Tuesday, April 08, 2008


We went to Guam, which is only a three hour flight from Japan.

Though Guam is a major tourist destination for Japanese package tourists intent on staying in Tumon Bay and in their fancy hotel rooms, it's also a lost place forgotten by most of the rest of the world. Hardly any other tourists bother coming here; it's a U.S. territory without voting rights (other than the occasional primary caucus); it's an island bunker for a bevy of military bases.

We visited great beaches like Ritidian Point with its clear clear water; we swam in lagoons; we saw wild pigs. We ate at the Jamaican Grill and the Seventh Day Adventist cafeteria, and went driving around the island in our rent-a-heap.

I went geocaching for the first time, and we went bowling.

Guam, a microcosm of the U.S.A. and a beacon in the Pacific. Landing there from Tokyo, it felt tiny, backwater. The middle of nowhere, lonely and distant. But it's the biggest game around, and for many in this corner of the world, it's the big city, with its airport and Taco Bells and world's largest K-mart. Talking to a Chuuk fellow from a small, nearby (600 miles by outrigger), overpopulated island, this was put in perspective for me. "Yeah," he said. "Chuuk is a lot like Guam. Except on my island" (not the main island of Chuuk, but one of the smaller ones), "there's no electricity."
We were lucky too to get a glimpse at the foundering Chamorro culture, with its matrilineal society and hybrid language. I heard old men chattering in the post office in something that had shades of Spanish. Our friend John explained that still, on Guam, if you wanted to have a good corner of land, you had to marry a Chamorro girl and then be really nice to her grandmother, who was the matriarch and in charge of parsing out the family plot.

Go for the beaches. But don't forget the crumbling Spanish churches, the majestic carved boats still navigated by starlight, the lizards, the Pacific melting pot, and the friendly native swine.

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