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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Would you trade a 1995 Nissan for this 1945 Japanese Tank?

Wednesday November 10,2003

The Internet Cafe - note the goose!
Well here I am in Saipan!  A mere 24 hours after I left Seattle.  Why is it that all flights to the South Pacific seem to land at midnight?  I'm in a combination Internet cafe/fishstore/livepoultry store around the corner from my hotel. It’s one of the few places that has internet here is Saipan!

[New Jeff here.  One year later when I returned there was wifi everywhere!  Amazing how quickly things change!]

My flight arrived shortly before 1:00am this morning. It was a long flight: first from Seattle to Tokyo, then from Tokyo to Nagoya (in Japan) then on to Saipan. 

Summer Holiday Motel
I took a cab to my hotel named The Summer Holiday Motel. I was a bit worried given the name of the hotel since it was November; but I had nothing to worry about as the motel was airy and my room large.  I didn’t bother unpacking but just fell on the bed and tried to sleep since it had been nearly 24 hours since I left Vancouver.

Amelia Earhart - 1928
An interesting thing happened during the last leg of the trip.  I asked an older American gentleman sitting next to me if he had served in the Marianas during WW2 - which was indeed the fact.

He along with some of the locals who had been forcibly conscripted by the Japanese during their occupation of the island had worked loading bombs onto B29's. One of those locals showed him a grave where he claimed the Japanese buried an American woman flyer who had been captured then executed - obviously Ameila Erhart!  The local told my seat mate that he had been on burial duty that day.  Nobody believed the old guy until recently, and now a team has been put together to dig up the grave and try to get a genetic sample. Evidentially the Mariana Government wasn't very supportive; but members of the team got the US State Department to put pressure on the Mariana's government to let them exhume the grave.  

[New Jeff again:  I followed up on this story when I got home – it turned out that my seat mate’s memory was a bit off and after searching for several days the team never found the supposed grave.]

More next time, the smell of dog and geese here in the internet cafe is getting to me.

Thursday November 11th

I woke up this morning around 6:00am (which would be about noon Vancouver time).  My first order of business was to rent a car.  The locals recommended Cars Unlimited, so off I went.  They rented me a  1995 Nissan Sentra (which was the most modern car they had). It made the Corolla  I rented last year in Rarotonga look like a 2004 Mercedes.  

I had to go through the ritual of going out with the guy and marking on the diagram where the car was already damaged.   I suggested it would speed things up if we just marked the diagram with parts of the car that WEREN'T damaged - which essentially meant nothing!

I was also warned not to park the car in any 'bad places' as the car wasn't covered for vandalism.  I wanted to know if there was anything left on the car to vandalize?  If this car was left in the worse neighbourhood in Watts they'd actually put parts BACK on it!!  I was given a map to find my way back to my hotel and told it was physically impossible to get lost.

I got lost.

Because it's a small Island, I eventually found my way back to my motel. (No,I did not go around the island twice!) Driving along the road I was overwhelmed by the amount of Poker Parlours and Pawnshops, which sort of makes sense in a weird sort of way.

Saipan was home to some of the most horrific battles in WWII.  In the space of one week in July 1944, over 30,000.00 troops lost their lives (approx.. 30,000 Japanese and 8,000 Americans) – and that’s just one Island. The scars and memorials of the battles are everywhere here, both above and below the sea.        

Suicide Cliff
I decided to get into my luxury chariot and do a little sightseeing: If you have a yen for suicide then Saipan's the place for you - with colourful places like  Banzai and Suicide Cliffs to name just a couple.  These are places where the Japanese occupants of the island threw themselves off of such places  during the war rather than surrender to the Americans.  Today I nearly witnessed a re-enactment as a Japanese tour group was lining up at the edge of Banzai cliff to have their picture taken. I offer to to take a group picture for them.  
”I can't get you all in the shot. Everyone take one step back.”
And who says the Japanese don't have a sense of humour?  

Speaking of Japanese tours, they make up about 90% of the tourists to Saipan. It’s only about 4 hours from Japan – so they look at it as their Hawaii.

[New Jeff again: “That suddenly stopped the following  year, when the Saipan government gave an ultimatum to  JAL to pay the highest landing rights in the Pacific or have their landing rights revoked.  JAL told them to stick it and pulled out of Saipan.  Now the Japanese only make up  a small portion of the tourists.  The Chinese have replaced them.]

The Last Command Post
My next stop after the Suicide Cliffs was at the “Last Command post.”  This is a ruin built into the rock where the last Japanese commander committed suicide.  What I want to know is what happened to the “Second Last Command Post?” Was there a penultimate Command Post? Maybe if that General held out one more day, he'd have been famous and have people lighting memorial candles and lighting incense in his honour for sixty years. I posed this question to the Japanese Tour leader who either ignored me or feigned he didn't speak English.  

I was taking a picture of a destroyed rusted out Japanese tank in front of the  Last Command Post when one of the Japanese tourist asked me, “Is that a Japanese Tank?”
“No,” I told him, “It’s an Israeli tank. They were big during the Pacific War.  Weren’t you guys there??  What does it look like? A 1995 Nissan?” I said pointing to my car.

Irony doesn’t seem to be a Japanese trait.  At this point the tourist was whisked away by the tour Leader who was considering   offering to take my picture at  the Banzai cliff.

Japanese Tank or is it a 1995 Nissan?
I also had a small problem with the park security guy.  He was not happy with me trying to move my rusted out Japanese Nissan next to the tank thereby giving a graphic illustration that the Japanese haven’t made much progress on rust prevention in 60 years.  I seriously considered leaving my car there and driving the tank back to the motel.

I kept meeting people I had met on the flight from Nagoya.  I began to feel we were on some sort of pictorial scavenger hunt with whoever getting the most pictures winning.

If the projected monsoon holds off I’m going to take a boat over to Manyagaha Island for some quality snorkelling.

NEXT:  Float like a cork - Sink Like an Anchor: My first Micronesia dive experience

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