It may be because I am in the midst of editing my thesis and months away from graduation that I am finding myself frequently reminiscing on my upbringing and the environments that I have inhabited. The nature of my thesis itself has called for a reflection of the past, present, and future state of Miyako, an island on which I spent two years of my childhood. With this in mind (along with a craving for a creative outlet to decompress in these past couple of weeks), as I sat on my bed in Redmond, Washington, I turned to pencil, paper, and watercolor pens to sketch some quick thoughts about the way I used to live and the way I see things now.
Take a gander and maybe you’ll find that we have some commonalities. Or maybe we’ve lived completely different lives. Either way, I wonder… how would you sketch your then and now?
Weekends often meant a trip to either Ala Moana Beach Park or Sandy Beach on Oahu. The tide pools of Sandy Beach were especially exciting to explore as a seven-year-old. Mini pockets of seawater teem with a colorful assortment of life. Most of my time there was spent squatting on the rocky shore, following little fish with my finger or disturbing colorful hermit crabs for closer observation on the palms of my hands.
Now at the age of 25, I find myself going to the beach for a completely different motive, whether that be at Ocean Shores in Washington or in Miyako. My eyes scan the shores with purpose. My fingers sift through the sand with a specific goal in mind. I’m there with garbage bags and gloves. Sure, it was common even back then to walk carefully on the sand to avoid broken glass, but now it’s impossible to avoid the fragments of plastic, glass, and styrofoam with each step.
I remember the prickling sensation throughout my 10-year-old body as the humid air hummed against my skin. I remember the relief the air conditioned car gave me as the cold blast soothed me in an instant. It’s 87°F, there’s no work left to do, and we’re on a sub-tropical island in Japan. Upon moving to this foreign island, my parents often took me out for drives to show me around Miyako, where my mother spent her childhood. As we drove alongside sugarcane fields and shorelines, the soundtrack of our drives was always American Idiot by Green Day; so much so that to this day, every time my parents hear Boulevard of Broken Dreams on the radio, they exclaim without fail, “oh, it’s like we’re driving down the road in Gusukube!” Cruising along the coastline, I could see the ocean from the backseat window. Splotches of different shades of blue in the distance with a wild tangle of green vegetation dropping off on the other side of the road. This was fifteen years ago.
Although it’s still hard not to get a glimpse of blues and greens from the road, stretches of concrete walls now obstruct the view as well. I’ve certainly noticed a lot more development throughout the island during my visit last year: new resorts, bed and breakfasts, and hotels; a trend not uncommon among small islands worldwide. Vegetation, wildlife, and local access to the shorelines are removed, all for the sake of economic gains.
At the port
My uncle in Miyako enjoys fishing. He used to have his own vessel and brought home fresh fish, like the blue-barred parrotfish and the blacktip grouper. A go-to spot for a quick fishing trip was, and still is, Hirara port. On the occasion that I accompanied my uncle on one of his trips, the port was typically calm. Fourteen years ago when I still lived in Miyako, lines of cargo spoke to the movement of goods to and from the island, but by the time we made it out there, I was usually only met with several docked fishing vessels with a cargo ship off in the distance.
Now, even from over a mile inland from the coast, the top of a cruise liner comes into view. Tourism is an essential sector for Okinawa’s economy. This much is clear, especially when gazing out at the Hirara port today. With Okinawa planning to welcome up to two million cruise tourists in the next year, there is more development to come. Miyako is not too far behind in their plans to accommodate more cruise liners either. What sight will I be met with the next time I visit the island? How much litter needs to pile throughout the island or how many more local residents must struggle to pay rent for enough to be enough?
After school snack time
I was always the type of kid who had to start homework assignments as soon as I got home, before I could enjoy the rest of the day. What made this experience enjoyable were the snacks that I bought after school. Back in Honolulu, my mom and I passed by 7/11 on the walk home from school, so manapua, spam musubi, li hing mui dusted gummies, and slurpees were a regular part of my diet. In Miyako, considering that our apartment was right next to a convenience store, I regularly frequented the Hot Spar for their miso pork-filled rice balls, bags of Calbee chips, chicken karaages, and melon Fantas.
Since then, I’ve had my ups and downs with rice. Returning to my snacking behavior, I’ve been trying to Pinterest my way to homemade snacks that are healthier, yet enjoyable to consume. I don’t like drinking soda anymore and I give myself an afternoon boost with a fruit and veggie smoothie. I’ve come to have fun in the kitchen, not just to eat what I make, but to share my raw bar, matcha energy balls, or butter mochi with family and friends.
Thinking about the changes to Oahu and Miyako, I can’t help but feel melancholy. At the same time, having lived in Washington for the past 13 years now, I am (or at least I feel like) an outsider; an observer who has not felt the socioeconomic impacts in Oahu or Miyako. Do I have a right to observe these transforming environments with disdain when I myself have not experienced the changes or proactively opposed these developments? While these questions constantly lurk in my mind, I am nevertheless inspired to push through with my studies and continue to advocate for the environment in the places where fond childhood memories were built. For now, my critical take on these changing landscapes is in the form of tens of thousands of words written down in my thesis draft. Perhaps it is through sharing this work that I can lend my voice as an opposition.