Friday, December 7, 2007

Saipan - Island of Dreams

Imagine a place surrounded by ocean as far as the eye can see. Some days it is black and glassy, some days it is frothy and cobalt, sometimes gin clear, and others, some shade of crystalline turquoise. Then picture a 50 square mile rock draped in rich, tropical green, that you are looking out from. You cannot see any distant shores, only horizon. Mainland Asia lies over one thousand miles to the west. To the east, scattered pinpoints of northern Micronesia, and then open water until Hawaii. This is Saipan – island of dreams.

Floating way out in the western Pacific, the island has endured a tumultuous history. Coveted at times for its slaves and farmers, sugarcane and coffee, runways and radios, white sands and blue waters, the island survives. In 1972 it was voted to commonwealth status. A commonwealth may have a definition, but the reality is more nebulous. Saipan today is floating in a dream, hard to define, attracting a collection of drifters and dreamers, while the indigenous people work to reclaim their homeland and culture from the plunders of the past. The population is a melting pot, consisting in roughly descending order of Chamorro/Carolinian, Filipino, Japanese, Chinese American/Canadian, Korean, Russian, Bangladeshi, Nepali, and Thai.

It is an island culture full of bananas, papayas, and mangoes, big rats and wild dogs. There is sushi flown in from Japan, local tuna sushi, and SPAM sushi. There are deserted beaches and luxury golf courses. There is a big Hyatt hotel where people take refuge from typhoons, and there are tin roofed shacks that blow away. There are nightclubs and strip clubs, and my yard has pigs and chickens wandering through it. There is even one of the tastiest Thai restaurants in the world. You can function pretty well without shoes or even a shirt, and only get rare glimpses of neckties on the misplaced missionaries. There are betel nut stains, and a case of Budweiser cans cost 24USD, and at some point, Saipan drank the most of it per capita in the world. There is poverty with some people struggling to eat, and there are riches, mansions, welfare and corruption.

The island is a microcosm of the world at large, everything is happening, and nothing is. When you stare out at the lagoon after a long day, or watch another amazing sunset, all of the negatives seem to fade like a bad dream. And when you return from the outside world, after a long flight, like going to outer space and back through re-entry - you step out of the airport, the tropical humidity envelops you like a warm blanket, and the songs of the night insects are the loudest sounds you hear.

Suspended in a dream, the clouds float by on the trade winds, and the ocean sparkles. This is the island of dreams; full of people dreaming – living their dream, escaping their dream, realizing their dream, deferring their dream, lost in their dream, searching their dreams, dreaming big, dreaming small, or not even aware of their dreams at all. When you sail away, the island dwindles to a speck in the sea, and you wonder if it ever existed. There is a small sand and coconut palm islet in the lagoon, and when you stand on its fluffy, white sand beach, you can’t help but feel as if you are in a dream. When you wander into the jungle, and realize you are lost, an eerie dreamlike quality hangs in the still air. There are spirits everywhere in Saipan, all you need to do is take a walk in the moonlight and you will find them.

Like a dream, sometimes a lot of things happen, sometimes nothing does, and when you wake up, you never are quite sure what was real and what was dream –and still sometimes, you are not even sure if you are even stopped dreaming.


KAP said...

I just stumbled across your blog.

Best thumbnail of the island I've seen in awhile.

bigsoxfan said...

I'm with Kap, You summed up the experience extremely well. You did leave the Mongol residents off your list, but had to find fault somewhere. Stop by our misplaced Saipan blog at

Bruce A. Bateman said...

Nicely done travelogue on our delightful rock in the Pacific.

I'll drop over and see what else you have in store from time to time. Thanks.