Sunday, December 25, 2005

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.

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