Some Saipan Memories

My trip to Saipan in February 1999

My cousin, Bob Vandivort, who has lived in Saipan for 3 + years had been inviting me for some time. More incentive was added by conversations with Rose, who provides accommodations for several people along with operating several businesses. Rose welcomed me to stay in a room that she normally rents out but had become available. Here is a nice picture of  Rose, Bob's wife Qing Qing, and Bob .

In case you don't know where Saipan is, you would look on a globe about 1,500 miles south of Tokyo Japan. It is one of a chain of tectonic islands (as opposed to volcanic ones like Hawaii) that border the Marianas Trench which is the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean. I am fond of saying it is Tahiti with a ZIP (and area) Code.

This page has some links to the the photos I took, and I have also included some links to related information.  I put these "outside" links in italics. For example, you might choose to learn more about the islands by going to the  Marianas Visitors Authority  and then returning to this page via the BACK button on your browser.

The trip to Saipan started by going to Tokyo and then continuing to Guam where I stayed over night. Early the next morning (by the calendar, two days after I left California), I caught a commuter flight to Rota where I had to clear US customs again (having already cleared in Guam) before continuing to Saipan. Bob and Rose, as promised, met me at the airport and we spent the day touring around the island.

Among the sights we saw were the  Banzai Cliffs   where many Japanese women and children committed suicide when the Americans occupied Saipan. The islands are littered with WW2 monuments and debris (like rusted out guns and tanks). A  Suicide Memorial  is nearby.

Continuing on around the north tip of the island there are beautiful sights like  Bird Island  - point 10 on the  Map of Saipan  The weather on Saipan is very stable (except during typhoons!) warm and tropical. People there use the internet to predict their own weather, you can take a  real time look, directly from space!

Being a tropical island, it is a great place to swim and enjoy beaches (and the associated sights). Bob and I took an excursion to  Managaha Island accompanied by a friend,  Jennie -   you can see Managaha behind Jennie. To get this beautiful island, which only takes about 15 minutes to walk all the way around, we (Bob, Jennie and I) took a  short boat ride  and then you can enjoy wading and swimming in  warm gentle waters , especially nice with  good company!

Perhaps the primary employer on the island is the garment industry. There are more than 20,000 (mostly Chinese) women who work in these factories for the local minimum wage of $3.05 per hour. Bob's wife Qing Qing is a garment worker, another was Yin  who accompanied Bob and I to another beach where we enjoyed wading, sitting in the shade and  watching a sunset.

There are lots of very beautiful (and expensive) hotels on Saipan, tourism is a major industry there. Here is a picture of Qinq, Rose, and I  at one of them. This hotel has a lovely beach, and a "water park" in the grounds. One of the attractions (besides the bar etc.) in the water park was this water slide which involved pumping water, lots of it and fast, UP the slope that you see. The idea was to ride a boogie board down into the "surf" and then surf the artificial wave. Looked very tricky, but a lot of fun I suspect.

Anyway, I didn't stay at a fancy hotel. As I said at the beginning, I had free accommodations in a room that was serviceable, but definitely not luxurious. This wasn't bad, I think it was much more interesting to actually live in the context of local life than to simply be a tourist. Mind you, I do appreciate  luxury, as I enjoyed a few weeks earlier at the Kitano in New York...  But, the local water on Saipan is not potable (too much salt) and so local sanitary facilities can be in VERY sharp contrast to things like the equivalent I enjoyed recently at the  Omni Boston (I leave it to you to guess which was which...) My room at Rose's was one of 4 upstairs, and there were 4 on the ground floor of a  car repair shop that she owns.

In addition to the car repair shop, there is a community kitchen and Rose's kitchen where she and a friend had a business of preparing lunches.  She has since abandoned this business as it was taking too much time away from her work at Oceania Insurance Company. But, it is interesting that Rose makes a community for several people to live in, it even has entertainment like a fairly regular evening blackjack game. Friends like Art Moore come to visit (Art lives about a block away in a very lovely apartment) -- you can see the stairway to my room in the background of the picture of Art.

On a Sunday, we took a one hour boat trip to  Tinian where the major industry is a  beautiful casino  that is on the South end of the island, in the only town (San Jose). Rose and I rented a car after the boat ride because I wanted to drive up Broadway (you can find it on the map of Tinian) to visit the airport where the atomic attack on Japan was launched. The North end of the island is almost totally uninhabited, but is maintained as a memorial. On the way there, Broadway (which is a divided boulevard) has a traffic circle around what used to be  a temple and then continues to an area that was originally the  headquarters of the Japanese air force. `  The Japanese built  air raid shelters  (that they sorely needed!) in many places on the islands.

It is one thing to visit a general area, but I was touched by visiting a very specific place. The atomic bombs dropped on Japan were very large devices. So large that they could not be rolled underneath the B29s that carried them to their targets. The solution to this problem was to dig (two) pits in the loading area of the airport so that a B29 could be positioned over the bomb and it could be lifted into the airplane. Here is a picture of the  bomb pit that was used to load the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. I found it very ironic that I was taking a picture of a Chinese friend with a Japanese digital camera (thank you for the loan Steven!) having driven a Toyota (Avis) rental car to get there, when a bus load of Japanese visitors arrived to view these very historic spots.

Just off the East end of the very long runways is an interesting shoreline. The only explanation I could think of for the moonscape nature of the rock there was the intense shelling the area took during WW2, but people who have commented on this page tell me that it is a natural occurance. My first impression was aided by the fact that very near where this picture of a  blow hole  was taken was a fence with the warning "Do NOT Enter, Unexploded Munitions" (I missed the photo op, along with many others... I need to go back!) There are more dramatic pictures from the Tinian web site. A view of the unusual coastal formation can be seen in this picture of  Rose with Saipan in the distance.

On the boat trip to Tinian (which was free except for gambling loses in the Casino...) I saw something I had never seen before, namely flying fish.  This picture is not one I took, but I found it on the www, the light was wrong to take pictures of them in the water, but they really do fly!

This pretty much wraps up the pictures I have.
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