Japan Here We Come!

Japan Here We Come!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Independence Day

I hope you all had a very enjoyable 4th of July. I read the papers back home and saw that many events paid tribute to deployed troops. It is nice to think of all that thought and good will directed our way.

Besides the thought and good will, however, it was pretty much just another day here. Why should there be a celebration? In our world without weekends, why have holidays? I did notice that the Air Force put up a slip ‘n slide for their people… we weren’t invited.

I guess there was the “extravaganza.” I am not sure if it was planned to be an activity for the fourth of July, but that is the day it fell on.

There is a small market just outside our area where you can go buy Hookahs and really bad ripped off DVDs – the kind with heads from the theater bobbing around at the bottom of the screen. So, they announced that there would be an “extravaganza.” The plan was to augment the normal market with several vendor stands selling local antiques, baked goods, real silk carpets, and artisanal crafts. There was also going to be a camel to ride.

Honestly, we were pretty excited about it – something different, and potentially fun. I was hoping to find something cool that was actually from the local area that I could send home to my kids. I even went to the finance office and got a bunch of American cash and a bunch of local currency – just in case I saw something I couldn’t pass up. I read online all about how to tell real silk carpets form fake ones… I was not going to be ripped off.

On the Fourth of July, we drove out there with money burning holes in our pockets. When we arrived, we saw about four tents more than there normally are – with real local merchants, as promised. It was good to see some people that at least looked like they were born in this quadrant of the world.

I first approached the antique stand. Immediately, as you might expect, a young man with surprisingly old-looking teeth behind his smile arose. “Bery old,” he said through an accent, and held up a copper plate. “Bery, bery, bery old. Tirty dollar.” I took the plate in my hand and saw that it was a machine made copper plate, tarnished enough to give it an antique look. There was a nice brass design attached, but the attachment was poorly done with aluminum pop rivets that were certainly not bery old. I set it down on the table. The man’s smile dropped, hiding his teeth. He continued nonetheless to show me the fine craftsmanship in each little carved stone elephant and dog down to the end of his table.

I wished him a good day, and went over to the baker’s table. This certainly did look genuine, because nothing looked similar to anything I am used to eating, and because the gentleman there spoke no English at all. I found someone who spoke his language well enough to ask if the various baked balls were sweet or savory. I picked a tray of handsome looking sweet balls, resembling white powdered donut holes with tiny brown caramelized specks. The gentleman pretended to not be able to make change in local currency, apparently preferring dollars, so I paid him three dollars and took the goods. My first bite revealed that they were simply finely shaved coconut baked with a little sugar. Not too exotic, but not bad. And my lack of illness since then suggests that they weren’t poisoned as part of a terrorist plot – another bonus.

The carpet vendor was under the largest tent. I guess my advanced study paid off, because I could see from 15 feet that the carpets were cheap imitations, definitely not real silk. OK, the give away was that some were pink, featuring Disney Princesses.

At this moment I was struck with déjà vu. I considered it for a moment, knowing that I had certainly never been here before. Then I placed my finger on it – Tijuana. It made me feel a little closer to home.

The last tent was the artwork tent. Inside, the walls were covered with paintings, and local artists stood by to sell and even paint portraits if we desired. There were a few decent oil-on-canvas still life studies of fruit. Everything else was a depiction of lounging local ladies in shiny, fringed clothing, painted on black velvet.

We had, by this point, noticed that the money was no longer burning holes in our pockets, and we began to regret our exchange for what was clearly way too much local currency. Well, at least we would get a camel ride.

As we approached the tent with the camels, we saw that there were two, but one was resting. The ride was to consist of hopping on the camel and having the camel stand up. There would be enough time for a picture, then the camel would sit back down to let us off. I think this was the first time I had seen someone ‘riding’ a camel.
I soon saw that camels are great creatures, much more cantankerous than any American donkey. With each person who would sit on its back, the camel bellowed, neighed, and huffed. It spat through its huge teeth that were even a few shades darker than its owner’s. After thirty seconds of throwing a fit, it would stand up reluctantly and await the command to sit again.
As we approached the front of the line, it was determined that this camel, like its friend, was too tired to continue. They would still let us sit on its back, but would not have it go up and down.
By the time it was my turn, I was quite entertainedby the animal's show. I felt like I should feel sorry for the animal. It probably was really tired. But it was throwing such a huge fit as each of us sat down that it lost all credibility. Pure camel drama for sure. As I sat down, it let out an ugly snort and shimmied its hump to show discontent. I had no trouble grinning for the picture, but did find it hard to make it look genuine.

So, we drove back, pockets still full of money. To top off our celebration, there was a large sheet cake in the DFAC decorated like a flag, but a placard below it declared it for display only. The real high point of my day was a package from my mom with the best socks I have ever worn. No, not even the mail here stops for holidays. To our delight, there were no fireworks that evening… Next year, at home, I will certainly be busier with festivities. I will be sure to take a moment, though, to think of the Independence Day camel and laugh.

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