Friday, November 30, 2007
I was very impressed with the wonderful spirit I found at the Japanese Shinto Shrine located far up on the hillside of Carolinas Heights. The location and design of the shrine truly enhanced the experience. Unfortunately, during a recent storm, a large tree fell across the steps leading to the shrine, completely blocking access to the upper shrine (at least without some effort climbing around the tree). I had determined to return at some time to remove the tree and clean up the site.
A good friend, Ben Manglona--who is also our landlord--loaned me a tree saw so that I could attempt to clear the tree from the steps. He said it was a Japanese saw, and instructed me on its proper use:
It seems that American saws cut both ways--both pushing and pulling.
Japanese saws cut only one way--pulling.
So I was to take care to push lightly with the saw, and cut while pulling back. This seemed like a good way to protect the saw blade: by pulling while cutting, there is no risk of bending the saw blade.
I found it somehow appropriate to use a Japanese saw while working at the Japanese shrine. I wanted to make sure that I showed respect for the shrine, for the Japanese people who built the shrine, for those who might travel to worship there, and, of course, the ancestors this shrine was built to honor.
It might seem strange for someone like me--one who is a very strong Christian and a Mormon--to have 'spiritual' feelings about a Japanese shrine. It stems from the teachings of my Mormon faith. We believe in honoring and respecting the beliefs of all people. We believe that God is just and rewards all men and women based upon their actions in this life: if they are good, they will be blessed, if they are bad, they will have negative consequences in this life and lose rewards in the life after this. We do NOT believe that we will be the only ones that will receive a reward or find ourselves living with God in heaven! The idea that there is some 'exclusive club', or group of God's children, who have the opportunity to return to God and live is preposterous. God loves all His children equally, and will equally bless any of His children on earth who live good lives.
Now, don't get me wrong...I believe that we have a true Prophet leading our church who receives direct inspiration and direction from God; and because of that inspiration and direction--from the time of Joseph Smith until now--the Mormon church has received a great deal of additional knowledge concerning the doctrine and ordinances of Jesus Christ than any other religion on earth. But that increased knowledge does not diminish or take away the knowledge and truth that other religions already have! It simply enhances and increases that knowledge. We believe that latter-day revelation does not prevent or exclude people in other religions from leading good lives and receiving blessings, or even getting to heaven--it simply gives us additional information and tools to help us in this life to prepare to meet God and to prepare for the life after this.
Perhaps our greatest admonition as members of the Mormon faith is to find ways to bless others--in any way we can. If we can help people in a temporal way, we do so. If we can help people in a spiritual way, we do so.
On the temporal side, the Mormon church is known throughout the world for its wide ranging charitable work. For example, Terri's parents, the Hopkins, spent four years on humanitarian missions in Hong Kong and Mongolia. Their main job was to distribute goods and services, provided by the Mormon church, to people in need. They would receive semi-trailers of goods (clothes, blankets, medical equipment, wheel chairs,etc.), and then be responsible to distribute these items to Mongolian schools, orphanages, hospitals, etc.
For those interested in the Hopkins' work in Mongolia, they have written a book that is available at Amazon.com, called: "Mongolia:the circle in the clouds"
On the spiritual side, everyone knows about the Mormon missionaries! Young men between the ages of 19 and 25 are sent around the world for two years to teach people about the doctrines of the church. They pay their own way, and spend a large part of their time doing service and teaching.
So, long story short, I felt motivated to pay my respects to the Japanese people and the island of Tinian. The wonderful spirit I felt while visiting the Shinto shrine was worth the effort! Hopefully my actions of simply removing a fallen tree and cleaning the steps of the shrine will bless those who visit the shrine. Besides, I personally need all the blessings I can get! I can only hope that the ancestors of those who died on this island will look favorably upon myself and my family while we make Tinian our home.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Today was a beautiful sunny day, so I thought it was time to take a walk together down the south beaches of Tinian. This is the same walk my wife and I have taken many times in the past. We take a small circle: walking to the beach, down the beach towards the Dynasty Casino, then complete the circle by walking up Broadway and back home.
Each morning I walk my wife Terri to work. She spends long hours at the clinic, making sure the people on the island get the best medical care possible. This means that every moment I can spend with Terri is important--so I walk with her to work, and then give her a long kiss before leaving for my daily walk (yes, it is usually a PDA). So, after taking leave of my wife, I headed down to the beach.
The first thing one comes to by following the main road in town towards the beach is a beautiful park called the House of Taga. This is where remnants of ancient 'latte stones' are still located. Latte stones are large peices of stone that have been carved and placed in a ceremonial fashion. The stones are so ancient that little is known about them or how or why they were used.
Next to the park is the dock area where the ships come in. There are a couple of businesses located right at the dock.
Turning south-east towards the first large beach on Tinian, one will pass another park known as Taga Well. This is the location of an ancient water well used by the Chamorro people. This park has lots of covered areas, a central gazebo, and a small building where cock-fighting is held on Sundays (you will notice that the cage where the roosters fight is closed-in by wire mesh, and surrounded by seating. Terri and I have yet to see one of these events ourselves. I have been told that a number of 'haole' organizations, such as PETA, are trying to end this cultural tradition.
After passing this park we encounter the first of three major beaches that could be one large beach had there not been a few rocky areas that separate them. This first beach is called Kammer Beach. It begins right at the dock and runs about a block. There is a small ampitheater here, as well as several covered picknick and barbeque areas. In fact, from this point all the way down the length of these beaches they have built many covered picknick areas and barbeque pits. They have also built a nice concrete walkway that runs the length of the beaches. It is grass covered, lots of palm trees, etc.
I have discovered that the local islanders have discovered every possible beach area around the island. Some of these beaches are only 10' wide, but they are all used. If one is walking along the coast and suddenly see a dirt road or path heading towards the shoreline, you can bet there will be a small beach there! This is true along this strech of beach also. Even though there are long streches of shore that are rocky, every so often a small beach will appear. Some of these have had concrete steps built in order for people to be able to easily access them.
Along the rocky area that separates Kammer Beach with Taga Beach is a shipwreck. Large peices of a WWII ship rest apon the rocks in this area, a reminder of the war, and of the dangerous waters that surround these islands.
The next major beach we come to is Taga Beach. This is a small beach surrounded by tall cliffs. Concrete walkways and steps have been built, along with a steel railing, to provide access to this beach, and provide a great overlook. The water off the end of these cliffs is deep enough that children often come here to jump into the ocean! Most afternoons young men and women can be found here having fun and 'jumping to their deaths' as they plunge into the clear waters. There is also a large stone in the water, just above water level, that the boys can play 'king of the hill' and see who can use their strength to toss everyone else off the stone and into the surrounding water. During high tides this area can be quite dangerous, as the normally small waves come crashing into the cliffs with great force.
This beach is right in front of the Dynasty Casino, and it is here that the beach walkway and Broadway meet. There are two scooter rentals located here. Smaller yellow scooters, and larger red scooters that can hold two people. The rental costs are about $25 for four hours and $40 for 8 hours, or $100 for 24 hours. They are kept in good running condition and the rental includes helmets (helmets are required on the island and very strictly enforced).
Next to Taga Beach are two graves placed right on the cliff edge. I don't know who they are, or why they are buried in this location.
Once again we run into a rocky area that separates Taga Beach from the largest and most popular beach Tachogna Beach. This beach starts in an area covered by large beautiful trees. From this point and for several blocks along the coast towards the south point of the island is one long beach. There are a couple of businesses located here on the beach: Big Boys Marine provides snorkling, scuba diving, jet skiing, and other water sport activities to tourists. There are also beach chairs and umbrellas for rent. The sand in this area is perhaps the best on the island, and goes out into the ocean for quite a ways also (many of the beaches have sand that ends quite quickly once you get into the water--it turns to rock or coral).
The further down the beach you walk the more secluded the beach becomes. The jungle closes-in and access to the beach becomes more difficult--although, as mentioned, there will always be a road or path of some kind to get to the beach areas.
As the beach and the main road on the island--Broadway--have met at this point, we simply turn north and begin walking up Broadway towards home. We pass the Dynasty Casino and several businesses along the way. For example, there is the Island restaurant, which serves just about any kind of food you want. It has a beautiful outdoor eating area, all lit up with colorful lights at night. The prices are very reasonable. Then a few small stores and strip-malls. We also pass the Broadway Estates, the one subdivision on the island.
It is about a three mile walk, most of it quite level--no hills--and is just the thing for walking at night, as there are sidewalks the whole way and beautiful ocean views that seem to change every day.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Today I decided to climb up into the Carolinas Heights to see the Japanese Shinto Shrine, hidden somewhere up on the hillside.
It starts with a trip up Broadway towards the Dynasty Casino. Workers continue to create a new median strip down the middle of Broadway--cutting down the existing trees, then building planters surrounded by brick pavers, and planting new trees. This will continue all the way to the airport!
Next we pass the Grace Christian Academy, a private Christian school here on the island. Pastor Reid and his wife run the school and the church (Tinian Christian Assembly), situated in the same building. The school goes from 1st to 8th grades.
Next comes the Broadway Estates. This is the only true subdivision on the island. This is a small enclave of about sixty homes, all very similar, and all made out of concrete to endure the frequent typhoons. Though the homes are very similar in style, many have spent a lot of effort making their homes beautifully landscaped.
Once you turn east, you soon run out of paved road and start up a steep dirt road running straight up the side of the Carolinas hill. About halfway up there is a small jog in the road where I discovered another farm.
As mentioned in previous posts, there are very few functioning farms on Tinian, even though at one time it was one of the highest producers of sugar cane in the CNMI. On this small farm Rudy and his brother grow taro and tapioca, both root plants. According to Rudy, both plants take 6 to 9 months to grow to maturity (you can harvest and eat the roots at any time, but the longer left in the ground, the larger the root will be). He says taro is similar to a yam; they mix it with coconut juice to a consistency of mashed potatoes. The tapioca is also mixed with coconut juice.
Taro is a plant used as a vegetable, and both the root and leaves can be eaten. In its raw form taro can be toxic, but the toxin can be killed by cooking or by soaking in cold water overnight.
Tapioca is a flavorless root that is used in making pudding. The tapioca seeds or balls that most people are familiar with in their pudding are actually reconstituted processed root. It is similar as to how wheat is turned into pasta.
Rudy promised that when he harvests his crop he will bring Terri and I some of his home grown food to try for ourselves!
After the jog in the road, the dirt road again heads straight uphill. Along this leg can be found a large group of fighting roosters. Pictured are about 30 beautiful roosters by their sheds. The owner has even more farther back in the jungle.
At the top of this leg of dirt road we finally encounter a sign, pointing north, telling us we are going in the right direction. The road turns from dirt to grass, and jogs again before heading straight uphill yet again. At this jog, one can see that the road does seem to go straight through the thick underbrush...to somewhere. Taking my life in my hands, I ventured down this road, assuming that it just might connect with the upper paved road in Carolinas Heights (where I got lost a couple of weeks ago, since the road dead-ended). After a short walk, I broke through the brush, and sure enough, a paved road! If only I had known that two weeks ago!
After back-tracking to the grass road to the shrine, I was once again walking uphill. The jungle seemed to close in on me, the trees became taller, covering the road and making the way seem darker. Finally, with a slight bend in the road, there was the shrine. It was a beautiful spot for a shrine. In fact, I believe that I like this shrine the most out of all the memorials I have seen on the island. Unfortunately, a small tree had fallen over and covered part of the steps leading up to the shrine itself. It will be one of my first projects: to find a saw and return to cut-up the fallen tree, and clear the steps to this wonderful shrine.
Turning around on the steps of the shrine one can see a beautiful view of Tinian harbor, where a supply ship had just arrived. After heading back downhill, I noticed a large herd of...lawn mowers...in a field at the side of the road. It was a great walk, well worth the time and effort!