Nov 26, 2006


From glory. . .
. . .to ignomy

I wasn't as scared as I look in the picture above. Really! By the time I took this photo, I was reasonably certain we'd make it back. What you see in that photo is utter exhaustion. So what happened? Here's the story:

On Friday, November 24, the day after Thanksgiving Grant and I decided to bike around Saipan. I’d done this once when I was living in Chuuk and loved it. The trip is a pretty easy proposition. Well most of it is a pretty easy proposition. It's all road except for one stretch of less than a quarter mile on the northeastern side of the island, out past Talofofo. Windward Rd, a rutted dirt road (on which I fell and broke one of the brake handles on my borrowed bike--ouch) runs out and then starts again less than a quarter mile away meeting up with Kalebera Road which will take you to Bird Island. From there the path home is easy. Well, our problem was in that elusive quarter mile stretch. We knew we'd have to carry our bikes and kind of hack our way through the jungle. We figured we were MEN, we were TOUGH, we could handle that. What we DIDN'T know is that you can get completely and utterly lost in that less than a quarter mile. After all, it's less than a quarter mile if you're going straight from point to point, but if you get off track you've got trackless jungle, thickets of tangtangan, steep ridges and ravines, and other natural horrors for what seems like miles. So we got lost. Totally lost. We went into the jungle around 12:30 P.M., we got out at 7:00 P.M., and not on the other side. No around 4:30 P.M. we gave up and tried to backtrack, but we couldn't find our way back. At 5:30, with the light rapidly evaporating, we abandoned the bikes and struck out for the ocean, hacking through this thick mangrove-y stuff. . .it felt like we were walking on the tops of trees because we couldn't feel or see the ground beneath us except for the occasional rock. Eventually we got out to those really sharp, volcanic type rocks like what you find on the cliffs at the edge of the ocean and we crawled along those till we got back to the place, a lonely little cove called San Juan Beach, that we started from. By that time, Babs had called the police--(What a blessing! My cell phone never lost it's signal and I was able to call her and tell her that we were stuck and needed help). The officers were able to guide us down from the cliff. I wasn't scared about dying or anything, but I did worry that we'd have to spend the night out there and while we had food, we were running low on water and had no flashlights. It was quite an ordeal. We came out absolutely filthy, exhausted, blind in one eye (well, not really. . .a branch swiped me in the face and swished out my right contact), covered in scrapes and sores. Grant got stung on his face, ears, chest, arms, and shoulders on four seperate occasion as by wasps when he ran into nests. I'm still really achey and sore.

Immortalized in songs from "Running Down A Dream" to "Life is a Highway" there's just something about the open road.

In hindsight the trip seemed ill-fated from the beginning. Within in minutes of the beginning of our ride, I was in agony. I was struggling to make it up the slightest inclines and even on the straightaways I seemed to be working so much harder than Grant, who seemed to be effortlessly breezing along, while I was huffing and puffing
and wheezing and feeling faint. I seriously wondered if I could really make it all the way around the island feeling as terrible as I was. What was wrong with me? I'd been on the verge of being sick all week, perhaps that was it. Maybe my body just didn't have the stamina for this kind of workout? Or maybe I was just a weenie who couldn't HANDLE it! I shuddered at the prospect. Well, among my many ailments was the incredibly painful seat. The thin seatbike seat was punishing my equally thin behind, and finally because of the seat, Grant and I traded bikes for a bit, and the difference was magical. Not only was the seat more comfortable, but biking was easier, less draining, yea, even FUN! It turned out the seat on Ken's bike was way too high for me making it far more uncomfortable for me to sit and forcing me to work much harder than necessary at pedalling. That, and I was still figuring out how to use the gears properly. We stopped at an Ace Hardware in San Vicente and one of the employees helped us lower the seat on Ken's bike, after which riding it felt normal.

I remained tired throughout the rest of the journey though, the early exertions plus my ill health taking their toll, and I found I ran out of energy on the hills much more quickly than normal. On many of the longer ones I walked the bike, and even that was very demanding physically, and I'd occasionally have to rest from even that! Good thing I had no idea what was yet to come!

At the start of the road leading to Lau Lau Bay.

The Lau Lau Bay Vista.

I took this self-portrait when I stopped to catch my breath on the long rocky hill out of Lau Lau Bay.

We stoppped for a breather on our way up the road that leads out of the Kagman area.

This is the view from the Mobil gas station at the top of the hill leading down into Kagman. This was our fateful last rest stop before we disappeared into the jungle. After this we pedaled over a few more small hills and then raced down Talofofo Road. On that particularl downhill stretch I reached speeds of close to 40 mph on bike according to the spedometer on Ken's bike. What a rush!

"Time to saddle up and ride." Last rest stop before the boonies.

Here I am at our last rest stop, juiced up on gatorade and water and ready to go.

Looks simple enough doesn't it? But looks can be deceiving. This was the stretch of woods we would attempt to traverse.

Graves about to make the descent to San Juan beach, seen behind him.

Grant eases his bike down the path to San Juan beach. This was easy stuff compared to what we would have to do later.


Me in the jungle, still looking hopeful. At this point, we still thought we'd just carry the bikes over this ravine, manfully chop through some jungle for a bit and then find the road again on the other side. Instead we encountered multiple ridges and no sign of the road. On several occasions we left the bikes, went ahead on foot trying to find the road, but to no avail. At least once, we lost our way back to the bikes as well. Out there everything looks maddeningly the same and strangely different at the same time. It is very disorienting. Perhaps our biggest mistake was not to carefully mark our trail so that we could backtrack if necessary. When the time came to try to retrace our steps we couldn't do it.

Here's Grant hauling his bike over the first rather small ridge. This was easy compared to what was to come later. Once we got lost, we didn't take many pictures, since we were too busy trying to find our way out to think about photo ops, and even if we had thought of taking pictures I'm not sure we really wanted to take a lot of pictures of our ineptness. "Here's another picture of us. . .well, not sure where we are" just doesn't sound that appealing.

Grant taming the jungle with his trusty machete.

Right at the cusp of realizing we were truly in trouble we had this unique experience. We found a monitor lizard hanging out right by my bike! It was relatively small one, but it was still neat to actually see one in the wild.

Grant on the jagged rocks, after nightfall as we try to find our way home.

Grant weilds the machete, no longer necessary as we navigated away across the rocky cliffs near the ocean back towards San Juan Beach, our starting point. We arrived back on a rocky outcropping at San Juan, much closer to the ocean than our initial starting point. Within moments, we saw flashlight beams on the beach below and hailed our rescuers.

I guess the shutter wasn't working properly on the camera so Grant and police officer Nick Deleon Guerrero's heads are cut off and you can see a little of Officer Kevin Maritita and me.

So we were safe and sound. But it wasn't over yet. No we would have to go back in, to get the bikes we left behind. I already dreaded telling Ken I'd broken his brake handle. I dreaded even more telling him I'd abandoned his entire bike to the boonies. No, we had to go back. And so today, Sunday, November 26, we did. This time we went armed with lots of extra water, glowsticks, flashlights, ribbon for marking our trail, and long pants to protect our legs from further flayings. I've since caught a full on cold so I definitely needed for this to be a short adventure. And by the grace of God, it was. We found the bikes in about 20 minutes and were able to get them out of the jungle in less than 15 minutes. We were very close to finding our way back out that Friday it turned out, but the fading light and our failure to pay close attention to landmarks along the way earlier in the day prevented us from doing so.

Can you spot the bikes? After spending many hours in these jungles, my eyes were accustomed to them and we found the bikes easily. This is a picture of the moment we found them.

Grant checks out the bikes which turned out to be none the worse for the wear after their weekend stranded in the boonies.

The bikes safe and sound in the back of Grant's truck, we're ready to head for home.

The Annual Thanksgiving Feast

Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2006, Saipan USA

For the past couple of years Babs and I along with the Paez family have hosted on old fashioned American Thanksgiving dinner at our home complete with all the Thanksgiving favorites. We like the idea of eating in a home(usually ours) sitting at a single table with good friends, eating all the Thanksgiving classics made from scratch.

Our guest list for this year was:
Carol Paez--Barbara's best friend on Saipan. She essentially cohosts with us and provides the turkey.
Wylie Paez-Carol's stepson and one of my former students.
Keisha Paez-Carol's stepdaughter and one of my former students. She's a co-director of REAL Christian Theater and goes by the pseudonym "Bono Girl" in my REAL blog entries because of her trademark and everpresent shades.
Fredo Paez-Carol's stepson and one of my former students.
Tali Paez--Carol's daughter and one of our students.
Noah Paez--Carol's son and one of our students.
Dan Shor--good friend and filmmaking mentor.
Jie Hua Shor--Dan's sweet and wonderful wife.
Mai Rhea Odiyar--Our 3/4 grade teacher
Britni Gleason--Our kinder teacher
Grant Graves-Our 5-7 homeroom teacher and all-around Mr. Incredible
Virle Gayatin-Our office manager/accountant and all around Ms. Incredible
Joeie Verona--Works at our pre-school and is one Virle's dear friends.
Larene Delos Reyes--Our pre-school director
Namdi Miles--My friend, budding media entrepeneur and serious Bible scholar
Monique Miles-Namdi's wonderful and gracious wife.
River Miles-Namdi's beautiful little daughter
Missy Chamberlin--Our fundraising guru and Left Hand of Barbara (Virle being the right)
Layla Cole--Our French, Science, and ESL teacher
Bev Cabanatan--a dental hygienist at the SDA Clinic and a good friend of us all.

Our menu for the meal included the following mouthwatering delights:
Roasted turkey with gravy
Wild mushroom and leek stuffing
"box" stuffing
Mashed potatoes (from scratch of course. Thanks May!)
Gravy (appropriately enough provided by Mr. Graves)
Cranberry relish
Cranberry gelatin salad
Fresh baked bread (made by Grant Graves. He brought like five loaves)
Special K Loaf
Sweet Potato Casserole
Memphis corn pudding
Green bean casserole
a fresh green salad with balasamic vinagrette dressing
Chinese dumplings
Stir fried vegetables chinese style

And for dessert:

Two pumpkin pies
Two apple pies
one cherry pie
vanilla ice cream
fresh whipped cream (from scratch no less! It's so easy to make and SO tasty!)

After our meal we all watched "Mission Impossible III" as a special treat for Bev who'd been dying to see it.

All in all, a lovely and memorable Thanksgiving.

Mai Rhea (better known to us as simply "May") and Bev help set the table.

Dan and his wife Jie Hua. Dan's is my filmmaking and screenwriting mentor. I've been acting in his latest project, Stat e of Liberty.

Here's the view of the table from my end. From the left side of the table running down to the end and then back up the right are: Tali, Layla, Keisha, Grant, Wylie, Mai Rhea, Dan, Jie Hua, Namdi, River, Monique, Britni, Joie, Virle, Larene, Missy, Carol, Babs, Noah, and Bev.

With 21 people at table, getting the food to everyone without having to resort to buffet style, line up and serve yourself and then sent back down, took some organizational skill, and that so ruins the "gather round the table" Thanksgiving vibe. And besides having 21 people getting up and down in our tiny dining area would have been a whole other logistical nightmare. What we did was pass our plates around the table and we just added whatever dish was in front of us to each plate as it came along. This year we had name cards at each place setting which some genius suggested we send along with the plate so you knew whose plate you were filling which made it even easier. In these pictures Carol Paze (above) and Keisha Paez (below) work the plates.

Nov 17, 2006

A Week In November

Same random beauty on Saipan.

Here's a few pictures from the past week in Saipan. We begin with some shots of Heather and Jari's new apartment. Things were getting a little strained at the "girls apartment" on our compound. With six women living in one apartment, I suppose that's not terribly surprising, and Jari and Heather volunteered to move out. They found this lovely little place just around the corner from the elementary school campus. The photos above were also taken from the balcony outside the front door of their place.

The view from the front door of Jari and Heather's place.

When you turn around, this is what you see. The entrance to Jari and Heather's new nest, #303

The photo is a bit blurry, but this the inside of Jari and Heather's new apartment. Lest you get too jealous about that view, note this place is TINY! Immediately to your left would be the sink, stove, and fridge. To your right is the wall, and straight ahead is the door to their one bedroom. The door to the bathroom is not visible. Heather is on the couch.

I took these photos last Friday, November 10 and they capture (sort of) one of the most fascinating sights on Saipan--the shift changes of the garment factories. For a few mintues the street that runs from our house to the school fills with garment workers,mostly Chinese women, carrying brightly colored umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun, walking from their barracks to the factories and vice versa. These photos really don't do it justice. I was riding my bike from the house down to the school, and I stopped to get out my camera. But the women were walking so quickly that by the time I was able to get off a couple of shots many of them were already off the street. If I get a better photo later, I'll definitely post it.

This week's requisite Kimo Shot. Often Babs will invite Kimo to come and "just be." This is what she means.

Here's a couple photos from the last day of shooting for the pilot episode of my friend Dan's latest TV show. This is the one where I play a sort of "holy man", Elijah, a Christian missionary dressed in white, always carrying his battered Bible, who seems to know everyone and everything. If I'd been thinking I'd have had a picture of me in costume. Also there are no pictures of me on camera because it's hard enough to snap a few pictures between takes (You can't take pictures while the camera is rolling as the flash and the noise of the camera will ruin the take) and I felt bad to ask someone to try to sneak a picture of me in before Dan called action.

Our final scenes were shot at one of our principal locations, Hamiltons. Hamilton's is one of the oldest bars and restaurants on Saipan. It was originally founded by an American naval officer stationed in Saipan after World War II. He met a local girl, settled down, and opened Hamiltons. The bar and the adjoinging restaurant are built right on to the Hamilton family home, and it's not uncommon to see the original Mrs. Hamilton, now quite old, come wandering in to the bar and back into the homey kitchen just off the bar to help herself to some food and go about her business. It's a fascinating place full of WW II memorabilia and "life in Saipan" mementos. It's where the Hash House Harriers (our local chapter of the hash runners) meet. They've got quiz night every Sunday evening for all-comers. They're reputed to serve up the best burger to be found on Saipan. I've not been there much myself, but it does seem to be the sort of place "where everbody knows you're name", and it was the perfect setting for our fictional bar, the Stat e of Liberty.

Here's Dan behind the camera (with his cameraman, Xerxes and Dan's wife Jie Hua, standing by her man). . .

. . .and Dan in front of the camera, playing the role of Sergei, the Russian owner of the bar The Stat e of Liberty. (The "u" has fallen off the sign creating the play on words. This is also the title of the show, I believe).

Some of the cast of Stat e of Liberty at the end of our final day of shooting. From L to R: Tanya plays Amura, the bartender, Jie Hua, Dan's wife, plays a "Garpan Girl", Dan plays Sergei, Ben Salas plays a cage fighter named Arc, Me playing Elijah, Lili plays Lili, the beautiful and mysterious Chinese girl who is looking for America, Bo is one of the real-life bartenders at Hamilton but I'm not sure what he plays in the show, Jason (with his daughter who had a role as an extra), a cop and real life cage fighter, plays Jonas the abusive father of Arc and Lili, and last a lovely Japanese woman who plays a role that I'm not familiar with.

On Tuesday, November 14, we had our school community service day. We decided to serve our community by cleaning it up. The classes each took a stretch of road or beach and spent the morning picking up trash. Here's one of our eighth graders, Nicole, trash bag in hand. This photo was taken on the road leading up to our house in front of the garment factories.

Some of the kids on my crew take a breather, hovering under what little shade is provided by a small store.

Here's the entire school with all our trash!

Thursday, November 16, 2006. At first glance, this looks like a quiet evening at home. Perhaps a couple of the teachers have come over to hang out, but nothing out of the ordinary right? Wrong! Don't let the mundane appearances of this photo fool you. In fact, disaster was very much iminent. WARNING: THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION MAY BE INAPPROPRIATE FOR WORRIED MOTHERS! Actually, this photo was taken at about 1:00 A.M. and the girls, Heather and Jari were at our house because they'd been evacuated from their new apartment because a tsunami was expected to strike Saipan within the hour. We don't live right on the beach like they do, and since we're on higher ground further from the coast they came to await the wave at our house. We found out about the wave when Jari called us on my cell phone at about 12:30 in the morning waking us from a sound sleep. To be honest I wasn't that worried. As far as I know there's no record of a tsunami ever hitting the Marianas--despite the fact that waves have hit other islands such as Hawaii in the past century. Plus, despite the 8.1 earthquake in the Russian Kuril Islands far to the north of us, the size of the tsunami that struck Japan was about 16 inches. Compared to the 80 to 100 foot waves recorded during the 2004 Asian tsunami, that's not even surfable. Still, there was a lot of fear and panic, I heard later. After they called off the warning around 1:30 and Barbara went to take the girls back to their apartment, she said the streets were full of Chinese garment workers running for higher ground.

We were very fortunate that the most damage done by this tsunami was to our sleep.

A shot of the tsunami warning announcement on the local weather channel. Channel 2 always has a weather satellite photo of the Pacific with ongoing weather bulletins 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We never watch it except when there is a typhoon headed our way, or in the case, a tsunami. The words are blurry because they were on a streaming banner but they basically read "Tsunami Warning. Tsunami expected to arrive in the CNMI at 1:31 A.M." There was also the usual bland, robotic sounding voice playing over static repeatedly warning us of the impending doom.

Here's some photos from REAL Christian Theater's second street market show. Thursday, November 16, 2006.

The climax of our show at the Street Market is our pantomime set to music portraying a VERY brief history of the world--the Creation, the Fall, and the Redemption. Here are a couple of highlights from the Creation. That's Adam and Eve (portrayed by REAL members "Photobug" and "the Gentleman"] lying on the ground in front of me awaiting the breath of life.

Here I portray, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the redemption of humankind.

Only in Saipan: Green Tea with Honey
A new feature of The Journal Online; I'll occasionally include a photo of something that is unique to Saipan, something that makes living in Saipan special. This week the item featured in Only in Saipan is the green tea with honey. Now I know you've got a virutal cornucopia of tea on the Mainland. I know you've got your Teavana and what not, but only in Saipan (and other regions nearby) can you find these cold teas bottled by various Asian labels: King Carr Lemon Tea, Assam Black Tea, and the current favorite of Barbara and I-the Chinese brand depicted above (I don't know the brand name as I can't read the characters). It's got a simple blend of water, jasmine green tea, sugar, and honey that goes down smooth with just the hint of honey, clean and refreshing.

Check out my latest Faith Journeys by clicking on the Faith Journeys link or visiting In this latest entry I share my reflections on the recent TIME magazine cover article, "God vs. Science"!

The blog entries from the next few weeks should be pretty exciting. This week we have our annual Thanksgiving dinner with between 15 and 20 guests expected this year. And then on Friday, Grant and I are going to ride all the way around the island of Saipan. The ride should include some pretty adventerous jungle trails! Then the following week I'll be going to Japan for three days (many of U know why 2!!!!!)and I expect to have some wonderfully exotic photos of that trip.