June 2, 2011

Taste the Rainbow, an Ice Keki Rainbow

When I was a little boy on Saipan, oh so many years ago, a regular treat was to get ice keki on a hot day. Amazingly, the Chinen Ice Candy Store in Garapan is still around selling ice keki at the same location that I remember.

What is ice keki? Well, if you spent any part of your childhood on Saipan, you know what it is. For the uninitiated, it's an ice pop, like an otter pop sold in mainland supermarkets. For some reason though, it tastes so much better.

I've shared this experience with my kids and they love it. A mere suggestion of ice keki elicits screams of delight from the kiddos followed by requests for certain colors. Watching them down one (or two) ice keki draws a smile on my face. I know what they are feeling. It was yummy for me when I was a kid, and it still is yummy for me as a grown up.

Ice keki, another reason I Luv Saipan.

(hu guaiya hao mama)

March 31, 2011

Spending the day on Tinian

Taga Beach

This past weekend I made a trip to Tinian for my cousin's wedding ceremony.  My cousin and her family were looking beautiful just like the island of Tinian itself.  Tinian island is just south of Saipan.  You can see it from either atop Mt. Tapotchau or on the southern shores of Saipan.  The strait between Saipan's southern shores and Tinian's northern shores is less than 5 miles.  When I was younger I dreamed of kayaking across that strait.  But I've crossed it on a motor boat and those waves can be huge and scary.  I liken them to rolling foothills.

Nowadays, getting to Tinian is usually done via a 6-seat airplane.  Freedom Air will sell you a roundtrip ticket for $69.  No reservations necessary.  Just show up to the transit terminal 30 minutes prior to the hour and buy a ticket.  Flights go out to Tinian every hour.  However, if you're the only passenger on the flight, they may wait until another passenger shows up, so you could wait another hour before this happens.  Normally the morning and afternoon flights are the busiest.

Tinian has a lot of history.  It was converted into a naval airbase after the U.S. secured the Marianas during WWII, and it is famous for being the origin of departure for the Enola Gay and the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

House of Taga

Prior to WWII, during the ancient Chamorro period, Tinian was home to a legendary Chamorro chief named Taga.  His Latte house was the largest found standing in the Marianas.  My grandfather's house sits across from Taga's. I could see it just beyond the road from my grandfather's doorsteps.  I remember my father telling me the legends of Taga and his feats of strength as well as the haunting story of his daughter.  If you smell the sweet fragrance of plumeria at night, Taga's daughter is roaming the area looking for her lover.  I have smelled the fragrance at night where it was there for a minute or two and then it was gone and then I recall that story.  Goosebumps.

Present day Tinian has a casino, the Tinian Dynasty, and a great beach called Taga Beach.  It's a popular beach with the locals.  You'll see a lot of kids diving from the rocks into the clear water below.  Take a drive up to the North Field and visit the atomic bomb memorial.  There's a lot of history to take in. 

On this day though, I didn't have time to see all the sites.  I visited my uncle and my grandmother.  I attended my cousin's wedding, and wished her and her new husband many blessings on their new life together.  Such a beautiful couple, such a beautiful family, and such a beautiful island.  Tinian.

Enjoy more pictures of Tinian.

Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.

(hu guaiya hao mama)

February 16, 2011

Local Handcrafted Carvings


Over the past several weeks I've been working with a local artist to help create some marketing material for his work.  His name is Martin Castro and he has created some beautiful jewelry and carvings made from shells, bone, horns, and stone.

You can check out his blog/website called Memoirs of a Shell Carver to see some of his current works of art.  Below are some of the pictures I took for him at his workshop and at the beach.

Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.

I first ran across Martin at the Flame Tree Festival where he was selling his pendants, jewelry, and carvings.  Other carvers and artists were there at the Festival as well.  All equally impressive.  These artists hold on to the traditions of the local culture and they showcase the beauty of things found right here on Saipan and the Mariana Islands.

These handcrafted carvings are exquisite and I take great pride in knowing they are made by skilled hands right here on Saipan.  And yes, this is another reason why I Luv Saipan.

(hu guaiya hao mama)

January 24, 2011

Thursday Night Lights

What do you do on a Thursday night?  Watch TV?  Go to bed early?  Well on Saipan, there's the Street Market.  It's a venue in Garapan where the street fronting the Fiesta Resort and Hyatt hotels are closed to through traffic.  Tents are setup on the street where you'll find vendors selling prepared food, produce, and merchandise.  There's usually some form of entertainment as well, where local students or groups dance, sing, or do some kind of performance.

The Street Market is bustling with tourists and locals.  It's the most crowded you'll see a street get on Saipan.  The smell of the BBQ will make your mouth water.  The fresh fruit and produce will tempt your eyes.  The vendors selling Thai, Filipino, and Chinese cuisine will offer 5 choices for $5 dollars.  An excellent deal in my book.  You'll even find Chamorro food and hand made handicrafts.

Every so often, I take my family down to the Street Market to grab dinner.  My kids' favorites are the BBQ sticks and pearl shakes.  We never leave the Street Market without picking up BBQ sticks.  For me, I look for the Chamorro food, especially tamales gisu.

If you're ever on Saipan, get to the Street Market on Thursday night, grab something to eat and just people watch.  It's an I Luv Saipan experience.

To see more pics of the Street Market, click on the image above.

(hu guaiya hao mama)

January 21, 2011

Christmas on Saipan

It has been a while since my last post.  With the Christmas holidays, New Year's, and getting into the 2011 groove, things have been quite busy for me.  Although we're now a few weeks removed from the holiday season, I want to share a little bit of the goings on in Saipan around Christmas-time.

Some say it doesn't feel like Christmas if it's not cold and snowing, but I think cold and snow on Christmas is way overrated.  Sure a few minutes out in the snow is fun -- throwing snowballs and making a snow man -- but, after your hands burn from the snow and the cold air burns in your lungs, you end up wanting to go inside to warm up.  For me, I'd rather be warm and feel the sunshine on my skin while wearing nothing but a t-shirt, shorts, and zoris (flip flops).  I'd choose a warm breezy day at the beach during Christmas break over 30 minutes of playing in the snow.

There are a few Christmas traditions here on Saipan that I've come to enjoy.  The first being The Niño.  The Niño, or baby Jesus, comes to the homes in each parish community on Christmas day.  You'll hear Chamorro Christmas songs being played loudly in the street while a group of kids and adults take The Niño to each home.  If you're Catholic, you welcome The Niño into your home and place him in your Nativity scene or on a nicely decorated table, with candles lit.  Everyone in the home kisses The Niño's feet (it's more of a sniff) and then a prayer is said.  For my family we thank the Lord for the gift of his only son to mankind and we thank Jesus for the blessings he's given throughout the year.  After our prayer, we give The Niño back to the folks outside, along with a donation to the Church and some snacks (usually some pastries and juice).  The Niño comes to your home a few more times after Christmas Day, which usually are on the Sundays (after morning mass) between Christmas and New Year's Day, and then on New Year's Day.

Another Christmas tradition I've come to enjoy on Saipan is the Christmas tree competition held at the Paseo de Marianas.  Different elementary schools across the island decorate a Christmas tree in the Paseo using only recycled items.  The trees are always beautiful and the kids are very creative.  Each tree is judged and the winning schools get cash donations.  It's a great fundraising event for them.  Plus, it's a great way to decorate the Paseo with the little hands of kids from the different communities of Saipan.  Walking down the Paseo looking at each of these decorated trees is a favorite thing for my family to do.

Finally, another Christmas tradition is the lighting of the huge, albeit artificial, tree at the Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe.  This year, the tree also included a large nativity scene, which was nice to see.  In the past, the tree was decorated with large presents and reindeer.  Seeing this large tree lit up at night while driving down Beach Road always brought cheers in my car as my kids point out the pretty lights.

Christmas in Saipan is a wonderful time.  It brings with it some unique traditions.  These traditions are more reasons why I Luv Saipan.

To see more pics, click on image above.

(hu guaiya hao mama)

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