Sep 30, 2006

An Afternoon & Evening in Garapan & My Acting Debut

Random beauty on Saipan. Just part of living in paradise! I snapped these pics right outside our house, looking north, just before sunset. As you'll notice, the rainbow was so bright, that in the smaller picture it looks like a glowing arc of gold in the sky, with the colors barely showing up on camera. Gorgeous!

Twice this week we drove about 15 minutes to the heart of Saipan’s tourist district. Garapan, Saipan. On the rare occasions that Saipan appears on the map and on the rarer occasions still when a village on Saipan is identified on the map, this is invariably the one you’ll see. In Garapan you’ll find three high rise hotels looming up next to the shore—the Hafa Adai Hotel, the Fiesta Resort, and the Hyatt--- and a couple of blocks of restaurants, nightclubs, souvenir shops, bars, and massage parlors bordered by the Duty Free Galleria Mall and Hard Rock CafĂ© on one end and the sprawl of American Memorial Park on the other. The park was the scene of our first visit to Garapan this week.

This past Sunday, September 24, 2006, we had our annual school picnic at American Memorial Park. The park is an official National Park, run by the National Park Service, the only one on Saipan. It consists of a brand new World War II museum, a large amphitheatre, a flag court and memorial to the American soldiers and sailors who gave their lives in the Battle of Saipan during WW II, public tennis courts, a small marina, a very nice stretch of white sand known as Micro Beach, and several acres of open space bordered by walking paths often used for soccer games, ultimate Frisbee, the annual Flame Tree and Taste of the Marianas festivals and for us, the school picnic.

The day was hot and muggy, more so than normal, somewhat overcast, with occasional bursts of rain showers, and the occasional ominous rumble of thunder (a rarity on Saipan), but we all had fun anyway.

Here's kindergarten teacher Britni Gleason at the beginning of the picinic. She can't wait to start having fun!

It was a classic picnic with trays of pancit, hot dogs, fried chicken, pasta salad, jello, and the always popular boxes of Winchell’s donuts. Here's the picnic area.

We held egg and spoon relays, potato sack races, and of course tug of war.

Here's Babs dominating the badminton court.
One of the highlights of the afternoon was the "Chicky Chicky Bang Bang Bus" better known as the Chicken Bus. This bus in the shape of a giant chicken and festooned with many t-shirt clad plastic chickens took the kids on unbelievably fun rides around the park. I suppose it was just sitting in an open air bus, but the chicken theme somehow turned it all into a big adventure. The Chicken Bus is run by Big Boyz, an island tour operator whose chief distinction is that all of their vehicles from their tour buses to boats to jet skis are hot pink. How the Chicken Bus uniquely relates to Saipan is unclear. It seems to me to be about as authentic as the Saipanda.

Here's Bab's best friend on Saipan, Carol (left), and Nahoko, the parent of one of our kindergarten students.

One of our students, Tekoi, shows off one of his many remarkable talents. In this case balancing a large kickball on his head.

Thursday evening Barbara and I returned to Garapan. I dropped Barbara off at the Hafa Adai Hotel where one of our church members was holding a birthday party for their one-year old in one of the ball rooms. Apparently, the party featured Happy, the world’s loudest birthday clown. But I missed Happy because I was headed to the Street Market, the weekly festival of food, souvenir booths, and island-style entertainment. I had a film shoot and it was time for my close up! That’s right, I’m making my television debut as an actor! My friend Dan, the Hollywood actor, writer, and director who found himself on Saipan three years ago helping us with the Journeys project is putting together a new television series (hopefully this will actually get finished and aired). He asked me to help with some writing, but mainly he wanted me to act.

Now my interests have generally tended towards the behind-the-camera stuff: writing, directing, and even being a production manager. I haven’t done any serious acting (beyond the occasional cameo in my own plays or film projects) since I played the nefarious Mr. Duffy in my senior class play Meet Me in St. Louis. But Dan needed a favor, and he wanted me. So I agreed. It’s actually been pretty fun. I’m not the star of the show, just part of a large ensemble cast. My role is that of a Christian missionary on Saipan who is revered as somewhat of a spiritual sage by all those around him. So I’m basically playing myself. Well except for the part about being regarded as a spiritual sage. My character Elijah befriends Lily, the star of the show, a beautiful but lonely Chinese woman who has arrived on Saipan “looking for America.” Originally hoping to win her soul, Elijah’s heart is won instead and he begins assisting her in her quest.

Thursday night we were filming a short sequence in which Lily and Elijah visit the street market on their quest. It was just a couple of lines of dialogue and some basic establishing shots. We were done with the shoot in about 45 minutes. Unfortunately my camera battery died before I could get someone to take some photos me acting, but below are a few pics of the street market in general. You’ll see more of both the street market (my drama team will be performing there in mid-October) and my acting debut (we’ll be shooting more scenes in the coming weeks) in later blog entries.

To go with the photos here's a short selection from my online Journal at Interference the U2 fan website that I'm a member of. I wrote this description back in March, but the market is still the same. We were there to look at a band that was going to be a part of a REAL Christian Theater dinner theater.

Every Thursday night they block off one of the streets in the heart of Garapan, the tourist district of Saipan. The lights of the Japanese restaurants, the Chinese massage parlors, the Korean shops glow neon bright. The street is packed with tourists and locals, the air smoky from the fires of a dozen barbeques coming from the stalls opened by area restaurants. You can buy coco (spicy pickled green mango), bbq chicken on a stick, greasy lasagna, pizza, and untold varieties of Chinese dishes. As you push through the crowd, you can hear the thump of the band playing at the stage area. My theater club used to perform here a few years ago--brutal performing conditions: noise, a transient, largely Japanese speaking audience that will leave you alone onstage if they aren't sufficiently entertained. But they paid $100 an hour, so we managed to endure.

The band is pretty good, playing covers of various modern rock songs. My favorite was their cover of "Pardon Me" by Incubus. This kind of music isn't heard often here. . .most people prefer hip-hop, pop, and the unique brand of Pacific pop known as "Hawaiian reggae". But the band is good and that is undeniable. Bono Girl's boyfriend plays lead guitar and he is amazing. . .very talented for a high school junior.

When their set is over, Babs and I walk back through the crowds, holding hands feeling amidst the neon kanji and Asian eyes as far from suburban America as you can get.

Entering the Street Market

In the midst of the hustle and bustle that is the Thursday night Street Market in Garapan.

Dan (in the yellow)sets up his shot. Right behind him flashing the peace sign is Lie Hua and next to her in gray is Xerxes, holding the camera. You can see the arm of the boom operator and the long boom mike pole to the left.

Here's Lie Hua a.k.a Lily, the star of the show, abandoning her normal serious poise and grace for some serious camera mugging.

My next entry here probably won’t be for another two weeks but it should be a good one. Next weekend REAL Christian Theater goes on it’s first tour of the new season. We’ll be going to the island of Rota, another island in the CNMI south of us. For both the team and me, it will be a first visit. I’m looking forward to it, but also quite stressed about the logistical details and of course the performances (the first performances for our new team members). So please keep us in prayers. I’ll have pictures and stories to tell in the next entry.

Sep 22, 2006


The past few weeks have been typical school weeks--which means there's been nothing typical about them. That's the one thing I long for--to have a typical week. But it seems something is always going on. Fortunately we've had some interludes of rest in the midst of all the hectic activity. On the second weekend of September, the 8th and 9th we had our annual retreat at the Maturana House of Prayer. (The Maturana is a hilltop retirement home for nuns and also retreat center. The aged nuns stay in one building, the rest of the grounds consists of a number of buildings ideal for quiet, simple retreats). I love the picture above. The art work, the sunsplashed floor--this is what the retreat is all about. We do a lot of painting, praying, resting, and sharing. It's one of the few school activities that doesn't stress me out at all.

Some photos from the weekend:
Lunch time at the Staff Retreat. In true monastic style, Babs had us work together to make our Sabbath haystack lunch in complete and utter silence. Sabbath, September 9, 2006.

Some snapshots of a restful retreat. The staff lounges on the floor and couches while Babs leads us in another peaceful activity.

This is the exterior of the Youth Center where we ate, slept, and had most of our retreat activities.
Views of the Maturana, site of our annual staff retreat. Sabbath, September 9, 2006.

Guess what? I have whooping cough and I feel so third world. I was immunized as a kid but apparently the immunization can
"wear off" and here on Saipan a lot of people are not immunized, and it's been going around here on Saipan. It's been in the papers and whatnot.

Anyway, I went to the doctor last Friday, September 15, thinking I had walking pneumonia and the doctor ruled that out. No fever and that's apparently always a part of pneumonia. He said all the symptoms seem to line up with whooping cough (except for the "whooping" itself). So he put me on some meds and I guess I'll start getting better. The funny thing is the cough is not real painful or racking, just persistant and uncomfortable, particularly at night and in the morning. I'm still not fully well. I don't cough constantly, and most times it just annoying, but occassionally I have a coughing fit that is really awful where I have to take great gulps of air just to breathe. But that's rare. I finished the cycle of antibiotics the doctor gave me but don't feel like it's made much of a difference. The hard part is that my energy level is really low. I just run out of steam a lot quicker than usual. By mid-afternoon, all I want to do is just sit down. My threshold for dealing with stress and being too busy is just extraordinarily low right now.

Jesco is slowly but surely becoming part of the family. His manhood was summarily removed about two weeks ago, and he is rapidly becoming a house dog. He still goes out of the compound, snaking his skinny little body underneath the gate, but he is only gone for short periods of time and will usually be back in less than an hour. Despite the vet's instructions to keep him confined we've found it impossible to keep him from going outside the gate and have pretty much resigned ourselves to letting him go, just praying he doesn't get into any trouble or get hit by a car. He's still a very loving and a bit needy dog--he's a licker and he's constantly gaping his mouth at us,hungrily and desperatelyh trying to lick our faces, but he's definitely getting used to his new digs. Kimo is pretty much over any jealousy she might have had and enjoys having a regular playmate.

This past Sabbath, Sept. 16, we took the dogs down to the beach at sundown. A few picks below.

Sunset at the beach near Pacific Islands Club, about a three minute drive from our house. Sabbath,September 16, 2006.
Babs with Kimo

The A-Team. Babs is planning to use this picture for school PR stuff, but I've released it early right here at the Journal Online. This photo taken Friday, September 15, 2006. Back from L to R, Mr. Graves, Ms. Carmona, Ms.Layla, Me & Babs. Front L to R, Ms. Britni and Ms. Odiyar.

How far he's come! Jesco poses for his royal portrait. Doesn't he look like he's living the life?
Kimo with her new sibling.

Sep 2, 2006

Saipan Journeys

In this blog entry, I’ll take you on some Saipan journeys, ranging from the pedestrian run on the beach walk to the awe inspiring trek to the top of Forbidden Island.

Our first journey is one I’ve been wanting to capture visually for quite some time now. It’s my twice weekly runs. This is hardly serious athleticism, just every Tuesday and Thursday running for twenty to thirty minutes at a not too demanding pace. These pictures were taken Tuesday, August 22 around between five twenty and five fifty in the evening, what we refer to in local filmmaking parlance as “magic hour” and I think you can see why. I met up with my running buddy Vince for our first run together since May.

Invariably, it is a gorgeous, soothing run, and the pictures below are typical.

We start our run at Kilili Beach park. Here's a photo of the paddlers that gather at the park, heading out to sea in their outrigger canoe.
The first leg of the run. The ocean is to our left.

After the turn around, the run back. The ocean is now to our right.

Some shots taken mid-run of my running buddy Vince.

On Wednesday, August 23, our last teacher arrived on Saipan. Her name is Layla Cole and she arrived late because she was on biology trip to Costa Rica. She just earned her degree in Biology and French, and so appropriately will be teaching Science and French. Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of her arrival because her flight got in early and by the time I parked the car and joined the others at the gate, she had already come through (plus I forgot my camera).

On Friday, August 25 we had our first TGIS of the year. TGIS (which stands for Thank God It’s Sabbath) is an event we host for students 7th grade and older at our home every other Friday night. We have worship with the kids, eat a light supper and/or snacks and just let them socialize and be together in a “Sabbatical” atmosphere. Most of our students are not Seventh-day Adventist and we wanted to give them a sense of the joy and specialness of the Sabbath. For the past six years it has been a highlight of the school year for our older students.

Kids at TGIS.

G-Rant and our newest addition to the All Star team, Layla Cole at TGIS

Sabbath afternoon, August 26 is the scene of my next “Saipan journey.” It was a pretty close to perfect Sabbath afternoon. Brilliant blue sky, cottony clouds, the last of the flame trees still in bloom. Babs and I had enjoyed a quiet Sabbath lunch of ravioli and French bread together, and I’d even managed to get in a short Sabbath afternoon nap before the journey to Forbidden Island began.

We meet up at church member Oly Manibusan's house, located near the trailhead to Forbidden Island. Seated in the back of the Pierson's pick up is Missy Chamberlin, and leaning against Derek's (boyfriend of one of my former students Myla)truck is Grant Graves, and at the window is Kindergarten teacher Britni Gleason.

The hike begins.

Cue angelic choir. Behold! Forbidden Island.

Me putting on my shoes after wading across the shallows to the base of Forbidden Island and. . .

looking to the climb ahead.

The climbers ahead of me. Grant leads the way.

Ascending Forbidden Island

A shot down before the final, "rock-climbing" leg of the ascent of Forbidden Island. A little scary!

Pictures on top of Forbidden Island

"A cleft in the rock." The top of Forbidden Island.

We found this fossil imprint of an ancient shell in some rock on the top of Forbidden Island.

Crystal Pierson on top of Forbidden Island.

After returning from the summit of Forbidden some of the hikers took a relaxing dip in the swimming hole at the base of the island.

Jari Carmona, our grade 1/2 teacher poses for a glamour shot with the remains of a huge lobster found near the Forbidden Island swimming hole.

Farewell to Forbidden as we begin the grueling hike back. It was MUCH harder than I rememebered from the last time I hiked it, and during the last bit of it I was breathing hard, my muscles burning, digging deep to keep going.

The last little bit of sunset at the trailhead to Forbidden Island.

In the back of the Pierson's pickup on the drive home from Forbidden Island. Mugging for the camera is pre-school teacher Heather Tucker and to the right is 3/4 teacher Mai Rhea Odiyar.

After returning from Forbidden, I rushed home showered quickly and then Babs and I raced back over to the church where they were having a surprise birthday party for Crystal (Edmister) Pierson. There was simple food, karaoke of varying quality, and lots of fun.

Surprise! Crystal's (Edmister) Pierson's unexpected 28th birthday party at the church, Saturday night, August 26. Here she is with her husband Ken caught at the moment of surprise.

G-Rant wows 'em with his vocal prowess. Notice me looking on enviously from the TV screen, having just slaughtered Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror." The hair not withstanding I have found I cannot sing The Prince of Pop.

Our group of new teachers is amazing! These seven new women and one man, for lack of a better term are all stars and they rock. (Cue “All-Stars” by Smashmouth: “You’ll never know if you don’t go/you’ll never shine if you don’t glow/Hey now, you’re an all star, get your game on/go play/Hey now you’re a rock star/get the show on/get paid. . .only shooting stars break the mold.”). They just go full tilt all the time. They’re out scrambling all over the island, soaking up all the adventure they can. For example, at pre-school teacher Missy Chamberlin’s birthday party they played volleyball in the dark at the unlit American Memorial Park before deciding to go swimming, even as the rest of us more boring folks headed for home. On the night Layla arrived they joyously charged out the door to take her for her first swim in Saipan at nine o clock at night. On any given day you’ll see them piled into the back of Grant’s trusty rusty pick-up, all but cheering for the joy of being young, engergy-filled, and beautiful on Saipan. On any given night you’ll find them gathered in their apartment, cooking together, a multitude of laptops open and burning up the internet, the place ringing with laughter and good times. You’d think with all this fun, they’d be dragging into their classrooms exhausted, but not these All Stars. They arrive every day at work fired up and full of good cheer. They teach amazing lessons, charm the kids with their charisma, bring their A-Game to every school activity. We are truly blessed to have these girls and guy and we thank God for bringing them to our school this year. And special note must be made of the chief among them-- the man they call Grant Graves and who I refer to as “G-Rant.”

This guy does it all and then some. Here is a couple of pictures of Grant turning it up at Joint Worship this past Friday, September 1. He managed to lead song service all by himself, told a very entertaining version of the three little pigs (in which I acted as the “Big Bad Wolf”) with a twist on the ending that highlighted the importance of kindness. And then he and Mai Rhea, the grade ¾ teacher, had the students pair up into prayer partners and the entire school prayed together! Wow!

The all-star rocks the house.

Here's a wider view of Friday morning Joint Worship being led by G-Rant Graves.

Barbara awards a student her $100 recruitment prize.Any student that recruits a friend to come to SDA gets $100. Wish the teachers were allowed to participate in that program!