Marianas Variety

Last updateFri, 22 Feb 2019 12am







    Wednesday, February 20, 2019-9:10:09A.M.






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OPINION: Accurate, but inadequate

HAVE you ever tried explaining Saipan to someone who’s never been here? Many people find comfort in explaining their decision to live in this far-flung, forgotten corner of America by defaulting to some rambling monologue about beaches.

“Oh,” they’ll say, “the beaches are better than anywhere in the States.”

OK, but why not Hawaii? Hawaii has nice beaches. And it’s closer, a point mothers and grandmothers everywhere are keenly aware of. “Well,” they continue, “it’s cheaper.” What difference does that amount to, when the overall wages are also much lower? Why not just move to South Carolina? Or if you want to sample the flavors of Asia, why not go somewhere like Vietnam or the Philippines where it is in fact much cheaper? “Because,” our now sweaty protagonist stammers, “because they use American money! The food is good and it’s American money on the beaches which are more Asian than Hawaii!” This may continue for some time until the bewildered relative or friend ends their interrogation and simply begins telling people they suspect you are running from the mob, or have some sudden illegitimate offspring somewhere to evade.

Truth be told, it can be a difficult question to answer. After all, it is not a totally unreasonable thing to wonder about the lucidity of a decision to move thousands of miles from “home,” to a place where gas costs almost $5 a gallon, the water from the tap is undrinkable, it can be swelteringly hot for weeks at a time, and cockroaches the size of dinner plates stroll about menacingly, daring you to come down off your chair and “do something about it.”

I fell in love with Saipan years ago. As a child, my father was a pilot based in Guam and we would frequently visit our northern neighbor to explore caves, or attend the world class go-kart races once held at Mariana Resort & Spa. It wasn’t until more than a decade later though, after the breakup of a band and a relationship, when I returned to be a student teacher at SDA School (then in San Antonio) and really began to know the island and her people. At that time, I had never lived on my own before and the prospect of my own place, doing my own things with my own money and therefore being free, dangled in front of me with an intoxicating allure.

I can still vividly remember my arrival. I had worn a sports coat, hoping to make a good impression. A few seconds after stepping through the front door of the airport and into the muggy midnight air though, I realized the folly of that decision and discarded it (it spent the following two years in my closet untouched). We jammed suitcases and personnel into a car that would have failed a Maryland inspection eight years earlier at best for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was an inoperable air-con and suspension fashioned from rebar, and set off into the night. Fifteen minutes and 25 speed bumps later, we reached our destination. My home was to be one of two duplex units, and as the only single male faculty, I had it all to myself. There were bars on windows that didn’t open (to keep honest people honest), no hot water (who needs that anyway, it’s already hot), a stained mattress approximately the thickness of a titiya but not as soft, and in every door frame the even flatter remains of a gecko who made the ill-advised decision to pause there and catch his breath. Paradise!

The other teachers and I formed strong bonds, many of which continue to this day. For the next two years, we explored every inch of the island, from Cowtown to Kalabera, from the mall to Marpi. In that time, I learned many things which surprised me. Sure, air-conditioning is nice, but you know what else is nice? Driving down Beach Road at night after a storm with all the windows down. Sure, hot water is convenient, but you know what is really refreshing? A cool shower when you get back from a long hike or caving expedition. The best live music I have ever heard is a few locals covering Pink Floyd, the best grill I have ever used was an old school desk filled with charcoal, and some of the best people I have ever met can barely write, wear old t-shirts with lite beer logos, and would probably be asked to sit in the back if they visited a church in the States. And that mattress? After getting used to it, I can sleep just about anywhere without a care in the world.

You see, I am convinced that part of Saipan’s charm is its brokenness. Part of the appeal of this little island is that no matter how goofy things get, how inconvenient, how cobbled together they can be, they keep going. The people keep going, the cars keep going, the mangy boonie dogs live forever, and there is something in that which is extremely encouraging. No matter how bad it may be sometimes, Saipan and its inhabitants just keep on going. That’s character. Tales of the beaches, the exotic food, the fascinating historical aspects may suffice for tourists and are all accurate, but inadequate in describing Saipan’s livable charm.

David Butterfield is the owner of WeJustClicked Photography Co. and lives way out in the jungle up north with his wife, son, daughter, boonie dog, stray cat, several cameras, a monitor lizard, and a bunch of chickens.