September 02, 2008

Getting there is half the work - Saipan

I am going to Saipan to lead a Summit on Diabetes for 120 Pacific and federal participants. While it's going to be a lot of work, I feel like the trip there and back is half the battle:

Washington DC - Houston - 3 hours, 10 minutes
Houston - Honolulu - 8 hours, 10 minutes
Honolulu - Guam - 7 hours, 40 minutes
Guam - Saipan (in the Northern Mariana Islands) - 50 minutes.

I thought I was finally getting over my fear of flights (I only pray 3 or 4 times in an 8 hours flight instead of 20 times), but I feel asleep and dreamt we were crashing into the beautiful Hawaii ocean. We were crashing at low speed and really close to the coast so I was hoping that there would be a lot of survivors, me amongst them...I also just checked my email, and a friend from Congo wrote a quick mass email to reassure us that he was not part of the flight full of people going to Bukavu that just crashed. Yikes!

Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (or CNMI for short) is a small island nation in the South Pacific. It consists of 14 islands, three of which are the main inhabited ones: Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. It is a U.S. territory, and as such, benefits from a number of U.S. services, much like a State would.

You may not know it, but it was an important area during the second World War. From the U.S. Department of the Interior, here is a little bit more on its history:

The first people to come to the Marianas arrived over 3500 years ago, probably from Southeast Asia through the Philippines. The ancient people evolved into Chamorro people. The first European to arrive in these islands was the Portuguese navigator, Ferdinand Magellan, who came to Guam and Rota in 1521 during his circumnavigation of the world in an attempt to find a route across the Pacific. Spain took possession of the archipelago in 1565 and ruled it for more than 300 years. The first permanent Spanish colony was established in 1668. Spain ceded Guam to the United States following the Spanish-American War, then sold the Northern Mariana Islands to Germany in 1899. Germany acquired these islands primarily to increase their international prestige. German economic development was based on the copra industry. Japan took control of the Northern Mariana Islands in 1914, the first year of World War I. By ratification of the League of Nations in 1920, Japan received a mandate over the islands. This mandate lasted until 1945 with 30,000 Japanese nationals residing on Saipan. The Japanese developed the island largely for sugar production and processing. World War II came to the Marianas in 1941. Major American battles occurred in the Northern Marianas in 1944, including the pivotal Marianas campaign which signaled the end of the War in the Pacific. The Emperor of Japan surrendered to the Allied Forces on August 15, 1945, ending World War II, and a U.S. military government was instituted in the Northern Mariana Islands.

Saipan’s main attractions are snorkeling, and various sites of war. When the Japanese knew the American would come to the Island and win the war for example, a lot of them jumped off the highest cliff in Saipan, now renamed “suicide cliff”. It now harbors a number of bats that hang in its carved out caves. Snorkeling is great too since they are old sunken ships and tanks surrounded by plant life and fish.

View from Manahaga Island, a small piece of land off the coast of Saipan

A sunken Japanese Ship of the coast of Manahaga Island

View of the Ship from Afar - a rusted hull pokes out from the light green water

There are island cats everwhere. A little undernourished but cute nonetheless.

A downed tank along the shore

Amazing grotto with shallow diving and plant roots hanging from its ceiling

Typical palm tree. Just to make you jealous.

Saipan is also a great lover of Betelnut. While in Saipan, I was perplexed to see tons of signs about Betelnut saying "absolutely no betelnut spitting" or "betelenuts and cell phones no allowed beyond this point". So of course, I had to find me some betelnut, from the corner store.

From my trusty old wikipedia friend, this is what I know about the betelnut:
The Areca nut is the seed of the Areca palm, a straight and graceful palm tree growing in most tropical countries. […] It is commercially available in dried, cured and fresh forms. While fresh, the husk is green and the nut inside is so soft that it can easily be cut with an average knife. In the ripe fruit the husk becomes yellow or orange and, as it dries, the fruit inside hardens to a wood-like consistency. […] Usually a few slices of the nut are wrapped in a Betel leaf along with lime and may include clove, cardamom, catechu (kattha), etc. for extra flavouring. Betel leaf has a fresh, peppery taste, but it can be bitter depending on the variety.

Areca nuts are chewed with betel leaf for their effects as a mild stimulant, causing a hot sensation in the body, heightened alertness and sweating, although the effects vary from person to person. The areca nut contains tannin, gallic acid, a fixed oil gum, a little terpineol, lignin, various saline substances and three main alkaloids, which have vasocontricting properties. Many chewers also add small pieces of tobacco leaf to the mixture, thereby adding the effect of the nicotine, which causes greater addiction than the drugs contained in the nut and the betel. The effect of chewing betel nut is relatively mild and could be compared to drinking a strong cup of coffee.
Steps to Enjoying Betelnuts:
1-Gather all the equipment
This is: a ripe betelnut, a leaf, and some lye.

2-Chew the betelnut in two to expose it's soft, pink interior

3-Use a toothpick to spread a little bit of lye on the interior (warning: lye is a corrosive substance, often used in biodiesel preparation or as an oven cleaner or drain opener)

4-Wrap the whole thing up in the leaf

5-Chew, and spit profusely. Ensure that your red saliva stains the walls and floors of major public places. As in my case, you can follow up with feeling nauseous, and almost throwing up.


Astrogirl said...

I thought of you when I read about that Congo crash, and was glad you were safely out of there. Good luck with the trip to Saipan!

Victoria said...

Hmm, not your best angle, sister dearest.

But those cats are so cute!