One of the great things about my life on Saipan is the broad cross section of unique personalities I have a chance to meet and spend time with!
Earlier this year, Michelle and John got to experience Saipan’s history with a ride in an actual WWII jeep courtesy of local resident, Juan Villagomez. John’s father worked on the Manhattan Project during the war, so he wanted to get up close and personal with Saipan’s and Tinian’s history!
Michelle, John, Juan and Luise Villagomez, Alexandra (front), and me!
I also had a chance to hang out recently with Konstantin Symonenko from Ukraine….
Konstantin discovers the mystery of Forbidden Island
Konstantin, among other accomplishments, has the distinction of being the first Ukrainian to have visited all the countries in the world! It’s an accomplishment that was verified and documented as blogged about on his http://konstantin.travel website:
John and me….A Sattawal navigator works in the background
Another guest, Neal P., has visited 297 of the 327 destinations recognized by The Traveler’s Century Club (TCC)! Saipan was his 298th and he’ll hit 300 soon and be part of the Diamond club! Congrats, Neal!
Neal got to experience authentic Chamorro and island style cuisine at JC Cafe on Tinian…
at the Street Market on Saipan….
Red rice at the Street Market
…and at Twenty-Two Rams (Owners of the restaurant are brother Michael Salas and cousin Ed Cepeda.)
Lunch at Twenty-Two Rams. Located in the CDA complex in Oleai at the old Boka Boka restaurant location.
Delgadina Matagolai, Manning Salas, and Mom Sophia M. Salas. (Michael and Ed not shown) “Thanks for stopping by our family restaurant!”--Manning
My original plan was to use the contributed funds to get gift certificates for two nights at a hotel so Randy and others in his situation might enjoy a semblance of “normal” living. However, now that incoming airline flights have resumed, the hotels here on Saipan are booked solid. Therefore, I gave Randy the option of a certificate for future use, or cash.
So, today, thanks to your generous contributions I was able to give him a gift of $250! Here’s a quick video of him receiving it and his thanks to those who contributed! Shows you don’t have to be a megacorporation or millionaire philanthropist to help others. There are still hundreds more we can help with contributions of any size to encourage them to stay strong….CNMI strong.
In what appears to be a scam conducted on the island of Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the couple in the photos below arrived on Saipan in October, stayed at Coral Ocean Point and then the Hyatt between October 20 and October 23.
During that time, the couple, who went by the name Jim and Yao, paid for tours, skydiving and scuba diving using what now appears to be several different stolen credit card numbers. The scam was discovered when, 30 days later, charges made to these cards by local as well as online vendors were disputed as “unauthorized” by the legitimate card holders.
Vendors within the CNMI are cautioned to be wary of such scams, to be mindful to take all security precautions particularly for online sales, and to note these individuals in particular. (Note: in such cases, the charges are reversed–debited from the local vendor account– and the local vendors lose out) .This may indicate the early stages of a pattern of young travelers spending lavishly using stolen credit cards.)
“Jim” presented himself as a young tech entrepreneur along with his girlfriend “Yao” and spent lavishly on accommodations and activities on Saipan.
“We cannot chase him away. Where will he go?”
Randy’s Typhoon Yutu Story
It was four days after Typhoon Yutu tore through the islands of Saipan and Tinian, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), and Joeten Supermarket in Susupe, Saipan had just re-opened to the public, and so, it would be the first time I would resume my morning routine of checking the shelves for fruits and vegetables.
I approached the worker dutifully stocking the shelves in the produce department of Joeten Supermarket. His name is Randy Vicente. Originally from Cavite, Philippines, Randy has had only this one employer in his twenty-five years on the island. And, in all the years I’ve lived on Saipan and shopped there, Randy has always been quite friendly, always offering a bubbly “Good morning, Mr. Walt!” offering information on upcoming sales, asking if there was anything he could help with, and making this mundane experience quite pleasant. Today was no different in that regard. However, I could tell something was different. The area around his eyes had the telltale darkness and showed the strain of someone who hadn’t slept in days.
“So, what’s your situation?” I asked him.
“Oh, me? I’m homeless!” he replied, and despite the direness of what he had just said, he delivered it with the same bubbliness and smile as if he were greeting me on a normal day. “My roof is gone, and my apartment is destroyed,” he added.
“So..So, where are you staying?”
“Nowhere,” he replied. “For the past four nights, I’ve been sleeping in the front lobby of World Resort.”
(In this video, I asked Randy if the hotel staff and security gave him a hard time while he was in the lobby. He said no, but he overheard them saying “I cannot chase him away…where will he go?”)
“Did you try sleeping in a shelter?” I suggested.
“What shelter?” he asked.
I had heard from another worker that Saipan Community Church had a shelter. I told Randy about it, and he confirmed that he, too, had heard about it just that same morning, and would be giving it a try that evening after work.
“What about your stuff?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s still there.”
“You mean in the apartment?”
During the storm, as Yutu’s Category Five winds increased in intensity, Randy realized his apartment would likely not withstand the pounding and so he sought refuge and rode out the storm in the Nauru Building close by. He returned to find his room destroyed.
It saddened me to realize that here he was showing up for work for his 6am to 1pm shift, as he’d done for 25 years, spending precious daylight hours unloading boxes, stocking shelves and helping customers, while his own personal belongings were sitting in a roofless single room with only three and a half walls exposed to the elements, and with nowhere to return to shower and get a good night’s sleep. I thought about the indignity and mental strain of sitting in a hotel lobby hour after hour, night after night, while hotel staff and security guards passed by knowing you weren’t a guest.
The thought also crossed my mind that what was needed was some sort of free storage facility for typhoon victims.
With no tourists arriving these days, many of the hotels are offering a local rate of about $70-$80/night. It’s a small thing, but I’d like to provide Randy–and anyone among the hundreds who are living in tents or in their cars– a few nights in a hotel to regain some semblance of normalcy and dignity, and to replace some of their damaged, water-soaked belongings. Electricity, running hot and cold water, a bathtub, a clean, soft bed, the privacy of a toilet–one that flushes and is not shared by dozens of other individuals–these are a few of the “luxuries” you take for granted, that would make a world of difference for victims of Typhoon Yutu three weeks after the storm, even if it’s only for two nights. Your donations will offer such a gift to Randy, and others, to encourage them to stay strong….CNMI strong. As usual, I’ll film the disbursements so you can see how your contributions are actually impacting real people’s lives. http://www.gofundme.com/cnmistrong
I had the honor of presenting long-time Saipan, CNMI, resident, Manny S. Vitug with a check for $500–a show of support from some of my previous tour clients–to help with the recovery of his business and life after the devastation of Category 5 Super Typhoon Yutu. Thanks to Ward S., Carl M., Laurie H., Al Z., Dean F., Ronald M., and Stacey Spencer-Willoughby.
News of the gift appeared in today’s (Wed Nov 14, 2018) Saipan Tribune, thanks to editor, Jayvee Vallejera: https://www.saipantribune.com/index.php/for-want-of-a-mechanic/
Scenes from the actual storm and aftermath, why I started this personalized campaign, who it will help,and a plea for your support. I’ll be filming the disbursement of funds so you can see where and to whom your money actually goes!
If you can’t support at the moment, then please share, like and help spread the word! Be Strong! CNMI Strong!
My Typhoon Yutu account for those who’re asking how I fared:
Super Typhoon Yutu hit the Northern Mariana islands of Saipan and Tinian on October 25, 2018. With winds of over 180 miles per hour. The howling winds kept me awake all night, and THEN at about 2am as the winds got more intense, I realized that the sliding glass doors of my bedroom balcony were shaking and shuddering. I had to stand and brace them from 2am to 7am STRAIGHT (old mattress on the outside; arm strength and body weight on the inside) because the entire frame had come loose and a really strong wind would have ripped it out for sure! I couldn’t risk letting go for even a second or else I might now have a gaping hole in my back wall! Three of the five apartments with balcony sliding doors lost theirs.(see photos on blog)
And, of course, while in mortal danger fighting against the elements and 180 mile-per-hour winds, in the dark, on a 13 mile long island in the vast, raging western Pacific ocean, I did the next most logical thing anyone in my situation would have done at that moment: I took out my selfie stick, attached my smartphone and video recorded it!
On a serious note, however, there was much damage left in the typhoon’s wake. I’ve started a GoFundMe campaign to help a few people of the hundreds here on island who have been left homeless. Please check it out
After spending 28 days in Macau, the next stop on my “Jamaican in China….and Beyond” adventure is Da Nang, Vietnam. Why? Oh, I dunno. Because that’s where the Vietnamese are? Because it’s a country in Asia that begins with a letter of the alphabet? Because it’s Monday? Pick a reason or make up your own.
So, I made my reservations, and I was all set! (I’ll give details on how little it all costs in an upcoming post!) On the morning of the departure, I left home at 5:15am, got to the Macau airport by 5:30am, checked in, went through the security check, and then waited for my 7:15am flight!
Now, a few days earlier, when my friend and Macau host, Ron, found out I was heading to Vietnam, he suggested that Air Macau would be a good choice of airlines. Why? Oh, I dunno. Because he gets a commission for every passenger he refers? Because the upright position of the tray tables and seat backs offers more leg room than other airlines? Because he’s a captain with the airline and can arrange to be my pilot for any flight I choose? Pick a reason, or—um, actually, I think it was that last one.
So, after I made the reservations, Ron took care of things on his end.
As I boarded the plane on the morning of the flight, somehow, mysteriously, I was upgraded to a Business Class seat. (That’s like “First Class” for those who keep track of such things!) It’s so amazing what good karma can bring, isn’t it?
Then, I discovered that another surprise was waiting for me, when, shortly before takeoff, one of the flight attendants came to my seat and informed me that the captain had invited me up to the cockpit! I got to meet the other pilots and ask questions. And, most importantly, I offered my services should they require it. After all, I’ve seen enough movies where a hapless passenger is successfully talked through an emergency landing by the guys in the control tower! Just sayin’…
Once I returned to my seat, I couldn’t help thinking: It’s pretty cool being flown on an international flight to Vietnam for the first time, aboard an Airbus 321 jet airliner, knowing that my best buddy–Ron McFarlane–is the captain in charge, and “dread at the controls!” It makes it a unique personal experience imagining my friend in the cockpit doing what he’s always wanted to do since he was five years old.
Here’s a video recap of the whole experience featuring an in-flight interview with the captain himself with some words of advice for aspiring pilots and anyone pursuing a dream! Too bad I wasn’t in the economy/coach section so that the common fo–I mean– the other passengers could see and benefit from what he shared! (Share this blog post and Youtube video with anyone–young or experienced–who can relate to Ron’s reality!)
I was well taken care of throughout the one hour and 28 minute flight thanks to the gracious and friendly cabin crew! Thanks, everyone!
Once we touched down (a smooth landing thanks to Captain Ron and crew), we all posed for photos while the Vietnam cleaning crew waited patiently on the ramp.
In pilot parlance, this would be a “turnaround” flight. So, after cleaning and boarding of a new set of passengers, Captain Ron and crew would be heading back right to Macau! Thanks, Ron, for kicking off my first visit to Vietnam and making it such a memorable experience!
Note to self: I need to do similar interviews with Caribbean travelers in Asia and post to Youtube…With that said…
You’ve thrilled to my “Drive through Saipan” series You’ve marveled at my “Scooter stylee through Laos.” Well, now you can enjoy my upcoming new “Walk About…” series! Starting with this Walk About Macau test video!
Overcoming my shyness, my self-consciousness, my naturally introverted personality, and the selfie-stick-stigma, I bravely step out into the streets of Macau to practice using a selfie stick, walking and talking at the same time! (I’ve had practice walking and chewing bubble gum, so this shouldn’t be much more difficult!)
REMEMBER: I created this for my personal use to practice my technique, to get comfortable in public, and to assess the quality of the finished product. So, I’ve simply inserted the raw footage without any fancy editing. I’m not really discussing anything profound, so you probably won’t learn much, but feel free to comment or make constructive suggestions. I’ll start:
Are you anticipating hearing I chickened out? Think I’m about to use the old “uncooperative weather” excuse? Do you think that a person would have to be slightly off-kilter to jump off a structurally sound building? Do you expect, therefore, that I’m rescheduling it to some undetermined future date for some unfathomable random reason? Or, do you simply believe that Jamaicans may run, and Jamaicans may bobsled, but they don’t fly? Well….
…..YOU’D BE WRONG!!!! ON ALL COUNTS! For today, July 27, 2018, the weather forecast for Macau, China will read “partly sunny, partly cloudy, 28 degrees Celsius, chance of afternoon showers, and a very high likelihood of falling Jamaicans!” IT”S ON!!
WARNING: This blog post is replete with all the obligatory one-liners, song and movie references, puns and superhero references you no doubt expect in a blog post about bungee jumping.
(You say bungy, I say bungee…”tomato,” “tom-ah-to…”)
Yep, it was waaaay cool! I’m actually thinking about doing it again! I’m sure it will be more fun now that I know what to expect!
I always imagined that the actual sensation of falling would be the uncomfortable, overwhelming part, but for me, it was that single second right before I stepped off the ramp that was the most unnerving. Then, once I was actually airborne it was pretty easy to get into the moment and be fully conscious and aware of what I was doing (i.e. arms extended in front like Superman, etc., the scream, etc.)
After my jump, Sam from Nepal and Alex let me hang around at the base of the tower to watch the next jump.
Review: Great, professional, fun crew! Nice atmosphere! Excellently-produced video! Highly recommended! In fact…
Lesson for today: a bungee jump is not something you do just once, so yes, I’ll have to do it again! The next two jumps are discounted, and the FOURTH jump is FREE! I was also told that on subsequent jumps, my feet won’t be tethered together and I can actually walk and dive off. This could get addictive! Hmmm. I know what you’re thinking….Seems there are quite a few songs with the theme of “crazy!”
“Crazy” (Gnarls Barkley; 2006)
“Crazy” (Seal; 1991)
and, my personal favorite, “Crazy” (Patsy Cline; 1961)
Next on the bucket list: Sky Diving, Sensory Deprivation Tank, Zero-gravity/Weightlessness experience!
Addendum: A few days after my jump, the folks at AJHackett emailed me my official Bungee Jump Certificate:
An alternative travel narrative: Pursue Passion! Break Free! Cross boundaries! See the world!