Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Highlights from 2015

Is there anything more American than giving your hard earned money to Disney?
I started this blog 11 years ago this month when I was planning on moving to Japan to teach English.  It was a blog about getting to Japan for about a year and then a blog about living in Japan for only a few months.  In the years since I've lived in Orlando, Takaoka, Saipan, Orlando again, Vienna, and now Washington, DC.  At one time I had thousands of readers every day, but that has trickled down to a few hundred (by comparison I get between 3,000 - 30,000 Twitter readers every day).  Yet, for some reason, some of my readers are still there (thanks, Mom).  I still get lots of traffic for my old blogs Famous Chamorro People and Buying a Car in Saipan, but most readers are checking out my recent writing -- which I admit is mostly pictures these days.  Of the 40 blogs I published this year (compared to 489 blogs in 2009!), Early Shark Conservation Has Been an Astounding Success, Running Again, Vacation, and Typhoon Ink were the most popular.

Over the years I've done a look back towards the end of December.  I didn't do it last year, or the year before, but here you go, a few highlights from 2015:

I swam with sharks (again)
Somehow I landed in a career where I get to do really cool things. It was purely by accident. Everyday I worry that they're going to find out and make me put my science degree to work doing what I was meant to be doing: paperwork. Earlier this year during a mission to Bimini in The Bahamas at a meeting where Richard Branson encouraged some Caribbean elected officials to protect sharks, I got to go swimming with my first great hammerhead shark. It scared the hell out of me -- at first. Imagine a giant swimming cow with rows of sharp needle-like teeth moving slowly towards you with mouth open. It's frightening at first, until you realize it's just a cow. Being in the water with living sharks continues to be one of the greatest thrills of my life.

I got a new job
The five years I spent in shark conservation were amazing. I had professional success, gained experience working in the Caribbean for the first time, and made contacts and friends all over the world. Just this year we saw the completion of the Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary and new shark policies in the Cayman Islands, Turks & Caicos, Saba, and Bonaire. And we defended policies in the CNMI, as well as California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Washington. My time in the shark world came to an end this year when I rejoined Pew's Global Ocean Legacy Campaign, the team I worked with when we created the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. In the few months that I've been on this new team we've seen the advancement of some of the world's largest marine protected areas in Palau, Chile, and New Zealand.

We bought a condo
You're not a true grown up until you have the crushing debt of a mortgage. About this time last year, on a whim I filled out an online form to see if my bank would pre-approve me for a home loan. I was shocked to see how much they were willing to loan me. Our rent was set to make another huge leap when our lease expired in the summer, so Edz and I decided to start the search for a new home. We considered three basic variables when we looked at homes: size, safety, and distance to work. We could afford only two of them. I argued for size and safety and thought we could get a nice two or three bedroom outside of the city. Edz wanted safety and distance to work, and she won, so we put in an offer on a one bedroom condo in Southwest Washington. The seller did not accept our offer. Neither did the second. Our offer on the third home was $60,000 over the asking price, yet we still lost out to another buyer. The offer on the fourth home was accepted and on July 15 we signed a mountain of paperwork and turned over about half a year's salary in exchange for the keys to our new home.

We paid off the car
While not as big a deal as having a new income and new mortgage to suck you dry, we paid off the loan on our car this year. That car is the biggest and most expensive thing I own (the bank owns the condo). Now that I don't have to make payments, my plan is to run it into the ground and not buy a new car for as long as possible. This includes not making life choices that will require the purchase of a minivan.

I ran a marathon
I ran the Disney Marathon in January and the Washington, DC Rock N' Roll Half Marathon in March. I did not recover well from either. Between the marathon and the half I only trained for 3 days. And I don't think I trained more than 10 days after that race -- although I ran the Orlando Turkey Trot in November and the Saipan Christmas Island Relay in December. I'm ending the year fatter, but not at my fattest. Weight loss is going to have to be a resolution for the new year.

We traveled a lot
Edz rung in the new year with family in the Philippines, while I was in Buffalo with the Ruszalas. Work took me (in no particular order) to The Bahamas, Turks & Caicos Islands, Saba, Sint Maarten (and Saint Martin!), Fiji, Chile, Samoa, Saipan, Guam, Curacao, Bonaire, Grenada, Puerto Rico, and the Federated States of Micronesia. Edz tagged along on three trips, plus we went to Florida for Thanksgiving.

Edz is almost a US citizen
Edz received her 10 year US green card this year and applied for US citizenship. She's finished with the biometrics and we're waiting for the government to schedule her interview, which she studies for every day. What's in the interview, you ask? There are a list of 100 questions and she'll be asked 10. She has to answer six of them correctly. Then she has three chances to write a sentence in English and three chances to read a sentence in English. She has to do each correctly only once. After that they'll schedule her naturalization ceremony. If you're reading this, you're invited! Stay tuned for details.

I started a new network of island conservationists
As part of my new job I've started a learning and networking group of conservationists from 8 Pacific countries called The Island Voices. It's the new Shark Defenders. Or Beautify CNMI. I'm going to get to work with these amazing people to advocate for the creation of new marine protected areas and to reduce pollution in our oceans.

We spent Thanksgiving as a family for the first time
Most of my immediate family members (except for Tiana!) spent Thanksgiving together for the first time since the kids started getting married. This was Edz' first Thanksgiving with my family and she survived it with minimal scarring. During our week in Florida the brothers ran a 5K. Edz and I also spent a day at the Disney Hollywood Studios.

I made new friends, and reconnected with old ones
I've kept myself busy these last few years and haven't always made time to spend with friends and family. I made more time for them this year. It was great ringing in the New Year with Brad, Kathy, the kids, and the family in New York. I saw a lot of Kevin and Mom this year. I went to Florida three times and they came up to Washington, DC the week we bought the condo. Speaking of the condo, sitting on the porch and drinking beer in the late afternoon with whoever will come over (but especially Ian) is just about the best thing ever. We saw Brian and Joelin four times this year, including a fun night at Universal Studios in Florida. The Filipino mafia remains strong. We visited Vince, Lynn, Necole, and Lucy on the Eastern Shore twice, Aileen and the kids at Jolibee in Virginia Beach twice, and Mike and Maricel came for cherry blossoms -- and later in the year we saw them in Saipan. And then in late December I had my longest visit to Saipan since I got married (there was also a short trip in July). I rode around in Uncle John's Jeep and I spent hours with Cinta, Gus, Laurie, Ike, Horiguchi, the Ruszalas, and saw Star Wars with the McKagans, Dearys, Goodridges, Ernests, Hasselbacks, and Matsumotos.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015 Orlando Turkey Trot

It's a testament to how busy I was in Saipan that I'm only posting photos now that I'm back in Washington, DC.  That includes photos from November, about 50 photos from Lucy's 1st birthday party in Onancock, and our Thanksgiving trip to Florida.  I'll get to the Disney photos soon, but how about a few shots from the 2015 Orlando Turkey Trot first?

It was my idea to run the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning.  The boys were all for it.  My sister and wife were not.

I've run this race before, but I think it's been about 20 years.  The race isn't timed and no one takes it too seriously, you just give them money in exchange for a t-shirt and a quick jog.

Man, I've put on a lot of weight this year.  I'm amazed Susannah recognized me.  Well, she is running for Congress.  She must have super powers.

As expected, Kevin came in first, and then me, and then Alex.  I ran my race in 31 minutes, my slowest 5K ever.  I don't think Alex and Kevin even timed their race.

It's been a while since I've run such a short race.  I ran the Richmond Half Marathon in November 2014, the Disney Marathon in January of this year, and the Rock 'N Roll Half in March.  Those three races made me never want to run again. I think a 10K might be my sweet spot these days.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

34th Christmas Island Relay

Yesterday morning, Brad dragged me out of bed -- with a text, not a nudge -- to come join him in the 34th Christmas Island Relay. The race starts at the Pacific Islands Club on the south end of the island and stretches to the Last Command Post at the north end of the island. Teams of 5 take turns running mile long stretches along the 13.7 mile course.

We were down a runner thanks to poor babysitting planning, but we still managed to live up to our name: One Metric Ton. Brad, Matt, Max, and I were four of the most out of shape runners lining up for the race. Undaunted, Max readied to run the first leg of the race.

I ran the second leg. After the starting gun, Max dug in for his mile, and the rest of team piled into Brad's car and zoomed off to the first mile marker where I greeted two of my challengers, Kimiko and Natalie.  The first runner pounded in and high-fived his teammate, but Max was nowhere to be seen.  A total of 22 teams were competing.  The first five runners came and went.  Then another five.  And then there he was was.  I got the high five and took off chasing after Kimi and Natalie.  And I caught Natalie before the end of the mile!  Not bad considering the obvious weight and fitness differential between the two of us.

After I tagged Brad he took off for his first mile.  The rest of the team piled back into the car and made our way to the third mile.  Then the fourth.  Fifth.  At six it was my turn to run again.  The energy in the photo below is all for show.  I spent everything I had in my first mile so I could beat Natalie.

And so it went down Beach Road and through American Memorial Park.  I tagged in for my third run somewhere around Tanapag and then tagged back out in front of the Aqua Resort.  Our team was running at roughly the same speed as four other teams:  Kimiko's team of expat women, two teams of Japanese elementary school kids, and a group of Chamorro guys with similar fitness levels to our team plus a very fit Indonesian girl.

The photos I took in front of the old Nikko Hotel (mile marker 11) highlight how our race went.  Brad was finishing his final run (of three) and Matt was beginning his.  We were trailing 2 of the 4 teams mentioned above.  Kimi's team came first.  Look at the intensity!  There were in this race and were not giving up!  They ended up finishing ahead of us.

And look at the face on the Japanese kid as he makes his tag!  He is giving it everything he has, and his teammate is ready to give it his all!  Both teams of elementary school kids would end up beating us, too.

Not One Metric Ton.  We're fat old guys.  At this point we just wanted to finish.  Better go chase that little kid, Matt.

I ran the final leg.  Alright, I'll be honest.  I was responsible for running the last leg and did my best to approximate running. 

The trailing team of elementary school students had passed Brad just before he tagged Matt, but Matt would keep pace, and Max would pass the team over the next two miles.  I had the lead at mile 13, but they overtook me again in the last quarter mile, just before the finish line -- or was it the first quarter mile.  Probably the first.  I was tired.

Towards the finish line Max and Brad hopped out of the car and we crossed the finish line together, with Matt driving.  We joked that our team name could also have been We're Not Last.  Maybe next year.

I took a lot more photos of the race.  You can see them on Facebook.

P.S. It's been a fun week in Saipan and it's quickly coming to an end.  I've basically had two conversations over and over with different people who I have seen in months or years.  The first goes like this, "Hi, Angelo.  Where's Edz?"  The second conversation is about me, "Hi, Angelo.  You're fat!"

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

This is why I'm fat

Rick MacPherson turned me on to Hash House A Go Go, the culmination of centuries of American gluttony served on a breakfast plate.  I went in knowing the dishes were huge and we probably could have shared one meal, but as Edz makes her march towards American citizenship, I thought it important that we both indulge.  I had the chicken & waffles.  And bacon.  Served with a 20 oz. Budweiser.

Edz had the 9 layer eggs benedict.  I'm not sure what all nine layers were, but included were bacon, two scoops of mashed potatoes, and half a chicken.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Olomwaay Father James

A few years ago when the blogs on Saipan were going strong, we thought of a slogan: "There's always something to do in Saipan."  For many that something involves the Catholic church.  It can be novenas, rosaries, feasts, and of course, fundraisers.  There are lots of fundraisers on Saipan.  Buy a raffle ticket?  We're raising money for off-island medical care.  Buy a hot lunch? The team needs airfare for the tournament.  Buy a concert ticket? Father James needs a new roof.

Father James, our newest priest on island -- and a local boy on top of that -- graduated from Mount Carmel in 2007 and was ordained last December.  He's the priest at St. Jude's, where my good friends, the Kaipat Family Singers -- aka the Olomwaay Family Choir -- sing on Sundays.  And yes, his quarters need some fixing.

The Olomwaay Band -- the rock 'n roll identify of the church choir that goes by a similar name -- was the evening's entertainment -- along with my relative Rita Villagomez (she was handing out the raffle prizes).

Speaking of which, in between songs there was a raffle.  Actually, now that I think about it, in between the raffle, there were a few songs.  Is raffling the same as gambling?  No, of course not.  And neither is bingo.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Saipan Lighthouse Loses Its Top

One of the first things I heard when I got back home yesterday was that Typhoon Soudelor had blown the top off the top of the Saipan Lighthouse.  I went to check it out during my first full day and there it was sitting on the ground.  The original top was made of bronze, but that has long since been gone.  I thought the new top was made of concrete.  Apparently it was made of fiberglass.  I'm actually surprised it lasted as long as it did.

The lighthouse is still sad and decrepit looking.  Every time it gets cleaned up, within weeks it is covered in graffiti and litter again.  It looks particularly rough right now.  The structure also seems to be really falling to pieces now.  It should probably be knocked down...

But until that day comes the lighthouse provides some spectacular views on clear days.  With the treeline destroyed from the typhoon, the view is better than it has been in 40 years.

It's been four months since the big typhoon and the damage to the trees is intense.  American Memorial National Park looks like it has been bulldozed.