Preparing for Japan

Japan is a short approximately 3 hour flight from Saipan and fortunately Delta offers a direct flight. Many people travel to Japan during the winter months for skiing, enjoying the cold weather, etc. (It’s like reverse winter migration for us since it’s warm all year round here)

I decided to go soon after I participated in the half marathon from the Festival of Runs in 2015. The top local female and male marathon winners are invited to the Fuji Marathon since it is a sister marathon to the Saipan marathon. The benefit of having friends who are much better runners than I am (besides their encouragement of me and helpful tips) is that they agree to accompany you (or perhaps the other way around, you agree to accompany them) on the trip. It also makes for a built in traveling group.

Since about three hours after my first marathon experience two years ago,  I knew that I wanted to do another one. (The first three hours afterwards I think I vehemently denied ever doing such a silly thing) The Saipan marathon is hot and muggy (well, it is for people like me that run very slowly — if you run faster then you get done before the sun really gets blazing). So, I wasn’t surprised when my friends suggested that doing a marathon in a cooler climate might suit me well.

So, that was almost 6 months ago and when the registration opened in July for the November 29th, 2015 Fuji marathon, I signed up — no turning back now! I’ve been training (or at least trying) for the last about two and a half months with long training runs on the weekend.

Anyway, because I am going with friends — two of whom are Japanese — and because I am lucky enough to be able to tag onto the package deal that comes with being a sister marathon — I basically have had to plan nothing. Besides getting Japanese yen and packing a bag with warm clothes and accessories (ear covering, gloves, layering clothes for running, scarves — all this unheard of stuff for Saipan), I have not thought about the trip at all. I am totally trusting that I’ll have a good time no matter what. And yes, the fact that I will be with people who speak Japanese is probably a game changer here. (Thank you Yumi and Mami!)

Okay, so while the fact that I had not prepared at all is interesting — it started to get nerve wracking a bit today so I did a little googling so at least I would know approximately where in the world I am going. I am geographically challenged and because of that, I try extra hard to at least have some situation awareness. I’ll be sure to update this with more details about the trip once I a) experience them and b) figure out where I am when I go places!

The first thing I have is the race map. The Fuji marathon is actually a race around two of the five famous lakes around Mt. Fuji and it is NOT a race on the mountain or up the mountain. The two lakes it includes are Lake Saiko (the smaller one to the west) and Lake Kawaguchi (larger one to the east).

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Here’s the course map — if you can follow it basically you circle the first lake, run uphill to the second lake, circle that, run downhill back to the start. At various places on the course, you should get wonderful views of Mt. Fuji (I am hoping this will be encouragement to keep running!) You can see the elevation map on the bottom — the uphill climb is apparently known as the ‘heart-tearing slope’ …. doesn’t that inspire confidence in your success?!

Here’s a close up shot of the google map of this area.. I think the course map makes the lakes look a little bit closer than they actually are.


And here it is in relation to Tokyo. It’s not super far, but not super easy to get to by train hence the fact that we will be shuttled there on a bus. I think this is what makes this place a little more isolated because it isn’t super readily accessible by Japan Railways. From what I understand, the people that come visit this place are generally people who are hoping to climb Mt. Fuji and often can be Japanese nationals who are coming for a day trip.

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You can see here that Mt. Fuji and where I will be for the marathon is basically west of Tokyo, a little south in the prefecture called Yamanashi. It is still relative

ly close to the water and is on the south-central side of the main island of Japan

(known as Honshu). There are other island that make up Japan — Hokkaido is famous for its skiing and Okinawa is also well known but honestly — I had no idea that there were five major islands and I definitely didn’t really know their names. So, as expected — there will be lots of learning and firsts on this trip. Excited to enjoy and experience something (relatively*) new.

*I say relatively because I have traveled with my family to Japan when I was in high school and had a great time but honestly, I’m not 100% sure what places we went to — or at least even though I remember the city name, I’m not sure how far that was in relation to the rest of the geography of the country.

More to come soon although I likely won’t update more until I return from Japan as I will have limited internet (and will enjoy the internet break anyway!)

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Lack makes the heart grow fonder

There have been a lot of things that have been missing since Typhoon Soudelor hit on August 3rd, but many of those things have slowly returned to the island.

One of the things (that is small in the grand scheme of things) is the movie theater.

(*Side note: Yes, there is only one theater in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. So, I guess if you wanted to watch a movie in a theater and you lived in Tinian, you’d have to fly over!)

I actually heard rumors that it may be open again soon so perhaps this post is moot but.. it feels like it’s been closed a long time. I actually think I can count how many times in my almost three years here that I have been to the movies — perhaps 4 or 5? So it’s not like I frequent the theater often but… now that it’s NOT available, I feel like I’d love to watch the movies. Initially, I just ignored the thought of the movie theater entirely — out of sight and out of mind. I had no idea what movies were coming out and certainly didn’t seek out that information since I didn’t want to find out a movie I wanted to watch was coming out and I was going to miss it.


Last week though, I got two notices about public movie showings. Apparently everyone is feeling the movie-craving and people are capitalizing (well, not in terms of money because I think both events were free) on that. There was a movie screening at the Navy Hill baseball field one night and then there was supposed to be a drive-in screening at the local community college (Northern Marianas College). When I saw/heard the advertisements for that, it got me thinking about movies and whew… it suddenly became something I wanted to do!

To satisfy the craving, I spent 36 hours of my laptops’ time pre-downloading (so it wouldn’t buffer the whole way thru) Mockingjay Part 1, which is currently available free on Amazon Prime. I just watched it and realized all it did was make me want to watch Mockingjay Part 2 which came out in the States this weekend — which just means that I will have to sit and twiddle my thumbs and wait for it to come out on DVD or online in a few months to watch it. Likely when the movie theater does officially open, it will be showing the current movies, not the ones that opened weeks ago or in the past few months.

Well, as they say.. distance makes the heart grow fonder. It’s so interesting the little things that become important or not important based on your priorities — and it helps me remember that just two short months ago, we were all praying for power and running water for most people. It is good to know we have recovered this well thus far. There is still a lot of renovation and clean up to be done so the work is not complete yet but it’s good to know that time has flown by. For those of you reading, enjoy a movie for me!

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Forbidden Island Hike

See a prior post about this hike here.

It looks like the last time I went was in 2012 but I have been a few times since then. But like all things in Saipan, you kind of have to go out of your way to remember to play tourist in your own backyard. It shouldn’t be like that, but it does take some reminding!

That past post has pretty good directions about how to get there and I happened to be with friends who had an SUV so I knew I would make it there. I do think if you drove very very very carefully and it had been dry recently you could get there in a sedan but I wouldn’t recommend it and probably would not choose to do it in my car ever.

We got there about an hour and a half below low tide so that we could time the crossing over to the island. We hiked down the path and decided that since it was about the time of low tide to cross over and get to the top of Forbidden first before snorkeling.


You can see how the top of the island is like a table top and I remember thinking it would be impossible to get up there, but it’s not as hard as it looks.


Here we are after having crossed over to the island side. As you can see, there is some bouldering involved to get to the small ‘trail’ in the grass up the side of the island.


This is the view as you are hiking up the side of the island — beautiful to see the waves crashing on the cliffs.


The hardest part is a little rock climbing that you have to do at the very top. Here I am taking a picture looking straight down — it looks much scarier in this picture than it actually is. There’s a rope that’s been left there for some extra help.

And then.. you’re at the top! There are leftover bits of shrapnel on the top of the island from bombings during the WWII era and sometimes you can see bird nests here. You can walk around the top of the island and sometimes spot turtles surfacing in the waters around the island as well. I have a friend who swears he has spotted a turtle every single time he has been up there.


Looking straight down from the side


The view from the top

IMG_7008The grass at the top was really beautiful.. we spent some time up there reminiscing the hills are alive.

IMG_7031It really is the great Pacific Ocean just beyond on the other side. You can get an idea of the terrain on top in this picture here.

We then climbed down, not before I shot this one last picture looking from the top back towards the cliffs on the east side of Saipan. I don’t come to this side of the island nearly enough but it really does hold a totally different type of beauty than the west side sunset-kissed beaches.


We then skipped swimming/snorkeling because we wanted to go to Hidden Forbidden (see prior post that I linked to for pictures). I didn’t bring my camera there but my friend snuck a picture of me here descending into the cave entrance of Hidden Forbidden. Again, it looks more dramatic than it actually is. But, you can see why it is called hidden forbidden — there is no way if you didn’t know where this was that you’d be able to find it.


All in all, a good way to spend a day after being on call at the hospital. Will update more soon — on my way to Japan for a trip to run the Fuji Marathon! Taking a break for the holidays from work and will be sure to try to document as much as possible although likely the blog won’t be updated until I get back and have reliable (well, as reliable as Saipan’s internet gets) internet again. In the meantime, work work work all the way up to vacation time.


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Time Warp

Like I mentioned in my last post, the time changes as I go back and forth over the international date line make for a very difficult time for any travel agent to make sense of my flight. If you look at my plan chronologically I go from Hawaii to San Francisco, Saipan to Guam, Guam to Honolulu and San Francisco to San Diego, return to San Francisco, then fly Guam to Saipan before taking off from San Francisco to Honolulu. Whew, I just keep on a manual watch and keep it on one time zone.

I did return back and realize that I left 3.5 days ago and had only slept one real night on one bed that whole time!

I mention this because I had a flight attendant on the Honolulu to Guam flight who was celebrating her birthday. There were so few people on this flight that I just chatted with the flight attendants for a few minutes when they came by to check on us. She was happy to celebrate it in the air (such a love for her job, really refreshing to hear) and she also liked the fact that she was kind of skipping most of the day by traveling Westward.

I on the other hand, remember distinctly the opposite. One year (I think in my pre-teen age range), I flew from Taipei back to the East Coast on my birthday. My birthday is at the end of the summer so it was inevitable since I traveled to Taiwan most summers that I would eventually have to be on a plane for part of my birthday time. I love telling this story since I can distinctly remember it as a child.

I must have been somewhere in the 8-12 year old age range where flying was still a novelty. I think my parents must have told the airline it was my birthday because I remember getting to look at the flight map in the cockpit about our flight (this was before the advent of personal screens at your seat when you could track when you went) and I remember thinking how cool it was that we were basically traversing the whole map and how it was weird that we couldn’t fly in a straight line from one place to the next and how to fly over Alaska kind of to get to California from Taiwan!

My mom ordered me a ‘special kids meal’ for the flight which probably was the only part of the plan that backfired. I was served a kids meal — hamburger patty and fries and orange juice for all, like five, meals that I ate that day. I departed early in the morning on my birthday (And had gotten to celebrate with cake with my extended family the day before) and after 20-ish hours of flying, ended up getting to eat birthday lunch and dinner at restaurants I liked at home on the East Coast. Whew, talk about a never ending birthday. It probably ended up stretching about 36 hours in time!

So, to all those trying to circumnagivate the globe — If you want to make our days feel like they never end, travel East and if you want to skip days altogether, travel West.

As I always say here in Saipan when I talk to people back in North America – tomorrow is looking pretty good from over here :)


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A lot of Flying

To read prior transport stories look here and here or here.

Whew.. so I just caught my breath after my last transport and there was another one. They seem to come in little droves unfortunately. We are staffed a little less in the pediatrics department so fitting these transports in is tough.

I didn’t take any pictures during the transport this time, was a little more harried this time around. We flew, as usual, domestically because the baby we were traveling with only had a US birth certificate. We went from Saipan to Guam (~45 minute flight), Guam to Honolulu (have a ~2 hour layover before, 7  hour flight), Honolulu to San Francisco (had a ~5 hour layover before, 5 hour flight), and then San Francisco to San Diego (had a 1.5 hr layover and it is a 1 hour flight). Whew… When you fly towards the East like this you end up arriving Honolulu the day ‘before’ you left and arriving San Diego at the same time you left basically. It does feel a little demoralizing when you arrive and say you have been traveling forever and they ask you when you left and you say … “oh, we left the hospital on Nov 10th at 2 AM” … yeah, I know that was just a few hours ago for you but that was more than a day ago by my internal clock!

For some reason this time around I did a lot more people watching. It was really interesting to see who is on the plane. The Saipan to Guam flight is always a mismash – usually of locals with a handful of Asian tourists, Guam to Honolulu is mostly those from Guam/locals, Honolulu to San Francisco runs the gamut of American tourists coming back from their mai tais on Waikiki beach and those local Pacific Islanders hopping towards the States. THEN! I really noticed because the San Francisco to San Diego flight was almost all business people. I noticed this most on my way back. I had been placed on the upgrade to first class list (perks of all the miles I’ve racked up) and while I didn’t get it, still was given ‘boarding group 1’ status. (I’m never in a rush to get on a plane but anyway, felt like I should board early because I had been given this).


Anyway, boarding group 1 basically meant nothing. The whole flight must have been business people basically so first class was filled and everyone else was basically in a suit of some kind and I would say the whole plane boarded before they called boarding group 2. These folks I guess are business travelers who travel often. Everyone had matching roller overboard suitcases — suffice it to say, me in my scrubs with a backpack and a little bag holding medical equipment felt out of place.

I had a long layover in San Diego before going back to San Francisco after I dropped the baby off at the hotel. I got myself some California Pizza Kitchen and then.. Starbucks.


I bought myself a pumpkin spice latte and they put it in the holiday cup. It just felt so — American. Celebrating the holidays with a holiday themed drink. I found out later there has been some controversy about the holiday cup being a solid red cup this year (something about Starbucks not wanting to acknowledge Christians or Christmas). I just enjoyed my little slice of Americana but realized how normal that is for anyone in the States. I guarantee about 80% of the people in the line at the Starbucks in the airport were ordering the same drink they order everyday at whatever neighborhood coffee shop they usually go to — as opposed to me who doesn’t really have access to that and bought it for the novelty of it. We do have McDonald’s in Saipan (and I don’t even ever go there) but if we DIDN’T have it, I can almost guarantee you that would be on my list of things to eat when I went back to the States.

I guess they say.. distance makes the heart grow fonder — even for things you may not have wanted or needed in the first place!


My view of Hawaii from the plane after I sprinted to catch my Honolulu to Guam flight.

I was ready to get back to Saipan and the long flight back felt exceedingly long and excruciating– compounded by some flight delays that had me sprinting multiple times thru various airports and a lack of free food on domestic flights despite the fact they last more than 5 hours :(

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Wing Beach Snorkeling

Wing Beach is an area that is not quite readily accessible by car but.. can be accessible if you are willing to off road it a little bit. It is also possible to park your car out by the road and walk the 1/2 mile into the beach as well. Wing Beach is just north of Marianas Resort and is used as part of the Marianas Trekking adventures pretty often — one of their ATV tours drives thru that off the beaten path road and ends up at the beach. Some people say that road is purposely not maintained for the sole purpose of getting the ATVs a more interesting and muddy experience.

To get there, go north on Middle Road until you see Marianas Resort. After the go-cart track, the first left is onto a small one lane dirt road. Follow that road to the end — like I said, if your car does not have clearance, don’t go down the road. It’s hard to turn around until you get to the very end where you’ll see the small path down to the beach.

IMG_6815The waves break much closer to the shore here on the northeastern part of the island but the reef line still protects the area mostly from the waves coming to shore. The waves the day I went were quite high — I would estimate close to 5 foot swells but by the beach the waves just lapped the shores.

I brought my underwater camera to hopefully capture some of the great snorkeling there. It is really quite amazing and I would venture to say one of the easier accessible places for good snorkeling right off the island.


I’m not sure what these old formations on the beach are — they are definitely man made and unfortunately probably had something to do with World War II and protecting the beach. But, they are landmarks of Wing Beach. IMG_6757

I always am trying to take pictures of these little blue fish — there are actually ones that are smaller than this too but it’s so hard because they swim so fast! (The black and white fish are pretty too!) The blue fish have some way of shimmering in the light that I don’t think I’ll ever capture on video or picture though. IMG_6758 IMG_6775

Wing Beach is up on the northern end of the island and you can see the cliffs that make up Suicide Cliff here. IMG_6799

The fish just swim right up to you here as if you weren’t there. You are actually invading their space so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. IMG_6808

The coral was looking good up there which is always a good sign. I should learn more about the coral around here — I just judge its healthiness by the color and usually the new tips of growth. It helps to see all the fish around which must mean the coral is healthy. IMG_6827

Here is a picture at sunset — well the contrast makes it look dark but it was pretty bright still, but you can see how the water just barely laps the shore here. IMG_6842

Here was a little compilation of pictures I put together.. in the lower left you can see the trigger fish (aka.. the humuhumunukunukuapua — state fish of Hawai’i)

And for your viewing pleasure.. a video! I just figured out how to successfully video with my under water housing so here it is. Ignore my breathing in the audio and sorry for the shaking but it’s hard to hold a camera steady under water when you are swimming! But this gives you an idea how shallow it is here and how you could literally just stick your head in the water and see this.


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Essentials and a Quote

Sorry for the lack of updates lately — a little bogged down with work lately.

BUT! I don’t forget my essentials. First, and most importantly, water. Essential to living.

IMG_6663Brought to you by… Anheuser Busch!


Well, I guess they are trying to do some good and if they are going to donate something — much better to be water than beer, right? It felt weird to drink water out of this can.

And in other news, a thought provoking quote I read recently from “A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunities” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn…

You should be grateful for things given to rich and poor in the same measure, like the light of the sun.

So, two recent favorite pictures for you.

31EE665B-82FB-4975-BC4F-0126E408A1F9 BE5B9BF0-245B-4BCB-BFC8-92525FB634B7

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