World Awareness

I heard today through the grapevine that Saipan was mentioned on CNN. Apparently as they were discussing the world weather and some typhoons that were headed towards Hong Kong, the weatherperson mentioned that the typhoons had originated in and around Micronesia, passing by Saipan – the island that has lost its internet and phone connectivity. So, there was our 2 seconds in the spotlight. According to that source, you can find out a bit about what happened here by searching “Saipan” in Google. A lot of people have found out what happened here if they have friends in Guam who have been posting on Facebook or other social media to get the word out.

It has been interesting wondering what the ‘outside world’ knows about what is going on here. The opposite is true too in that I am sitting around wondering what is going on in the ‘outside world.’ We will probably rely on the Coast Guard and other emergency response personnel to notify us if another typhoon or tropical storm sweeps through the region. If some important world decision happened or God-forbid, some terrorist act or headline-grabbing riot took place, I would have no idea. At this point, coconut wireless has worked out some of its kinks so I’m sure I’d found out soon but not in the traditional ways that I found out before. And there would certainly be no fact checking behind it.

As I was reading to the end of The End of Your Life Book Club, the book veers towards the accomplishments of one of the characters – the mother with pancreatic cancer who has an impressive career in the world of refugees via the Women’s Refugee Commission. She talks about some of the things I have witnessed and some of the things I have only read about. Child abuse and slavery, human trafficking, children forced into military service, and the other horrible things that often tend to come from unstable countries that produce refugees. She talks about how little, especially children but also adults, know about the outside world. How easily propaganda (because it is the only information available) can become what is true and right. The power of information, starting from the power of literacy and education, is ridiculously strong. I know these last four-ish days of lack of information is NOTHING compared to that but it does help me realize how truly powerful information can be if used in the right way (or if used in the wrong way). She suggested that if you can’t do much more to help these types of causes or things that are happening far removed from your world, you should at least read about it. I feel even more lucky now that I have access to virtually all the information in the world on my fingertips – I hope I use that to my advantage when I get reconnected.

If you have book recommendations, let me know! IMG_5371

(P.S. I went out to eat lunch with some friends today and was treated to this sign. Hallelujah! They said that apparently they have a dial-up Internet connection through one of the banks to process their credit cards. *Insert dial-up processing sound here)

Stay tuned for more.

To start reading from the beginning of this series, click here.

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Grass is Greener

Recently, I have been thinking about the phrase “the grass is always greener on the other side.” Who thought of this phrase exactly?

In the past few days, I have talked with a number of people who have stated that the lack of Internet is a sign or a punishment for something. You know what I mean? It’s a little bit of magical thinking but we all have it.

I was spending too much time on Facebook and not spending any time with God.. and then the internet went out.

I was spending too much money on online shopping and wasn’t putting any money away in savings.. and then the internet went out and I could only buy things with the cash I had on hand.

I think almost everyone I know in the mainland United States has dreamed of a vacation. Perhaps I am generalizing, but I think many people include in that daydream – a lack of cell phones vibrating or inability to access email. Well, the grass is always greener on the other side.

Now that I’m without it, you realize the useful things you use it for. You also realize the things you use it for that are frivolous. While I’d like to communicate with the outside world (and get back some reference material that I check regularly to make medical decisions), I also would like this time of disconnected to last a bit longer. They say that it takes twenty eight days to make a habit stick. Wouldn’t it be great to habit-ize the lack of checking my email first thing when I wake up so that I spend two minutes on my balcony taking a breather before starting my day? Wouldn’t it be great to habit-ize not coming home plopping down in front of my laptop but instead giving a friend a phone call and meeting up for a face to face dinner?

We will see how long this lasts. I hope I make some new habits that stick. Maybe you can just make the grass be greener on both sides of the fence.

(To start reading from the beginning of this series written during the internet apocalypse of summer 2015, start here)

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Coconut Wireless

I learned about the catchphrase ‘coconut wireless’ only after I moved to Saipan. I have a feeling that any island uses this catchphrase, and until you have lived on an island or been a recipient of news from the coconut wireless telecommunications company, you won’t have heard it before.

Let’s use it in context. Actually, this is a paraphrase/exaggeration of the first context I heard it in.

Scenario: My friend posts a photo of her at a tattoo parlor with the caption “YOLO” (aka, ‘You only live once” if you haven’t heard that catchphrase!)

I’m sure you, as educated readers, get the drift of what may or may not be happening to that friend right now.

A day later while communicating with this friend about this infamous post:

What did your mom think?

Well, coconut wireless must be down because I’m surprised she hasn’t driven over here and given me a bad whipping yet.

For all that are wondering, no, she did not get a tattoo but she put the post up as a punishment for a lost bet.

But you get it, right? Coconut wireless, the island means of communication that spreads information (or misinformation) much faster than any other means of 4G internet could spread.

Welcome to Coconut wireless – now the most reliable telecommunication company on island!

(as opposed to IT&E, the main internet company on island and the company in charge of this fiberoptic cable – their slogan which is still playing on the radio is .. “IT&E – now the only provider of 4G on island”)

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Saved Lives

Last night, thru the mini-miracle of actual phone calls and messages passed on through people who had working phones (some people can just text locally and not receive calls and some people can receive and make calls but not receive text), three adult women were able to get together and have dinner. We live in different parts of the island and were able to coordinate a small pot-luck style healthy dinner between us. A miracle! Wait, isn’t this what people did routinely just a few years ago?

We exchanged stories of the last few days and this particularly pulled at the heartstrings.  One of my friends went out for a jog the morning of the typhoon. This is not an unusual practice since we generally know the anticipated trajectory of the typhoon and a typhoon can cause havoc on the island – which waylays any plans for exercise for sometimes a few days at a time. Fortunately, the winds picked up so her 3 mile out and back run changed into a loop that took her to the east and west of her house instead. As she ran, she heard a whimper.

A tiny puppy, probably weighing about a pound lay whimpering on the side of the road. She, being the genius she is, decided to look around in the bushes nearby where she found a discarded, crumpled, and dissolving wet cardboard box and two other puppies of the litter nearby. While unfolding the remains of the box, a little cold lump of fur was also discovered. Rest in peace little one.

She, like a great first responder, knew she had to get help and that she should not move them on her own for fear that she might exacerbate an injury. Sprinting back to the house, she grabbed the car and a sturdy box and made her way back to the scene of the crime. Who would throw/leave/etc a box of newborn puppies in the forest just prior to a typhoon? She cradled the three of them and almost left when she heard another whimper. A fourth of the now total five puppies was making noise and was too small or weak to climb out of the place it landed in the underbrush.

Now what? What do you feed them? And let’s not mention, she had $24 between her and her roommate and ¼ tank of gas – and no helpful youtube video to guide them. She knocked on her neighbor’s door where a disinterested teenager answered the desperate pleas. I know you guys have rescued puppies before, what do we do?!? The monotony in his voice as he stared at her with tears streaming down her face was so adolescent. Feed them goats’ milk. [Door closes]

Goats’ milk was obtained from the nearby grocery store and fed to them in small bits as they waited out the storm. Through the grapevine, they found out they could call the local PAWS chapter who would accompany them to the vets office. Instead when they called the PAWS chapter, the volunteers at the chapter were able to take the puppies in where they have an office next to the current mayor’s office. Lives saved.

To start from the beginning of the short stories I wrote while the Internet was down, click here.

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Old Fashioned Studying

Checking my mail here is about a twice weekly thing. I go to my personal mailbox only when I’m driving by the area or if I’m trying to kill time. This time, besides dropping off some letters, I had some packages to pick up. Just in the nick of time. Some people may say this is a sign.

At the end of the academic year, I had to use up some money that was set aside for my use on books or academic materials. As June 30th approached, I went looking for physical books to fill my bookshelf. While most people would not find physical books appealing, I still like the heft of a book and the ability to highlight or take notes in a good study guide. I found a well-reviewed book of study questions for the pediatric hematology/oncology boards and decided it would be a good use of my money. (Of course, a good use of your money is only useful if you actually read the book)

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Well, guess what showed up in my mailbox just as the Internet went out. My study guides. I guess it is time to hunker down and do some study questions. I fortunately bought these two textbooks (glasses, acquired I’m sure because of all my intense reading, placed on top for size comparison) the previous year so I have some good references for when I get a question wrong as to why it’s wrong. Do you remember studying from a textbook rather than scrolling through Wikipedia sites to get information? Well, I think that was the good old days. Despite the fact that I am quickly trying to think of things to do other than study (beach time? game night? make up new recipes?), I much prefer pen to paper.

P.S. Microsoft Word continuously flags the word “internet” as spelled incorrectly and insists that I correct it to “Internet.” This would normally be some random thing that I’d look up to see if I have to capitalize it because it is a proper name rather than a regular noun but alas, I will just do as grammar check tells me. Despite the 1000+ pages of these textbooks, they give no answer to that question.

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Mindfulness

This is a concept that has gained popularity in the recent years. It may just be a new name for an age old practice, but it nonetheless has become more widespread.

According to my Mac iOS 10.9.5 dictionary:

Mindfulness |ˈmīndfəlnəs| – noun
1 the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something: their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition.
2 a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Now has been the time to practice and acknowledge the ability to be mindful. I was first introduced to mindfulness at a mandatory one hour course during my first year of fellowship training for pediatric hematology/oncology. At first, it was an awkward 15 minutes with a psychologist with a heavy European accent when he asked us to just “be” or “be aware” of what our minds were doing. As you can imagine, every single type A person in the room at first spent the time mentally checking off their to-do list or adding items to their list. Soon, we settled into truly just noting what was going on in the present moment – whether our butts, unaccustomed to sitting in one place for long, were going numb or whether our breathing was only able to slow down once we let go of some of the stresses of the day. It’s easier to practice mindfulness when you are in a quiet place. To me, it’s similar to the practice of meditation on the Bible or morning quiet times in prayer. Well, with the disconnection – it’s a bit quieter now.

Fortunately before this hit, I borrowed two books from my stateside library and had downloaded them onto my Kindle. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe and, in the spirit of full disclosure, The Scorch Trials by James Dashner (book two of The Maze Runner series). I highlighted this passage from the book by Will Schwalbe as I read it. The book tells the story of a mother and her son as his mother faces pancreatic cancer.

“The page I’d marked, and wanted to show Mom, was about interruptions. It’s a section where Kabat-Zinn points out that we all know it’s wrong to interrupt each other. And yet we constantly interrupt ourselves. We do it when we check our emails incessantly – or won’t simply let a phone go to voicemail when we’re doing something we enjoy – or when we don’t think a thought through, but allow our minds to fix on temporary concerns or desires. In however much time I had left with Mom, I realized, I needed to focus more – to be careful not to interrupt conversations with other conversations. Every hospital is, as I’ve noted, an interruption machine – a flood of people come to poke you and prod you and ask you questions. But modern life itself is an interruption machine: phone calls, emails, texts, news, television, and our own restless minds. The greatest gift you can give anyone is your undivided attention – and yet I’d been constantly dividing mind. No one was getting it, not even me.” Later he quotes Kabat-Zinn again, writing “ You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

Well, at least in Saipan, some of the waves have stopped making the surfing (aka the periods of mindfulness) easier to learn now.

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(To start at the beginning of this journey of disconnectedness, start here)

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Pay Day

(This is a series of blog posts written during Saipan’s internet/phone connectivity outage. Start here to start from the beginning)

It’s Friday, two days after the line snapped and the money issue is becoming more and more salient. The banks will be closed over the weekend and it’s payday Friday. Paper checks are being individually printed and signed from the records they have on hand but as you can imagine, especially for large companies, this is a tedious and error-prone process. I drove by two banks parking lots today on my way to drop some mail at the post office. The parking lots were filled with brake lights and reverse lights as people maneuvered into the coveted after parking spots.

Some ATMs are functioning but most places are not taking credit cards or debit cards. Cold hard cash is the only way we operate right now for the most part. I’m guessing the tourists that are unfortunate to be here right now brought a lot of US dollars with them to spend since I saw some sitting outside of the T Galleria – which is the high end shopping mall where you can get Rolex, Tiffany’s, Louis Vuitton, and more. They seemed to be holding shopping bags. I’m guessing stores may have to start recording on paper payments to be extracted at a later date via credit card or debit card as well. At the gas stations, those that are on a ‘list’ – basically preapproved from prior to the apocalypse (mostly companies) – can use paper checks to pay for their gas.

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Many people survive here from paycheck to paycheck and being able to cash in their paycheck immediately is important to many. I can imagine the domino effect this is having. Reportedly, the bank is giving half the check’s payment to the person and depositing the remaining portion at this point in time. I’m guessing it’s because they are trying to put a limit on how much people can pay. What happens when these people need to pay their electricity bill or rent? The trickle down effect will be devastating for some I’m sure.

There must be a solution that will appear soon to this problem or this two to four week wait will be an eternity – especially to those with businesses. Part of living in Saipan is that you need to be flexible. In this case especially, flexibility is key. The benefits of island life is that most people are calm about this. Yes there are plenty of murmurings about the missed communication from Skype or Facebook but in the end, everyone is rolling with it. What can you do anyway?

I continuously find myself imagining if this happened on the San Francisco peninsula. Can you imagine the panic? I actually heard via someone that flew into Saipan today that there was a computer glitch on the New York Stock Exchange yesterday that caused a little standstill for a few minutes. I’m sure the aftershocks from that were enormous. I can imagine the riots at the banks, the images of people held at gunpoint, etc. I guess I may have watched one too many movies (or the sensationalized news) but it remains hard to imagine that anyone else on the mainland United States in any major metropolitan area would take this internet and connectivity loss better than this small island community.

For now, I find myself making sure the people around me are safe and taken care of. Stay tuned for more.

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