Closed From The Animals

One would think that on an island as modestly sized as Guam is that it would not be easy to hide a zoo. Yet Guam has a zoo–a private one at least–that is so inconspicuous that when I walked by it on Sunday afternoon after lunch, I did not see it. Alas, it would not have helped me if it was more conspicuous because the zoo happened to be closed. From what I could gather, as information on the zoo’s website is more than a little bit sketchy, the zoo is itself at least was once open from 10AM to 4PM on a regular basis but is now open only for appointments and private parties, not curious tourists looking to drop in and see the aminals.

I had put this aside and not wished to write about it, but it so happens that today after going to the Guam National Military Museum (itself a lovely and small museum dedicated to the intense battles of 1941 and 1944 that decided the fate of the island during World War II), my mother and I stopped at the UnderWater World, a small private aquarium not far from our hotel, only to find that it too was closed. Despite having hours from 10AM to midnight on the door, it appears looking at the webpage that the place is only open on the weekends, and not even every weekend–it does not appear open any of the days we happen to have been on the island, it might be noted.

Why is it so hard to see the animals on Guam? Guam is a strange island as far as tourism is concerned. The island lacks a large population or a great deal of heavy industry, but while it is somewhat dependent on tourism, it is also an island whose tourism appears to be in a vulnerable state as a result of the months of Covid. There appear to be two main groups of tourists that one sees on the island of Guam. One group, and by far the most numerous, appears to be made up of mostly Japanese and Korean tourists who find in Guam a tropical island relatively closeby to them. The other group appears to be made up of Americans with experience in the military or local Chamorro visiting friends and family back from their mainland homes. The sort of tourist that I happen to be is apparently a very rare one, attracting a fair bit of commentary over the course of my travels so far.

And this lack of tourists has serious consequences. It is tourists, after all, who bring that necessary lifeblood of money, and the months and years of restricted travel had had a serious negative impact on the ability of the island to cater to the tourists who are starting to return to the island. Indeed, one wonders if the difficulty one has in seeing some of the tourist sites that one would want to may hinder the return of the island to where it once was. One can see, for example, that a substantial number of restaurants are closed down because of the lack of tourists, and the loss of tourist sights appears to be related to the same problems. It is well fortunate that some of us are laid back when it comes to such matters.

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Give Us American Money

In comparing Guam and the Virgin Islands, it is worth noting that the Virgin Islands are a far more commonly visited place as far as tourism is concerned than Guam is among American citizens, but Guam has a lot of visitors from Japan and Korea, which might tip the balance a bit given the large number of tourist hotels that cater to such audiences that we have seen. Both Guam and the Virgin Islands are among the territories of the United States that are on the UN list of non-self-governing territories, and for good reason, as neither of them has a territorial constitution (the same is true of American Samoa), unlike the Northern Mariana Islands or Puerto Rico, both of which have territorial constitutions.

In general, though, it appears as if Guam is a more robust and better functioning island than the Virgin Islands despite the broad similarities that exist. One of the aspects that Guam appears to do better at is the task of getting American money. There are several reasons why this is the case and it is worth exploring why this is the case. Both Guam and the Virgin Islands are dependent on government agencies for their income, but the departments are different. Guam, the westernmost territory of the United States, is blessed with large bases for both the Air Force and Navy, and has to deal with the Department of Defense. On the other hand, the Virgin Islands, the easternmost territory of the United States, deals with the Department of the Interior. Which would you guess allows for more money to flow to a territory?

One of the ways in which Guam’s better success at getting federal money can be judged by the tv commercials that frequently run that show the sorts of benefits that apply to the people of Guam–including a $675 monthly child care credit–that the ruling governor and lieutenant governor have made it clear are responsible to their own efforts at getting that federal money and seeking to use it to bolster their own electoral chances. No such bringing home of government benefits was advertised in the Virgin Islands and for good reason, as the Department of the Interior does not have nearly the same sort of dough that the Department of Defense has. It is perhaps unsurprising that even without a territorial constitution, Guam has a vigorous political culture that the Virgin Islands appears to be lacking.

It should be noted that the state of both the Virgin Islands and Guam in being governed by Organic Laws promogulated from the capital is by no means unusual. So it was with the Northwest Territories, whose organic laws, which forbade slavery in the area north of the Ohio River won from Great Britain during the American Revolution at the Treaty of Paris (1783) was one of the few policy successes of the Articles of Confederation period, and was passed by voice vote in the First Congress under the Constitution again, signifying unanimity of support. What is different about Guam and the Virgin Islands is that they have remained at this level for so long, for more than a century, without ever becoming organized territories. And what it would take to get them to the level of organized territories remains unclear.

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Restaurant Review: FujiIchiban Guam

When I made the walk from the hotel where I stayed to the zoo yesterday, I wanted to stop here and try out their soup because any place that offers itself as a ramen restaurant is going to be worth giving a try to. This particular restaurant is a small one in terms of its size, and it does not even use all of its available space for seating, and as a result there is a lengthy line, but the line demonstrated to me that what it had to offer was of interest to a lot of people (including a lot of families with small children), and that was something well worth trying out. So it is that I picked up my buzzer and waited outside with the crowd of people.

Was the wait worth it? Yes, it was. When I got inside I ended up getting both a root beer and then some water to drink, which one needs if one is as thirsty a soul as I am. I then ordered the only non-pork ramen dish they had, which was a chicken curry ramen with a side of a cabbage salad, and it ended up being pretty fantastic. The cabbage salad had a nice dressing and the texture of the cabbage was pretty crispy as well. The ramen itself included a lightly spicy broth along with noodles and two different kinds of chicken. The end result was a tasty and filling bowl. The price of everything was about $20, which worked out pretty well also, making this a worthwhile place to eat if you have a taste for ramen like I do.

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Restaurant Review: Taotao Tasi Beach Barbecue Dinner Show

The Taotao Tasi (meaning “People of the Sea” in Chamorro) Beach Barbecue Dinner Show is a pleasant and highly popular two-hour food and dancing extravaganza that takes place on the beaches of Guam near the hotels where tourism is primarily based on the island close to the airport in the north center of the island. The logistics of getting to and from the show are pretty revealing in themselves, starting with a bus ride from various hotels to the Beach Bar which is next to the dinner theater. Most of the people in our group who went to the show last night were Korean with a smattering of Japanese and other groups of people. Once we checked in we were given a couple of tickets for surf and turf (I enjoyed the turf but not the surf myself) as well as a card that showed table we were to sit at for the eating and viewing of the show.

The first hour of the evening, from 6:05PM to 7:05PM, was set aside for eating and drinking. Drinks were not included with the dinner show but they had plenty of options and I ended up having two bottles of water and a fruit tea which was sweet and enjoyable. They also had plenty of beers and mixed drink options as well as an open bar fee if you wanted more to drink. The food itself was a buffet with a wide variety of options, including salads, fruit, rice and pasta dishes, soups, and the like. If you left hungry it was really your own fault, because the food was plentiful with lots of tasty options to suit nearly every palette. From the spicy vegetarian pasta primavera to a tasty chamorro beef dish to red velvet cookies, there was a lot to enjoy as far as the food was concerned.

The show itself took the second part of the evening and provided a lot of food for thought. I have already written some reflections on the theme of the oneness of humanity that the show was organized around but it is worth commentating that this unity of humanity was expressed through a diversity of dances and costumes from across the Oceania region, including Hawaiian grass skirts and Fijian costumes. There were segregated dances and choreographed fighting for the female and male dancers respectively, couple dances, solo dances, singing, and some powerful tribal drumming as well. The mixture of lovely power ballads and more muscular Polynesian and related indigenous musical sounds made for a fascinating blend as the same dancers changed costumes and hats and props and danced numerous numbers over the course of an hour. Twice people were called on stage–five guys competed as partners of five ladies to copy their dance routines, and at the end of the show a great many of us (my mother and I included) ended up on stage mimicking the dancers as well in the farewell dance. And after all of that, it was time to return back to the hotels again after a lovely evening.

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Totu Taotao Unu

At the dinner show my mother and I went to last night (review forthcoming), the show made a great deal of all people being one. This was done by a variety of means–including a choreographed portrayal of the creation of the first human beings as the “children of the sea” and culminated in the end where people were invited on the stage to dance along with the dancers there. I was struck by this focus on the oneness of humanity and so I wanted to comment at some length about it while also looking a bit at the history of the Chamorro people themselves and their connection with the people of the sea.

The Chamorro themselves are part of the great sea peoples of the Austronesians and have lived on the island of Guam for what appears to be about 4000 years ago or so. The language that they speak is of unknown relationship to the other languages of the region, although it is notable that like the people of Palau the Guamanians (and their kin in the Northern Marianas Islands) do not speak an Oceanic language like Melanesian or Polynesian, but speak an older form of the language that is more closely related to the languages of the Philippines, Indonesia, the coasts of Southeast Asia, and Madagascar. The Austronesians themselves left China after feeling pressure from the expansion of early Chinese culture and traveled first to Taiwan (where they form an aboriginal population today), and then to the Philippines and from there gradually across every possible island in the Pacific that they could locate and settle, ending up in a range that extends from Madagascar to Hawaii and Rapa Nui. It is of interest as well that it appears that a separate kindred group of people were not people of the sea but rather people of the land, namely the Tai-Kedai people who make up various minority peoples in China as well as the Shan of Myanmar, the Thai, and the Laotian people.

At any rate, we as human beings frequently like to play up how different we are from others. The study of the history of early mankind is full of the proliferation of genus and species based on the discovery of fossils, before it turns out that such beings are found to have repeatedly throughout the course of history interbred with each other. It is a generally acknowledged truth that human beings will boink whatever they can, and it so happens that this tendency has helped to keep humanity one by virtue of the intermarriage links that exist between societies. The act of lovemaking is something that makes us one with another being, and that oneness is not something to be viewed trivially or flippantly. As human beings it is all well and good that we recognize the distinctive elements of our cultures and groups, but we also need to recognize that common humanity that comes from being created in the image and likeness of our Father.

And it was especially interesting to celebrate the oneness of humanity in a diverse group of people that included a great many people from various countries and cultures. We may chat in our different languages and have a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, and all of that shows the rich complexity of what common human tendencies have in expression, but that richness and diversity also spring from commonality and unity. We need to remember both sides of that unity in diversity need to hold simultaneously. If we fail to appreciate the unity of humanity, including the universality of reciprocal justice and respect and consideration, then the diversity we have will not be respected or regarded by those who will, when they seek power, try to force their own way down everyone else’s throat.

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In The Valley Of The Standing Platforms

How is it that a river valley became known for standing platforms in the first place in the southern part of Guam, when such standing platforms were apparently once a much more common phenomenon? As is often the case in history, the past best survives to the present when the more recent past does not wipe out the traces of the more distant past. There are all kinds of reasons why communities are abandoned, and the river upon which my mother and I traveled by boat (along with some walking) apparently had some reasonable reasons to be abandoned. The river is generally a peaceful and shallow one in between two cliffs, but under the right conditions the river can rise many feet above its banks, flooding the entire lowland area in the entire river valley. This sort of geography, which any sort of people, ancient or modern, should be savvy enough to recognize and responsibly deal with, would tend to encourage the building of temporary sorts of dwellings whose destruction would not be a terrible fate and which could be easily and cheaply rebuilt, and that is precisely what we found here in the huts of various designs whose standing stones gave their name to the river tour.

The trip itself was straightforward enough. After the boat had some engine problems dealt with in the course of delivering a group of children an hour before we were supposed to leave, we embarked on a trip up first one river and then another as far as the rivers would support the draft of the boat. This included some stops to feed the stickfish (which look like miniature marlins) and catfish as well as crabs, and to note the various uses of the plants along the river, most of which can be consumed in some fashion for the benefit of the local Chamorro people as well as others, though in moderation as most of what the island has to provide will serve to cleanse if consumed to excess, aside from the death mangoes which should not be consumed at all by anyone. We also got to see a green monitor lizard sunning himself happily, and this also occasioned for a stop.

After traveling along the river, it was time to disembark and head to land where we started at the ruins of a historical Chamorro village that was settled around 2400 years ago or so. The area itself had been depopulated during the early Spanish period when settlements of the local inhabitants were apparently required to be within hearing distance of the church bells, and the river valley was far too remote for that, allowing its older foundations to survive to the present day. Near the reconstructed hut and the various lotte (the foundation stones) were a lot of local plants, which the ship’s mate, a Yapese [1] man named Ben who was quite adventurous in dealing with sap and plants that he told us not to mess with.

After we looked at the plants it was time for a bit of a hike to a pavilion where we got some water and coconut water as well as some fresh coconut and played paper, rock, scissors for some prizes (I won my game and selected a bowl). After this we had a tasty lunch which had a vinegar-based cole slaw, a somewhat bland seasoned rice, a tasty chicken with a dry BBQ rub, and a sweet cake. After we ate and went to the restroom it was time for another short hike until we got to the animal sanctuary where we saw a tame deer, some goats, sat under the shelter of one of the Micronesian friendship huts (named after each of the main islands of the Federated States of Micronesia until the rain passed) and where my mother and I both rode a water buffalo, adding to the list of animal mounts that have been enjoyable riding experiences. After that it was time to go back to the welcome area, where we relaxed, chatting some with those around us, and waited for the taxi come and take us back to the hotel. It had been a worthwhile experience to see the local land and culture a bit more deeply and gave much food for thought.

[1] The Yapese are the native Micronesian inhabitants of the island of Yap and its surrounding area, one of the main islands of the Federated States of Micronesia, whose community makes up about 7% of Guam’s population at present. This island group is located to the south of Guam.

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First Impressions Of Guam

Even before arriving at Guam it is possible to have some impressions of the people of this island. Several times on the trip I ran into people who were from Guam whose behaviors and attitudes I found to be interesting. For example, there is a fairly large Guamanian diasporic population, but it is one that maintains strong feelings about the homeland and also a strong attachment to the tropical weather associated with their homeland. Also of note was that on the plane from Tokyo-Narita to Guam a great many people purchased many duty-free items and filled up the plane with them, signifying that at least when it comes to higher-end consumer goods that there is a strong shortage of them in Guam relative to the Tokyo Airport, and thus demonstrates something of the logistical problems of supplies sent to the island. We noticed the same thing in going to a restaurant this morning where salads were off the menu, presumably because of the same logistical difficulties in providing the ingredients there.

When one gets to the airport in Guam, one is struck by the chaos and confusion of the place. One has to go upstairs and downstairs and in and out of locked doors accompanied by security, with finicky elevators that appear to react badly to the island’s insecure power supply. (I noticed this to be an issue posted inside of the hotel we are staying at as well, which told the reader that if the elevator stops because of a power outage that it will restart in a few minutes.) It was striking to see such bizarre airport design in a new airport, as one would think that there was a more reasonable flow that one could make. At least it had an easy way of getting bags and getting through immigration and customs, though, so that was nice.

One of the notable aspects about Guam that one could see on the ground was the quirkiness of the taxis as well as the tropical beauty of the place. It was also notable that there was a lot of standing water on the streets, with very little drainage to be found, suggesting again that there are some infrastructure aspects that could stand to be improved in making the island’s roads easier to manage for cars and pedestrians. Still, if the island has a somewhat plain look in many of its buildings, there is also a pleasing quirkiness about what it has to offer, even including a rare example of a surviving Kmart that I saw on the way to the hotel.

It is also interesting to note that when one listens to the music of Guam that there is a great deal of local music that focuses on the positive feelings that Guamanians have about their native island. However little the music of Guam has crossed over to the mainland–I am not familiar with any popular crossover artists from the island in the United States–it is clear that the island has a rich and vibrant local musical scene that supports its own local artists. And that sort of local support of local culture is always interesting to see.

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Movie Review: Encanto

While on my flight from Tokyo to Guam I finally saw Encanto, which had a strange film run in that it was prematurely yanked from the theaters, hurting its gross, and being put on Disney+, which I do not have and have no interest in ever getting. Having generally enjoyed the soundtrack to the movie and its surprising success on the pop charts, it was interesting to see the movie, which focuses on the travails of the family Madrigal as the “magic” that they have wielded for generations starts to fail in the midst of the fracturing of the family, and the only non-gifted member of the family, Mirabel, has to try to figure out what is happening to the family and how to make things right. The repercussions of this are bringing to light the truths about the family and its complicated relationships, and all of the characters demonstrate growth throughout in what ends up being a pageant of rebirth and reconciliation.

One of the notable aspects of this film is its near absence of villains. Mirabel’s resentfulness, as well as the hostility she has with her “perfect” sister Isabella, and her overly controlling grandmother, are all pretty normal registers and though there are elements of negativity in some of these portrayals, none of the main characters is on the side of evil. They are imperfect but pictured as being generally on the side of good. In fact, the only villainous characters that one can find are the rather indistinctly portrayed murderers in the “Dos Origuitas” montage that end up slaughtering many of the people in the town, including Abuela’s husband, which results in the magical protection being given to the town and its people. In the end, the magic returns, but the way to the town is now open, suggesting that it is time that people learn to accept and deal with the outside world as well as in the magical realism that one can find in it.

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Film Review: Death On The Nile

I am not sure if Kenneth Branagh is looking to make a franchise out of the Inspector Poirot series, but if so this is certainly a promising continuation to such a series. The film begins with a scene showing Poirot’s experience in World War I, which left him scarred and showed his cleverness in recognizing patterns and responding to them. After that the film looks at the dangers and problems of obsessive love in an encounter at a nightclub in London and then a romantic honeymoon in Egypt that turns murderous while Poirot is involved in multiple cases. While he is the main character in a stellar ensemble cast, Branagh’s Poirot is sometimes caught flat-footed despite his own obsessiveness to detail in hunting down clues to an escalating body count. If the case is eventually solved, he is called out on some of his own character and personality flaws, and it is striking that apart from the initial murder, everyone else who is killed ends up also being a kind of evildoer–a blackmailer, a thief, or a murderer, which likely has something to do with Christie’s own moral code as an author.

This is a movie whose action is compelling and whose character analysis is profound. In order to fully understand the story, it requires a deft interpretation of the early meet cute where the impecunious Mr. Doyle is introduced to the glamorous star who becomes his wife after a whirlwind romance. What appears at first to be a betrayal then is seen in another light as being a deliberate setup. Similarly, what appears at first to be an obsessed lover’s distraught attack on the one she loves ends up being a furtherance to the plans of them both. This, again, is not necessarily obvious at the beginning but becomes obvious later on. This sort of slow-building movie, punctuated by Poirot’s combative logic, is not going to be to everyone’s taste, but if it is to your taste there is a lot to enjoy here and one hopes for more where that came from.

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Hotel Review: Ramada By Wyndham Miami Springs/Miami International Airport

In a line to the immortal rap song “No Pigeons” by Sporty Thieves (itself a response song to TLC’s classic “No Scrubs”), there is a disparaging line about the Ramada Inn. While I do not mean to express myself so colorfully today, the sentiment is one that I can certainly relate to. It is not as if this was a terrible hotel. It offered comfortable beds, worthwhile amenities, if imperfectly delivered, and that is worth something, but it is still an experience that was a bit frustrating for us and even more so for those who were left waiting at the airport for the indifferent shuttle driver, who seemed not to operate by the same schedule as everyone else both to and from the airport. It was also quite shocking that the hotel was lacking an elevator, which was a very unpleasant surprise given we were put on the second floor and my mother struggles quite a bit with the stairs these days.

Reviewing a hotel like this means tallying up pluses and minuses. The rooms were comfortable and the bathroom was excellent, the hotel staff was friendly if a bit short-staffed, the hotel offered breakfast but made its eggs lukewarm (alas) and hid its plasticware in a box that was hard to identify, as well as limited tea options. Still, it was food, and it was welcome at 6AM when I and a few other travelers were downstairs enjoying the repast. The hotel had wifi, but it was glacially slow, which was intensely frustrating except for the period before 6AM when it was fast because few people were yet awake and so the speed was not throttled to levels I have last seen in Ghanaian dial-up. We have already commented at some length on the mixed to negative nature of the on-site dining options, but if the Ramada is mixed to positive, it certainly offers a comfortable enough place to stay, just as long as you don’t plan on doing any business online while you are staying there, or have mobility issues.2

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