Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Full of it

One of my biggest fears, in being charged with the care and maintenance of this house, is the septic tank system. To my knowledge, there’s no handy dandy gauge that lets you know when the tank is nearing capacity—literally, when it’s full of shit.

According to my mom, the tank needs to be pumped “every now and then.” But I’d prefer not to be alerted—even if it just “now and then”—by overflows in a bathroom whose existence is already marked by a questionable state of cleanliness.

This tank business is all new to me. In Guåhan, sewer hook-ups are not consistent throughout the island, in part because there are still major tracts of land that are “undeveloped” (or “pristine,” or “primitive,” depending on your perspective). On my little seven house street alone, we all have septic tanks, in no small part because hooking up to the municipal sewer lines would individually put us out about $10,000. Additionally, because we’re on a slight slope, we would have to install electric pumps. Which, in a typhoon or post-typhoon conditions, wouldn’t work... and again, leave us to deal with the shit.

I think of these issues whenever I’m behind a sewage-related/pump truck, which isn’t infrequent. A few months ago I also escaped near death as I followed a truck which had three port-a-potties strapped precariously to its back. That would have been a gruesome end.

This morning, I had the delight of following a Todo Mauleg truck for a few blocks. In Chamoru, todu maolek means “It’s all good.” Which is a sentiment I can’t argue with. Especially when you can handle your shit.

Here’s to the company that “comes rushing to get you flushing”!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Epiphany in steam and sea

What's that?

It is indeed disconcerting when you think your dinner is climbing out of the biggest stockpot you have--especially when that stockpot is a little more than a foot across.

In fact, this is what the stockpot had in store:

The problem with this photo, mainly, is that there is no way to impress you with the scale of this creature. I tried taking photos of my hands next to the crab, but my hands are scrawny as it is anyway, and short of putting it right next to my head for reference there's really no way of convincing you that this beast is nearly 14 inches across. That claw? In diameter, it has to be at least four inches.

A friend was wonderful enough to bring this crab from Pohnpei when he visited a month ago. The crab has been sitting in my freezer for a month, while in the meantime I borrowed a crab cracker and agonized over when to spend the necessary hours savoring such an ungodly animal.

Never mind that when I finally opened the freezer bag last night, I had a mild panic attack, seeing as I have never actually cooked shellfish before, and it was already in the stockpot steaming away for nearly 15 minutes before it occurred to me to look online for instructions on how to not die from eating self-prepared shellfish. The thought of potentially effing up meat that goes for about $20-25 also made me slightly anxious.

I'm still alive--and not drowning in sorrow from throwing away $20-25--today so I didn't mess up, thankfully.

In fact, I was truly overjoyed to be able to capture in a few photographs what I can't call anything less than a food epiphany. I've had two before: one while eating lobster for the second time in my life at a lobster supper on Prince Edward Island (with its fresh hot rolls and melted butter, bottomless bowl of clam chowder, and blueberry pie with real cream whipped cream for afterwards), and another that involved a Muslim Chinese beef dish with coriander seeds and cilantro after an eight year stint in vegetarian naivete.

Things that I learned throughout this experience:

1. I will never be able to again have a first time eating crab from Pohnpei,

2. Claws and legs are absolutely worth the effort of gnawing away; it's about enjoying the sea water within and the firm texture of the flesh. However, if you only eat the legs, there are no words to describe your loss in neglecting the more tender and interesting body meat,

3. A ball-peen hammer is a reasonable substitute for a crab mallet,

4. Despite a genuine commitment to make sure that the intended dinner did not die in vain or wastefully, and given that the five foods on this planet I just don't like include kidney and liver, it is sometimes worth wasting a little bit (in this case, crab lungs) so as not to spoil the entire experience,


5. Despite 2 1/2 hours of committed eating, slurping, picking, and smacking, it is reasonable to expect that one will, at the end of such an effort, be as hungry as one was when one started.

However, it was worth every second. The crab did not die in vain. Its shell and leftover parts (minus those suspiciously textured lungs) will be resurrected in stock, and maybe I'll end up keeping part of that claw as a memento for what is really, truly great food.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

An American education?

Today I met Chuukese man who had been a community worker back on his home island. He taught everything from breastfeeding and preventive healthcare to what he called "consumer education."

Specifically, he talked about how in Chuukese people make kon, a foodstuff made of boiled-pounded-oiled/dried breadfruit, and fishing. Those activities, in his words, are "custom and values"--which seemed to imply that he considered them the soul of Chuukese being. However, since Chuukese people have adopted elements of a cash economy, he said that he needs to "go with them to the store, show them how to buy."

Whatever he teaches in consumer education, I certainly hope it includes a lesson in how to NOT blow up their economy by securitization, deregulated markets, and cheap credit. Although to be fair, if a Wall Street trader has yet to figure out to tranche up coconut futures, I can have high hopes for Chuuk after all. Here's hoping.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Håfa i mas bunitu na mångga gi Guåhan? (Could you be the most beautiful mango in Guåhan?)

Probably not. For one thing, you're a bilembines (star apple). And as confused as I am that you're around (considering that my grandma's tree fruited something like two months ago), I would still consider chopping you up, sprinkling brown sugar, and roasting you in the oven. If only the oven didn't create an ungodly unfathomable heat around 4 in the afternoon...

Håyi hamyo?

Yeah, okay, you're definitely contenders.

Ya hamyo?

I am impressed.

Given my bloggy keen interests in plant life, don't worry, ti kumakaduka yu' (not going batty/fuminihi). It's just that once I abandoned the greenery-starved regions of Sanlågu where I rode my bike, I picked up new interests.

Hågat's Mango Festival 2009 was two weeks ago. Unfortunately the photos of the bob-for-mangoes didn't turn out, and technology has yet to evolve a simultaneous web and smell-o-cast of the mango donut demonstration pavilion, but you'll have to take my word that kimchee mango pickles are gof mångge'.

Given that the backyard banana trees are doing wonderful things by not dying on me (unlike the Indoor Bonsai Ficus Number 1), too bad the bananas themselves continue to curse my existence. Blech. One day I will in fact be able to eat a banana.

Until then, I stick to the left side of the table. Or maybe at a house somewhere in Sinahåña or Chalan Pågo, where the despondent owners of a mango tree put a massive sign out front begging people to take them off their hands. This story might be apocryphal, but I'm willing to keep driving to determine if it is so.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What's in my backyard

Like most other blogs, this one has obviously taken a break--partially because I had to figure out how to do some Photoshopping, and partially because the subject of this post took about two months to develop.

First of all, here's a decent view of our backyard. The grass was just cut, so the weeds aren't the usual foot tall. The vines you see at the base of the banana tree bunch are chains of love, which is this nasty invasive species from Asia which is basically covering all of the natural vegetation (including, unfortunately, massive swaths of land by the roads with their respective papaya and breadfruit trees, and the swordgrass). But you can also see our mansanita tree, and the banana trees' suckers sprouting up, in the bunch and to the left. Oh, but wait . . .

What's that? (Click on the photo to enlarge.)

I noticed this the blossom growing a few weeks before I left for Sanlågu in May, and so had a chance to at least take some shots to capture the rate of growth. Surprisingly enough, unlike everything else that shoots up here on Guåhan, the fruit bunch takes a relatively long time to mature.

Here you see the inside of the blossom beginning to face upwards as the blossom leaves fall off.

But the leaves don't just fall off--they do this interesting curl just before doing so. It's pretty elegant.

Slowly you see the rest of the bunch beginning to form . . .

I really don't know why industrial designers haven't taken this shape into account when doing new light fixtures.

Anyway, that is what I saw. And then I went away for three weeks, and then got lazy and forgot to take more pictures of the trees (actually, the weeds got long and annoying, or sometimes it was raining or it was too late in the day to catch good lght, or I didn't want to walk out there because the mosquitos would feast, and basically I was a wuss).

But finally we cut down the banana bunch and gave them to Nanan Biha.

According to her, we probably should have cut off the blossom about two feet ago so that the tree's energy could channel into the fruit (as opposed to the flower), and then let the bunch go for another month to ripen.

But as you can see, there are plenty more plants that might bear within the next year or so, so it could possibly be ensalåda fafalu from the backyard.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Back to Guåhan

I've been gone for three weeks to Sanlågu and just returned a week ago to a blooming bunch of bananas, a bathroom where the cockroaches ran wild (you can tell by the eggs that were laid in our absence--gross), and a dead bonsai ficus in the living room. Disappointed. Dumesganananao yu'.

But at the same time, it's stories like these that make me glad to be back in our turquoise house on Guåhan:

POWER UPDATE: 9:15 A.M. - GPA: Chickens cause power outage

Pacific Daily News • • June 10, 2009

9:15 a.m. — Two stray chickens shorted-out a transformer in a Guam Power Authority substation this morning, cutting electricity to Anigua, Agana and Agana Heights.

GPA spokesman Art Perez said power went out at about 6:50 a.m. but was fully restored by 8:15 a.m. Perez did not expect lingering power problems to affect any of the villages in the outage.

Perez said the outage was unusual. GPA employees found the animals when they went to inspect the source of the outage.

“The chickens are not OK,” he said.

You can find a photo of the surprisingly well-preserved birds here
(probably for another week more) and another article on why the Guam Power Authority is trying to protect its dåggan.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


If there is one thing I craved while in Sanlågu, it was Chamoru-style empanåda. I had grown up only knowing these kinds (on the rare trips that my grandmother made to Sanlågu, carrying bags of frozen ones in her suitcase), so it was quite a shock when I got to Los Angeles and had my first taste of Filipino empanadas.

For those of you who have never tried the ones available in Los Angeles, Filipino empanadas are filled with chicken or pork and baked in a slightly sweet bready dough. I assume that variations include baking the fillings in flaky pastry dough and frying the things, but I never had any prepared that way in L.A.

had tried some empanadas from some South American countries (I can't remember which ones now because it was more than a year ago) at Empanada Mama in New York: cheesy and tasty. You can also find recipes for nouveau varieties --like those for fillings with goat cheese and dandelion greens in the Los Angeles Times, which, frankly, sound sort of silly.

And so, the first morning I awoke in Guåhan, the first thing I did was get myself over to the Aguon store in Barigåda and get me two empanåda and a King Carr ice tea...

... and promptly, a little heartburn, too, because I wasn't exactly used to eating a spicy deep-fried something at 6:30 a.m.

But i kirason-hu, a little more clogged for the wear, nonetheless appreciates the goodness that is a Chamoru empanåda. As you can see, it's 1) deep-fried, 2) consists of a corn-based dough as opposed to all the other wheat-based ones I've tried in Sanlågu, and 3) orange, courtesy of the ubiquitous Chamoru spice, achiote seed. From the picture, you can't see that 1) it's got perfectly crunchy edges, and 2) it's warm, having been fried probably not less than an hour before, but probably less than even that.

And on the inside?

That's either toasted and ground rice or toasted cream of rice boiled with chicken stock and enhanced with bacon (or chicken), lots of pepper, and more achiote seed. Also notice that the outer dough has broken into individual crispy flakes courtesy of a deep fry job well done.

Simple breakfast bought for about $1 each from the Aguon store. But of course if you're not here, you can always try making them yourself (look under "Meat").

Monday, May 4, 2009

I palabrå-ña i gereru 2 ("Them's fightin' words 2," or a summary of Terminator 2)

In the spirit of continuing to evolve the Chamoru language, as per i ga'chong-hu si Miget, a continuation from the previous post... Given his propensities for things sci-fi, I think he'll appreciate my efforts.

I sindålu siha mañadalu unu na taotao ni' pumarehu yan umali'e' i mimu na tano'. I litratu kahon humihot i matå-ña i taotao. Ilek-ña si Sarah:
"A man is saluted by his soldiers as he crosses a destroyed hallway and starts to inspect the battlefield from a safe distance. The camera [no Chamoru word for camera, from here out I use "picture box"] zooms in on his scarred face as Sarahs voice-over continues:"

"'Si Skynet, i Dangkolu na Måkina ni mumanea i dikike' na måkina siha, numå'i dos lulok na pekno' siha gi i tiempo; i hangai-ñiha: dåñu i maga'låhi di mata'pang na taotao siha: si John Connor, iyo-ku na låhi. I mina'hacha Lulok na Pekno' ha na'espånta yu' gi 1984, åntes mafañagu si John. Ti siña gui'. I mina'hugua Lulok na Pekno' ha na'espånta i patgon si John.'"
"Skynet, the computer that controlled the machines, sent two terminators [literally, we're going to go with "Steel Killer"] back through time; their mission: to destroy the leader of the human resistance: John Connor, my son. The first Terminator was programmed to strike at me in the year 1984, before John was born. It failed. The second was set to strike at John himself when he was just a child."

Taigue i matå-ña si John Connor gi i guaifi, ilek-ña si Sarah: "I Taotao na Sindålu Siha kenå'i i hacha na gereru ha' ni prumatehi si John. Håyi humånao si John?"
The close-up of John Connor dissolves into a blaze of inferno, as Sarah continues: "As before, the Resistance was able to send a lone warrior as a protector for John. It was just a question of which one would reach him first." [I have no idea how to write that, so let's go with a rhetorical question.]

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I palabra-ña i gereru, or, "Them's fightin' words"

I've been slogging away through one of the few Chamoru language texts, I Manmañaina-ta: I Manmaga'låhi yan I Manmå'gas: Geran Chamoru yan Españot, available and have developed a pretty awesome vocabulary in doing so. My word list has grown to about 220 words and though my reading is far from fluent, it's gotten much easier over time. As with any language learning practice, the key for me is to be disciplined and take a little at a time.

This word list gives you a sense of the book's topic:

aniti = devil
åtmas = weapon
chiget = to run over
dåñu = harm
dudeng = to cut, amputate
embeste = to challenge
espånta = to threaten, frighten
go'te = to retain by force
håtme = to attack
honño' = to hold down, suppress
hulat = to overpower, subdue
låmen = harm, wound, punish
mumu = fight, combat
ñaka' = hang (to death)
ñukot = to strangle
paki = shoot (a gun)
pekno' = killer
si'ok = to stab

traduti = to ambush
utot = to cut
yamak = to break, destroy

Needless to say, once I find a regular conversational partner I'm going to have some very action-packed dialogues.

In the meantime, I'm working on a translation of the plot synopsis for Terminator 2, which is probably one of the most violent movies I had ever seen as a kid and which probably scarred me for life.

"Lulok" means "metal". So I've translated "androids" and "robots" lulok na taotao siha, or metal people. Ideally, I would be able to call them "nefarious lulok na taotao siha ," but my vocab's not quite there yet. (Also, thank you to Creative Commons license user lrargerich for the photo!)

Courtesy of IMDB (with some liberties taken on my part):

En li'e' bula i kareta yan i famagu'on ni humugåndo manhugåndo gi plåsa.
"Production credits appear in shots of traffic lines and children playing in playgrounds."

Umasut i litråtu annai mumaitai manmatai i bos-ñiha i famagu'on; despues en li'e' i Los Angeles gi 2029 dos mit sientos bente nuebi.
"The shot starts to fade into blue as the sounds of children's voices die out, followed by a flash-forward to Los Angeles in 2029 AD."

Sumasalåguan i tano': bula fatso na kareta, bula i gima ni yamak, yan umattilong na plåsa kon i ha'iguas siha yan i kalabera siha.
"The world has become a wasteland of wrecked cars, destroyed buildings, and black-charred playgrounds filled with skeletons and skulls." [No word for "wasteland," so I'm going to go with sasalåguan, which means "hell."]

Ilek-ña si Sarah Connor: "Fakpo' Manakpo' tres [billion] na lina'la' siha gi Tenhos alas huega na fulu sigua, 1997 i diha bente nuebi gi Agosto/Tenhos mit sientos nubentai siete. I taotao siha ni la'la'la' i Gof Dångkolo na Guafi ilek-ñiha Dia Dethuisio. Ma Siha embeste i nuebu na pesadiya: mumu kontra i makina siha."
The voice of Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton) starts narrating: "3 billion human lives ended on August 29th, 1997. The survivors of the nuclear fire called the war Judgment Day. [No Chamoru word for "nuclear fire"; I'm going with "Really Big Fire."] They only lived to face a new nightmare: the war against the machines."

Now we get graphic.

I patas-ña i lilok na taotao ha yamak ha'iguas gi i tano'. Tutuhon Tumututuhon i mimu kontra i taotao siha yan i lilok na taotao siha.
"The foot of a metallic android smashes a skull on the ground. A battle is starting between human guerrilla troops and a technically far superior robotic army."

I makina siha ma chiget hai'guas siha, ma hulat i taotao siha ni ato'.
"Crushing skulls beneath their tracks, robotic tanks open a full-frontal assault on the humans, who are trained to make use of what shelter the ruined terrain offers them."

I batkon aire siha ma espiha i taotao siha, yan T-800 lilok na taotao siha ma espiha lokkue'. Pumadesi Manadesi i taotao siha, lao ma yamak bula i batkon aire, meggai i lilok na taotao, yan bula i [tanks].
"Flying aircraft search the ground for targets, as T-800 androids sweep the terrain at places the tanks cannot access. Although they suffer heavy losses, the humans manage to destroy several tanks, aircraft and androids."

I can't wait to see what happens next.

UPDATED: I diha trenta gi i Abrit/Lumuhu. Kumomprende yu' i fecha ta'lo gi på'go i ha'åni.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Kaffo' and pahong (pandanus fruit)

While wandering on a northeastern beach, I came across a plant I'd never seen before. And it was sprouting what seemed to be a big fruit, so naturally I had to do some research.

A person in our group said the fruit was edible, but that it could make one's mouth itchy. I didn't bother to find out.

However, it turns out that this fruit is from the pandanus plant (pandanus fragrans) and is in fact edible, eaten most notably in Kiribati and the Marshall Islands. It's ripe when the those pod-like parts, called phalanges, separate, pop out and turn orange.

Obviously this fruit isn't ready for picking, then. If you look closely on the left side of the fruit, you'll see it beginning to turn slightly.

The phalanges then can give off a sweet smell. You can apparently eat them by boiling them or scooping out the pulp within, and they contain seeds--which themselves contain oxalates and are the little buggers that can cause itchiness or irritation when ingested (though they're not supposed to be toxic). [Note: the kaffo', eaten by fanihi/fruit bats, is different from fadang/federico palm seeds, which was theorized by Oliver Sacks (Island of the Colorblind) to cause the infamous lytico-bodig disease. Sacks thought that the fadang-eating fanihi concentrated the seed toxin within their body fat, which then transferred to Chamorus when they ate the bats.]

So if I happen to go back and get a ripe kaffo', I guess I'll be trying out this recipe, courtesy of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community's (2001) publication, The Fruits We Eat. I've paraphrased the exact directions, but here's the main gist:

1. Boil phalanges. Alternatively, you can also pound the crap out of them.
2. Remove pulp.
3. Strain out the seeds. The resulting juice should be thick.
4. Dry the juice on leaves in the sun or over a hot stove, in either small cakes or as a large rectangular one.
5. Flip it over, dry some more, and then cut.

Some variations include adding coconut milk or grated coconut to the juice itself. It's supposed to taste like a cross between coconut and almond, so maybe it would go well with a tumbler of... rum?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Munga umamot i semnak-hu away

On the Chamoru language front, things are progressing, albeit pretty slowly. For the most part I've been disciplined about studying for about one hour a day, including a half hour of vocab review and a half hour of reading and/or writing. I've got a working vocabulary of about 800 words now.

You'll notice there's no speaking or listening practice in there; unfortunately, I've yet to gain a steady conversational partner. Like many other young Chamorus trying to learn their native tongue, it can be very hard to find a supportive conversational partner--partly because the old people may not have the physical stamina or patience to listen to young Chamorus stutter through 30 minutes of Chamoru babytalk (which is an inevitable and necessary stage of any language learning), and partly because I've got to get over my own personal embarassment at being in that babytalk phase myself.

So that embarassment thing has got to go, and it's one of my personal attitude change projects for this year.

In the meantime, I've started translating things for myself to practice and learn some new grammar. I listen to the Chamoru radio on a weekly basis and realized that one of the songs my mom used to sing a lot in English seemed pretty simple, and that I already knew a fair amount of the vocabulary. So here it is, my translation of:

Munga Umamot I Semnak-hu

Hågu i semnak-hu, i semnak-hu ha’,
Un na’magof yu’ anai humomhom langet
Ti un tungo’ hu guaiya hao
Munga umamot i semnak-hu.

Desde i painge gumuinifi yu’
Hågu gaige gi fi’on-hu
Puminiti yu’ anai makmata yu’,
Tåya hågu pues tumånges yu’.

Hågu i semnak-hu, i semnak-hu ha’,
Un na’magof yu’ anai humomhom langet
Ti un tungo’ hu guaiya hao
Munga umamot i semnak-hu.

Ilek-mu neni, tåya otro sa’
Ni håyi tumupa kurason-måmi
Lao må’pos ni guaiya i etro
Un na’yåmak i guinifi-hu.

Hågu i semnak-hu, i semnak-hu ha’,
Un na’magof yu’ anai humomhom langet
Ti un tungo’ hu guaiya hao
Munga umamot i semnak-hu.

"Munga" is a negative imperative and the root word of "umamot" is "amot," which means "take away." "Somnak" means "sunshine." Therefore this is a lame attempt at "You are My Sunshine."

A few translating things: First, there's a line in there about skies being gray. Well, the word for gray is "kulot apu," which sounds less than poetic, and so I went for cloudy, which is "homhom." That's a pretty awesome word, both in its repetition and round vowel! But alas, it also gives me 12 syllables in a line where there should only by nine. But you know what? It's a cool word so I'm going to homhom wherever the hell I want.

Second, the fourth stanza (which my mom left out, for reasons that will be obvious if you think about singing this song to a kid) goes like this:

"You told me once dear, there'd be no other
That no one else could come between
But now you've left me to love another
You have broken all my dreams."

The last line in that stanza is a pretty convenient phrase and I'm sure it's not included in the Donald Topping's Chamorro Reference Grammar, so for those of you wannabe Chamoru broken hearts, you can now say "Un na'yåmak i guinifi-hu," but if you really want to drive home the point that literally ALL of your dreams are now in the toilet, say "Un na'yåmak todu i guinifi-hu." I left out the "todu" part in the song because it was two extra syllables.

Third, this song doesn't make much sense on Guåhan, because let's face it, there's never a day without sunshine. Even in rainy season. The sun is relentless and every local will complain about how hot it is, even though this is a tropical island and that (literally) goes with the territory (that's a political status joke--ha ha groan). So yes, there's always sun--my yori tan testifies to that!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Morning surprise

The title of this post could be taken in so many ways, but happily, over the weekend, it only meant one thing ...

... PUPPIES. These guys got loose from the neighbor's cage and of course I couldn't resist feeding them a little.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

You call that dirty?

At least two locals who grew up here have told me that they would prefer to live in Washington state or Saipan, because the air is "cleaner" and "fresher" there than in Guåhan.

Now, The Boyfriend is not the greatest photographer in the world (although he is pretty good), but he wouldn't have to do anything by way of Photoshopping to improve the actual look of the sky here. This is Tumon Bay during an outrigger canoe race in October 2008.

I'd say that's pretty awesome, particularly since I spent over three years biking in this mess in Sanlågu. Locals, that is what I would call air that is neither clean nor fresh. You can ask all of the accumulated particulate matter in my lungs.

(Thanks to Creative Common license users Ben Amstutz and Al Pavangkanan.)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The reading life

If there is one thing that I do miss about the old places I used to live in Sanlågu, it's the availability of high variety bookstores and libraries. When I was younger, I used to buy at least one book a week. By the second year that I was working a job in Los Angeles, I began to stop buying books altogether once I realized the supreme wonders of the Los Angeles Public Library system, with its reasonable selection of academic titles, awesome online book catalog and automated email reminders, and ability to get the latest titles out to readers within a month's wait at most.

One of the fondest times of my life involved working part-time and being able to literally devote one or two full days out of the week to reading. I think that during that year I tore through about 100 titles.

Since then, I went to grad school, which effectively quashed any love for recreational reading outside the required 400 (frequently very boring) pages I got through a week. It's only now that I've started my reading again by limiting time on the internet.

And so it's off to find books once again. I paid $65 for a yearly friend-of-the-library card to the University of Guam library, and have found some titles I'd like to get have to come from off-island--and thus can take up to three months to get here and upwards of $50 in fees. So far I've taken out the cranky bastard Paul Theroux's Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific and am struggling to get through the last curmudgeonly chapter. I think it's two months overdue, but with a $.10 a day overdue fee, I'm not exactly in a rush to return it.

The Guam Public Library system I shamefully haven't looked into yet, but the on-going issue for me seems to be being able to get books that are most recently released or are a little bit, let's say, off-beat in topic (anyone on the cultural history of collective joy? anyone?). I do feel badly that here, like other library systems, the money is so tight that the air conditioner was out for two months and with it, the library's opening hours for two full months. The operational costs for protecting books in this tropical climate must be absurd.

Amazon delivers to Guåhan with shipping fees per book and thus eliminates savings from the cheaper prices, and MediaMail, which takes a week tops in Sanlågu, takes up to two months here. Barnes and Noble ships for free but costs way more than Amazon. Amazon's Kindle, or electronic reading device, is way too expensive right now, and each subsequent book in the library is going to cost at least $10 anyway. It would take me a long time to break even.

Which leaves three options in Guåhan: the Håfa Adai used bookstore (a great place to swap!), Faith Bookstore (good for local titles but with about 99% other inventory which I not only have no use for but am probably hostile towards), and Bestseller Books.

Bestseller is kind of like an airport bookstore; for shipping reasons (I'm guessing), its titles come in the airport/grocery store style compact editions. It does a good job of stocking local interest books in a way that online distribution has not yet acheived well for Guåhan-oriented titles. And because of its kind of limited selection of titles--once again, due to the high costs of maintaing and moving inventories on Guåhan--makes me think about getting into topics and titles I probably wouldn't otherwise purchase. Because last week I bought a history of Russian culture and politics since Tolstoy's death, called The Magical Chorus, which makes almost no sense to read on a tropical island in the western Pacific, but nonetheless does contain this pretty awesome excerpt:

"The 'sex problem' was a dominant topic in the influential intellectual salon of the St. Petersburg writer and philosopher Dmitri Merezhkovsky and his wife, the poet Zinaida Hippius, a red-haired beauty with the eyes of a mermaid... On May 1, 1905, a group gathered at the apartment of the decadent poet Nikolai Minsky, including Berdyaev, the influential Symbolist Vyacheslav Ivanov, the writer Alexei Remizov (all with their wives), Rozanov, Fedor Sologub, soon to be celebrated for his novel, Petty Demon, and a certain musician, as an eyewitness recorded, 'a blond Jew, handsome, unbaptized.' They dimmed the lights and twirled in a dervish-like dance in a mock Dionysian mystery. Then they symbolically crucified the musician, who had volunteered for the part.

"The point of the fathering was to perform a blood sacrifice. Ivanov and his wife, Lydia Zinovyeza-Annibal, dressed in red chitons with sleeves rolled up ('just like an executioner,' that eyewitness put it) cut the musician's wrist, mixed the blood with wine in a chalice and offered it around the circle. The ritual ended with 'fraternal kisses.'"

There were three copies for sale, but almost nothing in nonfiction about Asia, other Pacific islands (including Hawai'i), South America, Africa, and any other countries in Europe. What's the process that booksellers here undergo to determined the local market interest? Bestseller Books otherwise has the best variety of manga, religious/self-help, and mixed martial arts magazines. Rock on, regional interests.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The city I should live in...

is apparently not Barrigåda, Guåhan.

It's New York City, because according to this quiz, I need to be assured that I:

"will blend into the crowd. You are the brooding type--introspective, creative, and eccentric--and NYC's cutting-edge, individualistic culture and ambience will appeal to you."

This is probably a nice way of saying that I'm mean and weird.

I wonder what options I would have had to tick off to get Guåhan. Prolly something to do with knowing how to barbecue at the beach real well and/or having had a few kids by age 25. I swear this island is crawling with i famagu'on.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ensalåda fafalu (banana blossom salad)

We're lucky enough to have at least 20 banana plants (apparently they're not trees, but pseudostems--thanks Wikipedia banana article!) in the backyard, which are nice to look at while I'm working from my office. Unfortunately for me, I hate bananas because they induced a vomit-y trauma in childhood. The smell alone makes me want to ralph.

So we've let a fair number of banana hands fall to the ground and rot, in part because we don't have a ladder to reach them, and in part because I just can't bring myself to look at these bunches and figure out how to use them for anything other than banana bread.
However, I was at the vegetable stand and happened to see these big purple cabbage-looking things, and got totally intrigued. Because what were being sold in the veg stand were essentially these things, which hang from the bottom of the banana hands in our backyard:

Some cursory internet research revealed some recipes for banana blossom salad, which apparently is eaten in Vietnam and Thailand. The recipes I found tended to assume that the cooker knew exactly to prep blossoms, so I had to wing it the first time.

So here's the banana blossom. You can get a sense of how big they are; generally, I've found that it's best to work with one that's at least a foot long.

Get a blossom with leaves well-attached to the stem at the bottom. Leaves should have no or very little black around the edges and should be tightly packed. When blossoms are older, they also tend to give off a slightly alcoholic smell, which I don't particularly enjoy.

Peel the leaves off one at a time, removing the stamens along the way. I'm not sure if you can eat those, so if you know, please write so in the comments.

Most recipes suggest that if you eat the blossom leaves raw, you soak them in lemon juice as you trim the rest to prevent browning.

Generally, some of the recipes I've gleaned from local Filipino residents include using the blossom leaves in soups and stir-frying them with onions. Surprisingly enough, I haven't met any Chamoru yet who has actually prepped fafalu. An old Pacific Daily News article I found from the early 80s suggests cooking it with ground beef and coconut milk--which seems to be the default method of cooking in Guåhan if one doesn't know what to do with a vegetable-like substance--so maybe I'll try that later.

In the meantime, I threw together a mixture of diced red peppers, cilantro, green onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, kalamansi (the local version of small limes or lemons) juice, fish sauce, sugar, rice vinegar, and oil. The dressing resembles that of Thai green papaya salad. You can check out some recipes on banana blossoms here and here.

Otherwise, I was able to patch together a not-bad combination of shrimp with chili garlic sauce and ensalåda fafalu. Overall, the chopped leaves resemble raw cabbage most closely in texture, and have a pretty neutral flavor which will lend themselves to heavy spicing and improvisation.

My photos are obviously not as good as other food blogs, but I guess it's one more thing I can work on while here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Lessons learned about Guam Power Authority

1. There are no disconnect notices.

2. You might be a month overdue with your bill, and your power will get shut off.
I have to hand it to GPA--they are phenomenally good at doing the shut-offs on time (excepting cutting power to the Guam Public School System, who at this time owes something like $1.5 million).

3. There's a $50 reconnect charge.

4. Go to the Harmon GPA office exactly at 7 a.m., and you can pay your bill with a minimum wait--there was only one customer in front me. Go to the customer service desk
first (that's to the right of the double paned doors that lead to the cashier counters), and then to the cashier desks to pay.

5. Then, fan, sign up for electronic bill pay, because tåya iluktrisedåt means bula mad at home!

Thanks to the neighbors who let me put one whole chicken, bag of shrimp, one package of chicken breasts, three bags of frozen fruit, and some leftover coconut milk in their chest freezer.

Also, that one night without electricity wasn't for naught... we had to eat out, and I can't say I totally minded. B)