming a humongous meal of pork steaks, salads, rice and a bowl of soba, I stood up.

See, I forgot to tuck my beard in, under my t-shirt  before, eating the Okinawa noodles.

The gal came running at me, eyes wide open and, a frown was on her face.

It got me wondering, "What did I do wrong?"

As she got closer she said, "Hige, hige." That means "beard" in Japanese.

She grabbed some tissues, to wipe the soup, dripping off my hige. What a doll !

Anyway, we had to think of somewhere else, to get a fantastic meal at, non-touristy prices.

Stay Flexible

Tom, had a couple of hours to kill. We'd drive around and find another excellent restaurant.

He had an air-conditioned set of wheels and, we had plenty of talking, to do.

Chicken Paradise, near my office, serves great meals and, I figured Tom would enjoy the place.

He ordered the Spicy Chicken meal and, I got the Goya Champuru set.

We would spend about an hour, eating and talking in that cozy, little place.

A kindly Okinawan gentleman, took our photo with my iPhone.

Look at the trays of food. Way more than, any human can eat, in one sitting.

We both, had leftovers, to take home for our better halves.

Total cost, for both meals, was under 15 bucks !

In our conversations, I learned plenty about Thomas Corrao.  Things, I never knew before.

All the years, I've known him, I thought he came from Chicago, Illinois.

He is the Public Relations Officer for the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai.

That's an association of Ryukyu people, who live in Chicago.

Come to find out, Tom is a law enforcement officer from Kenosha, Wisconsin.

And, he grows Goya, way up there near the Great Lakes of the USA !

Some elderly, toothless woman was eating one of those huge servings of chicken.

She began cackling, when she overheard two foreigners speaking her language.

We had a blast, talking, stuffing our tummies and, left with enough food for supper.

Two Bit Tour of Kin

Tom, needed to go back to Itoman and visit relatives by 5 PM.

We cruised around and, I showed him some places he may never have seen before.

screenshot Google Maps timeline, Kin Town, Okinawa

First stop was at the Kin Temple and the attached cave, with the golden Buddha.

We got to talk about our travels and experiences on the island of Okinawa.

Down in the cave, I told him, how during the Vietnam era, those caves came in handy.

When, they thought we were securely locked-up on the base, we could escape.

The caves, connect to the base and, we could crawl through them, to get out in town.

Little women, could crawl through, to get on base, too.

But, I figured, he didn't need all that information so, I didn't tell him.

It's best to be careful around law enforcement folks, carrying video cameras. My religion.

Next, we drove under the Kin Bridge, along the east bank of the Okukubi River.

He got to shoot (camera) the legend of the monk and serpent, along the way.

Both of us, regret not mastering the reading of Kanji Japanese characters.

Down to the sea, we traveled, stopping to see the water buffaloes, along the way. 

At the seashore, I pointed to some rocks. Another folk story, begging translation.

Returning from the ocean, we followed the west bank of the river, towards Kin Dam.

Along the way, we spotted critters, crabs, birds and fish among the mangroves.

As hot as it gets, a breeze from a body of water and, a bit of shade comfortably cool a person.

Up to the top of the dam, we went with the intention of circling the place, to exit on HWY 104.

Construction along the highway, had us backtracking, to exit the dam.

Fresh air, leisurely conversation, sunshine and, nature therapy made it a relaxing day. 

We talked about the travel and tourism industry, cost of living and whatnot.

The relationship between Okinawans, Japan and the US Military, pros and cons.

The job market, health insurance, business prospects and legal matters, were discussed.

Tom and his family may move back to live in Okinawa, again someday.

He asked if, I ever planned on going back to the USA, to live.

Nope. Right here is where I plan on staying unless, the angels assign me to go somewhere else.

It seems to me if, Tom ever decides to leave the Sheriff's Department, he'd be welcome here.

He'd make a fine Ambassador in Okinawa, for the State of Wisconsin.

Learn More About Thomas Corrao and Okinawa

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