Sunday, July 23, 2017

Not All Bad

I've been complaining here lately. About the weather, mould, cars and family matters. You might get the impression we're not as happy here as we could be. Fortunately, that is not true. Life here has it's occasional issues, but it has many positives as well.

I really enjoy snorkelling. And Okinawa is one of the best places in the world for snorkelling and diving. You can of course drive down to a beach on the main island and snorkel from there. We do that now and again, and it's nice to get into the water on a hot summer day, but with the exception of a few spots the views aren't really spectacular. Instead the best areas are on other, smaller islands. And the closest is the Kerama islands, close enough to Okinawa island that you can clearly see them from the Naha seaside.

You can go there by yourself. Take a ferry to Tokashiki or Zamami, then rent a car or bicycle to get around. Perhaps stay overnight. But you'll spend a lot of time just getting around and looking for good places. Great if you want to explore the islands.

If you don't have that much time to spend, or if you simply want to get to a good spot and snorkel, you can instead book a tour from Naha, and get to a guaranteed good spot in less than thirty minutes for no more money that you'd had spent on ferry and transportation. Also, the tours can take you to spots away from the coast that you just can't reach by yourself, and an organized tour is safer should something happen.

We went on such a tour Saturday two weeks ago. It's pretty relaxed; you get down to the harbour in the morning, get on the boat, and they give you equipment and explain things if you don't have your own mask, snorkel or fins. The boat stops right at the spot, and you get an hour and a half in the water before it's time to return to Naha. We left after breakfast and returned home just in time for a shower and lunch.

Table coral.

Yellow coral just under the water line.

I seem to have attracted an observer.

Yellow coral with some inhabitants.

A closer look.

Many areas are teeming with sealife.

A few other coral species. Some sea anemones too,
but I didn't get a good picture.

Sea star.

Giant clam.

Another closeup of the coral.

Sunday, July 9, 2017


Forget Habu (I've yet to see one). Forget cone snails, stone fish, sea snakes and blue-ringed octopii(1). You can even leave typhoons, ants and the flying cockroaches(3) aside. Our biggest problem here is mould. Our fine, fuzzy, fungal friends are fabulous when they age cheese, make soy sauce or ferment sake, but when it starts growing all around the house it becomes a headache.

Okinawa is hot and Okinawa is wet. It rains a lot, and it's very humid. 30° temperatures with 80-100% humidity is of course perfect conditions for moulds and other fungi.

Hazy, wet summer day. It's not "real" rain; it's just so humid the water starts to condense right out of the air.

Everything here will grow mouldy within days unless you're careful. Dry foods, cutting boards and kitchen tools, window seals, laundry, even stainless steel racks ­— anything with dark cracks or hidden corners can go mouldy within days or hours.

The bathroom is easy: scrub the shower and bathroom with anti-mould spray once a week (and the bathroom gets all nice and clean too). But you can't use those anti-fungal chemicals in the kitchen or on dry goods; all you can do is clean often, and try to keep things dry.

Foods go bad quickly. Once you've opened a sealed jar or bag, store it in the fridge. That includes dry pantry goods such as pasta, flour, rice, spices and tea. Salt is safe from mould but will turn into a solid rock from the humidity, so that, too, goes into the fridge. Bread and coffee beans go into the freezer. There is no such thing as a "too big refrigerator" here.

You need to air all bedclothes, including the mattresses, every day, or they'll get mouldy; floor mattresses are better than beds here. You don't want to leave wet laundry in the washing machine or it'll go bad within a few hours. A washing machine with a timer and an unheated air-dry function is a really good idea.

We got a dehumidifier for the bedroom/work room last year, and that's perhaps the best thing we've ever bought. We leave it running all day, every day when we're not in there. We try to keep books and other sensitive things in that room, and so far we've managed to avoid any water damage or mould.

Camera gear is very sensitive. Once you get mould in a lens, it's ruined — the mould permanently damages the glass surfaces, and you can't ever really get it out again. I keep the gear in the bedroom and so far the dehumidifier has kept it clean. Still, I may have to get a separate dry-storage cabinet at some point.

I think we'll also need to get a second dehumidifier for the main room. It's not as critical as the bedroom, but better safe than sorry. A bump on our electricity bill is a lot less painful than trying to remove some black mould infection out of the couch.

I keep thinking, though: in aquariums, people keep catfishes. They happily eat the algae that grow on the glass and rocks, and keep the aquarium clean while being a cool inhabitant. And people keep goats to remove weeds and brambles.

Isn't there some animal that similarly eats mould? Perhaps something cute that you can keep as a pet? Any geneticist our there looking for a nice, flashy project might want to take notice and try to produce a catfish-guinea pig hybrid or something. A glamour-mag publication is almost guaranteed ­— if it's cute, you might even get the cover!

Ah well, until the happy day when Rodney the Guinea-fish arrives to lick fungi off our apartment walls (while emitting, I imagine, happy chirping sounds), we'll just have to keep after it ourselves.

#1 Octopisces? Octopussies? 2×octopus=sedecpus! 3×octopus=quattuorvigintpus!(2)

#2 The plural forms "octopuses", "octopi" and "octopodes" are all considered correct, either due to grammar regularity (octopodes) or actual usage (octopuses and octopi). The others, not so much.

#3 Yes, they fly. But they're pretty small, slim and silvery; nothing like the regular squat, wide, brown cockroaches. I honestly don't mind these much.