Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 in 2011 is a bust

There's always next year...

2011 in 2011, my plan to run 2011 miles this year, completely fizzled sometime in July.  Still, I managed to run 600 in 2011, which is only half bad.  I spent three weeks in Fiji in October and then I got married in November.  I ran twice in Fiji and twice on Saipan, including the morning of my wedding.  I ran to the top of Mount Tapachou and hobbled my way down.

600 miles is still better than 0.  That's a little more than a mile and a half per day, which I'm guessing is more than 90% of America exercises.  So did I lose?  Yes.  Did I learn something?  Of course.

I learned that the hardest thing about exercising is not the physical act of getting your sweat on, but the mental act of fitting it into your schedule and then getting off your butt.  My commute is about an hour each way and most work days are longer than 9 hours.  You do the math.  Rushing home and getting on the treadmill is hard.  Getting up an hour early each day is even harder.

Running while traveling is also difficult.  I don't know if my travel schedule will slow in the new year, so this will just be something I have to get over.

I accept that failure begets success, so here's to 2012! Wedding Registry

I made my first purchase on November 13, 2010.  I bought an Ikelite underwater housing for my Canon point and shoot camera.  I would have jumped on this bandwagon years ago, but I lived in Saipan for all those years and delivery was always a problem.  I once bought a few things from Cafepress in 2009 and I'm still waiting for them to arrive.

This year I went a little wild on Amazon, including having our wedding registered on their website.  Amazon lets you pick out what items you want, including items on other websites, and puts them all in one place where loved ones can just use a credit card or Paypal to pay for the gifts.  Then Amazon mails it directly to the bride and groom's door, complete with a personal note and optional gift wrapping, I think.

I'm no wedding planner (obviously), but I think Amazon has the best wedding registry service out there.  You can pick items with a range of price ranges from anywhere that sells online.  And then afterwards they email you the addresses for the thank you cards.  It couldn't be any easier.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Eden Optical Illusion

I got a wonderful Christmas present this year.  A good friend gave me a very, very nice photo album for my wedding photos.  So tonight I was going through the photos and picking out my top 400 when I came across this gem.

When I look at this photo I see Edz getting sloppy.  When Edz looks at this photo, all she sees is a diamond ring.  It's an Eden optical illusion.

Oh yeah, I also see Jim Brown's glasses.  Sort of.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Swimming with Pacific Sharks

I went swimming with 10 species of shark this year, six in the Pacific and four in the Caribbean.

Fiji was the only place I saw bull sharks.  These are supposed to be the most aggressive of all shark species and are responsible for just about all of the shark bites that your see in the media.  I actually got close enough to touch one, but no way in hell did I reach out.  They look too mean.  Even so, my experience was that these sharks were really, really timid.  I was taught when I was younger that a shark would sniff out a single drop of blood a mile away, but I saw 10-foot bull sharks afraid to take a tuna head from a feeder.   With that said, I don't think anyone will be trying tonic immobility with one of these guys any time soon.

I saw a lot of grey reef sharks.  I went diving with famed coral reef biologist Peter Houk in the Majuro Lagoon in July and encountered a school of about six juvenile grey reefs on a patch reef.  The little guys are supposed to be more aggressive than the bigger ones.

I saw whitetip reef sharks all over.  These are the little sharks that are seen sleeping at the bottom of Saipan's grotto.  I really, really like these guys.

They remind me of seals with the way they swim.  They are able to arch their bodies and wriggle into tight crevices to hunt for reef fish.  I did get to touch some of these (I know, I know, you're not supposed to!), not because I wanted to, but because they were really frisky and interested in my camera.

Do you know what kind of shark this is?  This is one of the juvenile grey reefs I mentioned above.  Looks a lot more alert than his older relative, huh?

These are the sharks I have the most experience with.  When I was younger my father would occasionally catch a blacktip reef shark with his fishing net.  He didn't like catching them because they would damage the net, and sometimes even swim away with the net.  We would play with the shark and then throw it back in the water.

And this is a whitetip about to bump me.  Sorry, I'm not the one with the tuna.

All of these photos were shot using a GoPro HD with a flat lens underwater housing (the rounded lens that comes with the camera can't focus underwater, which I figured out the hard way).  These sharks were all photographed on Shark Reef in Pacific Harbour, Fiji with Beqa Adventure Divers.  On my day off.

I also went swimming with tawny nurse sharks and sickle fin lemon sharks in Fiji and lemon, nurse, blacknose, and Caribbean reef sharks in The Bahamas.  I also swam with several species of ray, including giant mantas, blue spotted rays, and cow tail rays.  Tigers, whales, and great whites are on my bucket list.  What do you say, 2012?

The Coral Reef Alliance and an organization which I may or may not be affiliated with have information on their respective websites on efforts to protect these cool creatures.  This blog post is not associated with any organization.  I am the Saipan Blogger and I approved this message.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jake Shimabukuro Visits Virginia

Jake Shimabukuro played to a sold out crowd at the Birchmere in Alexandria on Tuesday. This was my second time seeing him live, the first being at the 2008 Beautify CNMI Anniversary Concert.

I shot some video with my fancy new Canon 60D of his performances of While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Don't Stop Believing. Both are uploaded to Youtube.

I think the videos capture the amazingness of Jake. He's just one guy standing on a stage with an ukulele, which Dave Khorram explains so much more eloquently in one of his columns, "Jake pulled up a chair and began to perform. His fingers created such rich sounds that you imagined they were coming from a full orchestra, not a little four-string instrument that until that night the uninitiated considered a sort of small toy guitar. And for the next 90 minutes, we were mesmerized."

I went to the concert with Lynn and her two daughters, and, get this, we got a shout out from the stage. After the show we got to talk to Jake and he asked about Debbie Winkfield and all the kids at Saipan Community School and waxed on how much he enjoyed eating at Casa Urashima in Garapan.

Jake Shimabukuro: Class Act. And for that, I suggest you get all of his albums on

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bring International Recognition to Kathy Pagapular's Sixth Grade Class

Here it goes, I'm asking for your help yet one more time. Will you nominate Kathy Pagapular's San Vicente Elementary School Sixth Grade Class for a Peter Benchley Ocean Award in Youth Activism? Kathy's class supported shark protections in the Northern Marianas this year and jumpstarted momentum for a year of shark conservation. They deserve recognition.

Click here to learn how to nominate San Vicente Elementary School for a Peter Benchley Ocean Award in Youth Activism.

The deadline for nominations is December 31, 2011. Nominations should include 2- 6 paragraphs on the nominee and why the nominator finds them deserving in their category. Feel free to include supporting materials and/or links. Please include the nominees contact information and your contact information.

Submit to Mark subject line - Benchley Nomination - Youth Activism. Nominators names will be held in confidence.

2011 was a watershed year in shark conservation. And where did it all start? Saipan. On January 27, Governor Ben Fitial signed a law criminalizing the sale, trade, and possession of shark fin. This act kicked off 12 months of improved protections for sharks, including shark sanctuaries in The Bahamas, Honduras, the Marshalls, and Tokelau, shark fin bans in Guam, California, Washington, Oregon, and half a dozen Canadian cities, protections for oceanic whitetips, hammerheads, and silky sharks on the high seas, and agreements by international and regional bodies to implement more protections in 2012.

The law in the Northern Marianas was supported by many in the community, including fishermen, divers, and the conservation-minded, but a sixth grade class at San Vicente Elementary School may have done more than anyone else to make sure sharks received protections.

I could tell their story, but filmmaker Rob Stewart does it much better with his short film Sharkwater Saipan. This short film is just a preview of Rob's second feature film Revolution, due out in theaters next year.

Watch Sharkwater Saipan on Youtube.

I am asking you to write your own nominations (but I am available to help or edit). Two paragraphs should not be that difficult. Think of this award as something that will come home to the Marianas, not just San Vicente Elementary.

I make this request as the Saipan Blogger and the Godfather of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, not as someone who works for an organization that shall go unnamed. I have had the honor of meeting many shark champions around the world this year including Tony DeBrum from the Marshall Islands, Ev Quiel and Melanie Blas on Guam, Manoa Rasagitale in Fiji, Rob Stewart in Canada, and many others, but my home and my heart lies with Saipan. So let's bring that award home!

Friday, December 09, 2011

The June Lizama Experience

No matter how talented or smart you think you are, there is a nine-year old kid somewhere in Asia who is more talented and smarter. Take June Lizama, for example. He's nine and has more talent than all the Backstreet Boys combined.

I shot this video at Eden and my rehearsal dinner on Saipan last month. The Kaipat Family Singers (Ladies and Gentlemen, the Kaipat Family Singers!) jammed out all night. June rocked the Biebs.

Sorry for the poor quality. It was dark.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Widget Me This

So an organization that I may or may not have links to (my two readers know) created an embeddable widget using some photos I took. This blog post is not associated with any organization. I am the Saipan Blogger and I approve this message.

Thanksgiving Sushi

Edz and I celebrated our first Thanksgiving together as a married couple at Aqua Resort Club. They had a brunch buffett with all the trimmings one would expect at Thanksgiving.  And a band!  You can't tell from this photo, but they are singing Y.M.C.A.

You know, like sushi.  But that's not all I had.  They also had turkey, stuffing, and instant mashed potatoes.  Really, instant mashed potatoes?  That was pretty lame.  The smoked ham more than made up for it though.

For someone her size, Edz can really pack the food away. She was putting pressure on me to get up with her to get more food.

I was quite happy with my coffee. I've become spoiled in the last two years with convenient access to decent coffee. None of the restaurants in Saipan serve decent coffee.

If all goes according to plan we'll be spending next Thanksgiving somewhere in the continental United States, most likely somewhere around Washington, DC.

And since a brunch buffet doesn't fill you up for the day, around dinner time we went out for steaks at Country House. It's not saying much, but I think Country House has the best steaks on Saipan. At the very least, when you order a steak, you at least get what you ordered. The other steak house around the corner runs out of...never mind. I'm over it.

And that was Thanksgiving 2011. Will it be my last one on Saipan for a while? Never say never, I guess.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Walking the Dogs

Edz and I did things besides get married last week.  Here we are walking the dogs along Beach Road.

 The two dogs have very different walking styles.  Oreo likes to go, go, go, while Snowhite likes to look, look, look.

Like all dogs, going for a walk is the greatest thing under the sun.  Edz enjoys them, too.

And this is the 1000th tree that I helped plant in 2006.  Whenever I visit, I like to check on my trees.

Eden's Wedding

Let's be honest for a moment, shall we?  The groom gets no respect.  Nobody wants to talk to the groom.  Nobody wants to see pictures of the groom.  Weddings are all about the bride.  And you know what?  I'm alright with that.

After being given away by June and serenaded by the Kaipat Family Singers (ladies and gentlemen, the Kaipat Family Singers!), it was time for Edz and me to get this wedding ceremony thing out of the way.

After flying across the planet, chartering a boat, ordering enough cupcakes to feed an army (pictures of the cupcake wedding cake in an upcoming post, I promise), oh, and three and a half years of dating, it was time to actually get married.  Whoa.

The ceremony was a lot of fun and there were a lot of smiles.  True, one person who shall go unnamed was bawling her eyes out, but for the most part people were laughing and smiling and enjoying our special moment.

Most of all, Edz was having a good time.  We picked the windiest day of the week to get married on the ocean, so the ceremony was performed at the dock before we launched.  Even then, the boat was rocking side to side and back and forth.

This made several people, including Edz' mom, seasick, but it added to the fun.  It's a good thing Edz was wearing those shoes to keep her steady.

More than one person joked that we still had time to get out of the wedding because the boat was still at the dock.  Ha, ha ha.  Honestly, I was so into the moment (and focused on NOT dropping the rings into the ocean), that I didn't realize Edz was laughing this much.

And then things got serious when it was time to take our vows.  We didn't write our vows or anything, and just opted for the usual (although somebody took out 'honor and obey!'  WTF!)  We also didn't have bridesmaids or groomsmen.  CNMI law requires that weddings have two witnesses, so we had Mom and Brad do it.  Judge Alex Castro asked them to stand behind us during the ceremony.

This is the obligatory holding hands shot, before the rings were on our fingers.

I kind of like how Jim is taking a picture in the background.  Yes, this is a beautiful moment, wait let me take a picture!

And then I place my ring onto Edz' finger.

Then Edz places her ring onto mine.

And makes double sure that it is on there and won't come off.

And yippee!  We're married!

You may kiss the bride!

And let the good times begin!

Why is Edz so tall?

If you'll notice in the last blog post, Edz appears to be just a few inches shorter than me. How did that happen? The answer, of course, is in her shoes:

How about those babies?

Walking Down the Aisle

Edz' father lives in the Philippines and wasn't able to make it to the wedding. We asked 10 year old Jun Kaipat Lizama to walk her down the aisle in his place.

I've known Jun since he was four. It seems like only yesterday we were celebrating his fifth birthday at a BBQ on Laulau Beach.

And here Edz takes the long walk down the aisle. On the boat, the long walk was all of about 10 feet.

I thanked Jun for giving Edz away with a firm handshake.  He's smiling, too.

Is that the papparazzi in the background? I do like all of the smiles, though.  Jun gave Edz away with kiss.

And with that out of the way, we were ready to get hitched.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Nothing Like Waiting to the Last Minute

"Look, the people you are after are the people you depend on: we cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances, we guard you while you sleep. Do not fuck with us."
Tyler Durden
Fight Club
A segment of the population is celebrating this morning as USCIS just announced they are going to grant parole to foreign residents that meet the criteria for CNMI-only "permanent" residency under Delegate Sablan's HR 1466. This means that approximately 4,000 (or 11,000 if you believe the governor) foreign residents will be able to legally remain in the Commonwealth until December 31, 2012. This will allow time for Sablan to secure passage of HR 1466.

Here is the news release from USCIS:
Parole for Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens and Certain Stateless Individuals

Based on recent developments in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), USCIS will consider, on a case by case basis, a grant of parole until Dec. 31, 2012 to the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and certain “stateless” individuals. This will allow immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and stateless individuals to maintain legal status in the CNMI. With the expiration of umbrella permits on Nov. 27, 2011, immediate relatives and certain stateless individuals may not have another option under U.S. immigration law. We will release guidance for applying for this kind of parole soon. We encourage you to continue checking for updates on the latest guidance.

USCIS has exercised parole authority on a case-by-case basis in the CNMI since 2009 for special situations.

Who can stay in the CNMI after Nov. 27, 2011 and apply for this type of parole?

You may be eligible to stay in the CNMI and apply for parole if you are:

  • An immediate relative of a U.S. citizen. An immediate relative is: a legal spouse, unmarried child under 21 years old or parent (regardless of the age of the U.S. citizen child) who is legally present and resides in the CNMI as of Nov. 27, 2011
  • A foreign national born in what is now the CNMI between Jan. 1, 1974 and Jan. 9, 1978 (this group of individuals is sometimes referred to as “stateless” because of their unique situation under the Covenant Act establishing eligibility for U.S. citizenship of individuals born in the CNMI); or
  • A child (unmarried under 21 years old) or legal spouse of a foreign national who was born in what is now the CNMI between Jan. 1, 1974 and Jan. 9, 1978 (also known as a stateless individual).

Applying for Parole
If you are eligible for this kind of parole, we ask that you DO NOT apply for parole until USCIS announces more specific details on how to apply.

USCIS is providing this initial information in order to address concerns of this group of CNMI residents in light of the pending Nov.27, 2011 expiration of umbrella permits to assist them in making appropriate plans for the future.

If you are eligible for this type of parole, you cannot work or apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) until you are authorized for parole. A grant of parole will provide continuing lawful presence after Nov. 27, 2011 and authorize you to apply for an EAD.

Foreign workers (aliens) working only under an umbrella permit are not authorized to be employed in the CNMI on or after Nov. 28, 2011 except for certain beneficiaries of transitional worker (CW) petitions.
I have been silent on the immigration issue for several months now, partly because I didn't want to stick my foot in my mouth for saying something foolish, but also because the issue is complicated and multifaceted, and I was digesting the issues as developments took place.

I do not live and breathe the CNMI immigration issue the way many other people do. I read the local newspapers each day and read Wendy Doromal's blog. I also catch the posts of my friends on Facebook. From what I can tell, this development is a good one for a limited number of contract workers, and buys time to improve on Delegate Sablan's flawed HR 1466.

As Wendy Doromal has repeatedly pointed out, HR 1466 ignores 3/4 of the long term CNMI foreign workers. This means that people like Edz' mom, Emilia, who has lived and worked in the Commonwealth since 1993, giving the best years of her life to the development of the islands, will be shipped back to a country that for all purposes, is no longer her home. She's paid her taxes and never committed a crime. Under the American system she would have become a citizen over a decade ago, but under the CNMI system she was kept a second class citizen, unable to vote, and in danger of being sent "home" every year when her contract was renewed.

That is shameful and un-American. I think of my Irish family during the late 1800s and early 1900s. What if after spending a lifetime laboring in garment (!) factories, they had been sent "home" to Ireland to grow potatoes. Even considering that is outrageous, but for some reason no one has a problem doing this here.

Deporting the backbone of the local economy is going to have devastating repercussions to the quality of life here, but one cannot expect lifelong government bureaucrats to grasp the importance of having people who know how to create commerce. Throw in a little racism, alright, let's make it a lot of racism, and the mix is toxic.

Even Newt Gingrich is to the left of Sablan and the majority of the indigenous population on this issue. During the last Republican Presidential debate he stated, "If you've been here 25 years, and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're gonna separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully, and kick you out."

The other problems with Sablan's HR 1466, which can hopefully be ruled unconstitutional before advancing to the Senate, are that the bill creates a non-voting, permanent underclass of foreign-born residents and restricts travel to other US states and territories.  Others have compared this to Jim Crow, the black codes, and apartheid, which sounds really horrible and insulting on the surface, but if you actually look how Jim Crow, the black codes, and apartheid functioned, they are strikingly similar to HR 1466.  Pick your metaphor, but somebody has to call a spade a spade.

It is no secret that immigration has been a major component of America's greatness.  It has worked incredibly well for 235 years.  This new model of immigration makes me uneasy.

Many will rejoice that they will likely be granted second class citizenship in the near future, and I am embarrassed that this is the best America can do for them.  This is not the American dream, and if it spreads to the 50 states could become the American nightmare.

Thank you, Heineken

One of these days Edz and I will get around to having kids.  And as those kids grow up and reach the age of legal alcohol consumption, I will tell them that their parents' wedding was sponsored by Heineken.  They won't believe me, but then I'll pull this banner out of a closet.

Monday, November 21, 2011

One Day of Married Bliss

We're still waiting for the photos from our wedding photographer, but that hasn't stopped us from taking pictures of ourselves. Here we are during sunset happy hour at the Hyatt Regency Saipan.

Last night was also Mom's last night on Saipan. After the Hyatt, we had deep fried happy goodness at Godfather's, and then went home early (10:30 PM!) to pack.

I should be able to knock out a few blog posts this week. The only thing Edz and I have to do this week is eat turkey.