Sunday, October 29, 2006

Rusty Tanks and Living History

Emily's grandfather recently asked us if there was any evidence of WWII on Saipan. Those of us living here know that the answer to that question is a resounding HELL YES.

Just this past Friday, I was up on the Landeran Tanke trail in Marpi and found two rusted out bombs. Weapons of Mass Destruction type bombs. They were just lying next to the trail. No big deal.

Almost every beach, if not every beach, has one or more bunkers. Most of the bunkers are made from natural materials, like limestone and coral. The Japanese did this not so much because they thought that these materials would blend into their surroundings, but because by the end of WWII they were running out of concrete.

My favorite reminders of the war are the two rusted amphibious tanks sitting in the lagoon just off of Kilili Beach in Susupe. These tanks have weathered salt water, the changing of the tides, and typhoons for over 62 years, yet they are still as solid as ever. When you swim out there you can still see how the American troops welded steel plates to the sides of the tanks, something ingenious young marines are still doing in Iraq, but to their Humvees.

You can look up the Battle of Saipan on Wikipedia to learn more about these tanks and how they got here, but there is nothing like swimming out to them, touching them, and imagining what it must have been like riding into war as an 18 year old Marine away from home for the first time.

Well, you can try to imagine anyway. You'd have to have a really vivid imagination. The Saipan of today is very different from the Saipan of 1944. I don't think the marines in 1944 had time to stop and look at the pretty fish.

Today's Daily Pic

Thursday, October 26, 2006

First Trip to Tinian

After seeing the post about going to Tinian on this blog, my wonderful, world travelling mother dug up some old pictures of my first visit to Tinian. I didn't know she had these. I thought I had all the Saipan pictures stored in a box in Sarasota.

The little kid in the pictures is obviously me. The two old people are my grandfather and my mother's stepmother (my stepgrandmother?) And the lady with that fantastic perm? That's my mom!


I've been wanting to visit Tinian ever since I came back to Saipan earlier this year. I'm not really sure, but I've probably only visited Tinian 5-6 times in my life (it might even be less than that). When I was younger, my father used to take us there for a day or two at a time to go swimming at Taga Beach and to drive around on the old, long abandoned airfields.

Area wise, Tinian is only slightly smaller than Saipan (115 vs 101 km2), but Tinian has only 1/20 the population of Saipan, so the islands are worlds apart.

There are two ways of getting to Tinian from Saipan. You can fly for about $64 per person or you can take the ferry for $17.25 per person ($5 more if you want to sit on the top deck.) We opted for the latter. The ferry leaves at 5 PM and it takes about an hour to get from port to port. There is a free shuttle that then takes you from the Port of Tinian to the Tinian Dynasty Casino.

Millions of Christmas lights and a huge outdoor water fountain greet you as the shuttle pulls into the casino. The casino is so well lit that you can actually see it from the port. It's like Vegas, baby...except they shut off the water fountain after you check in. Apparently they only turn it on when a bus full of gamblers drives up to the casino.

The casino reminded Emily and me of the 4 star hotels that we stayed in when we visited China. There is lots of gold, even more mirrors, everything is written in broken EnGrish, and the bed was hard as a rock. There is even cheesy Chinese elevator music playing in the hallways.

I would call the casino's motif almost elegance. They have all this stuff that is meant to impress you: shiny black marble floors (don't wear a skirt!), big marble pillars, a giant bronze picture of some galloping horses, a huge pool, and meticulously landscaped grounds. But then they ignore the paint peeling on the ceiling. Almost elegance.

We spent two nights at the casino. It was fun to do as a special treat for Emily, but next time I am going to stay at Flemings, which has a certain local charm...and a really great bar back in their courtyard.

We did what every tourist does in Tinian and rented a scooter to visit the historical and natural sites. There are two scooter rental companies between Taga Beach and the casino...very convenient.

The owner gave us a map of the island and helped us plot a course to see all the sites. We drove around and found the old church next to the new church:

Then it started raining, so we ducked into a restaurant called JC's for breakfast. Emily ordered a bowl of soup that for some reason cost $7. When they brought it out in a bowl the size of the Stanley Cup, we understood why.

After breakfast we got back on our scooter and drove around the island for 5 hours. We visited all of the old abandoned Japanese buildings as well as the pits where the Americans loaded the two atomic bombs that would eventually be dropped on Japan.

The whole experience was quite creepy. Once upon a time there were people living and working here, but now there aren't. Weird.

I took a bunch of other pictures, but I'm going to post them on my Daily Pic blog, which has been much neglected as of late. In the meantime, check out today's pic:

Today's Daily Pic

After our five hour tour of the island, Emily and I met up with Tina, who was on island for a Litter Control Officer training. We had dinner at Flemings (next to the hotel of the same name) and then we had a few drinks in the bar (it had a name, but I didn't catch it.) Then we went back to the casino, hopped over the locked fence, and went swimming in the casino pool.

We came back on the 8AM ferry this morning. It was a nice mini-vacation and I can't wait to go back.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Storming Tinian

Just over 62 years ago, in July of 1944, a young marine named James M. Walsh stormed onto the beaches of Tinian. He was my grandmother's brother.

In about an hour I'll be returning to Tinian, but unlike my great uncle, I'll be taking a ferry and staying at a casino resort.

Monday, October 23, 2006

No place to hang

Emily and I checked out the Japanese Autumn Festival in Garapan this past Saturday. We ran into John "Thumbtacks" Moreno at a booth selling omikuji and ema. John's omikuji was in Japanese, so he had no idea what it meant or where to hang it. Money well spent, ne? As for us, we bought a pair of ema for Emma to bring back home.

The festival setup was similar to that of the Taste of the Marianas where you had to buy tokens at a central booth to pay for food at the other booths. Even though there was a booth selling okinomiyaki, we got there just as the festival was winding down, so we didn't bother to get any food. We just did a once around, got back in the car and went for lunch at Caprisiosa. Hey, that's Japanese cuisine, right?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Front Page News

Yesterday's 1020 on 10/20 went better than I could have ever hoped. When we first floated the idea of recruiting 1020 volunteers to clean our island on one day it seemed like an insurmountable challenge. I never expected to meet our goal three times over. And oh yeah, we were on the front page of the Saipan Tribune.

It was a really exciting day. I drove around visiting as many of the cleanup sites as I could.

I started out at 7 AM. My first stop was with the Marianas Eye Institute volunteers picking up trash along Beach Road. They were led by their CEO Russ Quinn.

My next stop was Java Joe's for a hot cup of black coffee. Along the way I saw volunteers from DPL and I think NMC cleaning up the road

After that I drove to Kagman. Along the way I saw volunteers from MOVER cleaning up Isa Drive and the Lt. Governor's office and family cleaning up As Lito Road.

The Kagman Komunidat Association, along with the Lao Lao Bay Golf Resort, Kagman Highschool, Kagman Elementary School, and Cha Cha Oceanview Junior High School, were cleaning up the Kagman Peninsula.

Here are pictures of some of the participants:

After Kagman I drove to Koblerville to visit with Cinta Kaipat, her office, her family, and CNMI Forestry. They were continuing with the Beautify CNMI! project to build a public park at the old substation and abandoned airfield.

Here is a picture of Cinta with her sister Vi, nephew Kyle, and Ben Cepeda from CNMI Forestry:

After that I headed North, passing by the Mayor's Office working in San Antonio. Then I stopped to visit with the Aquarius Hotel, the Hunter family and DPH cleaning up the beach in Chalan Kanoa (where they planted over 40 coconuts), before heading to 13 Fisherment to visit with DEQ.

DEQ, in addition to cleaning up the beach and the road, planted 25 coconut trees and painted one of the pala palas with paint donated from Sherwin Williams.

After that, I visited with Hopwood Junior High School cleaning up their school and their adjacent beach and then PIC cleaning up the beach south of their hotel.

It was truly an amazing day! I didn't get pictures of everyone I saw, but I'm expecting all of the adopting groups to send me pictures along with reports of their cleanups. I'll post those stories and pictures on the Beautify CNMI! website.

The total right now for the number of participants stands at 3210, but that number should increase as other volunteer groups get back to me with their number of participants.

Friday, October 13, 2006

1020 on 10/20

Lately I've been busy coordinating with Beautify CNMI! on an island wide destination enhancement day. We are calling the event 1020 on 10/20, the idea being that on October 20th we will recruit 1020 volunteers to pick up trash, paint over graffiti, plant trees, and generally beautify our islands.

The event is next Friday.

I've been doing everything I can to get news about this event into the public's conciousness. Not only do I want to surpass our goal of 1020 volunteers, but on 10/21 I want everyone on this island to take a look at our work and say, "Damn, we did a good job."

The local press has been extremely helpful. The newspapers have given us space in their pages and TV and radio have both given us airtime. Also, in their columns this week, both Harry Blalock and Ruth Tighe wrote glowing commentaries of Beautify CNMI! We also have our website, which has been averaging about 40 unique visitors a day since we officially launched it a few short weeks ago.

Things are looking up. Now if only it would stop raining (so when does the rainy season end anyway?)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Let the Politickin' Begin

Election season in the CNMI is off to an early start! The former governor, who gets a regular tongue lashing everytime somebody in the current administration mentions why things are so bad in the CNMI, has vowed to return to public serice.

Let the games commence!

Marianas Variety, Thursday, October 12, 2006

Babauta: GOP will regroup
By Gemma Q. Casas
Variety News Staff

FORMER Gov. Juan N. Babauta says the local Republican Party is now regrouping in preparation for the 2007 midterm elections.

Babauta said the current GOP chairman, his former Public Works Secretary Juan Reyes, is likely to step down and run for a seat in the House of Representatives.

“There will be some real reorganization in the Republican Party,” Babauta told Variety in a telephone interview. “I understand that…Reyes is considering running as a member of the House for Precinct 3.”

Babauta, who lost his re-election bid in 2005, said his political career is not over.
“I’m going to be active in the Republican Party — I owe it to the people,” he said.
The party suffered its worst defeat ever in 2005, losing control of the Senate for the first time since the CNMI was established in 1978.

The GOP also failed to win control of the House, which it dominated in the 1990s, and its gubernatorial ticket could only finish third in a four-way race.

Many Republicans blamed the disaster on the party leadership’s unprecedented decision not to hold a gubernatorial primary.

Because of the GOP’s failure to hold a primary, then-Rep. Heinz S. Hofschneider launched his candidacy as an Independent, winning on Saipan and losing by only 99 votes to the Covenant Party’s Benigno R. Fitial, himself a former Republican.

With Babauta’s loyalists apparently still running the GOP, it is now doubtful whether the factions of the once dominant party can reunite before the 2007 and 2009 elections.

Absentee Voting

Florida is 27 days away from Democratic Victory!

I finally received my absentee ballot in the mail today! I opened it up, filled it out, paused to take a few pictures, and took it back to the post office in Chalan Kanoa.

So who did I vote for?

The candidate I was most excited to cast a ballot for this election was my good friend Scott Randolph. Scott ran his campaign the old fashioned way: from the ground up. He didn't have to rely on the state party and special interest groups pumping out mailer after mailer after mailer. He relied on small donations from individuals, not corporations, and spent months knocking on doors to get his message out. He won his primary by 22 points and I hope he wins the general election by an even larger margin. Vote for Randolph!

For Senate I voted for Bill Nelson. Bill Clinton said, "Good is not the enemy of perfect (or something like that)." For some of my Democratic friends, Bill Nelson isn't a perfect candidate. Well, Bill's work in the Senate over the last six years is one of the main reasons we don't have polluting oil rigs off of our tourism dollar generating, pristine shores. That's good enough for me. Vote for Nelson!

Then finally, Jim Davis got my vote for governor. I met Jim (as in I shook his hand as he greeted crowds of people) a few times during the 2004 Presidential Election. I saw him at a few Kerry rallies and he also came to the League of Conservation Voters office in Orlando. LCV gave Jim a 100% last year. If you care about environmental issues and the health of your family, then Jim is the perfect candidate (Jim and Bill Nelson aren't enemies, thus proving Bill Clinton right). Vote for Davis!

On a side note:

Doesn't the ballot for governor look a little off? Almost butterfly ballot-ish? The arrow pointing to the Democratic candidate is closer to the "REP" than the arrow for the Republican candidate. Not that I'm endorsing election fraud, but...

In other news:

The Yankees still haven't won a World Series in the Third Millenium.
New score: Red Sox 1, Yankees 0

Monday, October 09, 2006

Bush's Folly

Good morning, East Coast!

While you were sleeping, North Korea tested an underground nuclear device. The US Geological Survey registered the explosion as a 4.2 magnitude earthquake. Looks like we invaded the wrong country.

Emily and I had some friends over for dinner tonight and we came to the conclusion that this is the biggest thing to happen since 9/11. This event is going to define the Bush presidency and our lives for the next few years.

The US took the unity and worldwide support generated from 9/11 and blew it on Saddam Hussein. Now we find that it wasn't Saddam Hussein, but Kim Jong Il who had the Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Somebody made a really big mistake.

We done messed up. What do we do now?

Bird Island Blogging

I took this picture this afternoon. Don't you wish you knew where this was? I'll give you a was underwater.

OK, it was the Bird Island Reserve...and sorry to have to tell you this, but you're not allowed to fish, hunt, or gather any species there.

That didn't stop someone from illegally harvesting and eating these trochus (locally these guys are called aliling):

The fine for taking any species from the Bird Island Reserve is $500 and up to one year in jail. That is one hefty fine for just a scooby snack. I recommend not fishing there; bring a sandwich.

I also want to share this photo of a small pandanus tree:

When we were planting pandanus up at the Lao Lao Revegetation site, the CNMI Forestry guys told us that coconut crabs like to hang out in these trees. I guess they were right. (Coconut crabs are the largest species of hermit crab; these guys may or may not be coconut crabs, we won't know until they are larger).

Friday, October 06, 2006

Pullin' a Waki

We celebrated my birthday at Red Box last night. We rented out the large private karaoke room (the one with the purple velvet couches) for four hours and basically tortured our friends who hate karaoke (Sorry, Reina, Rachel, and Emily).

I like to joke that Representative Waki is a karaoke hog, but after last night I think I may have overtaken his title...or maybe Gus is the Karaoke King...or was it Diana?

Here are some pictures:

White & Nerdy

This video basically sums up my life. Sad. But true.

Food for my Mind

Every Friday afternoon I look forward to reading Harry Blalock's Food for Thought and Ruth Tighe's On My Mind. They are both online commentaries about life in Saipan and almost every person on island reads them (or at least hears Harry reciting Food for Thought on the radio).

Don't get me wrong, there is a lot to complain about on Saipan (trust me on this), but sometimes the bitching and moaning gets old...especially when I've had a good week.

Maybe it is because I turned 28 this week (thanks for the Red Sox hat and shirt!) and maybe because I have plans to go out with friends all weekend, but I had a pretty good week.

I think it was a pretty good week for the CNMI, too.

We're getting rid of all the junk cars on island. Only yesterday the Lt. Governor signed an MOA with Balli Steel to spend the next two years shipping junk cars off island. Balli Steel is going to sell the metal from the cars, washing machines, and fridges to markets in Asia. To make the deal even sweeter, they're doing it at no cost to the government (there will be an in-kind cost, however). In fact, part of the contract states that Balli Steel will pay $5 to the Beautification Task Force (whatever the hell that is, we're Beautify CNMI!) for every ton of scrap metal they sell.

I think that's pretty good news.

We also just kicked off Beautify CNMI!'s Anti-Litter Education Month. We are going to spend the entire month cleaning the island and educating the public about the reasons for not littering (it is UGLY, EXPENSIVE, AND ILLEGAL!)

There's a lot going on during Anti-Litter Education Month. We're restarting the DEQ Adopt-a-Beach and MVA Adopt-a-Road programs, we're identifying areas in need of beautification with a CNMI wide eyesore photo contest, and we're planning for a CNMI wide cleanup (or Destination Enhancement Day) on October 20. We're calling the event "1020 on 10/20," the kitsch being that we'll recruit 1020 volunteers on 10/20 to pick up trash, plant trees, paint over graffiti, and generally beautify our islands.

October will lead into Zero Tolerance Month, where the 20 newly certified anti-litter enforcement officers will be issuing citations to litter bugs. The MINIMUM fine is $200. Strong incentive for not flicking that cigarette butt on the ground, huh?

This is on top of our weekly beach cleanups, tree plantings, recycling activities, and other community events. We add new volunteers and new groups every week. Tomorrow morning we are going to be joined by the LEEP program at the DEQ Cleanup Brigade event at Makaka Beach. It is their first time volunteering with us. I'm hoping that they volunteer with us every weekend from now on.

I don't want to knock Harry or Ruth, I really respect them and always look forward to hearing and reading what they have to say. They talk about things that a lot of people on island are afraid to mention. They provide a priceless service.

I just had a great week. I wanted to share that with everybody.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Birthday Blogging

I turned 3 in 1981. 1981 was the year Ronald Reagon took the oath of office to become the 40th President of the United States. It was also the last year I celebrated a birthday in Saipan. It has been 25 years. Wowzers.

Happy Birthday to me.

Edit: For my birthday I recieved messages via cellphone text, myspace message, myspace comment, gmail chat, MSN messenger, email, and blog comments...but nobody gave me a card! I'm not complaining, I'm just pointing out that we live in a new World.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Mom's Letter to the Editor

My brilliant mother wrote a letter to the editor about the police in her neighborhood. It was printed in the pages of the Orlando Sentinel today:

I have never felt compelled to write a letter to the editor before this, but Bud Brewer's "My Word" article, "Do numbers add up in speed crackdown?," infuriated me. To suggest that the Winter Park police are operating a speed trap on Aloma Avenue is an insult to these dedicated men and woman who serve our community. They need to slow the traffic down, and I commend them for the wonderful job that they are doing.

Carlee Rumsey, a beautiful young woman of 23, died in a car accident on Sept. 12 almost in front of my house on Aloma Avenue. I live right near one of those 90-degree turns, and I can attest to the daily screeching of brakes, near misses and occasional fender benders.

Sept. 12 was different because someone died and several people were seriously injured.

As long as I live, I don't think I will ever forget the sound of that impact, or my immediate panic at the thought that one of my loved ones might be involved. The sight of the crushed car was worse than the sound; it would have taken a miracle for everyone to emerge unscathed. The Winter Park Police, Fire Department and the other rescue workers were heroes that day as they worked to save the injured.

The same police who responded to that accident are now slowing the traffic down on Aloma using radar. Instead of criticizing the Winter Park police, you should stop and thank them and let them know that they are doing a great job.

Donna O'Connor
Winter Park

Edit: After the letter was published, Mom got a personal email from the Winter Park Chief of Police thanking her for her letter. Go, Mom!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Come on, give us a break!

OK, the CNMI has nothing to do with Mark Foley's obsession with young boys. Nothing. So why are my dirty hippy liberal friends at DailyKos linking us to him? WHY?

(Scroll down to the picture of Pedro Tenorio.)

I've had my picture taken with some pretty horrible people. Does that implicate me in their dirty deeds?

I've been photographed with Rep. Katherine Harris. Does that mean that I also accepted illegal campaign contributions from a defense contractor? Or that I think only Christians should be allowed to be in office?

I've also been photographed with my cat. Does that mean I lick myself and eat geckos?

Come on dirty hippy liberal friends, you can do better than that.

Link to Beautify CNMI!

Are you a blogger? Do you want to help Beautify the CNMI?

Then help us get the word out!

Please add one of the following links or images to the main page of your blog, myspace profile, livejournal, or other website (linking to the Beautify CNMI! website, of course).

Simply copy and paste the code below into your blog template:


Beautify CNMI!

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More to come soon...