Mar 31, 2008

Amazing Love: Our Australian Angels

The Cairns Seventh-day Adventist Church

Our class poses with our new friends from the Cairns Seventh Seventh-day Adventist youth group at the table tennis stadium, Saturday night, March 22, 2008.

Our kind benefactors, Tom & Paula Nelio, Ken & Ruth Stewart, and Pastor Anthony

"Y" and "S" and "J" and Riki ride the wakes on our waterskiing outing courtesy of our new Australian friends. Monday, March 24, 2008.

Riki and I get ready to kneeboard!

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in. . ." Matthew 25:35

Jesus said that one of the identifying marks of those welcome in His kingdom is their treatment of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger. In that case, the good folks at the Cairns Seventh-day Adventist church surely hold places of honor in His kingdom. They fully reflected the spirit of love and generosity Jesus extolled.

I'm still amazed by the kindness shown to us by the members of the church in Cairns. I'm touched and humbled by their selfless service and generous care toward our group during our stay in Australia.

It all began Friday night when John Castleden, the head deacon of the Cairns SDA Church stopped by our hotel to make sure we were okay. Not five minutes after he left, the Cairns SDA Church youth leader, Tom Nelio and his son Grayson showed up bearing gifts--a crate of mangos and a huge sack of oranges. We were hungry and they gave us something to eat! We would be feeding--both literally and figuratively--on the generosity of Tom and his friends for the much of the rest of the week.

"M" embraces our bounty of fruit from Tom Nelio of the Cairns SDA Church.

On Sabbath we'd planned to walk to church from our hotel, as it was only a few blocks away. But again Tom turned up to ferry us over to the church in his car--this would be the first of several rides he and the other members would give us over the next few days--in many cases, driving us some considerable distances. I'm sure that "I needed a ride and you picked Me up" might have been included in the Lord's commendation!

Mai and the girls sing special music for the church service at the Cairns SDA Church.

Our boys and a new friend after church on Sabbath, March 22

We were fed once again by the church with a delicious potluck after services and then Saturday night, Tom and his team appeared again to take us down to the local table tennis stadium for an evening of fun, food, and fellowship. We were strangers and they invited us in. That Saturday night we got to know Tom's wife Paula,as well as Ken and Ruth Stewart a lovely Aussie/Kiwi (respectively) couple, and Pastor Anthony, the energetic associate pastor who works for the Lord but drives like the devil (much to the students' delight. They all wanted turns riding in his sporty, turbocharged, Honda Civic). The kids hit it off with the Nelio and Stewart kids as well as the other members of the church's small youth group. In short we all became fast friends, and when the evening came to an end, we were loathe to say goodbye. We ended up making plans to go waterskiing with them on Monday.

Table tennis on Saturday night at the table tennis stadium!

The Cairns youth group is fascinated by our plain green money (much as we were fascinated by their multi-sized, multi-hued currency). Saturday night, March 22.

But our Australian angels would come to our rescue before then. Sunday morning our plan was to play laser tag at an outdoor course just outside Cairns. However, it quickly became apparent that transportation was going to be a problem. The city buses didn't go out that far and two round trip taxis would costs at least $240! Car rentals for a single day would run about $170 for a van that would carry us all. In desperation I called up Ken Stewart, and he and his team saved the day for us. We paid for the some of the kids in the youth group to play laser tag with us and we all enjoyed a fun couple of hours in the forest shooting at each other. I was truly amazed by the generosity of Tom & Paula (who's car actually broke down while we were off playing and who spent much of their time the rest of the weekend trying to get it fixed), Ken & Ruth, Anthony, and another new friend we made that day, Wendy. Wendy's son and his friend joined us for the games while the adults sat and waited for us to finish. What a sacrifice of time on their part! Not only did they drive us all the way out there but they sat and waited for us (keeping Babs company--laser tag and unborn babies don't really go together) to finish playing. I'm sure they had plans that they put on hold just to help us out. For someone like myself who is so schedule-conscious and often stingy with my time, I was truly humbled by their gift of time.

Monday, we went waterskiing with the Cairns group as planned, with Tom, Ken, Anthony, Ruth, Paula, and Wendy driving us the hour and half to Lake Tinnarroo in the Tablelands. We had a great time flying across the water on the biscuit, kneeboard, and slalom ski behind Ken's boat. Once again our friends were the very picture of hospitality.

I try my hand (or should I say knee) at knee boarding. Very strenuous stuff!

On the drive back, I talked with Paula quite a bit and she shared with me about the various ministries they have to reach out topeople in need in the area. It was then I knew I had to come back to this warm and loving church. Only next time, I wanted to give back. Freely we've received, so now I want to freely give. My goal is to take REAL Christian Theater to Australia in 2009 to perform in and around Cairns and contribute to the ministry efforts of the Cairns SDA Church. So if God opens the doors, hopefully we will be back in Australia in a little more than a year working side by side with our Australian angels to share the love of God with the people there.

There is a praise and worship song that describes the "amazing love" Jesus had in laying down His life for each of us. One of the ways we as Christians respond to that precious gift of love is by laying down our own lives in service to one another. This is what the people of the Cairns SDA Church did for us and so, in their own small way, they reflected the amazing love of our Savior.

Good on ya, mates!

Tom and Paula, thanks for the fruit and the friendship! The spirit of Christ shone through in your kindness and hospitality to us. If you ever decide to come up to Saipan we'll be happy to return the favor!

Ken & Ruth, thanks so much for organizing the laser tag transportation and treating us to the fun day of waterskiing. I'll never forget your open and loving hearts! God bless you and your family.

Pastor Anthony, thanks for giving our kids the ride of their lives. I appreciate you coming by to check on us Thursday night before we left--I'm sorry we missed you. I wish you the best in your new ministry in Cairns and I hope we'll be able to work together next year.

Wendy, it was so nice getting to know you. Thanks for driving for us and being willing to squeeze us all in to get us home. I pray God richly rewarded you with extra study time in return for the precious time you shared with us.

Pastor Anthony's "cool car." The kids all fought over who got to ride with him. Riding shotgun with this fiery servant of the Lord was an adventure in of itself!

This is how our boys spent the vast majority of our day of waterskiing. I confess I was more than a little embarrassed by their blase attitude,especially as our hosts had gone out of their way to create this special day for us. Fortunately, Ruth Stewart was finally able to convince them to take a whirl on the biscuit, just before we packed up and headed for home. Of course, they had a great time.

The boys on the biscuits (finally!)

The girls and one of their new friends after a day of watersports.

Mar 28, 2008

Australia: The Journey Begins

Babs feeds a kangaroo.

The 8th grade class of 2008, on tour in Australia! I call this picture, taken on Sabbath, March 22 at church in Cairns, the "album cover photo" because the kids all look like members of a band on an album cover with their pensive faces, and cool demeanor.

Three girls, Three Kangaroos. Last time we came to Cairns with the 8th grade class of 2000 we were pretty much mobbed by hungry kangaroos at this zoo. This year, for whatever reason, they were much more chilled out. They weren't particularly hungry and when we would try to feed them, they'd take a few bites from the food in our hand, then turn away disdainfully. While last time, we emptied a bag of feed in a few minutes, this time we ended up throwing away the exra food.

Me, a wombat, and the wombat-keeper

A video of some very cute and very active koalas at the Cairns Tropical Zoo, taken on Friday, March 21, 2008.

We spent a wonderful, unforgettable week in Australia. For Babs and I, it was our second trip to North Queensland, and possibly our last trip as class sponsors (as in the years to come we'll have our own child to worry about and thus might be better off letting someone else take over who can devote themselves fully to the students on the trip). The kids were a charismatic, energetic bunch that eagerly embraced the adventures we had every day. We grew close as a group, and I think we were all a little sad when it came to an end and it was time to fly back to Saipan.

The People

The Girls: "S", "J" and "Koala." Defying gender stereotypes, these three were the more adventerous ones on the trip. While the boys preferred to hang out at the hotel or shop (one boy almost opted out of an activity because--I'm not making this up--he didn't want to get his shoes dirty!), the girls were eager to get out there and try out every new adventure they could. They didn't care too much for shopping.

The Boys: "T", "K", "M" and. . .

. . ."Ko". Last spring these boys went camping in the wilds of Saipan, this time their adventure took them to another country!

The Teachers: From Left to Right, Amy and Riki--who were not class sponsors but tagged along for the trip nonethelss, and ended up being a great help to us throughout our journey--and Mai, who stepped into the role of the third class sponsor after Missy's untimely departure. She did a great job. We couldn't have done it without you Mai!

Me, Babs and our unborn little one! This photo was taken at church in Cairns on Sabbath, March 22.

The Place

Tropical North Queensland Australia. This photo was taken on the skyrail heading up to Kuranda. Mai took this photo looking back on the coast with the Coral Sea in the distance. Somewhere beyond the horizon is the Great Barrier Reef!

Barron Falls. These spectacular falls in their full post-rainy season glory were photographed by Amy Foote on a stop on our skyrail journey up to the village of Kuranda.

Me on an ATV on our last day in Australia. This was about as close as we got to the outback in Australia; the drier, scrubbier tablelands of North Queensland. We signed up for a tour via ATV with Blazing Saddles, a working farm that hosts people for tours on horseback and ATV.

The Story To Come

We left Saipan on Thursday afternoon, March 20 and arrived in the vacation town of Cairns, in tropical North Queensland, Australia in the early morning hours of Friday, March 21. The flight was straight south, so we were still in the same time zone as Saipan. We left Australia exactly one week later in the early morning hours of Friday, March 28. So, to capture our Australia experience I'm going to post a new blog every day for the next week, a blog for each day of our time in Australia (thanks, Mai for the idea). Unlike my previous accounts of our class trips to Korea and Singapore, this will only be loosely connected to the chronology of events. I want to encourage you to read other blogs, and I know Mai is planning a day by day account of our trip, so I inivite you to read her blog over the next week, for an on the ground "you-are-there" account of what we did each day. I will be focusing on the broader aspects of our travels, with a different theme conciding with each day of our trip. Here's a brief summary of what we did on each day of the trip as well as a preview of what aspects of the trip I'll be writing about in the next week:

Friday, March 21, 2008-We go to the Cairns Tropical Zoo. This day is represented by this entry, the introduction and overview of the trip.

Sabbath, March 22, 2008--Church at the Cairns Seventh-day Adventist Church and Table tennis with our new friends that night. My entry "Amazing Love: Our Australian Angels" will detail the generous hearts of the lovely people who befriended us from the Adventist church in Cairns.

Sunday, March 23, 2008 (Easter Sunday)--Laser Tag. My entry will be entitled "We had General Lee, They Had General Grant: Lessons in Leadership Learned from Laser Tag"

Monday, March 24, 2008--Water Skiing with our new Australian friends. I'll chronicle this in my Sabbath entry so my entry will focus on "No Worries: The Australian Experience"

Tuesday, March 25, 2008--We visited the Tjapukai Cultural Park and then took the skyrail over the treetops of the rainforest up to the small village Kuranda, nestled in the jungle overlooking Cairns. I will write about "Humans, Nature, and Human Nature: The Aboriginal Experience".

Wednesday, March 26, 2008--Four students and three teachers go white water rafting, two students and one teacher go horseback riding, and one teacher and one student stay at the hostel and do nothing. Find out who and why in Wednesday's entry. I'll be writing about "Rafting".

Thursday, March 27, 2008--We go riding on ATV's in the outback. I'll be writing on "Running In Australia"

Ready to go then? Let the adventure begin!
(Picture taken in the tropical rainforest near Kuranda village)

Mar 14, 2008

Only in Saipan: Four of the Best Restaurants in the Whole World

That's right folks, four of the best restaurants IN THE WHOLE WORLD just happen to be right here on this one little spot in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. What are the odds?

Here on Saipan, we may lack a healthy economy, a competent government, and a fresh coat of paint for many of our buildings. We may lack consistent access to ricotta cheese, i-tunes music store service, and concerts by acts bigger than K.C. and Sunshine Band. But one thing we do not lack is good food. At least in my opinion, there is an extraordinary amount of great food to be found on Saipan. You can eat well here. There's crepes at that little French place in Garapan. There's great coffee, internet service and laundry in one stop at Java Joes, dollar tacos at Oleais's Bar and Grill, burgers at Hamilton's, premium ice cream at the Big Dipper, deli style sandwhiches at Bobby Cadillacs, several excellent sushi joints such as Shen Shen and Sushi Land, heaping bowls of pasta at Capriciossa's, the delightful lunch buffet at the Taste of India, the best hotel buffet on Saipan at Pacific Island Club--perfect for lunch after a morning of swimming in their gorgeously landscaped water park, garlic-infused everything at the Garlic restaurant, fine dining at Giovanni's at the Hyatt, and dramatic dining at Micronesia's only revolving restaurant, the recently opened 360. There's probably a hundred other places I've yet to discover or forgotten to mention as well. For the mass-market taste we even have Pizza Hut, Subway, KFC, Taco Bell, the Hard Rock and good old Mickey D's.

But among all this fantastic food, there are four places that stand out because I have yet to find any place in the world--my world anyway--on par with them. These are places I miss when I'm back in the States during the summer, places that will leave a little hole in my life when the day comes that we move away or that, God forbid, they should close. In fact, the fear that these places might someday close is part of what prompted me to write this blog in the first place. It's a legitimate worry, as we've lost more than a few restaurants to the aforementioned diseased Saipan economy (including the magically delicious Magic Lamp, a Mediterranean themed restaurant that featured one of the island's largest vegetarian menus. The owner, Linda Stephinian, a dear friend of ours, closed up shop several months ago). In fact, I first started thinking about this post when I embarked on the Herculean task of trying to keep Shelly's pizza open--singlehandedly. I decided I was going to buy pizza from them every single week. I'm not saying they are on the brink of collapse, but they are a new business and that puts them at risk. And the pizza really is that good. We can't lose this place!

I wanted to encourage readers here on Saipan to frequent Shelly's and the other restuarants here to keep their business booming, and I wanted to encourage off island readers to look these places up when they visit (And yes, they might actually be worth flying here just to eat).

But enough talk. Let's eat!

Shelly's Original Boston Pizza: Located in Susupe right across the street from the massive World Resort. You can't miss it and, best of all, it's located three doors down from one of the other Best Restaurants in the World, Ebisyua. The odds are astronomical, I know!

Shelly's was opened a little more than a year ago by two boys from Boston who came to Saipan on vacation and couldn't find a good pizza (apologies to the other two major pizza joints on island). They decided to make their own, and we the residents of Saipan have been the lucky beneficiaries of their dissastisfaction.

What makes Shelly's the Best Pizza in the World? The crust--it's all about the crust. Soft and pillowy, it could be served by itself and be mouthwatering. The rich sauce, melty cheese, and grade-A toppings are just. . .well, the toppings. . .to their exquisite handmade pizza crust.

I make a habit of going into Shelly's and taking a few slices of whatever pizza is hot out of the oven. How many places can you go where you don't need to bother with placing an order for one particular item--because everything is so good?

They've got a great bargain on a medium pizza that sure feels like a large for only $9.99!

I'll never order from Pizza Hut again while Shelly's lives, and I don't feel bad for Pizza Hut either. They've got a multi-billion dollar global brand--they don't need me. Shelly's just has us, here in Saipan.

Ebisuya Bakery and Sushi, a few doors down from Shelly's. The Best Bakery in the World and some of the better sushi.

I don't know if this is really a restaurant, though they do have a small sit-down area. Primarily it's a bakery and a place for sushi and bento. There are three things, Ebisuya does par excellance, illustrated below in photos (I took these pictures near the end of the day and Ebisuya does everything fresh, so by the end of the day the shelves are getting sparse):

Baked Goods

I buy all our bread here--whole wheat, french bread, rolls, you name it. Their's is the best on island.


They've always got a variety of tempting desserts on display in the case next to the cash register: cheesecake, crepes, creme puffs, fruit cups, and so on. The folks at Ebisuya understand the importance of real, rich, cream and they use it wisely and generously in their desserts and pastries.


When it comes to take-out sushi, Ebisuya is unparallelled. The only downside is that they don't have any vegetarian sushi so you're going to have endure real spicy tuna and salmon in your sushi roll.

Counterintuitive as it may seem, I love about both Shelly's and Ebisuya that you never know what's going to be available when you go there. In both places you sometimes sense that the chefs follow their mood and fancy and you're always in for a pleasant surprise everytime you go in. The food has to be pretty darn good that you can go in and be happy with whatever you find in stock.

A few of my favorite things (from Ebisuya):

These are some of my favorite Ebisuya items that I bought yesterday: sushi, french bread, and on the top from left to write the PASTRIES!!!!! from left to right, a cappuccino pastry, a blueberry "pan" (actually that was a new item that I just had to try. "Pan" means bread in Chamorro, I believe), and my all time favorite Ebisuya item--the Best Blueberry Danish In the World!

A little closer to home, we have this lovely little place, located about a 3o second walk from our school:

Spicy Thai Noodle Place located in San Antonio, on the right hand side of Beach Road if you're driving south, just before you reach the Mayor's Office on the left and the SDA School on the right. If you pass the basketball court you've gone too far.

Spicy Thai has the best Thai food I've ever had anywhere (and that includes in Thailand). My favorites are the green curry with eggplant and chicken (though tofu can be substituted), the phad thai, the spicy kangkung greens and well, really everything here. I heart the iced Thai tea with milk as well. And they have a great lunch buffet that features tasty wings and spring rolls every day in additon to their delicious selection of main entrees.

As if amazing food weren't enough, Spicy Thai delivers a warm, comfortable, and quaint atmosphere, perfect for lazy Sunday afternoons or a working session after school. They have lots of "regular" tables too, but these traditional Thai tables are my favorite place to eat, hang out, and hold court. Kick off your shoes, settle on the comfy pillows, and it's like you're at home.

Spicy Thai Noodle Place owners Bob and Waree Bracken.

And finally, my favorite Restaurant in the Whole World:

Coffee Care, located off Isa Drive on the way up to Capitol Hill.

Don't be fooled by the mundane name--this place has it all--a funky-cool, laid-back ambience, great music, a great view, friendly wait staff, great art on the walls (though lately there's less of that as a lot of my favorite pieces have been sold off and replaced by the less original though still cool old 1950's movie posters) and of course the food. Coffee Care sweeps every category--appetizers (try the the mozzeralla emapanada or the melenzane provolone for starters), the salads (Bab's favorite is the rustica salad), the sandwhiches (I've had them all--every one is amazing, the Coffee Care wrap, the philly steak and cheese--all with your choice of bread and cheese), the soups (get the soup of the day--whatever it is, it will be delicious), the pasta (they have a list of sauces--I like the sun dried tomato--and you pick the type of pasta to pair it with), the steaks, the fish (oh, the fish. . .you don't even have to like fish and you'll love their grilled wahoo). All three meals of the day--breakfast, lunch, and dinner--they're all winners.

And did I mention dessert? Humongous slabs of cheesecake are just the beginning. . .

Oh, and they have a large coffee menu too.

And a couple can eat there for about 20 bucks! (Though we always tend to spend more because the food is just so good!)

Even under the new management that's cut some of the nicer details (they've switched from kalamata olives to plain old black for example), in terms of the full package dining experience, no other restaurant I've been to comes close.

I was saddened to hear recently of the passing of the original owner of Coffee Care, a genial man named Dan. I didn't know him personally, and I'm sure he's done many wonderful things and made a difference to those near and dear to him. But if leaving a place like Coffee Care, that's been the source of so many special meals and memories for so many people, is part of what he's accomplished, that's a legacy to be proud of.

The view from Coffee Care.

Well, I'm going to finish this blog and go out to eat with my wife at. . .yup, Coffee Care.