Sharing my world with others and learning about them has always been one of my reasons for traveling. But sometimes the world comes to me. I’m still recovering from the whirlwind visit of thirty-six students from Okinawa, Japan to one of the schools I service. I was given the honor of hosting one of the three teachers, who accompanied the students, Mami Shiroma.
On a Wednesday evening, the student arrived from their long journey from a small Japanese island to a town in the high desert of California. The first think I’m sure they noticed was how dry and brown everything was, so different from their home of subtropical humidly and foliage. The streamed off the bus and into the school library where they were greeted like rock stars by the American students – screaming and signs waving.
Stood back quietly, watching Mami and her fellow teachers get their students sorted out. Then short celebration of welcome. As we gathered the suitcases, a DJ played “Dancing Queen.” When the two teachers from Japan, Zee Hall (a school staffer) and I simultaneously made the same dance move – we were instant friends. Cultural and language barriers were trumped by a shared passion for ABBA.
On arrival at our home, Mami was warmly greeted by the furry residences of the household. This helped may her feel at home as she has a pooch at home. She saw several items that came from my time when as a Navy Lieutenant I was stationed on Okinawa. We wouldn’t get a chance to talk about my time on the island until the next day.
After a day of visiting the campus and following the students around, we finally got a chance to talk about what I remembered of the island. I learned that my favorite department store had closed, that our favorite restaurant was owned by her best friend’s family and that aquarium park where I met my first whale shark had a new name. The pineapple winery, the bingata factory and the glass factory were still going strong with both locals and tourists visiting.
And of course, there was shopping. Mami and her students were given a trip “down the hill” to one of our major shopping malls. But on Saturday, Mami and I hit the grocery stores. Yes, they are different than the ones in Japan. So we loaded up on American treats for her to take home.
Twice during her visit, Mami cooked for us. It had been nearly twenty years since I had tasted homemade curry or ramen. The scents and the flavors brought back many memories.
There were two things Mami said she wanted to do – visit a winery and Trader Joe’s. So on her last full day in the United States, we headed down the hill to the Joseph Felipe Winery and the closest Trader Joe’s.
The Joseph Felipe Winery & Vineyards was founded in 1922 in Rancho Cucamonga. It has survived prohibition, the depression, and hard economic times. Producing award winning wines every season.
We saddled up to the wine bar with our tickets for tasting and made our choices.
First up for me was a lovely white Moscato and for Mami a delightful Raspberry Sparkling Wine.
My next sample was a Tres Viñas, a red wine, which to be honest, I didn’t care for. For Mami, it was White Sin, a very light blush wine.
For round three, I started on the “fortified” wines and chose a nutty, sweet sherry called Angelica Elena. Mami stayed with the wines and tried a Chardonnay that wasn’t overly sweet, classic for California.
Round four I chose Alicante Bouschet, a dry port with a rich color, and Mami tried the Extra Dry Sparkling Wine, it was very good, better than Brut Champagne.
For the last round, it was Fondante Ciello, a chocolate port, for me. It was heaven in a glass. (I bought a bottle of this one.) Mami tried Ol’Glory RR Red, a blend of several grapes with a nice balance, neither too dry nor too sweet.
Mami purchased a couple of bottles to take home and then it was time for a quick snack before heading off to Trader Joe’s.
We left Trader Joe’s with a basket full of goodies for her to take home.
Returning to the house, Mami packed. (I’m still not sure how she fit all of that into her suitcase.) While she busied herself with that task, I made a typical Sunday dinner – Roast Beef with potatoes and carrots.
Early Monday morning, the students and teachers boarded a bus to leave our community. With a stop at Universal Studios before boarding the plane home, they appeared tired and happy. Yet, there were a few tears, it is never easy to say farewell to friends.
Sayonara Mami – we’ll see each other again soon.