Back to our regularly scheduled programming…
Today I was at a meeting where we were discussing the welcome of new medical staff to the island. It brought me back to when I first arrived myself. In particular we were bringing up the experience of running errands in Saipan and how foreign that could be.
It so happened after my morning meeting, I myself had a day of errands so I paid close attention to the differences I noted.
1) Places aren’t exactly easy to find.
I probably fall into the category now where I just can describe where things are in Saipan but .. I can still see where directions can appear as quite the enigma for a newcomer. I clearly remember the first day I arrived, I went in search of one of the cell phone companies and after a lot of different questions about the location … the person blurted out, “you must know! just past the McDonald’s.” Thinking about that now it is VERY clear where that means but to a new person on island, that means nothing. It does not help that there are only about two or three major road ways — Middle Road, Beach Road, ?Back Island Road — and none of them are really labeled that way. I cannot even remember the real names! I think Middle Road is Chalan Monsignor Guerrero.. I think. (Most people reading this would say.. Chalan what?! I see why you call that Middle Road) As you can imagine, this makes it very difficult for someone to find a place. You cannot follow street names and there is a need to know all the major landmarks.
2) And then when you get there, it may not appear as you may think.
One of my errands was to drop off something for an incoming physician at the Medical Licensing Department. Sounds super official, right? Perhaps a description of where it is may be “On Capitol Hill, amongst the government buildings, turn right at the Medicaid building and you’ll see it there.” Well…. so you perhaps drive up Capitol Hill with trepidation with those directions and you find … this
This applies for stores too. In general, people will tell you to go to a great restaurant or a must-see store and you expect a place with a flashy storefront. More than likely it will not stand out. There may be a sign over the door but most times it won’t be clear from the road unless you are really looking for it. Once you’ve been there once or twice, you will start using that place as a navigation point for other people — which only perpetuates the problem!
3) Knowing people comes with the territory.
I guess this comes with living in a small place. I NEVER would small talk with a store owner, restaurant chef, waitress, hairdresser, etc. I just historically have not been a person who likes to chat. (This comes up in my life at clothing stores especially. I almost get offended when salespersons try to help me at a store! It’s a bad trait of mine! I just would rather browse in quiet instead of someone running over as soon as I touch anything)
Back to the subject at hand though.. Here it is not uncommon that you will visit a place on the recommendation of a friend who happens to know someone who works there. For example today, I went to a store that I had never been in and asked for two people by name as I was looking at some bikes. That is pretty normal here and people offer great service. They remember your name if you refer people to them. If you’ve been here long enough, people will know who you are. The mere fact that people recognize you and perhaps will call you by name makes it feel like you are a close friend and special customer. (It also doesn’t hurt that I am a doctor so … that kind of gives you a certain level of fame I guess)
At the bank and recently when I was at my car insurance company, I walk in and they know exactly who I am — can anticipate the questions I may have, and may have already addressed it! Sometimes I still say my name out loud just because it seems too weird to me that they truly know who I am.
On the flip side, it has changed me. It has made me more open to talking with new people, looking them in the eye and shaking their hand — and taking a moment to hear a little bit of their story. I was just thinking today about how Saipan keeps me humble and keeps me generous. When I walked into a brand new store today and did not know the owner sitting in the corner, I introduced myself and we chatted for a few minutes. It was nice!
4) Things happen better in person.
I guess this follows from the prior statement. When I need to get anything done here, I do it in person. Today while I was at Capitol Hill, I wanted to check up on the status of my health insurance so went to another government building. I could have tried to call but I almost can guarantee that I would have gotten connected to the wrong person and never would have gotten my answer. I happened to be close by and a quick wait got me directly to the person I wanted to talk to and immediately got me access to the information I needed. If I hadn’t done this, I might have waited on an answer for about a month. This is just how things work on island time. Things need to get routed from one place to the other for official signatures and… everything just moves a little bit more slowly. While the rest of the world (okay, not the rest of the world.. just some parts) operates on immediate email responses, 100% connectivity with the answer to everything on the Internet — it is not so here. Do you want to know how to get ahold of a restaurant to make a reservation? It’s probably not in the internet.. use the phone book. Do you have a question about something? it’s better to just go there and ask them. You get the drift.
5) Keep your expectations low.
This is part of island life and you just have to roll with it. While there may have been an item at a store or a service available at one point, it does not mean that it is always available. This does make for some “hoarding” on island. I have seen a few Facebook posts about the presence of X product at a store — followed by comments that say, “Not anymore, person Y bought all of them.” I drove to a large store today to look for a certain type of grab-and-go food bar that I like. Nope, there weren’t any on the shelves. I remember the first few times this happened to me. I looked all over the store and even thought I had forgotten and gone to the wrong store! You just have to get used to not all stores having the exact same merchandise all the time. (And I do participate slightly in the ‘hoarding’… when I see something non-perishable I know I like, I perhaps… join in and buy a few more packages than necessary) Haha!
That’s about all I thought of on my day of errands today. These are some good things and bad things about Saipan life, but it’s important to see the glass half full.