December 14, 2006

Seattle, Washington
More Than You Could Ever Possibly Want to Know About Me

I was invited to Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont last month to speak about the dancing video and how I made it. I rambled on for 90 minutes and then took everyone outside to shoot a dancing clip.

I've edited the talk down to 75 minutes, yanking some of the more boring bits and the parts where I said stupid stuff I'd rather not have said. Oh, were it only possible to do that in real life...

There are also a few scattered moments where I'm cut off in mid-sentence. Nothing is being hidden there, it's just the result of the shoddy technique I used to convert the videotape recording into a YouTube-friendly form. Apologies for any annoyance it causes.

The talk is broken into three parts. It addresses a lot of the stuff I get asked all the time, so I thought it might be interesting for anyone who wants to know more.

I'd like to thank Tom Myers, a professor at Champlain, who contacted me, invited me out, and took a gamble on me not choking horribly and embarassing both of us. I'd not done anything like this before and I still don't know what made him think I could do it, but I am grateful for the opportunity.

I really enjoyed doing this and would like to keep doing it. Feel free to contact me if you'd like me to come to your school, university, office, cult compound, secret society headquarters -- whatever. I rely heavily on the Q&A for what I talk about, so it's different every time. What you see here isn't necessarily what you'll get.

March 13, 2006

Waikiki, Hawaii
Can Ghosts Breathe Underwater?

2:30am flight out of Palau. Why does Continental Micronesia schedule all their flights in the middle of the night?

Russell, our hotel manager friend, agrees to take us to the airport at midnight, then sleeps through his alarm. On the drive, the only thing that keeps him awake is the potholes.

“Oh man, these roads. They’re like a Chips Ahoy cookie. I keep running into all the chocolate chips!”

We land in Guam and collapse at the connecting gate in a pile of interlocking arms and legs. Other passengers eye us like a performance art piece on display.

Melissa tries to fall asleep on the next flight, but can’t find a place to rest her head. She finally drifts off with her lifeless melon dangling from my hand by the pony tail. It rocks back and forth as the plane hits the runway on Chuuk. I alternate hands trying to keep her aloft and asleep for as long as I can. There is not a peep out of her until it’s time to deplane.

At the start of this trip, a pea under the mattress would've had her tossing and turning.

I visited Chuuk almost exactly three years ago and wrote extensively about it here, here, and here, so I won’t go through all that again. What’s different this time is I have an underwater camera housing, which allows me to do this.

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Oh, also, I brought my girlfriend.

On my last visit I stayed at a place called the RS Plaza, which wasn’t so much a “Plaza” as a “burned-out concrete hellhole,” but let’s not split hairs. In my absence, the place has gone downhill.

The woman at the front desk barely knew how to respond to my room request – a reminder that the Chuukese aren’t so much into the whole customer service thing.

The four-story RS Plaza has the only elevator in all of Micronesia. It doesn’t work. Marching up the stairs, we couldn’t help but notice the hordes of guests roaming the halls.

…"guests," once again, isn’t really the right word. For lack of tourists, the RS Plaza has opened up to, well, whoever. It’s a concrete village. Every room is full.

We crashed in our beds. When we woke up five hours later, there was no electricity and no water. The toilet wouldn’t flush. It was getting dark. Melissa gave me a look. I relented.

I called up the Blue Lagoon Resort. It’s pretty much the only functioning place to stay on the island. I tried to avoid it because it’s owned by the wife of the former governor. They hoarded US funds for years and left their constituency uneducated, miserable, and desperate. Blue Lagoon is a parasite that has sucked the island dry.

…but the landscaping is fantastic.

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Once inside the gated, patrolled borders of Blue Lagoon, the dire problems surrounding it fade away. You’re amongst affluent, middle-aged Americans who came here to dive and aren’t particularly interested in the hows and the whys.

There is a very distinct type who comes to Chuuk. It’s a guy, just past 40, bit of a paunch, maybe some heart problems, loves gadgets, bad hair, something to prove, money to burn.

One day, I will become this guy.

I should probably run through why people come to dive here. Real quick: Operation Hailstorm, US bombing raid, 1944, sank about 60 utility ships in the Japanese fleet and crippled their efforts in the Pacific. Largest air-to-sea bombardment in history. Left 45,000 Japanese soldiers stranded on the island with no food. Not a good situation for them, worse for the unarmed Chuukese. Shit rolls downhill.

Bad things happened here. Details are sketchy.

As for the wrecks, they’re protected from current by a surrounding reef that acts as a breakwater. The depth and visibility are ideal for diving, and what’s down there is like nothing else on this planet. Best wreck diving anywhere.

The next day we went out for our first dive. We were assigned a divemaster, Estos, and a boat driver, Ludwig.

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Estos navigated to the wreck the same way my divemaster did last time, and it still astonishes me. They go by site, using the islands on the horizon for reference.

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Joining us on the dive was a guy named John. A little background on John: grew up in Queens, retired from firefighting with a back injury, 67, but the chain-smoking and booze makes him look 87. He hadn’t dived in 30 years and he was wearing nothing but his underpants.

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I figured on about a 10% chance he was going to make it back to the surface alive. Estos did the same calculations and came to the same conclusion.

Anyway, down we went into the Shinkoku Maru.

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Most of these images have been photoshopped to enhance the colors and minimize the blue murkiness. In defense of the tampering, the colors that I enhance are generally what's there anyway, but the water cuts out the full spectrum. So essentially I'm just putting them back in. The effect is similar to what you'd get by shining a light on everything.

Estos kept John on a short leash.

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John just kind of hung there like a slab of beef. Occasionally he’d paw his arms a little. I was tempted to check for a pulse.

This message was spelled out in bullets.

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And up to the surface.

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Melissa wasn’t particularly enthused about visiting Chuuk or trying out wreck diving. I’d failed in my attempts to explain how potent the experience is. Once we’d done it, she understood. “I just had no idea,” she said. “There was no way I could’ve known.”

It felt good to hear her say that.

Estos benched John for the second dive. Apparently he’d urinated in his shorts upon coming back to the boat. I hesitate to share that detail, for fear he might read it. Also, it’s just not a very nice thing to mention. The moral of the story is to know your limits…and if you’ve gotta piss yourself, make sure no one’s looking.

Wreck number two was the Sankasan Maru. Artifacts from inside the ship have been piled up on deck.

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Estos swam into the blackness of the ship’s hold. One at a time, we followed.

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We entered an operating room.

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Not a lot of light to take pictures with. That’s an operating table. The pile in the bottom right is human bones. They’re easier to see in this shot.

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Since my flash is built into the camera, it reflects all the dust particles and makes for a terrible shot every time. The fancy underwater rigs all have enormous lamps suspended way off to the side. This changes the angle the light is reflecting at and eliminates the problem. In any case, I pretty much had to get by on the minimal natural light.

Back outside and toward the aft end.

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Here’s me taking my flippers off to attempt a dance.

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Dancing underwater is difficult and complicated. There’s a lot to think about for both the dancer and the photographer, and communication is obviously diminished. When you’re focusing on other things, you can use your air up quickly. This happened to Melissa. After only one clip, she was down 1000 psi – about a third of a tank.

We had to surface quickly. In pretty much all dives, a safety stop is required where you stay for 3 minutes, 15 feet from the surface. Midway through our stop, Melissa was down to less than 300 psi. Not noticing the extra tank hanging off the boat nearby, I decided we needed to go up immediately.

This was a dangerous mistake. It increases the chance of decompression sickness. We should’ve stayed down and used the spare tank. My bad.

Melissa seemed okay about the whole thing, but after dinner became worried she’d gotten the bends. Eventually she realized it wasn’t the bends that was upsetting her. She’d had a delayed reaction to the whole experience and was suddenly very spooked.

We’d gone into what is essentially a tomb. The sailors died violently. Some drowned, some were blown to bits, others literally melted into the walls. I’m reluctant in my spiritual beliefs, but I won’t deny there’s an energy down there and it sticks with you.

It’s like entering a haunted house...a hundred feet underwater...with sharks.

Melissa was awake most of the night struggling with the whole thing. By dawn she’d decided she couldn’t go down again. There wasn’t much I could say.

So for day two it was just me and Estos. I’d requested the Fujikawa Maru, which I dove on my last visit three years ago, and hardly a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about it.

Estos grabbed me at breakfast and asked, “you like penetration?”
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
“You want penetrate Fujikawa Maru?”
“Oh. Sure!”
“Okay. We bring flashlights.”

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The Fujikawa is incredibly dense with coral. Barely any original surface is exposed on the exterior. Coral just loves growing on wrecks. It's prime real estate.

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Shark off the starboard bow.

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The ladder on the ground gives a good reference for scale. It’s a gray reef, maybe 8 feet from nose to tail.

This shot also gives you an idea of what would be here if there weren't any wrecks -- lots of sand. So there's an environmental upside to the whole thing.

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The forward cannon.

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And down we went, through the beams and into the hold.

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The Fujikawa Maru is where Iron Maiden gets all its album covers.

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Estos led me through a dark passage and into another storage room, where several Zero fighters were kept. One is still in very good condition.

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Those are binoculars in front of the cockpit.

Back into the hallway and up a floor.

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Swimming through the very narrow tunnel, I saw what appeared to be a man standing at the far end. Scared blind, dumb, and shitless, for some reason I snapped a picture.

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It wasn’t anything, but...holy crap.

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This is the ship's head. Didn't know the Japanese had urinals way back then. I guess they're not such a recent invention.

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An eerily lit stairway leads up through the center of the ship to the bridge. It's the clearest reminder that you're in a man-made interior space that was never intended to be entered in this way. Gliding through the doorway and up the steps: hard to describe.

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The mess hall had fish swimming around above the dishes and plates. I used the flash so they wouldn’t be blurry.

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The floor of this room is covered in sake bottles. They’re still full. I wonder if sake keeps like wine. Now that'd be a decadent beverage to share over dinner. The kind of thing a Bond villain would drink.

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Swimming outside again, I felt like pulling my reg off and taking a nice big breath of fresh air.

...nope. Can't do that.

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This might be the largest anemone I've ever seen. Beautiful.

And that was it for the Fujikawa. We went back to Blue Lagoon for lunch, where I found Melissa reading comics with her feet dangling in the ocean.

Our afternoon dive was the Heian Maru, which I'd had in mind from the beginning as the spot to do the dancing clip. It's the largest ship in the lagoon; 510 feet, with two giant propellers in back.

Feeling guilty that she wouldn't be there to hold the camera, Melissa grabbed her gear and hopped on the boat. When we got to the site and started getting ready, Estos gave his briefing and her face sank instantly. The panic hit her again. She couldn't go.

...Here's a video that does a pretty good job of showing how goddam creepy wreck diving can be.

It's not like strapping in for a roller coaster. Nothing is artificial or designed. You're in a real place seeing real things and real things can happen.

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The Heain Maru hit the ground with its port side facing up. It's absolutely vast, and teeming with life.

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As Estos and I swam past, this phone actually started ringing.

I answered, but the guy kept talking in Japanese and I couldn't understand him, so I hung up.

There's an accessible corridor that runs most of the length of the ship.

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On the right you can see a periscope tube that was waiting to be loaded onto a submarine before the attack.

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This is a window of the main bridge.

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And this is looking into the bridge. It doesn't seem like it, but the camera is pointed straight down here. That's a trench.

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This is a torpedo. There are a great deal of live munitions still in the ships. When people first started diving the lagoon in the seventies, they would, on occasion, detonate.

Surprise!

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And here's the massive propeller.

I gave Estos a quick lesson in using the camera before we went down, and we shot a couple clips.

Afterwards, we went to a much shallower wreck so Estos could take John on a dive. Melissa and I snorkeled while John was lugged around.

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I'm a big fan of swimming through the bubbles of other divers.

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Some ferocious-looking coral.

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And that was that.

We went back to the hotel and spent the rest of the day and the following morning loafing around before our afternoon flight.

But something was eating away at me. I didn't get the clip I wanted. The visibility was bad and the current was moving too fast and it just didn't work out. You couldn't see the propeller. If it looked like anything, it was maybe a big piece of coral.

This place means a lot to me, and it was driving me increasingly nuts that I wasn't going to be able to share with people that stuff like this exists. Sure, there's this blog and everything, but the dancing video is going to (hopefully) reach way more people than this ever will, and I want them to know.

I want them to know.

I called the airline and found out there was a flight leaving the next day.

I found Estos and asked where he was going for the afternoon dive. "We go to your wreck again. The Heian."

I checked with the hotel and they were fine with us staying another night.

I talked ot Melissa and she was pissed. Chuuk had not been the most rewarding experience for her. She's a tough chick and she doesn't like finding out that there are things that scare her. She was looking forward to putting the whole thing behind her and I was asking her to sit in it for another day.

Plus there's really not a lot to do on Chuuk above the waterline.

She agreed to stay another day. I went down again and got the shot I wanted. It's still a little murky, but I got it.

With our bonus day on Chuuk, the day we were going to spend in Hawaii, we decided to borrow one of the hotel's free kayaks and go looking for a fighter plane wreck on the other side of the island.

Big mistake. You get what you don't pay for.

About an hour out, I suddenly realized I was up to my waist in water. The boat was sinking. We were stranded out by the airstrip, which is surrounded on all sides by slippery, jagged rocks. We had to put our snorkel gear on and tow the boat to a safe spot so we could bring it ashore and drain the water.

That, mixed with a dash of PMS, made for an unpleasant afternoon.

But we survived.

Another 2am flight. Another 4 hour, middle-of-the-night layover in Guam. And here we are in Hawaii. Tomorrow we go home.

It's nice here. It's pretty and it's easy. It feels like America.

April 16, 2003

Brisbane, Australia
Is it Worse to Eat Spam or Dog?

Here’s a funny joke:

A guy walks into an elevator with six other people. He sneezes. By the time the doors open up, three of them are dead and the rest have an unpleasant couple weeks to look forward to.

Get it?

That’s right, good ol’ SARS has got me benched in Australia for a little while. Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Vietnam. If I were traveling the same itinerary two months ago, I’d be Mr. Quarantine right now – the guy on everyone’s dance card.

As it happened, I was handled with great caution anyway when I arrived in Brisbane. I counted one person among my friends who didn’t ask if I had SARS within the first ten seconds of encountering me (Thanks Nae!). This is perfectly understandable, as the rest of the world is, after all, one giant disease-ridden deathtrap.

And word of my rash spread through town faster than the rash spread through me. I didn’t realize how many people were reading this crap until I got all the nervous, arms-length inspections.

The good news: the rash is all-but gone. Got a couple lingering scars and a little bit of itching, but otherwise okay. And fortunately, the Shock and Awe phase of the rash ended just before I arrived.

I’m going to keep using that term until it’s well past its Sell By date. I declare it the new “hanging chad.” A modern “can’t we all just get along?” The “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” of our time.

I communicate with other human beings primarily through anecdotes, obscure factoids, and unfounded assertions. It has, therefore, been very difficult for me coming back here and finding that most people have been reading this. An entire month’s worth of material has been completely used up, so there’s really not much I can say to people.

“How was your trip?”
“It was great. I went diving in the –”
“Read it.”
“I kayaked with a –”
“Old news.”
“In Micronesia, they eat –”
“Spam. Know all about it.”
“Well, did you know that –”
“Yes…Yes. I know.”

There is only one trivial anecdote I forgot to relay, and I’ve been coveting that one like the last surviving puppy from an anemic litter. I’m going to sacrifice my last puppy now, cause that’s how much it’s worth to me to entertain you.

This is dead dog-related, actually. Most of the islands in Micronesia are covered in dogs. They are sickly strays and they often sleep in the middle of the road. Driving to my hotel in Pohnpei with Johnson, we were swerving from side to side to let sleeping dogs lie. There were also chickens running amok, and we even stopped in front of a giant pig that was staring us down. He had no interest in moving.

So I asked Johnson if people kept these dogs as pets, and if there was a high mortality rate with all of them hanging out on the road. He said they didn’t get hit much, cause they were smart enough to know when to get out of the way. The real problem, he said, was all the people on the island who ate dog. He said his neighbors ate it a lot, and as a result he’s had three of his pets go missing in the last couple years.

That’s a pretty heavy thing to hold over your neighbor.

Johnson had never eaten dog, but he ate Spam every day. I still can’t decide which is worse. If I were a less emotional creature, I’d say Spam is without a doubt the poorer culinary and nutritional option.

I’m going to try to keep quiet about the war for a while. I know I went a little off the deep end last time. I’d just like to say that my views do not necessarily reflect those of this network, and I apologize for any distress they may have caused.

It goes to show you how dangerous it can be to interpret information and form your own opinion on things. It can get very messy.

So let me just clarify by saying that I support the troops, I support our commander in chief, and I think we’re doing a great job over there. We’re showing those people in that general area what happens when we are reasonably certain that they could potentially have the future capability of messing with us at some point. Take that, Saddam!

People have been very accommodating about scheduling events for my visit here. I went to Soph’s housewarming party, which was punk-themed even though there was no punk music actually played.

That reminds me, anyone having a party soon and looking for a theme idea: SARS. All you need is the masks.

On Sunday I went go-karting with the people formerly known as my co-workers.

Gokartbrad Gokartdan

Gokartblah Gokartandyme

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I had a freaking blast doing that. It was a swirling miasma of sublime joy. A turgid symphony, ebullient with the swollen offerings of turbine and gas.

And the helmets looked really funny on everyone.

It was sort of halfway between videogame and real life. The speeds were such that we couldn’t really hurt ourselves, so we could get in some pretty nasty pile-ups and walk away unscathed. But obviously it was really happening, so ya know, that makes it less like a videogame.

For one reason or another, I can’t share a lot of what I’ve been doing this week. But trust me, it’s been amusing.

It’s hard popping back over here, though, after going through some very difficult and conclusive goodbyes. I know some people would kind of have preferred that I just stay gone, and I can understand that. I don’t really know what to say or do about it, but I understand and on some level I feel the same way.

A couple months ago I got in a cab here in Brisbane with a driver who had a very thick German accent. It wasn’t a Colonel Klink accent – it was more like Albert Einstein. But he was somewhere in his 60’s, and when you do the math on that, it becomes intriguing.

I asked him where he was from, and he confirmed it was Germany. I asked him where in Germany, and he said Dresden.

Half my audience already knows this story. Less than half of the remaining half know about Dresden. So for their benefit:

Starting on February 13th, 1945, Dresden was the site of the most destructive bombing raid in history. It’s impossible to count the casualties, but even the most conservative estimates put the death toll well above the bombings of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. The reason they couldn’t count the casualties is because so many bombs were dropped, creating a fire so great that something called a firestorm occurred. A firestorm is when all the separate fires in a region create so much heat in the sky that the flames are drawn upward. Cold air rushes in from the sides and sucks everything, including people, into the singular tower of flame growing in the center. The heat was so powerful in Dresdan that the entire city was literally incinerated. It was the kind of thing God did in the Old Testament when he was really, really mad.

So when the guy told me he was from Dresden, I had to ask, “were you there?”

“Ya, ya,” he said. “I survived the bombing of Dresden.”

I asked him as politely as I could if he would mind talking about how he survived. He said his father took him into a building and they ran up to the fifth floor to wait it out. I don’t know what the theory was behind doing that, but it turned out to either be incredibly clever or a miracle of miracles, as most of the people who went into underground bunkers suffocated under the flames.

Incidentally, my favorite writer, Kurt Vonnegut, was in one of those underground bunkers and he survived to write a book about it. The book is called Slaughterhouse Five (It’s good. Go read it.). So that’s how I knew all about Dresden.

I should also mention that Dresden was not an important military target. Most of the people killed were civilians, and it is considered by many to have been a shameful act, motivated primarily by revenge.

We talked for a while longer. I mostly just listened and occasionally asked questions. Finally I thanked him, paid for the ride, got out of the car, and walked across the street. Before he drove off, he called me back over to tell me something.

He knew I was American, and he wanted me to know that he didn’t feel any anger toward the American soldiers who dropped all those bombs on him. He said it was war and everyone does bad things – certainly the Germans did plenty of them. It was a tough thing to know how to react to, so I just thanked him again.

Fast forward to two nights ago. I get in a cab and I hear that same German accent. 10,000 cabbies in Brisbane and there he was. His name is Hans, and he remembered me well. The first thing he said to me was, “Boy, how about this shit going on now?”

So we talked about this new war for a while. It was great getting the perspective of someone who’s seen the bad stuff that happens in wars from both sides. I won’t share his thoughts, cause I’m trying to tone down the rhetoric and I’ve already gone over my quota for today. Suffice it to say, he wasn’t too fond of recent US foreign policy decisions.

I talked to my dad last night for the first time in ages and was telling him about diving through the wrecks in Chuuk. He asked if Chuuk was anywhere near Truk, and I explained they are one in the same.

Here’s something I knew about my grandfather: After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he joined the army as an officer stationed in Hawaii.

Here’s something I didn’t know about my grandfather: He spent two years working out of a volcano on Honolulu called Diamond Head, helping to plan a land invasion of Truk – one of the largest and most threatening bases in the Japanese military. It was the base where the Japanese WOULD have launched their full-on invasion of Hawaii, if they’d ever actually tried.

The invasion of Truk never happened. Once the US learned how great the cost in lives was for taking a Japanese-held island, and once they discovered how short the Japanese were on fuel resources, they decided it wasn’t necessary. Instead, they could just bomb the crap out of it by air and move on. And that’s what they did. Now it’s the greatest wreck diving site in the world, and I was there, unknowingly carrying out a very belated invasion.

The irony has come into focus now of that moment in the Japanese cave with the gun pointed out at sea and those three Chuukese hoodlums staring at me. That was it: the great siege, 60 years in the making. And I was too worried about getting mugged to take a picture.

But nevermind that. I shouldn’t have taken a picture. I should’ve planted a flag.

That’s enough war stuff. I’m going away to Fraser Island for the weekend with a bunch of friends. It’s the largest sand island in the world, so I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say about it.

Oh yeah, and I went to Australia Zoo today with Eric. That’s the park owned by television personality and ADHD archetype, Steve Irwin – a.k.a. Crocodile Hunter. The park was very nice, and I’m glad I finally went to it. I saw a bunch of World’s Mosts:

World’s longest snake – Reticulated Python
Grows up to 34 feet.

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World’s most venomous snake - Inland Taipan
Could kill 100,000 mice with the venom from one bite…if you had 100,000 mice, a lot of time on your hands, and a world class mean streak.

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World’s most awesome name for a snake – Northern Death Adder
’Nuff said.

April 10, 2003

Pohnpei, Micronesia
Bellyaching About the War

This is my last night in Micronesia before I head back to Australia.

Here’s a map of where I’ve been.

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Once again, the blue numbers indicate where I spent each night over the course of the three week trip.

I’m not bursting with stuff to say about Pohnpei. It’s not as traditional as Yap. It’s not as impoverished as Chuuk. It hasn’t got the natural beauty of Palau. It’s just a nice place.

One thing it does have is a movie theater. I think it might be the only one in FSM. I saw Daredevil the other night. Extremely mediocre. Badly cast and badly written.

Pohnpei is the capital of FSM, so it’s got all the embassies. They line the main street in town like a food court.

I went into the US embassy, mainly because I’ve never been in one before. The woman inside told me it was the smallest US embassy in the world. I didn’t have anything to do once I got inside, so I sat around and read Newsweek for a while, then left.

The Visitor’s Center had one of these signs that I dig.

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There’s a great place here called the Village Hotel. It’s one of those ecotourism resorts where everything is built out of thatch, there’s no electricity in the rooms, no windows, there’s rainforest everywhere and it’s all insanely beautiful.

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It’d be a great place to go for a honeymoon or something, but my budget strategy for this trip is to hang out at places like that, maybe have dinner, then get a cab back to my dingy, bargain basement flophouse.

Yesterday I went diving with an interesting bunch of Americans. It’s a funny thing about this place - the tourists you meet tend to be exceedingly well-traveled. I guess by the time you get to Micronesia on your list of places to go, you’ve already gotten most of the other stuff out of the way.

One of the guys came here because he spun a globe and this is where his finger landed. I imagine this region gets a lot of its tourism that way. If you randomly spin a globe, the odds are about one in two you’re going to point your finger somewhere in the Pacific.

The Americans were all middle-aged and very well off. They found it interesting that a guy my age was traveling on his own. One couple took pity on me and offered to pay for my dinner. I was embarrassed that I must have portrayed myself as a scrounging backpacker-type. I sort of politely indicated to them that I didn’t need any charity.

I think I came on a little strong with my opinions about the war. Having been outside the country for so long, I suppose I’m out of touch with the way people feel.

For example: I don’t know where this mentality came from that we have to support our leaders once they’ve committed troops to war. My understanding was that we get to question their actions ALWAYS - more so when they’re putting lives at risk. It seems like a lot of patriarchal nonsense to me. He was a nitwit before. He’s still a nitwit.

And I’ll go a bit farther and say that I don’t go along with this “support the troops” thing either. I’m sick of hearing about it. I’m sorry, I don’t buy the logic that we should all be quiet because vocalizing our opinions will lower the morale of the troops and make them question their actions. That’s a bit of a reach, isn’t it? And is it a good enough reason to silence the debate?

Here’s the thing. I know there’s this unspoken belief that the lives of American soldiers are more important than the lives of people from anywhere else. It’s clear in the way the news is reported. Our casualties weigh more heavily than those of the civilians we’re liberating. But that’s just not how I feel. I don’t care that one group is American and one group isn’t. I don’t put their lives above the lives of others and I don’t support increasing civilian casualties to minimize our own.

Shouldn’t that be right? Shouldn’t that be how we all feel?

I guess I’m just not a patriot. And I don’t know anyone who’s over there fighting. I would certainly feel differently if that were the case. But as it is, it’s all just a bunch of people to me.

Another thing that has me wound up pretty tight is all these friendly fire deaths. Why are we so tolerant of these monumental fuck-ups? I watched that BBC report where the soldier called in an air raid on his own troops, killing 16 Kurdish rebels and the translator for the news crew. I wanted to break the TV. Who are these baboons we’ve sent out into the field? The reporters keep making excuses for these guys, talking about fog of war and all that. They tell us that every war has losses resulting from dumb mistakes and it’s to be expected.

Bullshit. Something is wrong with the system if this kind of thing keeps happening. How would we react if every few days an air traffic controller smashed two planes into each other? It should be the same standard. We’ve got big, powerful bombs now that kill a lot of people when they go off. We shouldn’t be relying on trained monkeys to give the right coordinates.

I’m sure it’s very hard to avoid friendly fire deaths. It’s also very hard to land a 747, which is why we only let people do it once they’re really really good at it. We should have impossibly high standards for this kind of stuff, and we should go apeshit whenever anyone screws up.

We shot down a British plane with a patriot missile. Holy crap! That’s really stupid.

We bombed a bunch of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. It’s no wonder they didn’t come along for this one. Who would want to fight alongside us?

And for God’s sake, when we fire a cruise missile, shouldn’t we be able to get it to land in the right country? A mile here, a mile there, okay. But Turkey? Iran? Saudi Arabia? Jesus Christ! We’re like a drunk playing darts.

So I probably went a little overboard with the nice tourists from Philadelphia. They politely tolerated my boorish ranting. I just had to get it out. I used to vent to my coworkers at lunch, but I no longer have that venue.

At the end of the BBC report, the journalist talked about conversations he'd had with the US troops afterward, and how outraged they were at the soldier who nearly killed them. I saw the same report again on CNN, except -- Shock and Awe -- they'd cut out the bit at the end.

Imagine that.

I often start these entries in one place and finish them days later in some other country. Right now I’m on a lay-over in Cairns, waiting for my flight to Brisbane. It’s one in the morning and the airport is empty.

The war lasted exactly the length of my stay in Micronesia.

Why do farts smell different on airplanes? Is it mixing with the chemicals they put in the air? They actually smell worse than they do normally. And you can’t move to escape them. You just have to bathe in the scent.

After dinner with the Americans, I got a ride back to my hotel from a local named Johnson. Johnson was a really nice guy and we ended up stopping at a bar on the way home.

Johnson is 20. He’s married with a 4 month old son. He’s getting money from the US to study for a degree in marine science. He left the island once in his life to go to the neighboring state of Kosrae. He loves cartoons and dreams of one day going to Disneyland.

I just couldn’t get it out of my head how incredibly different Johnson’s life was from mine. In terms of the size of our worlds, it was like talking to someone who’s trapped in a goldfish bowl. It sort of limited our conversation.

Rainier Light is one of the main beers on Pohnpei. On the can is a picture of Mt. Rainier. I pointed at it and told Johnson I’d been there, about halfway to the top. He seemed to think that was pretty amazing.

We talked about Spam. Like most people in FSM, Johnson eats a whole lot of it -- often three times a day. I asked him if he knew what was in Spam. He said pig. I told him what parts of the pig. He was very upset.

I talked to a guy in the bar who served in the first Gulf War. He’d spent all his life in Pohnpei before going to Georgia for basic training, then getting shipped off to Saudi Arabia. He couldn’t understand why we were there again. He said people on Pohnpei don’t want to make a lot of noise about it, cause they appreciate all the funding, but they think this war is kind of dumb.

Even though FSM is it’s own country, it’s a protectorate of the US and its citizens are free to enlist in our military. It’s a good way for them to get off the island and learn some skills.

I realized I had a pretty condescending attitude toward the locals. They were way more enlightened and sophisticated than I expected. I assumed there’d be seething resentment toward Americans under the surface, but it’s not that simple. The US liberated the Micronesian islands from Japanese enslavement. We were the first people who came along and told them they could do whatever they wanted. They appreciate that, and they appreciate all the money we pour into their economy to keep them afloat. They’re aware they were doing fine before the outside world showed up to complicate things, but they also know they can’t go back to that. All in all, they seemed pretty level-headed.

I asked Johnson about marriage and divorce on Pohnpei. He said divorce was starting to become popular. White male tourists would show up and have flings with local women, the women would leave their husbands thinking they were going to run off with the guys, and we all know what happens next.

It sounded to me like a bit of island gossip that had been exaggerated to epidemic scale. I asked if local women preferred white guys to other locals. He looked at me like I was a moron. Of course they do. That made me feel pretty awkward.

For my last day on Pohnpei, I went kayaking. It didn’t work out so good. Kayaking is fun when you’re going down a river or navigating around small islands. It’s a drag when you’re out in the big blue sea.

I kind of freak out in deep water, far from any land formations. It’s not the semi-rational fear of a shark or crocodile that bothers me. I get these visions of giant sea monsters bursting out of the water and surrounding the boat - huge tentacles wrapping around me, forked tongues, serpentine eyes and all that unpleasantness. It’s weird, cause in the water I’m fine. In a reasonably-sized boat, no problem. But sitting helplessly on the surface in a teeny-tiny little kayak, I’m paddling for dear life.

I ran into a dive boat with those same Americans from the day before on it. I tied up and had lunch with them, then joined up on their second dive. I was snorkeling on the surface and having a blast swimming through their bubbles. There were millions of the things rising to the surface, and some were so big I could see my reflection as I swam into them. It was a hoot.

On the way back, I got a little lost and wound up overshooting the place where I rented the kayak. Turning around would’ve meant going against the current and I was drained from nine hours of paddling, so I pulled the boat up on someone’s shore, apologized to the family, then walked back to the dock and told them where to get their boat. It wasn’t too far and they didn’t mind.

I nearly missed my flight off the island today. I needed to get a cab from my hotel. I had a list of ten different cab companies. I called all of them. Seven weren’t operating anymore, two didn’t know what I was talking about when I asked for a cab, and one said they’d send a car but it never showed up. My conversation with them went like this:

“Hello, I-”
“AAAAAAAAAAGGGLABLABLAGABALABLABLA!”
“I need a-”
“GABALABABLABLAGABABLA!”
“I’m at Nara Gardens, I-”
“BABALABAGABABLA!”
“I need to get to the airport.”
“ABABLAGA!”
-Click-

I called again after fifteen minutes. Then again and again and again. After about an hour of waiting, the calls were more like this:

“AAAAAAAGABABLABA-”
“Shut up! I’ve got a flight to catch. Get a goddam cab to Nara Gardens now!”
“BABABLAGBLA…3 minutes.”
-Click-

The cab never came. And there wasn’t much else I could do, as there was a tropical storm outside. It was the kind of rain that you stand in for three seconds and it’s like you just climbed out of a pool. There were plenty of cabs driving by on the street, but I couldn’t make it out there without getting pounded. I should also mention that there was no one on duty at the hotel.

Inspiration struck. There was a tarp on the ground outside my room. I threw it over me, ran out in the street, stood in front of a cab and demanded the driver take me to the airport.

It worked. I got off the island. If I hadn’t done that, I’d of had an extra couple nights on Pohnpei.

Before I left Chuuk, Tom the Baptist came by my hotel to give me a video on creationism. I guess it really stuck in his craw that he couldn’t sway me on that point. I kept the tape and I’m going to force Andy to watch it with me while I’m staying at his place.

Here’s a picture of Tom the Baptist.

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At 1am that night, I got a call from the guy at the front desk telling me someone was there to see me. I asked who, but I couldn’t make out the name through the accent. I got nervous and told him I was asleep. I was convinced it was Tom the Baptist out looking for some secular action. Turns out it was a drunk local who had the wrong room number.

The Chuukese aren’t very good with numbers. I had this conversation after using the internet at a hotel:

“You were on for 3 hours. That’s $15.”
“No, I was on for 2 hours.”
“3 hours. You start at 2 o’clock. It’s 4 o’clock now. 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock. 3 hours.”

Tom the Baptist told me education isn’t very good on Chuuk. I found a lot of evidence to back that up.

Here’s something that stumped me: gas costs a little over $2 a gallon on Chuuk. The average salary is about $1 an hour. And yet the streets are constantly jammed with cars that are out cruising the main drag for fun. They work for two hours in order to drive around aimlessly for half an hour. I decided there probably just isn’t anything else to spend money on.

Who wants to know where the $ sign came from? It’s from the Spanish pieces of eight that they’d mint in the new world and ship across the Atlantic. The marking on the back of each coin is the pillars of Hercules emerging from the sea at Gibraltar, representing ancient civilization. It later changed so that one pillar represented the old world, the other the new. Eventually the two pillars became those thin little lines. Then to make it print more clearly they cut it down to just one line. I think the S stands for Spain.

I read somewhere about where the word dollar came from too. It was some Dutch guy in New York. I can’t remember the story.

I’m not in very many of the pictures I took, for obvious reasons. Here’s what I look like.

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Here’s what a tiny little bit of Chuuk looks like.

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Here’s what the rest of Chuuk looks like.

Img_0727 Img_0729

There were several chickens living in that car. They all walked out as I was getting ready to take the picture. Ah, well.

I saw these kids beating up a giant inflatable Santa Claus.

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I showed the picture to them right after on the camera’s LCD screen. They dug that a lot.

There’s a thing on Chuuk where people ask you where you’re going all the time. It’s like saying “How ya doin?” They see you walking by and they say “Where you going?” It doesn’t matter what you respond with. You can say “Jupiter” and they’re fine with it. I know because I said that many many times.

I had a mildly scary experience looking for some old Japanese relics. There was a cave I was trying to find, and on the way I asked some local guys for directions. When I finally found it, they’d taken a short cut and were standing there waiting for me. I politely smiled and let them enter the cave ahead of me. At the far end there was a big gun poking out of a hole at the ocean.

There we were: me, three guys, a big old Japanese gun, and the $60 in my wallet. We stared at each other for a few seconds and then I left.

Way to foster tourism, fellas.

I’m trying to institute a word limit to my entries. After 3000, I think it gets a bit unwieldy. I’m about a hundred words away, so I’m going to wrap it up. I’ve got New Zealand, Chuuk, and Pohnpei out of the way. There’s just Palau and that 800 pound gorilla called Yap left to cover.

I’ll be in Australia for an indeterminate period. I’ll update as soon as I have a firm plan. I’m looking forward to my stay, but I also know it’s going to be difficult going back and all that. Sometimes it's better if you just leave.

April 06, 2003

Chuuk, Micronesia
Shinokoku and Yamagiri Maru

I'm kicking around waiting for my flight to Pohnpei. Got about 6 hours to kill.

If I were less of a slacker, I'd be posting the last of my New Zealand entries right now, as well as covering Yap and Palau. But doing entries that have pictures is sort of a pain and I just didn't have it together.

My hotel in Chuuk is kind of strange. I think I'm the only actual guest. It's always filled with people, but they're mostly Chuukese families with screaming babies and whatnot. The halls are filled with guys chewing beetlenut and drinking beer. My theory is that tourism on Chuuk hasn't quite worked out the way they hoped. So with all these empty rooms, they just started letting the natives move in.

My room has cable. But it's not real cable. Between movies, I get a blue screen with the words stop and play. I think there's some guy on the island popping tapes in a VCR and calling it cable. Videotapes don't last long with the weather here, so the movies usually have really bad tracking problems and occasionally no sound at all.

There's a new reality show on channel 11 that I've gotten kind of hooked on. It's called War in Iraq. There are two tribes, and this jackass in one of the tribes keeps trying to form an alliance to boot a guy from the other tribe off. It kind of backfired, though, and it's gotten really ugly. Now I'm hoping they boot the jackass off instead.

The toilet in my bathroom makes a constant sound of screeching terror, like it's begging me to put it out of its misery.

I mentioned beetlenut before. It's an interesting phenomenon. Chewing beetlenut is huge on Yap, and it's just now getting popular on Chuuk. It's this nut that grows on trees. You crack it open, fill it with lyme (the caustic mineral, not the sour fruit), wrap it in some kind of leaf, then put it between your molars and chew. The combination of those three things forms a chemical reaction that gives you some kind of mild and slightly addictive buzz. I tried it a couple times on Yap. It requires a certain amount of skill to prepare and chew properly, so both times I ended up spitting it out after a few seconds.

The thing about beetlenut is it puts your salivary glands into overdrive, so you have to spit a lot. And your spit comes out blood red. A lot of tourists who come to the island think there's an outbreak of TB or something, cause everyone is hocking out mouthfuls of this stuff.

My divemaster on Yap actually chewed beetlenut while he was underwater. His excuse was that it kept him warm. He told me about one time when he had two Western divers with him and he pulled his regulator off to spit. The divers thought he'd been bit, so they freaked out and shot to the surface. He learned his lesson. Now he goes behind a rock when he needs to spit.

A lot of chewers have taken to stuffing tobacco into the nut along with the lyme. This puts them on a fast track to mouth cancer, which seems like a really fun type of cancer to have. There's nothing quite like having your jaw removed.

My second day of diving on Chuuk wasn't quite as cool as the first, but still pretty amazing. I saw the Shinokoku Maru, an oil tanker for the Japanese fleet that helped lead the attack on Pearl Harbor. It had absolutely amazing coral growth. I saw some gas masks and an operating table, swam through where the torpedo hit, and spotted two big grey reef sharks circling around the bow. It looked like a set from the 20,000 Leagues ride at Disneyland.

The final dive was to the Yamagiri Maru. This one had a very interesting background. It was carrying shells for a new Japanese "secret weapon" that they'd invented and tested, but never got to use in battle. It was a super-gun with bullets that were 18" in diameter. We saw them in one of the holds.

I've gotten very good at conserving air, and the guy who was with us that day was fairly inexperienced, so he sucked his up in only a few minutes. While Mackenzie took him to the surface, I got to spend a while hanging around down there by myself. I let all the air out of my BCD so I would sink, and I just sat on the hull looking around. It was nice to get to just be there for a while. You only get so much time in your life that you can spend sitting on the hull of a sunken WWII battleship.

The rash I got on Palau has spread all over my body. I think yesterday was the worst of it. It got pretty nasty. There were patches on my knee, my stomach, my waist, my chest, and my neck. On my back it manifested as a massive breakout of pimples, which was just lovely. It didn't hurt -- just some mild itching. The hydrocortizone cream I got from the navy helped with the itching, but didn't seem to reduce the swelling and redness. I think it's getting better now. At least I hope so, cause if I show up in Australia looking like this, no one will go near me.

Okay, on the subject of SARS, I would like to formally announce that I'll be extending my stay in Australia for a little while. I don't know how long, but Kristin has cancelled her plans to meet up with me in Hong Kong, so that takes care of that decision.

The situation in Vietnam is still mild compared to the other affected cities. There are no new cases in the last few days and every indication is that they've got it under control, so Brad and I are still planning to meet up there in late May. I don't know what I'll be doing before that, though. I might just leave for Singapore in early May and give myself a couple weeks to make my way up to Bangkok for the flight to Hanoi. That would mean extending my stay in Australia by just over two weeks, which might be too much.

It was hard enough getting out of there the first time.

April 04, 2003

Chuuk, Micronesia
Heian Maru

The second dive was great. Mackenzie took me down to the Heian Maru. It was a submarine tender ship that sank on February 17, 1944, the same day as all the others. It was about 60 ships in total. Bad day for the Japanese navy.

When I jumped in the water and looked down, I couldn't see the ship anywhere. Just a flat ocean floor with lots of sand and corals. As I dropped down I realized I wasn't looking at the ocean floor. The Heian Maru is one of the biggest wrecks in the lagoon at over 500 feet. It sunk on its port side, so I was looking at the slightly curved, almost horizontal side of the hull. We swam along that until we reached one of the propellers. It was big. Each fin was about twice as long as me. And the rudder was bigger than a lot of sailboats.

I wish I'd had a camera. But whenever I say that, I'm always glad I didn't, cause it meant I got a chance to actually look around.

The sheer size of the ship was a lot to take in. It doesn't seem like much in a port, but down there when it's tilted on its side, you think about what it must have been like to see such a monstrosity collapsing and hitting the bottom. Large objects moving rapidly and out of control. Seems silly, but I thought of the twin towers.

We swam through the length of the ship in a long corridor. There was a periscope tube, and at the base of it was the viewfinder with those nifty little handlebars that flip down. A little bit further, Mackenzie pointed out a couple torpedoes. I wonder if they're still live. The Chuukese go down to these wrecks and steal explosives to use in fishing. It's resulted in more than a few missing limbs, I'm told, so clearly some of the stuff is still potent.

We came back out on the stern and I still had plenty of air left. We wandered around on the hull surface for a while looking at coral, then Mackenzie grabbed a stick and started poking it in a coral hole. I had no idea what he was doing, but I kept watching for about a minute as he jammed it in there and twirled it around. Finally, a huge black cloud of smoke spurted out and surrounded us. I saw a little purple thing dart past and Mackenzie grabbed it. It was an octopus. He had it caged between his hands. It made a break for it a couple times by squirting its ink and shooting like a rocket, but he kept catching it. Eventually it settled down and unfurled its tentacles around his arm. He passed it over and I let it do the same to me. When we were done, we put it back in its hole to let it recover from the trauma.

They say octopi change color to communicate their moods. I guess purple is octopese for "Stop poking me with that stick!"

That was pretty damn great. An octopus was one of the last things on my list of sea creatures I want to see. All that's left is a whale shark. I'd like to see a giant squid, but that'd make me one of the first people in the world to view a living one. And I wouldn't mind diving with a humpback whale, but I think that's kind of illegal, and anyway I've seen them from boats.

While we were decompressing between dives, Mackenzie took me to a Japanese Zero fighter that crashed during Operation Hailstorm. It landed upside down at a fairly shallow depth of around 30 feet. I dove down a couple times to grab onto the wing and peek in at the cockpit, but as I was doing so I realized there still might be remains in there and got a little spooked.

Diving to 30 feet isn't all that hard with fins. And it's kind of a thrill looking up at the surface all that distance away and realizing you need to breathe in a few seconds.

Maybe thrill isn't the right word.

I looked ridiculous, by the way. I knew I had to shave my scruffy facial hair, cause it was making my mask leak, but when the truck came to pick me up in the morning, I wasn't ready. All I had time to do was shave above my lip, so I looked Amish for the rest of the day.

Mullets. There are a lot of mullets on Chuuk, and it got me wondering: what's the intention with those things? We all know how mullets actually look, but how do the owners think they look? What's the model there? What's the goal? Are there mulleted guys who are making it work for them and that's what these guys are trying to emulate?

I met a group of very serious, very burly divers from Liverpool. They were world travellers spending a full month diving on Chuuk, then another month on Yap. They'd been absolutely everywhere. I asked them what they do back in England.

"We rob banks. Hit a big one, then disappear for a while."

Later on one of the guys told me he rented out student accomodation, but from their Lock, Stock demeanor, I was kind of leaning toward the first story. If it's true, that's a pretty cool lifestyle, aint it? Very close to my career plan when I was 12.

When I got back to the hotel, Tom the Baptist was waiting for me. He wanted to take me around the island some more -- and also save me from an eternity in hell.

We went up to the navy center on the top of the hill. I don't know why it's there, but apparently what they do is repair roads and generally fix stuff that's broken. It's a US navy base. I don't get it at all. They also had a doctor on duty, and I asked him to take a quick look at a rash that's been spreading on my arm. I think I got it from something while kayaking on Palau (still gotta get to that). He gave me a tube of hydrocortisone cream. Boom. Pow. That was it. No insurance, no paperwork, no money. All he needed was my name and my age.

I wish it were that simple back on the mainland.

Tom the Baptist took me to see a Japanese communications center, which is now a Catholic high school, and he showed me the Christian radio station that he and his wife, Rose, co-operate with another missionary couple. Rose seemed nice. I wanted to ask her about the whole subservient-to-the-husband thing, but better judgment prevailed.

Tom is an Independent Baptist. I mentioned the Southern Baptists, and he said they're what Independent Baptists would call "liberal."

Translation for Australians: Southern Baptists are a hard-hardline group of conservative Christians who are notorious for their strong belief that a woman's place is in the home and that the man should run the household. By calling them liberal (which to Americans is the opposite of conservative), he's saying that his views are more extreme than theirs.

Everybody clear?

Tom the Baptist wanted to take me back to his place to show me a video about what a load of malarkey evolution is. Part of me was extremely interested, but it gives me a headache not being able to swear for long periods of time, so I declined. We discussed creationism a little more -- I'd been struggling all afternoon not to bring it up, but he finally did. He expressed his view that there is no more evidence of evolution than there is of creationism, and that Baptists view the theory of evolution as a religion in itself.

Umm, I know the term "religion" is loosely defined, but can't we all agree that it's in the realm of science? I suppose he was making the statement as a way of dismissing evolution, which is kind of funny if you think about it.

Honestly, some things about evolution trouble me. Flying fish, for example. Explain it to me all you want, I just don't get how that happens. But just like Tom the Baptist looks around and knows in his heart that dinosaur fossils were buried underground by sneaky-old God to test our faith, I look around and am pretty sure the grand canyon has been there for more than 6000 years.

Dan, I got another one for ya. Name all the animals that have reverted backwards from sea to land to air in the course of their -- let's call it evolution.

So we've got flightless birds like the ostrich, penguin, emu, and cassowary. Then there's whales, dolphins, seals, and turtles. Bats don't count, cause they moved from land to air. Flying fish don't count, but I think they deserve special mention.

I'm jumping out of chronology here. I saw a flying fish on Yap as I was coming back from a dive. It leapt from the ocean and shot past the boat, landing about 100 yards from where it emerged. The thing had wings. It didn't just hop out and fall back in. They call it a flying fish because it really flies. It's not gliding. F-L-Y-I-N-G.

God was playing Mr. Potatohead that day. He just stuck a pair of wings on there to see what it would do. That's one of the craziest animals I ever saw.

Chuuk is pronounced Chook, by the way. For about 90 years it was called Truk, cause the Germans couldn't make the ch sound. The natives switched it back in the late '80s, but to keep things confusing, they still call the lagoon around the island Truk Lagoon.

Chuuk is not a safe place. I'd heard talk when I was on Yap. At first it seemed like it might not be true. The people are often very friendly and polite. But there's a lot of drinking at night, and I'm told the men get belligerent and throw rocks.

There are cars everywhere. I don't think the people are actually going anywhere, cause there's only one road and it's maybe three miles long. I think they're just out cruising.

There's really no standard for which side of the car the steering wheel is on in Micronesia. They get cars from wherever the can, so sometimes it's left, sometimes it's right. They tend to all drive on the right side of the road, though.

I've found that catching cabs is completely different in every place I visit. In Chuuk it's very interesting. You can't call a real cab. They don't exist. But every second car has a handwritten sign on it that says "Taxi." What that means is they're willing to take in one of the 10 or so tourists on the island and drive them from one end of the road to the other for a fee of $0.50. I try to avoid it, which is easier now that Tom the Baptist is stalking me, but on the first day I got caught in the rain and had to bite the bullet and do it. It's unnerving hopping into the backseat of a car full of hostile-looking teenagers listening to Tupac. I asked several people before doing it, and they assured me it was safe.

Tom the Baptist told me a story about a guy in his village who was murdered recently. He was shot three times in plain view by a local politician. Because the politician had status, no one did anything about it and he's still walking around free. That's just how things work here. If anything's going to be done, it has to be by the victim's family, and it's not going to have any resemblance to due process.

I feel really bad for the Chuukese. They've retained very little of their own culture compared to the Yapese, and they've been royally screwed by their government.

Interesting tidbit: per person, the Federated States of Micronesia is the second largest recipient of US foreign aid in the world after Israel. All told, it gets over $100 million a year, which breaks down to about $700 per person.

On Yap, they bought 24 brand new iMacs, hooked them up with a satellite connection, and made them available to the public for free. On Chuuk, the governor's wife turned a corner of the island into a luxury resort.

I agree with Tom the Baptist's views on globalization. They were doing great before we came. All the food they'd ever need was growing on trees and hopping out of the water. The weather was perfect, except for the occasional typhoon. There really wasn't all that much to worry about.

The Spanish showed up and did their missionary thing. The Germans showed up and did their plantation thing. The Japanese showed up and did their slave labor thing. The Americans came and we told them they were liberated, but we also brought along beer, medicine, and Spam. They wanted that stuff. We told them they'd have to work for it. They said they had no money, so we helped them make jobs and start working. They didn't like working, but they really wanted the beer.

And now here we are. They can't really go back to wooden canoes and grass skirts, cause the Spam tastes good and is easy to prepare, and Eminem has a new album out. So where do they go? They have to go forward. They're going to become more and more like the west, their native culture will either fade away completely or become a theme park attraction, and their best and brightest will flee to civilization. Or it could go the other way and become a third world hellhole, which seems closer to the direction things are headed in.

But gee whiz, the diving is superb.

April 03, 2003

Chuuk, Micronesia
Fujikawa Maru

Short one today. I'm killing time while I decompress before my second dive.

I'm in Chuuk, the location of the largest aerial bombardment in military history on February 17th, 1944. US planes sunk a whole mess of ships out in the lagoon, and now it's a big underwater museum.

I was the only person on the boat today, so my Chuukese guide, Mackenzie (don't ask), took me out for a private dive in the Fujikawa Maru. It was an aircraft transport with six holds. We went into the second hold, where there were six Japanese Zero fighters in fairly good condition. I hopped in and sat in one of the cockpits.

Peter31_1 Peter35_1

Another hold had machine gun parts. Someone had spelled out a message to other divers in bullets, but it had fallen apart too much to read.

The next hold was littered with saki bottles. My guide opened one up and some saki bubbles floated to the surface.

We went down about three floors through narrow hallways and down ladders, to a depth of 90 feet. I saw the bathroom and the mess hall. We didn't bring any lights, but surprisingly the sun was able to creep in enough to see clearly. It was more beautiful than I can describe. All varieties of coral growing everywhere. I should've been terrified. It was dark and scary and probably about as dangerous of a thing as I've ever done. But I sort of forgot to be scared.

Stairs

Until, that is, we got to the stern of the ship, peeked over the side, and saw a big grey reef shark circling around. That I can handle, but when the guide started making clicking sounds to attract it over to us, I was a little panicked. I signalled to him that it was close enough and I didn't need a more intimate encounter.

I looked back across the ship and saw bubbles rising from several places. I thought we had company so I went back to wave hi, then realized it was our own bubbles from when we were inside still making their way to the surface.

It was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. The irony of the whole thing really got me. It felt haunted and moribund, but at the same time it was teeming with life.

Andrew_fujikawa_small

Chuuk itself is not that nice of a place. A lot of corruption in the government has led to a very poor population. Alcoholism is rampant. Christian churches are littering the island like fast food chains. Yesterday I ran into a Baptist Minister named Tom and he took me around the island. He was a nice guy. We talked about theology for a couple hours and he kept trying to convert me. I brought up the whole women-subservient-to-the-man thing, which he pleaded guilty to in his way, and he could tell I was going to be a tough sell. Then I asked him about creationism, and things got even more tense.

"Let's say I accept Christ as my personal savior, take in all the stories of the bible and learn from them and get saved and all that. Can't I do that without believing that the world is 6000 years old and every word of the Adam and Eve story is literally true?"
"Nope."
"Why not?"
"Cause the Bible says that's how old the world is."
"The Bible traces the lineage from Adam to Jesus, and some monk in the 13th century added up the years and decided that God created the Earth 6000 years ago. After all that's been discovered since, you're still going with his numbers?"
"Yep."

Then I got him started on Mormons, which was fun. Mormons are all over the place here. They are, after all, the fastest growing busin-- ahem, religion in the world. Tom the Baptist is not very fond of Mormons. He's says they're not really Christian, and I can sort of understand his point.

Anyway, gotta go back for my second dive. I've got Yap and Palau to write up still, but I was here and I haven't updated in a while, so I'm breaking chronology. I've still got some old New Zealand stuff to post, actually. I haven't talked about the Hitler tree yet! Or the dolphins!

Note: The photos used in this post were not taken by me. I grabbed them off some other person's web site, which was a very rude, immoral thing to do -- especially since I'm too lazy to include a credit or link. Do a google image search on "Fujikawa Maru" and you'll find where they came from.