Culture Shock: From the USA to Saipan

We’re not in Kansas anymore.

Or Idaho, or even Hawaii. Even though “Saipan is where America’s  day begins,” there are shockers here having nothing to do with the island’s sweet people, perfect weather and gorgeous beaches. Here is a random selection.

1. Saipan is not America…

Saipan has voluntarily and enthusiastically associated with the USA as a “commonwealth in political union with the US.” The residents drive on the right side of the road, use dollars, speak English (mostly), vote in some US elections (not presidential elections) and are US citizens.

But Saipan has its own culture; a glorious mix of Chamorro, Carolinian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Pacific Islands, German, Spanish and American with many other influences thrown in. Many things you might take for granted in the states are just not how things are done here. The differences range from the trivial to the extreme, and will make you laugh, cry, grind your teeth, or get back on an airplane, depending.

2. Packaging with no English text.

Let’s start with the trivial. Often, images on packaging are enough. A can or bottle of translucent liquid with a picture of a coconut on the label is probably coconut water, my favorite. But other times the pictures are remarkably unhelpful. A vague chip form–is it animal or vegetable? Vegetable or fruit? Perhaps not actually a food…a sponge? Little gadgets are often a mystery. Is this a personal care item? Or is it for household repairs? A toy, even?

On the other hand, packaging with English text can be quite entertaining (when it’s not mystifying or horrifying), see the “Washing Ball” text (look closely).

3. Food, with or without packaging.

The Japan Snacks aisle at our local grocery features, among a thousand other items, Tara Snacks, which are (and I’m not kidding) layers of “cheese and codfish.” And no, you don’t want any, guess how I know.

You can buy cans of Chrysalis in every market. Yes, chrysalis, as in “quiescent insect pupa, especially of a butterfly or moth.” To eat.

On the other hand, I could eat Wasabi Peas all day long. And the sushi, the noodles, the bananas, the fresher than fresh fish, the oh-my-gosh-how-have-I-never-eaten-this-before Chicken Kelaguin! I won’t be going hungry any time soon.


4. Food again–and the price thereof.

I recently paid $8.99 for a pint of sour cream, almost on purpose. At the other end of the spectrum, a giant mound of fresh bean sprouts can be had for a dollar. As can a clump of green onions, a thick rope of long beans, or a bag of the best tomatoes anywhere.

And then there’s the age-old question: $14 for a slab of yummy prime rib? Or $17 for this lovely fish head? In this neck of the jungle, not as many people would go for the steak as you might think!

5. Black or white, you’re a tiny minority.

We got a taste of this in Hawaii, but here it’s absolute. Brown in its splendid chocolate rainbow of shades dominates. Long, thick, shining black hair, dark eyes…you get the feeling this is how human beings are meant to look. My distant ancestors trudged over mountains and through blizzards to live in frozen northern wastes (why??) and had to abandon beautiful cocoa skin in favor of maximum absorption of Vitamin D. I have melanin, sure I do. In little dots. A spatter of spots. A flurry of freckles. Ah, well. Maybe in Heaven I’ll be brown.

6. First, pay the cashier.

Need car insurance? It’s cheap here: as of this writing about $180 for a year. But first, go get a Traffic Clearance (But I’ve only been here two weeks! No matter!). The clearance (an official assurance that you haven’t broken any traffic laws) costs only $2. BUT, you must pay the $2 at the cashier’s window and bring your receipt to the traffic clearance office before making further progress. Need a driver’s license? Car registration? Utilities? Any official service at all? Go find and pay the right cashier first, get your receipt, then see the man and fill out your forms. I’ve never before lived in a place that does it like this, but perhaps I need to get out more.

7. We’re out of stock.

We love Fresca. We can buy it here, once every few months. Need sour cream (even at $8.99 a pint) for a recipe? Don’t count on it. Butter? Maybe next week. Need a truck? Could be a while. Wanting a sofa for your new place? Boy, that’s a tall order, unless the one on the left is what you had in mind.

A water dispenser to dispense the 5-gallon jugs of purchased water you can drink? If the two or three places that carry them are out, you might think about fetching one from Guam. Or, you can of course just wait for the next boat. (Ordering from Amazon is a whole ‘nother adventure…)

One time a government office we had to deal with ran out of ink for their the printer, FOR SEVERAL DAYS. Which meant we could not do our business FOR SEVERAL DAYS.

But on the other hand, there is always plenty of fresh local food. And so far, the best carrots in the world, imported from Korea, have never been out of stock. (You’ll perhaps be disappointed to learn that we eventually found a brown corduroy sofa, and so did not need to dramatically revise our decorating style to…uh…bohemian casino?)

8. Betel nut

The tree is gorgeous. The chewing habit is disgusting. Think of chewing tobacco, but then imagine not just baseball players and grimy old codgers gnashing a nasty chaw, but also beautiful 16 year old girls, mouths brimming with rusty brown slop, spitting it in any convenient corner. Picture a trim and polished police officer, sporting a shiny badge and crisply pressed uniform, stepping out of his spotless cruiser and letting loose a stream of betel nut juice on the pavement. Completely aside from the reasons why people use it, and the horrible possible effects on one’s health and appearance, it’s just really gross. And yes, I am judging it. Not all things that groups of people do are equally wonderful. I can give you a list of especially egregious examples if you need one.

Signage prohibiting the chewing and spitting of betel nut is ubiquitous on the island (Saipan doesn’t like it, officially!), but judging by the abundant supply of little $1 baggies of the wrapped nuts on every market and gas station counter, and by the stains of brown spit splats on the ground everywhere, the problem is not going away anytime soon.

Well that’s an admittedly random list of things that have impressed me one way or another since moving here. There are many more to tell you about another time.

What is the oddest/best/worst thing about where you live?? I would love for you to tell me.



At home in Saipan

LauLau Bay from our balconyA whirlwind month we have just had! My husband accepted a job transfer from Hawaii to Saipan at the end of December. He had to report for work in just over a month. We came on mission to help plant a church, and God got us here far sooner than we’d been planning!
We did not hire a moving company, but sold off or gave away everything that wouldn’t fit in a box, and mailed 78 parcels to ourselves. At the outset this seemed a simple proposition, as we’d done the same thing moving from Idaho to Hawaii four years ago. However, this time each box had to be measured, weighed, and labeled with a detailed customs form. But this tedious process turned out to have a bright silver lining, in that as we went I numbered the boxes and made a detailed list of the contents of each one. We’ve been referring to that list ever since!

Everything else involved in setting up our life here has been packed with unexpected challenges, made easier by the lovely people, without exception friendly and willing to help far beyond what I’d grown to expect in mainland USA.

I’ll offer some insights on moving across the ocean soon. For now, I’m happy to share the view out my third-floor balcony window.

one tiny step: choosing my author photo

It’s more like a teeny-tiny baby step, perhaps. But with mush-for-brains at the end of my work day, it feels like a significant accomplishment to get this done! Montana Rising, Wordplay, must have a little picture on the back and here it is. Thanks to my hubby Zack for taking a zillion pics for me to choose from.  What do you thinbest-2016-author-pick? I realize God is going pretty heavy on the platinum highlights in the front these days, but that’s how it grows.

Next up, the author bio, in several different lengths. Nothing teeny-tiny about that task! First, think of me as she…and go from there.


Cruising the book aisles at Target

I live on an island, and I work at home. So I don’t visit many bookstores, though I spend an unconscionable amount of time on! But on many a Saturday, I trek to my local Target store to buy hamburger buns and ketchup and LoveCrunch Dark Chocolate granola, and weave through the accessories section to see if there are any purses on clearance that I can’t resist.

No purses on clearance today, dang it. But I did spend a little time cruising the book aisles, and it was depressing. I mean, weight on your chest, darkness at the edge of your vision depressing.

Trying to figure that out.

My two primary theories–wait, I guess that would have to be my primary and secondary theories…are these:

  • I’m in the midst of indie-publishing my first novel, and the competition, even at just one box store that doesn’t really focus on books, is voluminous and very, very shiny. How can I find a place in this polished and crowded market?
  • The books are dark. Many are evil, scary, mean and hopeless, and/or blasphemous, shallow, pornographic or otherwise worthless. Is this really what Americans want to read?

It’s discouraging. I don’t know whether my story will flop, because it’s full of hope and humor and faith, or whether it will be a welcome bright spot because it’s full of hope and humor and faith.

img_4675Not that there aren’t some hopeful and meaning-filled books on the shelves, of course. There are, and if you want to you can buy cookbooks full of healthy recipes, classic children’s stories, volumes of local history, a bright purple Bible, or a copy of Da Jesus Book, which is the New Testament in Hawaiian pidgin. I did snag one of those, and hubby and I plan to read it aloud to each other over the course of 2017.

I don’t fully understand the dark feeling that my cruise through the books provoked in me. I didn’t like it. I need to ponder it. I need to invite my Creator to search my heart and see if there is any grievous way in me connected to competition, envy, greed, or pride. Because whether my book flops or shines is largely irrelevant. That I please my Jesus and become more like him, this is what matters, only and always.

I think a few minutes meditating on Psalm 139 might help…

Today’s Milestone: ordered proofs of Montana Rising

I still can’t quite believe I get to mark that off my list.

I’ve been writing this story since…at least 2010? That’s the oldest file I can find, but I’ve changed computers and software so many times I could have started even before that. It’s beginning to feel real…

Photo by J’Ram DJ

My plan was to use my proofs as ARCs for my beta readers. But, I was only allowed to order five copies. This means I’ll have only four to share out and those are instantly gone (if only I could remember who I’ve promised one to, besides my mom). I’ll shift to ebooks for betas. I hope my Maui Christian Writers sweeties will be okay with that!

Anyone reading this who has already successfully navigated this journey is probably shaking her head at the mistakes I’m making, but oh well! The advice on how to publish as an Indie Author is many things, including overwhelming, conflicting, vague, inapplicable, indecipherable, expensive, outdated and–occasionally–helpful. And like me, it’s scattered. So far, there has not been anything remotely efficient about the whole thing. But I am learning everyday and loving the adventure!

Now back to CreateSpace to look at marketing channels, and then to my Amazon Success ToolKit, bring the laundry in off the link, send a note to my brother (who is designing my cover, thanks ever so much, Greg!), think about dinner, work on the blog…I’d better go make a list.