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War in the Pacific and Chamorro Market

February 9, 2013

Guam – Wednesday, January 30

I was awake before dawn, and eager for the sun to come up so I could see where I was! I knew the visitor center was close, and that was going to be my first stop once it was open. When the sun came up, I could see a little market across the street, and when it opened, I wandered over to stock up on some water and see what I could find for a bite to eat until I figured out what else was around. The little market was full of some strange looking Asian food, but the clerk pointed out some pumpkin tart type pastries, so I got one of those.

After a little while, I was able to get directions to the visitor center, which wasn’t far away, so I found that and got a bunch of literature, including a map in English! The lady told me about a Chamorro Market that is held in the old Chamorro village every Wednesday evening, with local food and crafts, so I knew I’d be heading there later. The visitor center was in a nice area right near a pretty blue bay, so I walked down to have a look at the beach and water, which is a brilliant turquoise, then came back to the wide sidewalk and walked for about 3 miles. This was in a tourist area – lots of big hotels and resorts, and nearly all the tourists were Asian. There were bus loads and bus loads of young Asian college-age kids – made me wonder if they were on some sort of break!

From there I headed south a bit along the main road. I saw some other nice sidewalks along this part of the bay, and got out and walked in a couple more of those areas. I was slowly making my way toward the War in the Pacific National Park for a touch of familiarity as I get my bearings in Guam. I came to part of the National Park although the visitor center was still 5 miles ahead. This part was called the Asan Beach, and it’s where the Marines landed in the summer of 1944 to take Guam back from the Japanese. Before the Marines landed, the Japanese had herded most of the Chamorro people (the local, native people)into slave camps and their conditions were deplorable. As the Marines were landing, the Japanese fired down on them from their caves and tunnels that they dug out of of the limestone in the mountains. It was a horrible, bloody, epic battle that lasted for weeks – longer than anyone had anticipated, and in the end the American flag was flying. They freed the Chamorros and helped them with food and shelter. National Park signs warn against going in the caves, and remind everyone that this was a heavily used battlefield, and to notify someone immediately if anything that looks Like live ordnance is found either on land or in the sea. It’s a good diving area with all the ships and other things that sank during the war.

Walking around the paths in the national park was sobering – trying to imagine dozens of ships in the harbor and thousands of soldiers storming the island, and non-stop firing of weapons…so tough to comprehend. I saw one of the many caves – the Japanese went underground to try to improve their strategy. Now Asan Beach is a beautifully peaceful place, with a nice memorial. I drove up to the visitor center, and was surprised to see a couple buses there. It turns out the park had several bus loads of students from Japan – visiting Guam to get a different point of view with some of their history education. It seems Japan still pretty much presents their own view. The students were all in watching a video, and while I was waiting to see it, I enjoyed looking at all the exhibits and reading about those weeks in the summer of 1944, and watching a good technological display of the battle. Having already walked on the landing site made it seem more real. When it was my turn for the video, the ranger told me they often just play the 10 minute version, but there was also a 30 minute version. I asked for the long version – I had come all this way, so I figured I’d see whatever I could! I really enjoyed the video and it emphasized everything I had already learned that day. It helped me understand why Guam was such a crucial island in the control of the Pacific part of WWII. By the time the video was over, the students were all gone, and I wanted to make a donation to the War in the Pacific National Park. When I was making the donation, I started talking with the rangers there – Dan and Catherine. It turns out Dan had lived in Marquette, where I went to college! Small world. Both Dan and Catherine were helpful with suggestions about things to see and do in Guam and I enjoyed talking with both of them. They also mentioned the Chamorro Market. By this time, it was well past closing time for the national park, and I made my way back to find the Chamorro Market. I was hungry, and curious to see what was there.

The market was easy to find, and crowded. I found a place to park, and police were on hand to help people cross the road. The old Chamorro village was a grouping of small buildings, and they were all open – selling food and crafts, and later there would be some singing and local dance performances. There were also a lot of other tents and booths set up, with a vast variety of food and drinks. The first thing I got was a coconut to drink. The guy simply used a small machete to hack off the top of a coconut and stuck a straw in, and there was a drink of coconut water! There was a great deal of BBQ chicken and pork on skewers, and lots of fish and squid, and meals including rice and/or noodles. There were so many booths with smoothies and other drinks that looked like shakes. I ended up getting a combination plate with a couple ribs and BBQ chicken on skewers, and the rice and noodles. After I ate, I looked around in the craft and shop areas. A couple places were selling betel nuts, which one lady said were mildly intoxicating. Lots of people chew on the nuts, but it almost sounds like a chewing-tobacco sort of thing, and people need to spit, and they don’t swallow the nuts, and I think it eventually discolors teeth. Despite my curiosity about betel nuts (from the Bloody Mary song in the South Pacific musical) it wasn’t something I wanted to try! I bought a few little treasures, and then watched a local dance performance. The place had been getting more and more crowded as the evening wore on – lots of those tour buses again – and after looking around a bit more, I suddenly had enough, and was tired and knew it was time to head back to the motel. I didn’t stay awake much longer – still kind of early for Guam time!
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