Saturday, December 31, 2005

Navigating the Trains, part III

That's me in the Guam International Airport on New Year's Eve.

I expected this post to go something like this:

We arrived in Narita and took the same three trains that I took to get to Takaoka when I first came to Japan in November. The ride was smooth, the trains were on time, and Emily and I arrived back home with enough time to go out and buy a bottle of champagne to ring in the new year.

Yeah, right. This is my life, remember? Nothing can ever be that simple.

Emily and I were the only Non-Japanese on our flight out of Guam. Not that it had anything to do with our flight or our trip, I just thought it was fun being the only white people.

Our flight to Narita arrived on time at 7:55 PM on New Year's Eve. Emily and I disembarked the plane and started to walk towards customs and immigration when I realized that I had forgotten my (almost) brand new camera underneath the seat in front of me on the plane.

We had to walk all the way back to the gate and wait for everybody to get off the plane before we could go back and get it, which I eventually did, which was a huge relief. It slowed us down a lot; Our luggage had already been pulled off the conveyor belt and was standing all alone in the baggage claim area by the time we got through immigration.

When we finally got through customs and stepped out into the main termainal it was about 8:45. All we had to do was to get some cash out of the ATM machine, change it into Yen (if it wasn't already in Yen), and buy our tickets to Takaoka.

This is where the story begins to get interesting.

We couldn't get Emily's ATM card to work at the airport's only ATM machine (which was completely in Japanese). The money changers didn't accept credit cards and neither did the travel agencies on the first floor of the terminal. Oh yeah, and all of the banks at the airport were closed. I had about $100 US and about 3000 Yen in my pocket, so we didn't have enough cash to get the tickets. We were stuck between a rock and a hard place (which is different from President Bush, who is stuck between Iraq and a hard place)

Uh oh. Emily stared to lose it (she is soooo going to kill me for writing that). She never shed a tear, but she was pretty darn close. I was nervous, but I knew that if I crawled up in to a fetal position and started crying that Emily would be even worse.

We were in a pretty tough predicament; We didn't want to have to spend the night in Tokyo because it would be expensive and we were running out of time because the last train to Takaoka would be leaving soon.

It took us a couple of minutes of deep breathing and going through a couple different scenarios before we decided to just go down to the train station to see if we could find an ATM machine or use a credit card there.

We took our four suitcases, two carry-ons, and laptop bag down to train station and walked up to the only open window. I asked the young guy behind the counter if he spoke any English. He said "a little," which was good enough for me and I asked for two tickets to Takaoka.

He replied, "what day?"

That was a bad sign. I answered back "today?"

"Today!?" he snapped back, which was yet another bad sign. He was probably wondering why a couple of crazy gaijins would want to travel all the way to Takaoka on New Year's Eve, but that didn't stop him from flipping through the pages of the Japan Rail schedule and punching a few things into his computer.

He asked us if the Blue Train on the Hokuriku line was OK (I'm not really sure why he called it the Blue Train, maybe I misheard him, but it was definately a hokuriku train). It left Ueno Station at 11:02 PM and arrived in Takaoka at 5:48 AM. All we had to do was take the 9:02 Skyrider 40 train from Narita Terminal 2 to Ueno.

Sounded good to me. I was excited to take the night train because it is something that I have never done before. We tried to pay for the tickets with Emily's credit card, but on the first try it wouldn't swipe. This being Japan, it would never occur to the window attendant to try swiping the card a second time or to manually punch in the number, so we were told that the credit card didn't work. I paid with mine. It worked.

He handed me a single ticket for Emily and a single ticket for me. This was going to be easy. Now all we needed to do was board the train for Ueno, which was leaving in about 8 minutes.

We took a couple steps toward the turnstiles when I noticed that our tickets didn't say anything about taking Narita Terminal 2 to Ueno station. Uh oh. We knew what we would have to do to get to Ueno. We had to look up on the board, figure out the fair, and purchase the tickets at the ticket machine. Knowing and actually DOING are completely different things exascerbated by the fact that neither one of us can hardly read any kanji.


We loooked up at the board and scanned the hundred different names of stations for Ueno station without much success. We must have looked completely and utterly lost because a Japanese lady came up to us and asked us if we needed a little help. We told her that we need to get to Ueno, so she looked up at the board and 2.4 seconds later she told us that the tickets to Ueno were 1000 Yen. Relief! Thank you, kind Narita Airport lady!

You see, using the rail station is actually very easy once you understand a little about what you are doing. When she told us the fair was 1000 Yen, all we had to do was to buy a ticket for 1000 Yen and then board the train. The way the price structures for the rail lines work are that you pay according to the distance you travel. You don't specifically buy a ticket from point A to point B, you just buy a ticket for X Yen that will take you Z miles. So that's what we did.

We made it in time for the 9:02 train. While I was sitting there I chuckled to myself over the conversation we had just had with the lady at the train station. On my Japanese language tapes they talk about Ueno station and Ueno park in almost every other lesson. A typical conversation on the disc goes something like:

"Excuse, where is Ueno Station? Is it over there?"
"Sumimasen, Ueno-eki wa doko desu ka? Asoko desu ka?"

"No, it is over here."
"Iie, koko desu"

"Thank you."
"Arigato Gozaimasu"

Did I not just have a similar conversation at the train station?

The train to Ueno station took about an hour and we had to make two stops before we got there. That gave us about an hour in Ueno station. It was enough time to use the bathroom, take some pictures of the station, get some food, eat said food, and still board the train with plenty of time to spare.

We really enjoyed taking the sleeper train from Tokyo (Ueno station is one of the bigger stations in Tokyo) to Takaoka. The car we had reserved had about 40 bunkbeds in it. The car was split up into about 10 different little cabins and each cabin had two bunkbeds in it. I think some of the cars may have been different, but I don't know for sure since we didn't take the time to explore any of the other cars.

We had reserved an entire bunkbed, so when we saw the accomadations, we piled our bags of luggage onto the bottom bunk and squished into the top bunk. We had two more stops to make before the train traveled across Honshu through the night, so we were nervous about getting in one of the other empty beds in the car because we were afraid that somebody else had reserved it.

The train pulled out of Ueno station at 11:03. We were asleep by 11:30.

We found out the next morning that we were sharing our car with only 3 other people, but in typical Japanese fashion, they were all crammed into one end. Why would you do such a thing? Because that is the correct way to fill up a sleeper car of course! Is there any other way of filling up a car, like spreading out the people perhaps? Of course not!

Sleeping together in the one bed was very uncomfortable. When we were sure that nobody else was going to be getting on the train and when we finally gave up on the idea of sleeping in the same tiny bed, Emily hopped over to empty bunk next to ours.

THINGS TO KNOW WHILE VISITING JAPAN #7: The night train is COLD at night.

I woke up an hour or two later freezing my little sun burnt tooshie off. The lights in the train had been dimmed and it was colder than the ice surrounding George W. Bush's black heart. I had been sleeping with only a sheet, but when my thick skull finally registered that I was freezing, I wrapped myself up in the blanket provided by JR. It was so cold that I had to go steal another blanket from another bed (I stole one for Emily, too). Only with two blankets did it feel comfortable enough to get a restful sleep.

The train was supposed to stop at Takaoka at 5:48 AM. At 5:49 AM the lights were still dimmed, they hadn't made any announcements, and we hadn't pulled into any train stations. Although we hadn't stopped at any train stations, I had woken up several times throughout the night because the train was stopped. My best guess was that the train had been delayed in getting through the mountains and that we had to keep stopping because of the snow.

It turned out that I was right. At about 6:15 they made an announcement that we would be arriving later than expected. The announcemnt was in Japanese, but I was able to understand the names of the stations and the times that we would arrive there. The announcer said that we would arrive at Takaoka around 7:40.

I told Emily to go back to sleep.

Around 7:15 the two of us finally got up and started getting ready to disembark from the train. The trains only stop at the stations for a minute or two, so we had to gather our belongings by the train door a few minutes before the train actually pulled into the station.

We couldn't help but notice the snow and the mountains as we gathered up all of our stuff. It was still early, so the sky was extra crisp and clear. Everything was covered in about a foot and a half of snow and the sun was rising in a perfectly blue sky. It was like riding a train through a painting. I still can't belive I live here.

The train was even later than 7:40. It was well after 8 AM when we pulled into Takaoka and dragged our luggage off the train. Then we dragged our luggage up a train station staircase, down a train station staircase, laughed out loud when the lady taking our tickets suggested that we drag our luggage to the North exit of the station for a 120 Yen Late Train Arrival refund, and trudged throught the ice and snow to get to our apartment.

It feels great to be home again. We are almost unpacked, Emily is about to brew a pot of fresh coffee, and we can't wait to go out and experience things that will eventually become more stories to share with my faithful readers (both of you).

Happy New Year!!!

We're back in Japan.

Emily and I have been reciting that line from Monsters, Inc. that goes a little something like this:

Emily: Now we're trapped in this winter wasteland!

Angelo: You mean winter WONDERland! Who wants a snowcone?

We had a few unexpected turns occur on our way to Takaoka. I'll tell you about them a little bit later today.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Goodbye Saipan, Hello Winter

And we're off!!!

Nobody took us to the airport, so our exit was anti-climactic.

At the castle I gave a big hug to Angie, Abraham, and Memong and tried to say goodbye to Solomon. He refused to come out of his bedroom and when I asked him to open the door so that I could say goodbye, it just prompted him to shout out a curt "goodbye" through the door. Oh well, I'll see you in 10 years, I guess.

We drove the truck to the airport on our own and gave the keys to Cal's oldest son, who works as an officer with the ports authority at the airport. I gave him a big hug and thanked him for letting us use his Dad's truck for two weeks.

So once again, goodbye, Saipan. I hope I get to see you again soon.

Back to Takaoka We Go

I just spent 4 weeks in Saipan. It felt more like 4 years; or was it four hours?

My brain is in such a muddle right now. I don't know which way is up or down. But you know what? You know your life must be remarkable when you look forward to going home to a sense of normalcy in JAPAN. Honestly, what type of person goes to Japan to get away from the stress of burying one's father and getting to know the brothers that you haven't seen since childhood? On second thought, don't answer that question.

So I'm finally leaving the islands; I'm going to miss them.

I wish I could have said thank you and goodbye to every single person on this island in person, but since it takes about an hour to say goodbye to just one person, that just wasn't possible.

I am going to miss ALL of you (but I have to admit that I'm not going to miss any of you as much as I am going to miss eating red rice and chicken kelaguan at parties). All of you on this island treat me with so much love and I am forever grateful for it.

I send everyone who reads this from the island of Saipan (or Tinian, Rota, or Guam) a big thank you and I PROMISE that I will work my butt off trying to send a bunch of Japanese tourists (and investors) your way.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Dad's Katupak

My father gave this rock to my mother before I was born. He found it on his farm on Saipan when he was ten years old and gave it to her while she was still in college (I think). I've carried it around in my pocket for the last few days.

The inscription reads:

Ramon G Villagomez
Saipan
1949
Virgo
This rock is carved by my
ancestors & used as a
sling stone to kill animals
and people. It is called
Katupak
found at my father's
farm when I was ten years
old. This rock permits you
to enter any premise of my family
RGV

They make these for the tourists these days, but somehow I have a feeling that this one is real. I don't think they were making them in the seventies.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Happy Birthday!!!

This blog turns a year old today...
...and what a year it has been.

When I started this blog I did not expect to be sitting in an Internet cafe in Saipan exactly one year later. Life is sure full of surprises, isn't it?

The anniversary of this blog also coincides very closely with the beginning of a new year. What a great opportunity to reflect on the last year.

So here it is, Angelo's reflections on 2005 in one paragraph or less per month:

January: I'm unemployed! Spent the month looking for a job, feeling sorry for myself, and google bombing (successfully, I might add) my former employer. I get hired by Roy's Orlando and begin my training at the end of the month. I spend the whole month worrying about our JET applications, only to find out that we both landed interviews.

February: Jet interviews! Holy crap! Emily and I spend a night in Miami after our interviews. They tell us that we will have to wait until April to find out if we get in.

March: Still working at Roy's.

April: Emily gets into JET and I get wait listed (Alternate List). I also agree to go to work with the League of Conservation Voters on a part time basis.

May: Busy, busy, busy, between Roy's at night and LCV during the day. Emily also graduates from Rollins College with a GPA identical to mine. I spend the whole month hoping to get upgraded by JET.

June: I quit Roy's so that I can go full time with LCV. I spend the whole month hoping to get upgraded by JET.

July: Emily and I take turns driving between Orlando and Sarasota to see each other. I'm busy with my work at LCV. She leaves for Japan at the end of the month after we spend a weekend in Miami.

August: LCV stuff. I spend the whole month hoping to get upgraded by JET.

September: LCV stuff. I spend the whole month hoping to get upgraded by JET.

October: I finally get the notice that I wasn't upgraded. I buy a ticket to Japan that leaves in November. I inform LCV of my imminent departure and begin preparations to cross the globe, even though I don't have a job waiting for me.

November: My last day with LCV is the 15th and I fly out on the 18th. I spend 12 wide-eyed days (no pun intended) in Japan.

December: I find out on the first day of the month that my father died the previous evening. My brother breaks the news while talking with me over instant messenger video chat. I meet Alex in Tokyo and then fly to Saipan where I spend the month with my brothers and stepmother praying and reminiscing about the good old days. I fly back to Japan on New Year's Eve.

I'm sure that a few more things happened during the last year, but you wouldn't be interested in hearing about them.

My Day in Pictures

Emily playing with Angelyce. I'm teaching that girl all the things that little kids need to know, like how to make lots of noise and how to eat your boogers. Emily likes teaching her less practical things, like colors and the names of animals.

Memong cooking himself lunch. This kid is going to be a real catch for some lucky girl one day. He COOKS and CLEANS!!!

Lunch at Keeraku with Emily. I ordered the grilled fish preset menu. The grilled fish turned out to be Mackerel. I hate Mackerel!

Dinner with my godmother, Frances Borja. Emily and I expected to go out for maybe an appetizer and a few drinks, but Frances surprised us with a five course feast.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

More Rain

As you can probably gather from the title of this post, it is raining again today. I don't know what we are going to do to pass the time. A movie perhaps? I've been dying to go see The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but Emily has been reluctant to go because she hasn't read the books.

Today is Wednesday. I am here Thursday, Friday, and then I leave on Saturday. I really hate having to count down the days until I leave. I am really going to miss this place and all that it represents for me.

This is of course painfully obvious, but my head would be in a total other place if my father hadn't died. I know that I'm going back to Japan in a few days, but I am really confused as to what my next step should be. More school? Come back to Saipan? Go back to Florida? Stay in Japan?

Until I make the final decision, I am going to at least keep my options open. The LSAT is offered in February and June. I think February may be too soon, so I am shooting for a June test date. I'll see how I do and make any decisions at that point.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Back to Japan in 4 Days

It's raining again! ECCKK!

Any hopes for getting some sun today were dashed as soon as the sky opened up and it started raining. Oh well, at least yesterday was beautiful. We spent the day at this place:

It has been ten and a half years since I've been to Forbidden Island. The place hasn't changed too much. It hasn't been degraded like a lot of other places on Saipan. In fact, if anything, it has only gotten better.

The island is only barely easier to get to than it was a few years ago. You take a small winding dirt road, which is now officially named Forbidden Island Drive, up to the top of a cliff that is east of the village of Dan Dan. It used to be that the part of the road that was maintained ended at a farm at the top of the cliff. To continue towards the Forbidden Island lookout and the start of the path down to the beach you had to drive or walk about a hundred meters down a really muddy and pothole filled dirt road.

Not anymore. The farm is gone, but you can still see where it was because the tangan tangan growing there isn't as tall or as thick as the rest of the surrounding area, and the road is maintained all the way to the lookout. The lookout used to be a small cleared area barely big enough to park a car. Now it can fit several buses and excited tourists are kept from falling off the cliff by a concrete fence. There are telescopes at the lookout, but you have to put a quarter in them to make them work. Yeah, progress!

The path down to the beach is just as I remembered it. It has hardly changed, except there are no longer any cows down there. It is a beautiful hike and you go through several different ecosystems. The only thing that remains constant throughout the hike is the steepness of the downward slope (which turns into the steepness of the UPWARD slope when you decide to head back home).

It didn't surprise us that we were the only people down there. There has only been one occasion where I have gone to Forbidden Island and seen other people. Even then, it was just a single American guy who hiked down and then immeadiately hiked back up.

If you ever get the chance to experience it, try to spend at least one day of your life on a deserted Pacific Island beach. It is one of the most exhilarating and at the same time relaxing experiences you will ever have. I promise. I try to do it at least once every five years.

When we were little, our main activities at Forbidden Island were fishing on the reef and swimming in the pools that are protected by big rocks and the reef.

You are not allowed to go fishing at Forbidden island anymore; The area has been protected as a wildlife sanctuary for the last couple of years, but the upside to this is that the fish population has really recovered. Too bad we couldn't eat them.

We went swimming in the pools next to the channel between Saipan and Forbidden Island. We saw tons of fish. There weren't just lots of fish, there were lots of BIG fish.

I wish that I could have gone fishing, but I realize that if you EAT the big fish, then there won't be any big fish to LOOK at. I had to settle for potato chips.

Fishing and swimming, however, are only secondary activities that get in the way of getting a good suntan. That is what Emily would have you believe anyways. I got scorched. I now have yet another Chamorro sunburn, even though I liberally applied large amounts of SPF 50 sunblock.

I might as well burn while the burnings good; I'll be under two feet of snow in less than 4 days. I'm sure going to miss this place.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Let's go hiking!

Our life is ridiculous. Emily and I stopped into the Interent cafe for cappuccinos before our eventual hike down to Foribidden Island later this morning. We're pretty much ready to go. All we need to do is stop for some snacks to eat while we are down there. You wouldn't want us to go without lunch, now would you?

Christmas in the Islands

I can't believe that it didn't snow last night! Who cares if we are in the tropics? It's frickin' Christmas!

Emily's and my Christmas celebrations started yesterday evening around 7 PM. We went out for Christmas drinks and appetizers at AJs, which is a beachside bar in Susupe. We sat on a couch in a dark corner of the restaurant and got drunk off of Stoli martinis. We talked about our lives together and snacked on some really yummy tuna sashimi, shrimp cocktail, and spicy tuna rolls.

The Chong family was back at the castle when we returned, which was around 9:30 PM. They were getting ready to start their Christmas festivities, which included eating, drinking, and some of the worst karaoke this side of the Pacific (just try to imagine Abraham singing Britney Spears at 1 O'Clock in the morning in his deep chamorro accent - Hit me Babbee one more tyme!)

When we woke up the next morning, which was Christmas morning, we had to wait for the Nino (pronounced with an enye on the second n) before we could do anything or go anywhere. For those of you who aren't Chamorro Catholics (there are about 6 billion of you out there), the Nino is a statue of the baby Jesus that is brought from house to house on Christmas morning by friends or family driving a car or pickup truck blaring Christmas carols out the window. When the statue reaches a house, it is placed in the middle of the family's Nativity scene and then each member of the family takes turns lifting up the baby Jesus' blanket and kissing his toes. Being the horrible Catholic that I am, I have no idea what this is supposed to accomplish other than to show respect to a statue of the baby Jesus. I'm sure that it is supposed to do something else, like keep you healthy or forgive your sins, but it has never been explained to me. I just kiss the statue and keep my mouth shut.

Even though the driver of the car or truck carrying the Nino is blasting the cheesiest Christmas CD on sale at Joeten and even though we saw one member of the Nino's caravan drinking a Budweiser in the back of the pickup, the visit of the Nino to your house is a very serious and solemn affair. It is so serious that my stepmother had to run into her bedroom to put on a formal dress before she kissed the statue; It is so serious that the kids bringing the Nino into your house keep the sun out of his eyes with a small white umbrella and cover him with a little white blanket.

When your family is done kissing the statue, you drop some money ($20 is a good amount) into the little wooden box that one of the kids who is driving around with the Nino is holding. Some people will also give the kids candy or drinks (and I guess they give the adults Budweiser!) I think the money goes to the church, even though I've heard several jokes about people carrying around an "extra" box.

When the Nino left we were free to do whatever we wanted. Memong said that all of the beaches are red flagged after a big rain (remember the monsoons from yesterday?). With the beach option eliminated, we decided to go have brunch at Nikko Hotel again.

We had brunch at this same restaurant with Alex's godparents, Maggie and Fred Camacho, last weekend. We liked it last week and we liked it even more this week. It is a really great deal. $25 buys you all the champagne you can drink and all the sushi you can eat. They have lots of other food, but I cared only about the sushi and the champagne. Even if Emily hadn't eaten her $25 worth (which she did), I more than made up for it by making several trips to the sushi bar.

We decided that if we ever moved to Saipan we would make Sunday brunch at Nikko Hotel our little weekly pilgrimage.

We were going to get Emily a Christmas Day manicure and pedicure, but we couldn't find any place that was open. We just went back to the castle and remained there for most of the day. We watched a movie (I think it was called The Exorcism of Emily Rose) with Memong and Niana, but mostly just lounged around.

I don't know where the time went.

Now we have exactly 5 full days left in Saipan. I'd still really like to go to Forbidden Island, Managaha Island (again), and Taga Beach in Tinian, but I don't know if we'll have the time.

This trip has been really draining. It is dumbfounding to think that it has only been 15 days since I buried my father. Although I only spent one Christmas with Dad, this is truly the first Christmas that I have spent without him. It is very hard. I'll be glad to be back in Japan, but I'm really going to look forward to my next trip to Saipan, when all I have to worry about is my sun tan and whether or not the fish are biting.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas

It might be snowing in Takaoka, Japan, but it's raining in Saipan!!!

We were supposed to hike down to Forbidden Island this morning, but when we woke up we were experiencing monsoon-like conditions. We had to cancel. Hiking down the steep incline of Forbidden Island during this type of weather would kill you.

Last night I went out for drinks with my Nina (godmother) Frances Borja. We went to a bar on the beach called AJ's that has a happy hour buffet every Friday from 5-7. We sat around and ate, drank, and talked for three hours.

I have to get out to these islands more than once every five years.

I'm not sure what we are going to do now that it is raining. I'm going to try to convince Emily to go see The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with me. She hasn't been too keen to see the movie since she never read the books.

We are also going to go have dinner at a restaurant called Coffee Care. It is on the road that leads from Puerto Rico up to Capital Hill. I think it is owned by an American, so lots of Americans go there. We're going because they have a special Christmas menu. Should be fun.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Marianas Variety Letter to the Editor by Mom

http://www.mvariety.com/editorialpage/editorial05.htm

In memory of Justice V.


I AM writing to ask that you publish my letter so that I may extend my condolences to the family of my former husband, Justice Ramon G. Villagomez.

Although I left Saipan in 1982, I have never forgotten the kindness and love the Lafet family showed to me and my two children, Angelo and Alexander O. Villagomez, and I carry these memories in my heart.

I am sorry that I was not able to come to the novena and funeral in person to express my condolences for your loss. My thoughts and prayers have been with you every day. I was very grateful that both Angelo and Alex were able to come to be with you at this difficult time, and they have told me how you have all welcomed them into the heart of your family. Thank you for your kindness to them. I know how much this would have meant to Ramon.


DONNA O’CONNOR (VILLAGOMEZ) FORD
Winter Park, Florida

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Few Quick Videos

My brothers have trained Abraham's daughter, Angelyce to call me "fat boy."



I also have a video of my uncle Pale Jose (the priest) blessing the food at my aunt Cecilia's novena.

Doings

Yesterday was FANTASTIC!!!

We went deep sea fishing with my Dad's friend Cal Reyes from 8 AM - 3 PM. We were actually only actively trolling for about 3 hours and you'll never believe how many fish we caught: ZERO!!! We didn't catch a damn one! We did, however, get to go out into the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a small fishing boat for an entire morning! Alright, so it wasn't exactly the middle of the ocean since we could still see Saipan the whole time, but it was definately the best thing I have done since I've been back.

Did I mention that Emily was there? Believe it or not, Emily "I'm a Princess" G&%#@*%went DEEP SEA FISHING and enjoyed every minute of it. Her family in Sarasota and Maine won't recognize their little girl when she eventually decides to go home.

We went to Managaha Island after Cal finally decided we weren't going to catch anything (it is not a good time of year for fishing).

Managaha is the most beautiful beach on Saipan. It is a little island inside of the lagoon and has beaches that you usually see on Corona beer commerials. If you look back towards Saipan you can see all of the hotels and other buildings and if you look towards the Pacific Ocean you see nothing but open water and waves crashing on the edge of the reef.

We were really lucky that Cal was willing to take us to Managaha. You usually have to take a really slow ferry. Cal also offered to lend us his pickup truck for the remainder of our stay in Saipan. I've always known that Cal was a great guy. Now he is a great guy AND my new favorite person on Saipan.

I mentioned to Cal that I'm trying to convince my brothers to go to Forbidden Island on Saturday and I asked him if he would be interested in coming along. He said he was interested, but would have to check his schedule. I'm going to give him a call on Friday to see if he can make it. I hope he can come.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Wassup?

Well, I've been at the Internet cafe for about two hours doing some work and some research. I keep trying to post pictures, but they take forever to load.

Alex left this morning. Only God knows when he'll return to Saipan. 1 year? 5 years? 10 years? I guess only time will tell.

I called Herb Soll and Cal Reyes this morning. Emily and I are going fishing with Cal in his boat at noon tomorrow and then we are having dinner with Herb at his house in Kagman tomorrow evening. I'm really looking forward to doing some fishing. I love fishing!

It feels a little weird to be moving into vacation mode after being in funeral mode for 14 straight days. Today is the first day that I have spent on Saipan without Alex being on-island since 1993, which was the summer that I came to Saipan on my own. Saipan without Alex AND Dad just isn't Saipan. I don't really know what it is, I'm still trying to figure that out.

Alex says goodbye

We went to Dad's grave this morning so that Alex could say goodbye to his father one last time.

Another article about Dad

http://www.mvariety.com/localpage/lnews24.htm

Senate resolution honors former Justice Villagomez

By Gemma Q. Casas
Variety News Staff

A SENATE joint resolution has been introduced honoring the late Justice Ramon G. Villagomez who passed away on Nov. 30 after spending years in a coma.

Sen. Pete P. Reyes, Ind.-Saipan, introduced S.J.R. 14-69, which also conveys the Legislature’s sincere condolences and sympathy to the family of Villagomez.

Known as a champion of indigenous culture and legal rights, Villagomez has been recognized for his numerous contributions promoting the interests of Chamorros and Carolinians.

Villagomez was also an active civic leader and was involved in the Boy Scouts of America.

“The late Honorable Justice Ramon Garrido Villagomez exhibited marked ability, deep interest and uniform attentiveness for the culture and tradition of the islands and took deliberate steps to make sure that they are passed on to future generations,” the resolution stated.
Reyes said the resolution is a fitting tribute to Villagomez’s memory.

The former justice, who was only 56 when he died, was born on Saipan and was educated in the U.S.

After obtaining his law degree in 1975, Villagomez was admitted to practice law in the then Trust Territory courts.

The following year, he was allowed to practice in the nation’s capital.

In subsequent years, he practiced law in the U.S. District Court of the Northern Marianas, the commonwealth trial court, Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Villagomez practiced law in the private sector for many years.

In 1986, he was appointed associate judge of the local trial court and served in that capacity until 1989.

That year, he was named as one of the first of the three justices appointed to the CNMI Supreme Court where he served until his retirement in 1997.

Villagomez left behind his wife Angelina, their six children and numerous grandchildren

Well, the funeral's over...

Doesn't the moon seem brighter in Saipan? The sky and the ocean are definately bluer. I'm sure going to miss it here.

It has been a little difficult to get to a computer over the last couple of days, so my updates and blogging have been far from stellar. Now that the funeral and the rosaries are over I should have more time (and freedom) to go to the various Internet cafes on Saipan and do some updating. I should also have more time to just write in general, as I should be spending more time lounging on warm tropical beaches. I probably won't be able to post as many pictures as I would like though, because it is difficult getting a fast connection.

Alex is going back to Florida in the morning. He's pretty torn up and confused about leaving. He doesn't want to leave, but he knows that he has to. It is difficult to describe the type of emotions that the two of us go through when we have to leave Saipan. Saipan is HOME, but so is Orlando and Massachusetts. We only get to see this home every few years; the last time I was here was over 5 1/2 years ago.

So we go through the same emotions everytime we leave. Our family here shows us so much love. They love us just because we are family and of the same blood. It doesn't matter if we haven't seen a cousin in 10 years. When we are here, it is like we have spent every weekend of our lives here.

When we leave Saipan, we have to say goodbye to that. We also have to say goodbye to the island itself. We have to say goodbye to the place where Dad taught us how to throw a talaya, where he taught us how to shoot a rifle, and where he taught us how to make chicken kelaguen.

It is always really hard, but it is especially hard this time around because we do not know when our next visit will be. When we were kids, we always knew that we would be coming back the next summer or the one after that. Now that my father is no longer with us, we don't have that certainty. Maybe it was because he brought us to Saipan; Now if we visit, we have to initiate it on our own.

At least I have two more weeks to enjoy Saipan....but, and there is always a but, Emily and I have been throwing around the idea of moving to Saipan for a while. It is dependant on several different factors, like if I inherit some of my father's land and if we can gain employment here before her JET contract expires.

I don't know.

I really want to learn Japanese AND I really want to spend more time with my island and my family, but like I said, I just don't know. I do know, however, that I won't be heading back to Orlando any time soon (unless of course it is to work on a certain campaign later this summer, wink, wink).

Monday, December 12, 2005

Saipan Tribune Letter to the Editor

http://www.saipantribune.com/newsstory.aspx?cat=15&newsID=53035

Farewell to Saipan's best ambassador

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Honorable Ramon G. Villagomez was the first Chamorro I ever met. It was in 1978, and I was flying to Saipan on the Continental island hopper, and we were stuck in Majuro waiting for a kidnapped child to be boarded on our flight for his eventual return to Alaska. I had been sitting with some Capitol Hill statesiders, who laughed at my naivete for wanting to settle on Saipan without a "prime" lucrative contract, which is the only way, according to them, a statesider would want to live on Saipan.

I remember saying that I still wanted to land on a Pacific island like Saipan, even though my survival depended on only a few dollars in my pocket and my wish to experience the island way of life.

I felt uncomfortable listening to some arrogant Trust Territory primers, and I eventually found a seat next to a quiet young man, who had watched me debate the Capitol Hill gang. I thought he was Spanish, but he proudly said that he was Chamorro. I asked where he lived, and he said that he lived on the island of Saipan. Thus began my education of Micronesia and my future adventure, and my current home of Saipan.

I could have never met a better ambassador for my island orientation. Former Justice Villagomez was returning home from law school, and he gave me limited, but wise insight into the island people that I was about to meet and come to love. I had been apprehensive about my decision to just up and leave California, and my friends thought I would last a few days before I would call and asked them for plane fare back to Los Angeles. But I figured that I could survive, even though I had just discovered that the minimum wage on Saipan was about 60 cents an hour!

Well, I have live the life that many a statesider could only dream of living, and I thank Justice Villagomez for being the introduction into my Saipan world. I have mingled with global people and I have traveled to foreign countries and met with leaders of several countries in my many jobs on Saipan. I have also worked in some of the most interesting jobs that a man would want to have, including my latest job in the Attorney General's Criminal Division.

Let me finalize my tribute to my friend with this somber note. In Justice Villagomez's last days as Chairman of the Board of Regents at the Northern Marianas College, I developed with his blessings the ultimate goals of my educational life, that is, I was able to plan and implement several vocational programs for the island residents that became a loves of my life. Unfortunately, Justice Villagomez fell ill, and with his departure from NMC's Board of Regents, our community college went into a fiasco of greed and the misdirected desires of self-interested people. I only hope that Justice Villagomez's vision will once again return to NMC. God bless you, my friend Ramon Villagomez, and may you rest in peace forever.

Dr. Jack Angello
Fina Sisu

Fun Times are Here

We had a great first day in Saipan. After leaving the Internet cafe at 4 AM, we drove up to the top of Mt. Tapachou and tried to watch the sunrise. I say tried to watch because we were stuck in the middle of a cloud and couldn't see very much. Oh well, it was fun being up there in the dark waiting for the light.

When we got back to the house I introduced everyone to Emily. Alex gave her a big hug after not seeing her for five months. She didn't meet Solomon until later because he was still sleeping and Memong ran out the back door as soon as she arrived. I think he is too shy to talk to her. He was still hiding from her when he got back from school later in the afternoon.

I don't think they've been introduced yet. It's pretty funny.

We went swimming at the Grotto in the afternoon. It was just like a remembered it, warm dark blue waters about 40-60 feet deep. The tide was coming in, so the water was pretty rough. We stayed in the middle of the pool of water and stayed away from the edges. People have been known to be sucked under the water and out through the underwater caves to the ocean on the other side. Those people usually die. We didn't want to be like those people.

After the Grotto we drove to Banzai Cliff and Bird Island to take some pictures.

When we got back to the house Emily and I took showers, while Alex got ready to go octopus hunting at Obyan Beach. He claimed he was doing it for the rosary; I think he was doing it because he enjoys it. Maybe it's both.

The rosary starts in about an hour, so we'll be heading back soon. Tomorrow we have plans to go swimming at Obyan Beach. Should be fun.

I'll post pictures if I can. I know I've posted a few, but the connection isn't very good and my pictures are very large, so it takes a long time to upload them. I may have to do a mass upload when I get back to Takaoka.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Emily's Here!

and on the second day, at 3 in the morning, Emily emerged from the airport...


She's tired as hell because she didn't sleep on the plane. There was no point in going to sleep though, so I took her to the Internet cafe to let her email her family. She was too tired to even do that, so I'm doing it for her.

She sends her love. She's really excited to be reading English again after having spent 5 months in the land of the rising sun. Pictures of her "basking" in the tropical sunshine will follow soon.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Day After Yesterday

The deed is done; Yesterday I buried my father. Chamorro funerals are the most excruciating experience that I have ever heard of. I'll explain what I mean once I have a chance to gather my thoughts and put them down on paper.

I slept for 13 hours last night. I fell asleep at 7 PM and didn't wake up until Abraham's baby started making a lot of noise around 8 AM. I can't remember the last time I slept so long. I felt well rested and relieved when I woke up. The painful part is over. I can go swimming now. All we have to do is finish up a few more days of praying.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

News from Saipan

There really isn't much to report since my schedule for the week was really set out for me on the day I arrived.

Today is the day before the funeral. We have a very, very long day tomorrow. The procession to the church begins at 7 AM, once we are at the church we will have a viewing of the body for the public, and then the service begins at 11 AM. When the service is over, the five sons, of which I am the oldest, will carry the casket on our shoulders to the gravesite, which is adjacent to the cathedral. I have been told that we should expect many people to try to take the burden of carrying the casket away from us en route to the gravesite. I have never seen this, but I think the way it works is people try to take turns carrying the casket.

Tonight I think we are going to go the funeral home for a final private viewing. It will be our fifth viewing in as many days. I've stopped crying when I see him. I'll be ready for the burial tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Look at this belated post

Click HERE to read the post.

I finally wrote about my latest adventure with the Japanese Rail system. I posted it so that it would appear under Sunday's heading. You can either scroll down a little or click the above link to go there.

Saipan Tribune Article about Dad

http://www.saipantribune.com/newsstory.aspx?cat=1&newsID=52866

Flag at half-mast at House of Justice

By Ferdie Dela Torre
Reporter

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Justices Miguel S. Demapan, John A. Manglona and Alexandro C. Castro have ordered to display the CNMI flag at half-mast in honor of the late Justice and Judge Ramon Garrido Villagomez.

Demapan, Manglona, and Castro directed that the CNMI flag at the House of Justice be flown at half-mast commencing last Friday and ending on Dec. 12.

The justices said this is in honor of the late justice's "valuable contribution to the Rule of Law in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands as an associate justice, justice pro tempore, and judge of the Commonwealth Judiciary."

Chief Justice Demapan also ordered the closure of the judiciary yesterday at 3pm so that the courts' staff may attend a prayer service for Villagomez at the Nuestra Senora dela Paz Memorial Chapel at the Cabrera Center in Garapan.

"Except those Superior Court staff who are involved in the on-going trial before Presiding Judge Robert Naraja, everyone is required to attend," said Demapan in a memorandum to the judges, justices and courts staff.

Villagomez, widely known in the local community as forefather of Article 12, passed away last Wednesday at 11:56pm at the Commonwealth Health Center. He was 56.

Villagomez had been in a comma since he suffered a massive heart attack in April 2000.

Villagomez was appointed and confirmed as judge for the Trial Court in Jan. 1986. In May 1989, he became one of the first three justices of the CNMI Supreme Court.

He retired from the high court on Dec. 6, 1997. Altogether he served in the courts for 12 years.

Villagomez organized the judiciary's pre-law program, sending a number of residents to U.S. mainland law schools. After his retirement, he became the president of the NMI BAR Association and established the high school mock trial program.

I think it is day 4

The days are beginning to blend into one another and I am having a hard time keeping what I have done straight. Yesterday we had 3 different services to attend. We went to church at 6 AM, had a prayer service hosted by the judiciary at 3:30, and then had our rosary at 7:30.

Today has us attending 4 different services. We had church at 6:00 AM and starting at 6:00 PM we are going to go to a Novena, the rosary, and then a prayer service for the family. We'll probably finish up around 9:00 - 9:30 PM.

The funeral and the burial are coming up very soon. Friday will be the end of the ninth day of prayer, we bury him on Saturday, and then we finish up with 9 more days of prayer. I'm not really sure what the beliefs are exactly, I know that Catholics believe that the body goes to purgatory for a while and then moves on to heaven after God hears all of the family's prayers. I'm just not sure if he is supposed to enter heaven on the day he is buried or on the last day of prayer. I'm going to look into it.

On a less serious note, I have been forbidden to touch the ocean until Dad is buried. I guess the Chamorro' believe that the spirits of the ocean will try to take me or something. So naturally, I went swimming by myself at Obyan Beach this afternoon. I'm sorry, I just don't believe in superstition.

I need to look into that.

Monday, December 05, 2005

A moment to breathe

Ah, Monday. It started just like any other Monday. I woke up at 5 AM and went to mass in Garapan at first light and then...

On second thought, it wasn't like any other Monday; It was more like I was living someone else's Monday.

After church we had breakfast at Shirley's again; We went there so that I could use the free wireless Internet (I needed to update my Daily Japan Pic!). I had pancakes and something called Chamorro sausage. I don't know what makes it Chamorro other than that it was spicy. I don't remember any stories about the ancient Chamorros eating sausage anyways.

When we returned back home it was time to start getting the house ready for people to come over next week. For nine days after the funeral, all those people that have been going to the church every night to pray the rosary are going to be coming to the house to pray. A lot of my cousins, aunts, uncles, and family friends are going to be coming. Emily is going to be introduced to my family a la My Big Fat Chamorro Wedding style.

I spent the morning putting a pile of wood on one side of the yard into a neater pile of wood on the other side of the yard, burning boxes of quaker oats snacks that were being used as pig food, and cleaning out all of the garbage in the old pala pala, which is the name for a Chamorro shelter used for cooking and hanging out. I was outside almost all day. I now have a certifiable Chamorro sunburn. Ouch!

I also went to the morgue and the funeral home with Angie and my brothers.

Deep breath.

I finally saw Dad. They did a really good job of fixing him up; He looks just like he did five years ago before his body started to atrophy. I never had to see him when he was at his sickest and therefore I will not have the image of my father's sick body haunting me for the rest of my life. I am thankful for that.

Anything beyond that is a little too personal. I don't mind talking about it in person; I just don't want to post it on the Internet for the whole world to see. You see, I want to talk about everything that I do in Saipan over the next month. I just don't want to talk about that.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Saipan Tribune Letter to the Editor

Tribute to Justice Villagomez

As I write this, I cannot express the tremendous loss to the people of the Commonwealth with the passing of Justice Raymond Villagomez. I am sure I am one of many indigenous attorneys he mentored throughout the years and for that, I am extremely thankful and grateful. We were led to believe that because we didn't speak English properly that we were not good enough to reach for the stars, or believe in ourselves.

There was this feeling of inadequacy among our people. I never thought I had what it took to pursue my dream of becoming a lawyer. That was until I met Justice Villagomez. Justice Villagomez made me fell that anything and everything is possible. He mentored me throughout my undergraduate studies and through law school. But there was a price to mentorship with Justice Villagomez, and that was the constant encouragement to come home and give back to my people.

He would tell me that my people needed me and who would best understand the culture than an indigenous person. Justice Villagomez was in the midst of helping me write my law review article while I was in law school when he became ill. He provided me critical insight into Article 12 and sent me a copy of a speech he had written for the United Nations seeking freedom and justice for the indigenous people.

I dedicated my published article to him because it epitomized his believe of self-governance and independence for the taotao tano. When I told him I wanted to come home and fight for indigenous rights, he cautioned don't be surprised if your own people don't espouse the same ideals, but never stop fighting to protect our peoples rights.

Those words are so profound because they guide me in my work as a lawyer and although not everyone wants help, that far exceed the need to fight for those who do. What saddens me most was that I never had the opportunity to say thank you to Justice V. It was simply too difficult for me to visit him because I wanted to remember the vibrant and passionate person that he was. There are no words that can explain how saddened my family and I are about his passing and would like to extend our deepest sympathy to the Chong and Villagomez family. He was a champion for indigenous rights and he would be greatly missed. Justice V, may you finally rest in peace and si yuus maase para todo y un chogi para y taotao ta.

Marie Rios-Martinez

Marianas Variety article about Dad

Article published December 5, 2005

http://www.mvariety.com/localpage/lnews23.htm

‘Champion of indigenous culture, legal rights,’ passes away

By Gemma Q. Casas
Variety News Staff

FORMER Supreme Court Justice Ramon G. Villagomez, described by some as the islands’ “champion of indigenous culture and legal rights,” passed away on Thursday.
Villagomez, 56, had been comatose for about five years.

His health failed after joining a historic canoe voyage between Satawal and Saipan in 2000.
“The speaker and governor-elect is saddened by the news of the loss of former Justice Ramon Villagomez, and extends his condolences to the family. The commonwealth has lost an ardent champion of our indigenous culture and legal rights,” said House leadership spokesman Charles Reyes Jr. in a statement.

Villagomez retired from the Supreme Court on Dec. 6, 1997 after serving the judiciary for 12 years.

After his retirement, Villagomez became president of the NMI Bar Association.
As a retired justice, Villagomez spent most of his time advocating causes he believed would benefit the Northern Marianas.

He opposed the U.S. military bombings on Farallon de Mendinilla, an uninhabited island north of Saipan, and established the high school mock trial program.

The Supreme Court described the former justice as an “outstanding attorney“ and a “dear friend to the commonwealth judiciary.”

“The CNMI judiciary expresses its deepest condolences to the family of the late Justice Ramon G. Villagomez. Justice Villagomez was a dear friend to the commonwealth Judiciary and he will be greatly missed,” the high court said in a statement.

Associate Justice John A. Manglona referred to Villagomez as “truly avant-garde.”

“He had both short-term and long-term visions which were beneficial to the judicial system and the entire commonwealth. He held close to his heart the culture and tradition of the islands and took deliberate steps to make sure that they are passed on to future generations,” Manglona said.

First Day in Saipan, CNMI

Alex and I got to Saipan safe and sound this morning at 3 AM. We didn't have any hiccups in our trip until after we had picked up our luggage and made it out of customs and immigration. Nobody was at the terminal to pick us up.

There is nothing as annoying as traveling for an entire day, crossing a globe to see your family, and then having them forget to pick you up.

Grrrr.....

A quick call to Angie and a short wait solved our dilemna. She picked us up and took us to the new house at Obyan.

I should probably say the new CASTLE at Obyan.

The new home is amazing. Each of the boys have a room that is larger than my whole apartment in Takaoka and Angie has an entire wing of the house. There is a huge living room, kitchen, pala pala and even a POOL TABLE.

Wowsers.

The view from the roof in the house is probably one of the best views in all of Saipan. There are hardly any other houses around, so all you can see in all directions are green plants, blue sky and ocean, and white clouds. Not only can we see Obyan beach and the Pacific Ocean, but we can also see Tinian in the distance. Emily is going to be very happy being here for the next 3 weeks.

The old house, however, is in disrepair; It definately falls into the category of a fixer upper.

Today was an interesting day. We went to church twice. We had mass at 6 AM and then said the rosary (in Chamorro) at 7:30 PM. Morning mass was followed by breakfast at Shirley's, which is a restuarant in Chalan Kanoa, and the rosary was followed by a Chamorro style buffet next to the church.

I saw so many people, family members, cousins, aunts, uncles, and such that it would take a month for me to list them all off. I'm going to be sure to get pictures with all of them, then I'll post all the pictures on this blog.

Between the two services, which were both held at Kristo Rai catholic church in Garapan, we hung out at the house and went shopping for supplies for the funerals. Angie made us all buy matching black slacks. Ugh.

Memong and I also went for a walk down on Obyan beach this morning. We walked along the beach in search of the old hidden Japanese pillbox on the western side of the beach. It was still there. It was hidden behind lots of vines and trees, but we found it.

Then we walked back towards the other end of the beach and took a look at the latte stones that are at the entrance to the beach.

I was going to suggest that we walk to the other side of the beach to look for some caves (and adventure), but after only an hour in the sun, I could feel the first burning sensations of too much sun.

Did I mention that I didn't sleep a wink last night? I'm looking forward to some sleep tonight, but I'm not looking forward to getting up at 5 AM to make it to 6 AM mass again.

I know that Emily is upset that she'll be missing the funeral. Worry not, my love. You will have 9 days of mass and rosary's to attend. You'll meet everybody. I've already told everybody that would listen that you'll be here on Sunday.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Navigating the Trains, part II

I apologize in advance if this post is too wordy. Emily is going to use it as a “how-to” guide for getting to Saipan.

I think that I’m starting to figure this whole train thing out. The more I learn, the more I realize how convenient they are (and what a moron I am).

I had to take the same route to Narita Airport that I took to Takaoka two weeks ago; I just had to make the trip backwards and during daylight hours. Needless to say, it was a lot easier this time around.

I was able to buy my tickets the same day I left and I was given the option of leaving in 10 minutes or 60 minutes. I decided to leave in 60 minutes so that I could have coffee with Emily at the train station café.

The train I took leaving Takaoka was on the hakutaka line, train #9. It seems that every single train is given a number, similar to the way a flight is given a number. I don’t know about the other lines, but for the hakutaka line, all of the trains going in one direction have an even number and all of the trains going in the opposite direction have an odd number. The first train of the day has the lowest number and the last train of the day has the highest number.

The car I sat in was a non-reserved no smoking car. My understanding of the Japanese rail system has increased so much in the last two weeks that I was actually able to plan for that before the train even arrived at the station. You see, there is a sign inside of the train station that lists the times of all of the trains (It is next to the sign with all of the pictures of trains on it). In addition to the departure times, it lists the names, numbers, and destinations of all the trains at the station.

All you have to do is look at your departure time and next to it will be some characters telling you which train line and train number you need. After you figure out your train number, just look at the diagram of the train cars next to it. It is relatively simple to figure out because it is written in English and Japanese. The sign has a representation of the train you are taking. It will tell you exactly how many train cars are on your train and it is color-coded to let you know which trains are reserved, non-reserved, smoking, and/or non-smoking. Reserved cars are colored green and non-reserved cars are yellow.

Once you figure out which car you want, you have to figure out where to line up on the platform. At Takaoka station, the way to figure this out is to look for the colored signs with numbers on them that are above your head, running along the length of the platform. Each small sign has a large number and the name of the corresponding rail line written in hiragana. I needed car #7 on the hakutaka line, so I found the yellow sign with the big 7 and hakutaka written in hiragana across the top.

When the train arrived, I had approximately 2 minutes to board and store my belongings before we were moving again. The train wasn’t very full, so I was able to grab a seat next to the exit and to store my luggage in the overhead compartments without too much trouble.

I was a real treat being able to travel through the Japanese countryside during daylight hours. There were times when I was no more than 100 meters from the Sea of Japan AND the foothills of the Japanese Alps. Then when we turned inland, and started heading up into the mountains, it got really, really snowy.

I had to change trains at Echigo Yuzama station, where there was about a foot of snow covering the ground. I had about 8 minutes to change trains. After exiting the first train I headed up an escalator, which took me to the main station. Then I followed the signs for Shinkansen Line, which were in green and pointed towards platforms 11-14. It was easy to figure out where to go. There is a large electronic sign that displays the next two trains’ times and platform numbers. Even if you can’t figure out the name of the train line or the destination, it is a safe bet to board a train based on the departure time. The platform numbers on the sign are highlighted in a yellow box. They make it easy to figure out. Just figure out which platform you need and make a beeline for it.

When you get to the turnstiles feed all of your tickets into the machine at the same time, not one by one. This is a good THING TO KNOW WHILE VISITING JAPAN.

THINGS TO KNOW WHILE VISITING JAPAN #6: When you are using the trains and you have to take multiple trains, you will be given several tickets. One ticket is the base price for your fair and each other ticket corresponds to any increased cost for each individual train. The extra fair can cost more depending on if you have a reserved or non-reserved ticket, if it is a limited express train, or if it is a super express train. If your tickets have a black back, when you go through the turnstile you have to insert ALL of your tickets into the slot. The machine will spit out the tickets that you still need when you walk through to the other side. You can insert up to 4 tickets at one time.

The train that I took from Echigo Yuzama station was a double decker super express train. I was pretty excited. The train looked like it was about to leave when I got to the platform, so I had to hurriedly find the closest non-reserve car. I got lucky and jumped on a non-smoking car.

After only 10 minutes of traveling through a very long tunnel, the train emerged into a wide open valley where it was still Autumn. The change was stunning. Echigo Yuzama was a winter wonderland, but here the leaves were just beginning to change.

The train pulled into Tokyo station about 75 minutes later. It was still as big, busy, and intimidating as it was two weeks ago, but navigating through it this time was no problem.

When the super ultra mega fast double decker bullet train stopped at the station, I got out with just about everyone else on the train, carried my bags down the same flight of stairs that I had carried them up only two weeks ago, entered my tickets through the turnstile, and found myself in the main station again.

The signs for the Narita Express train were well marked and highly visible. All I had to do was to follow the trail of blue signs for the Yokosuka Soba line. I was going to head straight down towards my platform when I realized that I had 25 minutes to kill. No way! Am I really that good?

I decided to get a snack, so I bought a sandwich from one the station vendors. After that, all I had to do was to follow the signs again, go down 3 flights of stairs, find out where I needed to line up (this time the car numbers were on the ground), and then wait for my train to arrive.

I’m a pro at this now. Getting back to Takaoka from Tokyo is going to be a walk in the park.

I needed to get off at the Narita Airport Terminal 2; so naturally, I got off at the Narita Airport Terminal 1, stood in the wrong line at the wrong check-in counter at the wrong terminal, was told that I was in the wrong place, and then had to take the airport shuttle over to the right terminal. No worries though, when I finally arrived at the correct check-in counter they told me that I had to wait two hours to check my luggage.

There isn’t much to do at Terminal 2 except to look at the few airport stores and to eat at the several different restaurants. I opted for the Japanese restaurant and had some shrimp tempura, cold soba noodles, and a big Asahi. It was one of my loneliest dinners ever.

When two hours had past, I checked in and went straight into the terminal, where I found Alex looking dreary eyed in front of our gate. I bought him a beer and gave him a few Japanese snacks that I had picked up for him.

The flight to Guam was really short and I didn’t sleep a wink. When we arrived in Guam we had to go through immigration, but not customs and then walk through a door marked AUTHORIZED PERSONELL ONLY to go through security and to get back into the terminal.

When you walk into the terminal, instead of a sign displaying all of the gate assignments, there are duty free shops. We had to ask one of the security people which gate we needed.

Our flight left an hour later. It was a two propeller plane and there were only about 15 people on the flight. It was 2:00 AM; I’m surprised that there were that many people flying at that hour.

When we finally arrived in Saipan we had to go through immigration, pick up our luggage, and then go through customs. Maybe they are stricter in the daytime, but at 3 AM they only glanced at our papers and waived us through.

My favorite thing about first arriving in Saipan is the smell. I can’t describe it. I don’t know if it is from all of the vegetation or if it comes about from being so close to the ocean, but there is a very distinct smell that you only sense when you first arrive. By the second day you can’t smell it anymore, but when you first arrive, it really reminds you that you are home.

Live from Narita Airport

I don't have the time to write a detailed post about my lastest train trip; I'll do it once I am in Saipan. I did not have much trouble navigating the trains; I'm an old pro now.

I arrived at the airport way early, but that is a good thing considering how likely it was that I would get lost. When I tried to check in at the Continental Micronesia desk they told me to come back in two hours.

I'm not going to say too much more. I just wanted to let everyone know that I got to the airport all right and that I will see Alex very soon and then I'll be on my way to Saipan. I'll update soon.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Let's GO!

Well, I guess it's about time to get moving. It is almost 9 AM and all of my stuff is packed. Emily and I have no idea how the trains work and what schedule they run on, so we are going to head over to the train station to buy our tickets a little early.

I'm REALLY looking forward to another OPPORTUNITY to navigate the Japanese rail system. I'm hoping that I wasn't just lucky last time.

We are hoping that I have some time before the train arrives to go get something to eat.

I really can't believe that I'm leaving after only two weeks in Japan. When I think about it, that seems like a really miniscule amount of time. When I get back, Autumn will be over and Winter will be here in full force. There will probably be a foot of snow on the ground.

Well, I can't spend too much on this; I have to get out the door. If you get a chance, please call, message, or email Emily. She's going to be very lonely in this apartment for the next week.

Just try to remind her that next Sunday she'll be basking in tropical sunshine and working on her Chamorro suntan.

Saipan Tribune Article about Dad

I don't know how the archives works for Saipan Tribune website, so I am going to republish the article in its entirety.

http://www.saipantribune.com/newsstory.aspx?cat=1&newsID=52756

Justice Villagomez passes away

By Ferdie Dela Torre
Reporter

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Former Judge and Justice Ramon Garrido Villagomez, widely known in the local community as the forefather of Article 12, passed away on Wednesday at 11:56pm at the Commonwealth Health Center. He was 56.

Villagomez had been in a coma since he suffered a massive heart attack in April 2000, family members told the Saipan Tribune yesterday.

The CNMI judiciary expressed its “deepest condolences to the family of the late Justice Villagomez.”

“Justice Villagomez was a dear friend to the Commonwealth Judiciary and he will be greatly missed,” said Director of Court Margarita M. Palacios.

“He was a true avant-garde. He had both short-term and long-term visions which were beneficial to the judicial system and even the entire Commonwealth,” said Associate Justice John A. Manglona.

Manglona said Villagomez held close to his heart the culture and tradition of the islands and took deliberate steps to make sure that they are passed on to future generations.

“The CNMI Judiciary extends an Un dangkulu na Si Yu’us Ma’ase” to Ramon G. Villagomez for his great service and contribution to the judicial system of the Commonwealth,” Manglona said.

Villagomez was appointed and confirmed as judge for the Trial Court in Jan. 1986. In May 1989, he became one of the first three justices of the CNMI Supreme Court.

He retired from the high court on Dec. 6, 1997. Altogether he served in the courts for 12 years.

The judiciary in a press statement said that as a judge and justice, Villagomez was known for his well-written decisions and opinions.

He organized the judiciary’s pre-law program, sending a number of residents to U.S. mainland law schools. After his retirement, he became the president of the NMI BAR Association and established the high school mock trial program.

Villagomez was survived by his wife Angelina Chong Villagomez.His children are Tiana M. and Jake Galloway, Angelo O. Villagomez, Alexander O. Villagomez, Abraham C. Villagomez and Jocelyn A. Alvarez; Solomon C. Villagomez and Ramon G. Villagomez II.

“He was my best friend,” Angelina Villagomez said.

Supreme Court deputy clerk Louise Hofschneider said Justice Villagomez hired her in May 1988 as his clerk when he was an Associate Judge.

“He’s a good boss. He was my mentor. He’s a great loss to the judiciary. He’s a good mentor and judge,” Hofschneider said, adding that Villagomez was a known advocate for indigenous people’s rights.

The nightly rosary is being held at 7:30pm at Kristo Rai Church in Garapan. The funeral services and Mass will be on Dec. 10 at Mt. Carmel Church at 7am.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Who'd a thunk?

"This time tomorrow I'll be well on my way to Takaoka."


I wrote that almost two weeks ago to the minute. This time tomorrow I'll be well on my way to Saipan. Funny, huh? I didn't think I'd be uprooting myself so soon.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

It finally happened

The day that I have been dreading for five years is finally here; my father passed away in his sleep last night.

I am flying to Saipan on the earliest possible flight. Alex is leaving Orlando on Friday morning and will take a flight from Tokyo to Saipan on Saturday afternoon. I am going to be on the same flight out of Tokyo with him.

I had to cancel my other flight (the one that left on the 17th) and buy a new ticket. The flight cost about the same as the one I canceled, but I had to pay a 30,000 Yen cancellation fee. Bummer.

We will both arrive in Saipan at 2 AM on Sunday morning. The funeral isn't until the following Saturday morning, but we will be attending rosaries and visiting with friends and family every day and night until the burial.

This whole thing is more than a little bit surreal. I'll be seeing Alex on Saturday night. It has only been two weeks since we said our goodbyes in Orlando; I wasn't expecting to see him again for another two years.

I'll have all day tomorrow to pack for a month-long trip to Saipan and to help Emily plan her trip. We are going to try to get her there in time for the funeral. We are not sure if she can get the time off from work, but as usual, we are forever optimistic.

Success! Finally!

Thank you, Greg in the Phillipines!

I finally managed to get some kerosene, which I have found out, is pronounced touyu in Japanese. An 18 Liter blue plastic container set me back 840 Yen and 18 Liters of touyu set me back 1,134 Yen.

$20 is a small price to pay for warm toes and a happy girlfriend.

But that's not all!

When I tried to vacuum today I found that the bag hadn't been changed in about 10 years. Gross. I went to SATY in the hopes of finding replacement bags at a reasonable price. There were four different types of bags to choose from and I had to figure out which one I needed by reading the hieroglyphics, I mean kanji, on the package. I may have mentioned before that I am a functional illiterate here in Japan. That's not true. I am just plain illiterate.

I picked the package that had a picture of a vacuum cleaner that vaguely resembled mine on it. When I got home and tried putting it in, it fit! Super Excellent Joyousness!

I also bought Emily a pink umbrella.

What a great afternoon!

Updated Pictures

I added pictures of our apartment and a video of our bathroom to the post about our apartment.

Click HERE to see them.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Toyama EnGrish

Posting pictures of English that doesn't seem quite right is probably going to be a semi-regular feature of this blog. It is called Engrish and it is everywhere. This is the first installment, taken while touring around Toyama. I don't think it will be necessary to add captions; they are pretty funny on their own.

My First Enkai!

Alright, so it wasn't really an ENKAI since I don't really work and this group of people were friends and NOT co-workers, but it is fun to pretend.

Emily and I were invited to attend a costume party by one of Emily's fellow JETs, Sarah. The party was hosted by a group of Japanese, who from what I could tell were friends who all had children that were pretty much the same age (they could have been co-workers, who knows?)

The party was held at a restaurant in Takaoka; I think it was an Italian restaurant, but I could be wrong (I probably am). We were told to show up around 6:30 dressed in costume and to bring a gift. Now Emily isn't really a detail person. Our apartment is spotless and she is definately into details when it comes to fashion, but as far as planning goes, she prefers someone else to do it for her. Combine this with our inability to comprehend Japanese language and culture and, well, you see where I'm going with this.

Emily dressed up as a naughty Christmas Elf and I bought a wig, donned my Red Sox jersey and claimed that I was Johnny Damon. We also bought two poinsettia plants, thinking that they would make nice gifts.

We met up with Sara and her boyfriend, Michael, outside of the restaurant and when we walked in we quickly realized that we had completely missed the whole point of the party. We were supposed to show up dressed as a CARTOON CHARACTER and we were supposed to bring a WRAPPED gift. Oops! Sucks to be gaijin.

As we entered the restaurant we paid for our dinners (4000 Yen each, ouch!) and took a seat at the Western table in the center of the room (there were several other tables set up for our enkai). Besides the hosts (Batgirl and Darth Vader), we were the first guests to arrive. We sat at the table and discussed how lame our costumes were (except for Sara, who was in a full body Pikachu outfit) as we watched the room fill with Japanese parents and kids dressed as characters from Disney movies, anime cartoons, and giant bugs. Most of the costumes were homemade, which really impressed me. The homemade costumes looked better than what a store bought costume looks like back home. By the way, I don't know what cartoon the giant bugs come from. Any input would be appreciated.

I think my favorite costume was worn by a little boy named Toyo who came dressed as Snow White. That's right, I said little BOY dressed as Snow White. His mom was dressed as the Evil Queen from the same movie. They looked great together, but I thank GOD my mom never did that to me (Toyo eventually won the award for Best Costume).

While we waited for everyone to arrive and pay for thier dinner, we sat around and socialized some more. While most of the kids were transfixed by the 42 inch plasma screen TV in the corner, we were able to talk to several of the parents in English. A typical conversation went like this:

"How long have you been in Japan?"

"Since Saturday."

"Soo desu ne! Do you speak Japanese?"

"Iie. Zen zen Wakarimasen."

"So you speak Japanese!"

"Umm..."

The dinner started when one of the Dads got up and gave a short speech in Japanese. Then one of the Moms got up and gave a short speech. During the speeches we all poured beer into each other's glasses. When the speeches were done, we raised our glasses, KANPAIed, and chugged our whole drink.

With that out of the way, we let the feasting commence!

I guess I should mention that you're not supposed to fill up your own drink at an enkai. You're supposed to fill up the glass of everyone else around you, especially the people that you want to show respect towards. In return, they fill up your glass. Everybody is supposed to know that. I feel lame having to write it.

The food was fantastic. We were served salmon, duck, pasta with tomato sauce, pasta with cream sauce and calamari rings, and the coolest dish that can be best described as a goulash served in a hollowed out toasted loaf of bread. It was all delicious.

This type of meal is called a tabehoudai, which basically translates into "all you can eat - but you have to leave after two hours." It is different from an American all you can eat. In America, you take food until you are unable to eat any more. In Japan, they give you food until you are unable to eat any more. It is a subtle difference.

Our dinner was also technically a nomihoudai, which, similar to the tabehoudai, literally means "all you can DRINK - but your drunk ass has to get up and move after two hours."

During dinner, Emily and I sat on the end of the table next to the cutest little Japanese girl dressed as Marie from the Aristocats. Her name was Chieko. Click HERE to see a video of Chieko singing the ABC song.

Halfway through our meal, one of the Mom's got up and introduced everyone in the room. I had the honor of being introduced first. I was introduced as "Sara's friend's boyfriend, Angelo." They made me stand up and wave to everyone. I don't know if being the first introduction is a sign of respect or a sign that I was considered to be the least important person in the room. I'm sure I'll figure out this whole Japan thing eventually. Emily was next, then Michael, then Sara, followed by each of the families and their children.

After the introductions we played BINGO!

It was a pretty fun idea. We separated all of the gifts into two separate piles: gifts for children and gifts for adults. Then we played some MAD bingo; it was really exciting. If you got to be one number away from calling BINGO, you had to stand up and say "richii." I don't know why and I don't know what it means. I just know we had to do it.

When somebody finally called BINGO, they got to go up front, select a gift, have their picture taken by 12 different cameras, and then sit back down. If there was a tie and two people called BINGO at the same time, they had to play janken, which is just the Japenese name for rocks, paper, scissors. We continued playing bingo until everybody in the room had selected a gift. Emily was just about the last person to win. Our poinsettias were the last gifts to go.

After bingo, we listened to another speech; this time it was a goodbye speech. We also had to take group pictures. We took one picture with all of the kids and then one picture with all of the adults. It was entertaining to watch a roomful of kids take pictures of the adults.

We finally left after saying a thousand thank yous. It is traditional for an enkai to be followed by a second party (remember, this wasn't really an enkai), but Emily and I had to get ready for a JET party being held at a Brazilian nightclub, so we had to leave our new Japanese friends behind.

I'm behind on my blogging

So sue me. I've got about 5 posts that I'm working on. I'll get them up soon. I just like thinking about them for a while before I post them. The first thing I need to do is to post the pictures of the inside of the apartment. I'll probably get around to that tonight.

In the meantime:

I had a fun day exploring Toyama City today. I don't want to spoil any of the details, but I will say that I finished my day with a fantastic dinner in a Chinese restaurant in a department store near Toyoma Station. I had the pleasure of dining with Emily, Josh, Carl, and Adam.

Here's a picture of Josh and Emily at the restaurant: