I don't care where you are in the world, a general rule of thumb that you can follow in almost every locale is that the best time and place to experience a local culture is during a festival (a KKK festival might be the exception). This was definately the case with the 25th Annual Flame Tree Arts Festival, which was as much a cultural festival as it was an art show.
There are so many beautiful places on Saipan, and I don't want to say that American Memorial Park is the most beautiful, but it is definately a great place for an art show. It is right on the beach and there are plenty of ironwood pine trees to provide shade. There are also public restrooms, some picnic tables, and a jungle gym. Did I mention that it is right on the beach, with a view of Managaha Island?
I was really impressed with the whole setup of the festival. The first thought that came to mind when I first got there was, "where did all these people come from?" I had no idea so many people lived on this island! The place was absolutely packed!
I tried to think back to an experience in my life that I could compare the festival to, but I really couldn't. It was truly a unique experience.
The festival's activities centered around a stage in the middle of American Memorial Park. From the moment we got there to the moment we left, there was somebody up on stage singing or dancing or both. They weren't just locals, either. Participants from all over the Pacific flew here to entertain the crowd...and the whole thing was free. I can't think of any other place where you can watch dancers from a dozen different Pacific islands perform for free.
As for the art show, it consisted of local artists, artists from around the Pacific, and cultural and artistic displays from several different art, history, cultural, or humanity groups in the CNMI and Guam (and probably the rest of the Pacific). There was even a group giving canoe rides in a traditional canoe.
One of my cousins, Lao, was displaying some of his work. He takes sand, wood, and rocks that he finds on the beach and glues/nails/paints them together to create beach scenes from Saipan. I liked the one with the torii (japanese shinto shrine gate). Lao also showed me a traditional Chamorro (traditional as in from 1000 years ago) octopus trap from the CNMI musuem. It is made from all natural materials (obviously, if they were making them 1000 years ago).
There were also a few booths selling, um, things made out of, um, some type of plant and those little, um, white shells that have a name that I don't know. I probably should have taken the time to ask how they were made. Next year.
There were also several booths selling paintings, carvings, and photographs. I really liked the guy who used reef fish as a block print (is that the right name?). Ah, if only I had more money.
The food at the festival wasn't too bad, either. A lot of the booths were run by local restaurants, but a few of them were locals selling local food. We bought some yakitori for $1 a kebab and a plate full of mahi mahi and tuna sashimi for $5. It was really cheap. Most of the booths allowed you to buy 5-7 items for about $5. The beer was cheap, too!
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