Taiwan for Chinese New Year’s!

Sorry for the hiatus, but have been on vacation to Taiwan for Chinese New Year’s to see my family. I wanted to upload some pictures of my trip — just snapshots of what it was like. Please see the captions below for some text.. more on Saipan to come in the future (especially with the big races coming up!)

Checking in.. to my Hello Kitty flight from Guam to Taipei! (I seem to always ride on these planes - lucky me!)

Checking in.. to my Hello Kitty flight from Guam to Taipei! (I seem to always ride on these planes – lucky me!)

Hello Kitty fragile tag for my ukulele? Yes, please.

Hello Kitty fragile tag for my ukulele? Yes, please.

Hello Kitty 'waste disposal' bag? No, thanks.

Hello Kitty ‘waste disposal’ bag? No, thanks.

Sunrise over the clouds.. breathtaking.

Sunrise over the clouds.. breathtaking.

Take two.

Take two.

Time to eat!

Time to eat!

How do you like YOUR carrots cut? ;)

How do you like YOUR carrots cut? ;)

(See my prior Hello Kitty flight experience here)

First activity - hike to some waterfalls just outside of Taipei City.

First activity – hike to some waterfalls just outside of Taipei City.

Fairly nicely paved hiking trails (in comparison with Saipan for sure!)

Fairly nicely paved hiking trails (in comparison with Saipan for sure!)

A trip to Taiwan is not complete without many food pictures. This is the BEST pork chop rice that I have had in Taiwan.

A trip to Taiwan is not complete without many food pictures. This is the BEST pork chop rice that I have had in Taiwan.

A view of Taipei 101 from the street

A view of Taipei 101 from the street

New Year's prep night market -- get all you need to prep for New Year's!

New Year’s prep night market — get all you need to prep for New Year’s!

Lucky signs for your house

Lucky signs for your house

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Lots of buckets of candy.. for a sweet new year

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More candy — my brother’s favorite — chewy things!

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Pig liver.. urgh.. gross and reminded me too much of medical school……

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At the MRT (subway line) train station — in case you were wondering how many bathroom stalls are available and whether there is an ‘investigation alert’

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We went in from the back end of the night market, and exited at the front end.. now that I look at this picture apparently that was the ‘best place for trendy bags’ too. haha!

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If you know what this is.. :) …. make your own fish meatballs for hot pot. You scoop off little pieces off the spoon into the hot pot to make your own!

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Hot pot was probably the theme of my eating experience in Taiwan. It’s winter time still there so it makes sense. Taiwan soups are the best!

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Lunch with my girl cousins at a dim sum place. And at the end of the day, radish cake will always be my favorite comfort food. Delicious!

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Barbeque bun — but a deep fried version… You know anything deep fried, especially something that was really good to start with is going to be good!

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Dimsum with the best!

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No… we did not get any Krispy Kreme’s but had to take a picture of this very famous donut shop. It’s not as popular as when it first opened (when people used to wait up to 2-3 hours for these!) but it’s still popular.

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Coffee after lunch — a nice treat!

Made popular in Taiwan first -- toast boxes? (I don't know what you call these in English) - basically a loaf of bread with little pieces of toasted bread inside with sweets on top.

Made popular in Taiwan first — toast boxes? (I don’t know what you call these in English) – basically a loaf of bread with little pieces of toasted bread inside with sweets on top.

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Conveyor belt sushi — easy peasy delicious meal

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And neighborhood stinky fried tofu with .. pickled vegetables on top for midnight snack. Stinky tofu: something that always is featured on icky eating competitions – or – something that I always eat when I’m in Taiwan (and recently featured on the new TV show ‘Fresh Off the Boat’)

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Not all eating — a picture from my bike ride with my parents. There are a surprising number of well marked biking paths and my family house is lucky enough to be just next to a park entrance with easy access to these paths.

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Sunrise over Taipei 101 (tallest building in Taiwan, I think currently the 2nd tallest building in the world) from the bike path.

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Rivers surround Taipei City

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Enjoy bike life! Biking is actually pretty popular and the bike company ‘Giant’ is Taiwanese.

More to come in future posts from my trip!

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Meek and Mighty Swim Event

This morning I went to the 9th annual Meek and Mighty Swim, which is fundraiser for the Saipan ssc logoSwim Club.

The swim is an ocean swim that takes place at the PIC (Pacific Islands Club) hotel. The nice thing about a swim is that it generally doesn’t matter what temperature it is outside — unlike a run which has to start early so that it doesn’t get too hot. We started a bit later in the morning to beautiful weather.

IMG_3247This was my view leaving the house — do you see the moon on the upper left?

When we arrived, we checked in at the registration desk and got our numbers.

IMG_3248 IMG_3254From there, we got a few directions on the course. The resort/hotel has some buoys setup attached to concrete blocks out in the water which served as our points of reference. Fortunately, they also had a few kayakers out which were easier to see at the places we had to turn.

IMG_3250You can see the buoys in the distance here and see the kayaker for size comparison.

Here was my attempt at taking a picture of the whole course, but I don’t think you can see all the buoys — we went around four of them.

IMG_3251Since the event is a fundraiser, the whole Saipan Swim club team was there to join in which made it fun. There weren’t too many adults — just how things are here in Saipan. The name of the event is the ‘Meek and Mighty’ and it refers to the different distances available to swim. Around one loop is a 1k, around three loops is the 3k, and around 5 loops is the 5k. Those are the distances for the three possible courses that you could sign up for. I signed up for the 1k distance with the plan to probably do a total of 2k depending on how I was feeling — not for the time but more the second 1000 meters for the exercise.

I obviously did not carry my camera with me for the race, but here’s a picture I snapped as the poor kids jumped in the water to do a warm-up swim. I forget that this is part of their practice so their coach asked them to add a few hundred meters in.

IMG_3260This gives you a bit of an idea of the scale. The weather conditions were perfect and at least for the first bit of the race, the water was calm and clear.

IMG_3268We were off with a cannon start (it was LOUD and fired a blank) as we all jumped into the water. I remember my first ocean swim when I was surprised at the beginning how many bodies were around you. I’m much more used to it now and managed not to kick anyone accidentally or get kicked. We swam off towards the first buoy where we would round the corner of the triangular loop we were doing.

The water was clear and there wasn’t much seaweed at all so it was an enjoyable swim. As I got to the first buoy the first time, I swam right over a large eagle ray. I was so surprised! Actually, I could hear someone bubble a shout of “RAY!!!” from under the water since I think a few people were caught off guard too. Rays usually don’t pay us any mind so it wasn’t a big deal. It made the swim exciting though. The clarity of the water allowed us to see quite a bit of the coral and little tropical fish around — which is pretty normal for Saipan — but unexpected for me because I didn’t know how much coral there would be out at PIC. The swimmer’s thinned out after the first buoy into their respective little groups based on their speed — with the kids mostly up front first.

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Here’s a picture of them when they were doing their stretches before their warm-up — you can see how small some of the kids were. It definitely puts you to shame when you think about the fact that some of those kids swam a whole 5000 m whereas I only swam 2000 and called it a day!

Because the race course is either 1k, 3k, or 5k, I got timed for my first 1k which ended up at 19 minutes. Honestly, the course as measured by some GPS’ before is probably not exactly 1000 m and the two loops I did was probably more close to a mile total (1600 m) than 2000, but I’ll take it!

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After I got out, we milled about and watched some of the other swimmers who were swimming longer distances swim in. IMG_3264You can see the makeshift line in the sand that we made our ‘finish line’ — yeah, we don’t necessarily do things super officially here! But, it’s good enough!

IMG_3262This swimmer’s towel/cape I thought was so adorable!! In the blue shirt on the left side of the picture you can see the SSC swim coach, cheering his kids on as they finished.

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Afterwards, we gathered for food and snacks. IMG_3279… and pictures of course..

IMG_3274(behind the Powerade sign — did the race really get sponsored by Powerade? Things like that are actually possible here since there is a Coca-Cola business on island)

Afterwards, a number of us got access to use the waterpark at the resort. Unfortunately by that time the wind had kicked up because a friend and I had plans to use the stand-up paddleboards but they wouldn’t let us. We ended up floating around the lazy river a few times before heading out.

Thanks PIC — happy to support Saipan Swim Club and get some wonderful swimming in for this event (and see a ray!)

(The following are my pictures that I think could be part of their advertisements!)

IMG_3281 IMG_3276Now, off to Taiwan!

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Talking about Cancer

I was invited to give a little talk at the school of one of my patient’s this past week. It was an exciting thing to be able to do for me since I knew it would benefit my patient. She is in high school at a Christian private school so the best time for me to speak with the whole group was going to be at the chapel service on Monday morning.

This is the only picture I have from when I arrived early and children were streaming into the chapel. It would have been too awkward to take other pictures during the time (although there was a school photographer.. I guess for the school newspaper?? that took pictures of me and students during the talk)

IMG_3175The chapel service was for 7th through their 12th graders so it spanned quite a number of ages. The service was the first part of their day and started off with singing worship songs led by some other students in the band. It’s always such a joy for me to watch young people take leadership roles (not to mention young people who enjoy singing worship songs) so I was able to just relax and watch for a bit.

When someone has a new diagnosis of cancer, we often give a ‘day one’ talk as it is known in the hematology/oncology field. The ‘day one’ talk usually encompasses talking about the diagnosis of cancer, how (or basically not how randomly, unfortunately) they got it, and what we can do about it. As you can imagine, this is overwhelming for everyone — and as a new fellow last year when I started doing it, it was certainly a big hurdle for me too (not just the patients!). Sometimes this talk is split into separate talks. Sometimes you need to have the talk multiple times with your patients’ family. Sometimes you have the talk with the family members and then a separate talk with the child. This all depends on the families’ wishes, their level of overwhelmed-ness, the state of the child at that time, the age of the child and their level of understanding, what the family already knows, what the family wants to know (or thinks they want to know), etc. This is the art of medicine (not the science) and makes being a physician challenging but so rewarding. These are the moments that people remember over time so handling them gently and with your complete focus on the task is important.

After that, sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in things and forget to sit and explain as things change down the road. The family enters a world of a different language — chemotherapy regimens and roadmaps become a common term that they must learn to navigate quickly. Medical procedures are played down as less daunting since .. they have to become part of the routine. I had to remind myself a lot that each day was a new day and sometimes sitting down and gently explaining each day was important and a single ‘day one’ talk on the day they are often delivered the most earth-shattering news of their lives doesn’t suddenly induct them into being all-knowing about cancer.

I say all this because even though this patient has been diagnosed with cancer here in Saipan for a little bit, there has been new news along the way that has given me the chance to participate in day two talks, day three talks, day sixty-five talks, etc. Because of some of the lack of resources here, I have taken up the responsibility of social worker, chemotherapy nurse or coordinator, pharmacist, child life therapist, and more. In this case, I got to be a school liaison! I had already talked with my patient and her family in one of our many office visits about what I should expect at the school and also about what they wanted me to convey to her classmates and teachers. In other places, someone like a school liaison or social worker may go out to a patient’s school to help those other children adjust to the idea of being around a child with cancer — it usually helps to normalize the experience and educate them — especially when there are so many misconceptions. This helps the family relax a bit during a very stressful time because they don’t feel like they have to explain (something they barely understand themselves) to lots of inquiring minds (who mean well, but do not realize how overwhelming all their questions can be).

I wrote down a list of things to speak about but basically, it’s a reprise of the ‘day one’ talk. I spoke about how for children most of the time there is nothing that anyone did to get the cancer, what types of treatment are available for cancer (the family wanted me to speak specifically about how her treatment is cool and personalized to her tumor and the DNA it has in it), what are some signs of childhood cancers, and how childhood cancers can be different from adult cancers.  I also emphasized how you can help someone cope with cancer (be their friend!! they are not contagious! stay away if you are sick!). It was a short talk but her parents (who have been closely involved with the school in the past) warned me that I’d probably open up the floodgates when I opened the floor for questions so I left plenty of time.

They were right — this crowd of students was inquisitive …. and I’m sure there was an element of showmanship amongst the students and classes trying to ask ‘better’ questions than the other. Most of the early questions centered around cancer and it was fun to see what they were thinking: Do you think we will find the cure to cancer in our lifetime? (there are lots of types of cancers and I think we will get really good treatments for many of them. you can be someone who helps us find out more about cancer!) What does it take to become a doctor? When did you know you wanted to become a doctor? Why did you come to Saipan to work? (my answer was followed by a lot of applause and a mini-standing ovation… haha) Do you think we can get rid of all diseases on the earth ever? (no, but people want to heal people and help people. we don’t even know how to get rid of a regular cold yet and if you can figure that out, you’ll win the next Nobel Prize) What do you do at your job everyday?

And then, the questions got interesting. Partly because the principal had to step out of chapel (there were still all the teachers there) or because they were trying to delay having to go to class… it was great fun for me! How old are you? (I went over all my years of schooling again and made them figure it out) What college did you go to? (cute and fun because I got to talk at the end to some of the older high school students who really got interested in Rice University! Go Owls!) How much money do you make? (Of course I didn’t tell them. I did make a little plug for, but you must tithe! and be generous with your money to people in need and don’t forget to save!) And then.. the kicker… are you married? There were so many more and all of us were laughing out loud together. I’m glad I have a sense of humor and the kids were so great and also so grateful that I came. The teachers later sent me emails saying they were so thankful that I explained some things to them and that the students all were washing their hands and just being excellent human beings all around that day after my talk. How rewarding is that?!

While I hate cancer, I do love talking about cancer and helping to spread the word and educate about it. I look forward to the Marianas March Against Cancer coming up later this spring and am glad that I get to do this type of work here in the CNMI.

I leave you with some recent snapshots I’ve taken during my little hiatus from the blog. I will be traveling off island for vacation the next two weeks (and to go to Guam to take a practice pediatric hematology/oncology board test) so hopefully will update again soon. (Perhaps if I have time tomorrow after doing a fundraiser ocean swim before I catch my plane!)

Sunset and wispy clouds

Sunset and wispy clouds

Shore fisherman casting his net at sunset

Shore fisherman casting his net at sunset

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Glorious golden rays after a swim at Pau Pau

Glorious golden rays after a swim at Pau Pau

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I could not make these sunsets up!

I could not make these sunsets up!

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Swim Meet and Synchronized Swimmers!

After I recovered from the Coffee Trail run, I went to the swimming pool where a swim meet was going on.

This swimming pool on island is up in the Marpi area and is part of/across the street from the Marianas Resort and is a 50 meter pool. Since I have decided to never do a flip turn again in my life (haha, I just hated them), if I’m swimming in a pool, 50 meters works best for me so I don’t have to encounter as many walls. The nice thing about the pool water is that it generally tends to stay cool — perhaps one of the only benefits over the ocean here in Saipan. In the summer, the water can actually turn to a slightly nicer than bathwater which can feel a little funny.

IMG_3117Being back at a swim meet reminded me of my younger days on swim team — with chairs lined up ‘on deck’ for the next events, families milling about, hungry children everywhere, and team cheers to raise spirit!

Here are two more pictures of the lovely pool.

IMG_3118 IMG_3119You do have to pay $5 to swim here or you can purchase swim passes that make it less pricey if you go consistently during the month.

The reason I went to the pool was decidely NOT to try to relive my experiences at swim team. (I enjoy swimming for fun and exercise … but let’s just say swimming for competition was not exactly my cup of tea)

It was because.. I was going to help play ukulele for Saipan’s very first synchronized swimming performance! Thanks to a good friend and neighbor, a group of women have been practicing tirelessly to learn how to do synchronized swimming and put together a routine to share at the end of the meet. This group is known as the Dolphin Synchronized Swimmers.

Our little group (including a number of kids) was tasked with keeping the beat to the prerecorded music. The song was “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” from the movie The Lion King and while actually the ukulele’s seemed to stay relatively on beat (with the help of some clapping by our ring-leader), it didn’t seem to actually stay with the music. I hope our live music did not through them off that much.

I wish I could have watched more closely but between playing the ukulele, trying to listen to the music, and watching the kids in our group playing the ukulele, I didn’t see much. I had seen them in practice though and knew they were quite something. Just like I mentioned earlier that I don’t like flip turns — can you imagine doing all the moves they were doing underwater! It was a joy to see how their hard work paid off — and while it is probably considered amateur by some standards — I have never seen synchronized swimming live and it was pretty amazing to watch! And for the first time ever in Saipan, that’s a big deal!

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Here they are afterwards showing us their matching nails and handmade costumes!IMG_3124Congrats on a job well done and applaud/accolades well deserved! The group was actually featured on the local news channel during the sports section as well.

Because my words alone cannot describe it, here’s a video that someone else took! You can see some of the kids milling around with their ukulele’s and also most of the actual swimming routine.

I also wanted to add since I forgot to mention on my last post, I got to take home a bag of coffee because I participated in the race. I received a bag of the ‘Saipan blend’ as well as a certificate.

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And lastly, sunset to share… I just thought this sunset was so perfectly beautiful with the clouds.

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Coffee Trail 2015

Last week I signed up to participate in the 2015 Coffee Trail run. Many on island were surprised that I had never done it before but I guess I just missed it my first time around in Saipan. (I was off island at the time)

I would consider the Coffee Trail run the only sole trail running race on the island (which is surprising since I feel like the opportunities to do trail running in here in Saipan are pretty good). There are two choices — a 10 km option and a (approximately) 20 km option. Both are a challenge as they start off with a 3 mile uphill run.

This run was definitely a challenge for me but after a good night’s sleep after the race — I see it is a great experience in my ‘running’ armament of experiences. It was mentally challenging as well as physically challenging and I came in last :) I was starting to get very overheated by the end despite the recently cool winter breezes and started pouring water on myself at each of the last few water stations. Thank you volunteers for all your encouragement and copious amounts of water!!! That being said, coming in last in Saipan never makes me feel bad since I know I’m up against a stacked field (well, stacked against me — amongst Saipan level contestants.. it’s all relative!). There were only 24 or 25 of us doing the 20k, all of which are veteran runners — even though perhaps some of them have taken a hiatus recently. I consider this the start of the prepatory season for the upcoming triathlons — up next, Tinain triathlon (I’ll be in Taiwan unfortunately), Tagaman triathlon, XTERRA triathlon, the Festival of Runs (aka the Saipan marathon), the PIC color run 5k, and the Escape from Managaha.

So, let me share a bit about the race. It is sponsored by the Marianas Coffee Company (they produce local coffee here and we ran through their coffee plantation area), Marianas Visitors Authority, KFC Triathlon Club of Japan, and Team PDI. It started at American Memorial Park at 6:30 AM with registration beforehand.

IMG_3110As usual, I don’t have many pictures of the actual run although if I ever do the 20k race, I will plan to run it slowly and take pictures. (That way I can justify being last with at least a handful of gorgeous gorgeous pictures of Saipan).

At the start, there was registration where we picked up our numbers/bibs and heard a bit about the course. I liked their hand-drawn map of the course! Maybe next year I’ll give them my GPS signal overlaid map!

Yes, it’s drawn on lined paper…. but actually very accurate and informative!

IMG_3112 IMG_3111      You can see the areas marked ‘coffee’ where we ran through areas with coffee planted.

IMG_3114Here’s a coffee plant with shiny leaves with slightly scalloped edges. It apparently is just the end of the coffee season so now the harvest is being roasted and being produced. I missed out on drinking the coffee at registration — apparently the owner’s of Marianas Coffee Co. had roasted and made coffee with Saipan grown Kona coffee beans! Chuck Jordan, owner of Marianas Coffee Co., told us about some seeds he got from Hawaii about 10 years ago that have just recently started producing Saipan grown Kona. They only have 20 plants currently so were only able to make 11 lbs of roasted beans (aka, there’s no way they will be selling these!) — I’m sad I missed it!

As usual, one of the best parts about these events is that you get to know everyone. It’s the same wonderful little running community of people and even at the start when I already started drifting behind, if we passed someone or someone passed you, it was always a quick word of encouragement by name. I don’t think in any race in the States this could happen (unless you had your name written on your shirt somewhere).

Here’s the course per my GPS watch. Let me get the painful part over with — I ran on this for 3 hrs and 20 minutes. Yeah, the last few miles were REALLY tough as the sun had started beating down on a straight stretch with no shade.

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So, that is the elevation map. As you can see, a lot of uphill. Many parts of this trail followed the XTERRA biking route so those runners that were very familiar with the XTERRA mountain biking trail perhaps had a slight advantage because they knew what to expect. As I was running at around the 5-6 mile point, I looked down at my watch and realized — I am barely at the halfway point! I must say, this 20k felt really long. I included this picture of the area without the overlying course because it’s easier to see the ‘densely’ populated Garapan area on the west side of the picture and the densely green area that we ended up running in.

This area is by far the prettiest place I have run in Saipan. I hope to go up there again (with a car to the point where I can’t drive anymore!) and just take some pictures. We passed by a place called the ‘Sound of Music’ that is a beautiful area with hills of waving green grass. It was just about an hour after sunrise by the time we were up in that area and the morning sun on the hill was breathtaking.

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 8.09.44 AMYou can see how much of the island we actually covered on this trail. (And refer to the handdrawn map above — see how it looks almost exactly the same!)

As you got to the top loop, you got to look out over the East Bay of the island. The sun was just peeking through the clouds and I definitely took pictures into my memory of the area. It was definitely a worthy consolation prize for running this race!

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 8.09.01 AMWe finished at the start line and there were still people there cheering (thanks!) actually because the last two of us came in just a few minutes apart.

To clarify, while there are a few portions of this race that are on asphalt, the majority is on a combination of dirt roads, but also a large portion of trail. The trail is not always present there actually — it’s cleared starting around now through the end of the triathlon ‘season’ here. Someone has to go through the jungle and clear all this trail so I applaud those people who I think are usually volunteers! It has been quite rainy all week here so I knew to expect mud — and it was there. It was part of the fun though…. but cleaning up afterwards was not so fun!

IMG_3115 IMG_3131These were my shoes when I went to scrub them — suffice it to say, they will never be completely clean and I’m okay with that.

There was then a break and we reconvened in the afternoon at 1:00 for a banquet and prizes.

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This is Chuck Jordan on the microphone standing next to Perry Tenorio, managing director of the Marianas Visitors Authority. I do like how they make these events associated with the tourism agency here — I like to think this kind of tourism for sporting events is an awesome way to go and show off the island.

IMG_3132Here we are chowing down! They then handed out prizes to the fastest male and female runners of the 10 k and 20 k races in age divisions and also the top finishers male and female. (Don’t be surprised if you’re on this island and finish last but still get a prize because of the lack of numbers of participants in each category — but alas, nothing for me today). Part of these events usually also includes raffle prizes and there were some great raffle prizes to restaurants and hotels on island that were given out.

IMG_3138Perry Tenorio with the youngest runner, an adorable 7 year old who ran the 10k distance! IMG_3140Thanks to all the sponsors for preparing the race!

(and … sunset yesterday)

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A Musical addition

IMG_2993Last week when I visited the local public library, I saw this sign — for a visiting professor who would be performing for free at the library on his double bass.

Double bass is a large instrument (As you can see from the picture) that is a part of a full piece orchestra. It is larger than a cello and it generally played standing or while sitting on a stool. Perhaps it is best known as an instrument that participates as a key member in a jazz ensemble as well.

As you can imagine, there are not that many musical performances on island so I knew if I could, I would like to participate. I was fortunate to have the afternoon off and went to the library to attend.

IMG_3074When I first arrived there was no one else there — except for the teenagers who were hanging out at the library after school. They had setup folding chairs (about twenty of them) in a corner of the library. You can see Jack Sparrow – the fold-up life size poster version – making his appearance here. It was moved for the performance!

He played short songs with a brief explanation of their meaning — a great introduction to people who have never really been exposed to classical music before.

IMG_3076There was a pianist to accompany him on some songs who played on a small portable keyboard. There was no stand for the pianist so she had a library volunteer hold her music! I found the whole situation endearing — and kept thinking how something like this would never happen in the States really.

IMG_3077People came and went and it seemed I was the only person who had come to the library expressly for this purpose. Most others must have happened on the music as they came to do their own business but fortunately lingered to listen. He explained a bit of the history of the music. I wish he explained a bit more about the double bass. His songs were clearly difficult to someone like me, who has seen the bass being played before, but in his humility, he didn’t say much. I think he could have gone even simpler to the audience and explained that a double bass is not just simply a large violin — this alone would have been news to most in the audience.

I enjoyed his music although, like classical viola which I have played in the past, classical double bass has few songs written originally for that instrument since it is usually part of an accompaniment. He did play some recognizable songs which drew the attention of the audience more like “Moon River” and “All I Ask of You” from Phantom of the Opera. I truly applauded his effort. His parents moved here later in his life and own a store here so he talked about whenever he comes to visit, he hopes to bring as much music as possible to the island with him. I love that he is taking his time to do this, and see how much of a need this is — I hope he inspired a child to recognize this instrument and perhaps be interested in playing a classical instrument by doing this.

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(I always appreciate the emoting of artists as they play!) Thank you Professor Sohn for bringing your double bass to Saipan and playing!

In other news it has been quite rainy here the past few days — which does not bode well for the upcoming trail run called the Coffee Trail that I am participating in this weekend. But, just at the right time today, the rain cleared and I got this hazy sunset view.

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The Grotto

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(This is a picture from the sitting area above the Grotto looking out over the Eastern shores of the island)

I had a chance to go out to the Grotto — a popular diving place on island (and a popular diving place in the world too!). It is up in the Marpi area and many people go to the Grotto to walk down the steps and check out what is there. Depending on the weather, it can be treacherous so it’s not always a good time to go. There is now a lifeguard posted there during the daytime hours which is a good thing for all the tourists that go since many are not as careful or as aware of their surroundings.

From the easily found parking area (surprisingly well marked once you get up to the Marpi area if you are driving), you descend quite a number of steep steps to get to the entrance of the Grotto cave. It really is a cave in the rock that has a few openings out to the ocean. This lets some beautiful light in and also fills the cave with water for a swim and snorkel. It is much more of a diving spot since you can descend with your dive gear to check out the walls of the cave, but I’ve gone snorkeling there a few times and every time it’s still beautiful — but not necessarily an activity where you spend more than half an hour in the area.

I wanted to use my underwater housing again and see what it was like in deeper water. I definitely need to get better about steadying the camera for pictures it seems. I took two very short videos that you can check out here. There are so many much more well done Grotto videos available out there if you really want to see what it’s like. Give me a break this time since it was my first attempt, and I was doing a lot of bobbing up and down.

This first video is what it’s like when you are in the water looking back at the place you jumped in. You can see when I come out of the water the sunlight streaming in from above.

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Here’s a dark picture of what it looks like when you look back when you first jump in.

Here’s another video of the main exit of the cave out towards the ocean. It’s sideways with the waterline at your left.. Sorry about that..

You can see the fish swimming around at the top of the opening to give you an idea of how truly big that hole is. You could swim right through it for sure — although obviously it’s dangerous and should NOT be done. You do not want to get out to the open ocean there with a snorkel for sure.

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Here’s a picture of what it looks like on the ledge prior to jumping in the water. There’s a rope attached to a buoy out there that helps you get back up out of the water.

There were some people around that were diving as well at the time. Again, sorry for the blurry picture – must get better at holding still under water.

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There aren’t actually many fish that are just swimming around in the Grotto although I’m sure if you could get closer to the floor or the walls of the cave, you could see some. If they are in the water, they swim close to the area where you get out of the water in the shallower areas. Here are two of my best shots of them.

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More underwater pictures and videos I’m sure to come. Hope you enjoyed getting a glimpse of what it’s like in the Grotto. Back to work for me!

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