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March 21, 2003

Guam, USA
Why They Hate Me in Guam

I'm in a hotel room catching up on sleep and watching the war unfold while I wait for my connecting flight to Yap.

They keep talking about "shock and awe." They throw the term out every 5 seconds. Donald Rumsfeld looks giddy talking about how the invasion will be unlike anything every seen before.

You know what? It looks exactly like what I've seen before. It's a city being bombed. We've done it lots and lots of times. Big flashes of light and clouds of smoke. I don't understand why everyone is acting all impressed. I am neither shocked nor awed.

And they keep using the word "awesome" to describe the light show. They must know that the meaning of the word has changed in recent years to mean "incredibly cool." It's not the right word to be using. I cringe every time a CNN reporter says "these explosions are awesome." It just sounds wrong.

Guam is pretty bad. It's a Japanese honeymoon island, so the coast is lined with high rise resorts, karaoke bars, and casinos. There's a Louis Vitton, Gucci, Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock. All the tourist brochures are in Japanese.

So there's that, and then it's got Anderson's Air Force Base, which is the primary U.S. military outpost in the Pacific. The big base covers most of the northern part of the island. Right now, George has a bunch of stealth bombers stowed there in case North Korea gets uppity. I walked up to check it out, but of course, there wasn't much to see.

It's weird to think that less than 60 years ago, Japanese and Americans were fighting for possession of this island. 25,000 soldiers died in the battle -- about two thirds were Japanese. It's all water under the bridge now.

Outside of those two enclaves, the rest of the island is miserable and depressing. It's poor and run down, and bears all the markings of the United States of Generica. I asked a cab driver if there was anywhere to eat besides McDonald's, KFC, and Taco Bell. He said, "Oh sure, we've got Outback Steak House, TGI Friday's, and Hard Rock Cafe is pretty good."

I had lunch at the Planet Hollywood. It was really the best option from what was available. They're down to the bottom of the memorabilia barrel for the Guam branch. They've got a tie worn by some guy on the bus in Speed, and Roger Moore's pants from Moonraker. Across the street is Underwater World, where Japanese couples can view rare and beautiful tropical fish, then eat them.

Guam is a pit. It's a disaster. And it's a real shame, cause all they'd have to do to make it a nice place is burn everything to the ground and start over.

Security for the flight to Guam wasn't as tight as I was expecting. It was pretty normal. The one funny thing was when the security lady saw my steel water bottle and asked me to drink from it. I told her it was just water, but she insisted that I drink from it. So I said, "I'm not thirsty. I don't want to drink from it. You drink from it." And she says, "Sir, I can't let you through until you drink from the water bottle." I told her it was perfectly safe, it was just water, there was nothing to worry about and to stop bothering me. So then she gets all mad and starts whispering into her walkie talkie.

I'm just kidding. I didn't say any of that. I drank the water.

Going through customs in Brisbane was vaudevillian in its absurdity.

“Where are you staying in Brisbane?”
“I’m not. I’m continuing on.”
“To where?”
“So you’re staying there?”
“No. I’m connecting to Guam.”
“And where do you live?”
“Nowhere, actually. I’m traveling.”
“You sound like you’re from the states.”
“Did you live there?”
“Yeah, but the last place I lived was here.”
“In Brisbane?”
“Two weeks ago.”
“Let me get this straight. You lived here two weeks ago, but now it's a stopover?”
“This is some rather strange ticketing.”
“And Guam is your final destination?”
“No. Yap.”
“What is a Yap.”
“It’s an island in Micronesia.”
“Yes. The Federated States of Micronesia.”
"Are you making that up?"
"No, sir. It’s near Guam."
…"Here’s your passport, mate. Bugger off."

It was strange being in Brisbane for such a quick stop. There wasn't enough time to see anyone. I'm glad I'm coming back in a few weeks.

I asked my cab driver if he saw George's bombers coming in last week, and he said yeah. His only comment about the whole thing was that the planes were really loud.

Stealth bombers, they're called.

Guam is an unincorporated territory of the United States. Its residents are U.S. citizens, but they can't vote in national elections, they have no voice in the senate, and while they are allowed one congressman, that representative can't vote, so I'm not sure what the point of that is. They've been lobbying to be turned into a U.S. Commonwealth. I don't know what that gets them, but regardless, it doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon.

The people are a strange ethnic mix of native Chamoro islander, Spanish, and Japanese. There also seem to be a lot of Fillipinos, which is a similar mix. There are many Catholic churches around, and the last names mostly sound Spanish. There are tons of stores selling cheap video CDs of Chinese action movies, like you'd find in any Asian country. And there are a healthy number of strip clubs and brothels lining the outskirts of the tourist bubble. The general atmosphere reminds me a lot of the area just south of L.A.; Torrance, Long Beach, and around there. This is not an entirely pleasant atmosphere.

Guam is bigger than I expected. It's about 60 miles from north to south, so way too big to walk around in a day -- as I found out the hard way.

I went to the local Megaplex and saw my first movie in ages. It was Shanghai Knights. Probably the most anachronistic movie I've ever seen, but it was damn funny.

I've still got a lot of the New Zealand trip to cover. Lots of great pictures from the Milford trek, there's the Hitler tree, and -- Oh, dear God -- the dolphins. The dolphins were incredible. So keep checking the New Zealand journal for a little while.

Calling a Micronesian island from anywhere, including here, is ridiculously expensive. It costs a couple dollars a minute. So I imagine internet is going to be pretty hard to come by and wildly overpriced. If you don't hear from me for a week or so, that'll be why.