Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Long Trek Home

The thing about traveling to the other side of the planet is that it sure takes a long time to get there.   I am one hour into my three hour taxi ride to Nadi International Airport.  Barring any bovine road fatalities, I will arrive about two hours before my flight to Korea.  Then it is 10 hours in the air, 16 hours on the ground, another 14 hours in the air, and then probably about an hour between landing and taking a hot shower.  All told, from hotel checkout to opening the front door at home should take about 46 hours.

The airline gods were not good to me on this journey (even though the Korean Air experience combines the best parts of Seoul Fashion Week with flying on a space ship).  The cheapest flight I could find took me over the North Pole before heading to the South Pacific, with just a quick pit stop in one of Asia’s most modern cities.  Typing out that phrase makes me feel like James Bond, by the way.  I much prefer transiting through Hawaii, but that flight has been canceled.  Transiting through Los Angeles is my second choice, but the flights were either much more expensive or required long layovers in both directions.

I still don’t know what I’m going to do with 16 hours in Korea.  I arrive at 6 PM and leave at 10 AM, so I’m not going to see much daylight.  In fact, it will probably be dark by the time I get checked into a hotel and just getting light when I check out. 

I’ve never had a strong desire to visit Korea, and my most vivid memory of interacting with Koreans is getting pummeled by soccer players on Saipan.  In our “recreational” men’s league, at least, the older Korean players combine mixed martial arts into the game.  And like the WWE, most of the players have their own signature move, the most feared being the Mr. Ko Steamroller.

But I digress.  I don’t know too much about Korea other than that they are saturated with broadband access and that their biggest export is crappy pop music.  And I probably won’t get to know Korea on this visit anyway, as I will likely just fall asleep as soon as I get to my hotel.

Books Read in 2011

In 2009 and 2010 I tried to keep track of all the books I read to varying success. Normally I started the list in January, but I'd figure I'd give it another try. Here's to hoping I can remember everything I read this year:

The Sex Life of Cannibals
J Maarten Troost
I picked this one up off my shelf after a July visit to the Marshall Islands and meeting some Kiribati people in Palau. A fun read for ex-pats who have lived in the Pacific, but not a very flattering tale of life on isolated islands.

Getting Stoned With Savages
J Maarten Troost
I've spent a total of about 2 months in Fiji this year and half this book takes place there. I was excited to have done some of the things the author did, but I have yet to go to Beachcomber, the resort with topless, drunken college aged-girls. A fun read.

With The Old Breed
EB Sledge
Awesome. This is one of the books that was used as the basis for the HBO special The Pacific last year. This is supposed to be the best war memoir ever written.

James Clavell
I read Shogun in high school, but only got around to reading some of James Clavell's books recently. I'm a bit of a Japanophile, and this books has samurai and ninja up the wazoo.

Michael Crichton
Crichton was one of my favorite authors as a kid, probably my favorite. I read almost all of his books heading into college. But all his efforts in the last 10 years of his life were crap. Total crap. There's a reason none of his later books were turned into movies.

Catch 22
Joseph Heller
They say you either love this book or you hate it. I hated it. I really hated it. I still finished it, though. I've never been able to finish Moby Dick, however...

James Clavell
This is the second book in Clavell's series about Asia (Gaijin is #3). It is a fictional account about the founding of Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong triads. Whoa...

Pirate Latitudes
Michael Crichton
Quite possibly the worst Crichton book ever written. If it ever gets made into a movie, it will be a Pirates of the Caribbean rip off.

Tropical Depression
Arin Greenwood
A book about expats on Saipan. I loved it! I even wrote a newspaper article about it (you can google it, not worth looking of the url link). I just have too many of these awesome book reports to write. They all take so much time!

Obama's Wars
Bob Woodward
This book made me want to rip my eyes out. I read all of Woodward's books about the Bush Administration, but this one just seemed to go on and on and back and forth and on and on and blah, blah, blah. It made me wonder how the Obama Administration has done anything except fight the war in Afghanistan. It alone could take up their whole agenda.

Pearl of China
Anchee Min
I've never read The Good Earth. Maybe I should.

A Year in Provence
Peter Mayle
One day when I no longer work for an organization that shall not be named, I hope to publish a memoir on the creation of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. Until that day, I'll just read lots of other memoirs. This is the book that inspired the television series and several other books. A fun read, and mostly about food. Or maybe I just paid special attention to the food.

A Walk in the Woods
Bill Bryce
Two guys who shouldn't be hiking the Appalachian Trail attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail. Hilarity ensues.

Angela's Ashes
Frank McCourt
My Irish family is from Limerick, so this was like reading a family history book! Some day someone from Saipan will write a book like this.

Ian Williams
A history of rum in the New World. Is Mr. Williams English? I don't think I like English writers.

Demon Fish
Juliet Eilperin
A book about sharks. I work on sharks and I'm not supposed to talk about sharks on this blog.

Words of the Lagoon
RE Johannes
This should be required reading for any Micronesian who wants to catch a fish. Learn your culture!

That Used to be Us
Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbuam
If you do anything online, you should read everything Thomas Friedman writes. This book made me want to update my skill set to make myself more competitive in the international marketplace. Time to learn Photoshop and Final Cut...

Here Comes Trouble
Michael Moore
Michael Moore is one of the reasons why I'm a conservationist and not a scientist. Fight the man, dude! But really, a single passage in one of his books is why I ran for office and why I think it is my responsibility to make this planet a better place to live.

A Farewell to Arms
Ernest Hemingway
I am living proof that someone can live 30 years on this planet and not read a Hemingway book. I have lived a sad, pathetic life. One of the best books I've ever read, with perhaps the second best (worst) ending after Grapes of Wrath.

Catcher in the Rye
JD Salinger
This is a book Americans read before they go on killing sprees. I am not one of those Americans. Was I ever that angsty? No way.

Getting Hitched

So after three years, Eden and I have finally decided to get married. The wedding is next month on Saipan. Instead of having the traditional Chamorro Catholic wedding, we've decided to get married on a boat. This limits attendance to 80 people. For many people, 80 invitees would be a relatively large wedding. On Saipan this is tiny.

We are going to start our new family by pissing off about 800 friends and relatives that don't get invited on the boat. Seriously. People hold grudges on Saipan. That's why we're having an after-wedding party at Edz favorite bar.

If you are reading this, you are invited (to the reception). But please, no gifts purchased on Saipan as we will be living in Washington, DC. We are, however, registered on and they will deliver to our house in the mainland.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Thank you, America

People on Saipan like to knock on America and curse the federal government. They should really change their tune. Uncle Sam has kept the lights on these last few years. From Delegate Sablan's weekly update:
$250 million in federal funds to the NMI in 2010 – The U.S. Commerce Department recently released the Consolidated Federal Funds Report for Fiscal Year 2010 revealing that $250 million in federal funds came to the Northern Mariana Islands last year. $190 million was in grants from various federal agencies, more than twice the $81 million the Commonwealth received as recently as 2007. The balance of $60 million goes primarily to Social Security beneficiaries, veterans, and others receiving retirement or disability aid. Federal employees earned $9 million and the federal government procured $12 million in goods and services in the Commonwealth. Among federal agencies, the Department of Education awarded grants of $62.6 million in fiscal 2010. Department of the Interior grants totaled more than $47 million. And the Department of Agriculture granted almost $28 million. While local government resources continue to shrink, using the congressional office to increase federal funding to our islands continues to be a top priority.
They contribute nearly double the annual local government budget per year. Some people need to learn to play nice.

Shark Hope

You'll find a familiar face in Shark Hope.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Famous in Fiji

I was quoted in a story in the Fiji Times on Monday.
Hub of the fin
Timoci Vula
Monday, October 17, 2011

Jason Vasques (left) of The Coral Reef Alliance and Angelo O'Connor Villagomez of the Global Shark Conservation (Pew Environment Group), in Suva, yesterday. Picture: ELIKI NUKUTABU
WITH the high commercial demand for shark products, tax incentives is also said to be among the major factors strengthening shark trading in Fiji.

Angelo O'Connor Villagomez, the global shark conservation senior associate with Washington-based Pew Environment Group said Fiji had been the hub of trade for shark products, particularly shark fins a delicacy for Asian countries, particularly China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Mr Villagomez said one of the reasons was Fiji's geographical location "and that it is cheaper to fish here".

He said Fiji had also had tax incentives that had attracted companies to set up here.

"Companies are fishing for tuna but they are catching sharks as a by-catch," Mr Villagomez told The Fiji Times last night.

He said the shark population was threatened because of the high demand from Asia.

"The real problem is the demand coming from Hong Kong," he said, adding there was not much value in Fiji.

"What I don't want to happen is for Fiji to think that shark fishing is a long-term sustainable fisheries.

He said a study in 2006 found that between 26 million to 73 million sharks were killed that year.

Partnering conservationist organisation Coral Reef Alliance assistant director for conservation programs Jason Vasques said while the economical value for shark was significant, their ecological value must also be considered.

"Our role here is to raise awareness on the importance of sharks to coral reefs. Without sharks, you tend to have a less healthy reef," Mr Vasques said.

"If sharks help maintain healthy reefs, it protects the infrastructure, the coastlines and also promotes a healthy reef that will also attract tourists here," he said.

Mr Villagomez and Mr Vasques are in the country on their second visit to meet counterparts in locally-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and relevant government officials in their bid to assist local initiatives in protecting sharks in our waters.

The duo was in Fiji in February early this year.

"We want to support the government in its attempt to protect sharks," Mr Villagomez said.

He said they wanted to see Fiji become the first Melanesian country to declare its waters as a shark sanctuary, and the world's second largest sanctuary.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Marianas Faces Mass De-Entering

There won't be mass deportations. There won't be mass deportations. There won't be mass deportations. Over and over again USCIS has said that there will not be mass deportations on November 29, 2011, the day federal immigration is more fully implemented.

Yet today's paper reads, "ANYONE without status, even though they are parents of U.S. citizens, who accumulate unlawful presence in the CNMI, faces the prospect of being barred from reentering the United States as mandated by the federal immigration laws."

So USCIS won't deport you, but if you don't leave by next month, you'll be barred from reentering? That may not be deportation per se, but the result is the same.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Beqa & Yanuca Shark Gods

One of the really cool things about being able to support shark conservation efforts in Fiji is the cultural connection the Fijian people have to sharks. The various clans of indigenous Fijian people all have a totem consisting of a fish, an animal, and a plant. This totem is a part of how people self-identify and is very important to the culture.

There are four islands that have sharks as a part of their totem, and two of them are in this photograph. The closer island is Yanuca and the island in the distance is Beqa. And if you will allow me to give a plug, the soon-to-be-released documentary, Shark Hope, details the cultural connection of sharks to people on these islands.

I am not at liberty to explain why I was on a boat between two shark-god islands on my day off, but I will say that I discovered the world's greatest shark repellent. I would like to see this repellent spread across the world's ocean, by the way.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Please Sign White House Petition to Protect Sharks

Earlier this year the Northern Mariana Islands kicked off a global rush of shark conservation by banning the sale, trade, and possession of shark fin. Since the day Governor Fitial signed Public Law 17-27 into law, leaders in Guam, Honduras, The Bahamas, Chile, Tokelau, and the Marshall Islands have passed shark conservation measures. Additionally, Governor Fitial championed the declaration of the Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary, the first multi-jurisdictional shark sanctuary in the world.

I started a petition on the White House’s We The People website asking the Obama Administration to “ban the sale, trade, and possession of shark and shark products, including shark fin.” The petition needs about 1600 more signatures for the Administration to issue an official response. Please take a few moments to sign.

The petition can be found online at:

The Northern Marianas is a global leader in marine and shark conservation. Like the students from San Vicente elementary who helped support the passage of our shark protections, these protections should spread from island to island, from country to country. The United States should be the next country to protect sharks.

Angelo Villagomez
Washington, DC

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Marshall Islands National Shark Sanctuary

I try not to blog about work, which is a big change for me and something that took some getting used to, but I am very proud of the Marshallese people for declaring the world's largest shark sanctuary.

The Marshall Islands had a directed shark fishery ahead of the shark sanctuary declaration. In fact, the BBC list shark fins as one of their main exports. This declaration was not an easy choice for the leaders in the Marshalls, but it sends a powerful, symbolic message to the rest of the world.

The Marshalls are giving up an income source in banning the fishing of sharks, but these protections will open the doors to dive tourism, not to mention build resilience for their marine ecosystems. I had the chance to visit there in 2007 and again this year. You should add a visit to your bucket list.

For a preview of your upcoming visit, here's a video from the Marhall Islands Conservation Society and HD Under H2O:

Again, congrats, Marshall Islands!!!

And it is time for the United States to do something similar. I started a petition on the Obama White House website that calls for a "ban the sale, trade, and possession of shark and shark products, including shark fin." As of this writing it needs 1,800 more signatures to reach the level that will guarantee a response from the president.



I've got a pretty good 2011 in 2011 streak going right now. I ran 14 days in a row, took Friday off, and today is day two of what I hope will be 10 day streak. After that I'm off to Fiji for the rest of the month and my running schedule will probably go to hell like it always seem to when I'm traveling.

I'm determined to finish the year off strong. After a week of plodding through my 5.3 mile course, I kicked it up a notch and started running 6.7 every day. I even ran 8.1 miles one day. Inspiration has taken a toll on my body, though. Getting up each morning gets harder with each consecutive run. And I think being tired has been giving me mood swings. Or maybe that's just the commute into the office each day.

It has been about four years since I exercised regularly enough to make my body hurt every day. The last time was with Ziggy on Saipan, training for the soccer games against Guam. It feels good.

I can literally feel the change in me. I may have only lost one pound or two in the last couple of weeks, but I can feel a difference in my balance. I didn't notice it when I put on the weight. It is not like I have a spring in my step, or that my balance is off, it just feels like it changed.

I still can't get below the 200 lbs plateau though. Maybe by the end of the year...

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary

Isn't Google Earth amazing? I was experimenting with making maps this morning and this is one of my drafts. I've got a few more posted on Shark Defenders. What do you think? Amazing, huh? Today any idiot with a laptop can make satellite maps of anywhere on the planet.