Apr 20, 2011

Saipan and Tinian: American Paradises

Saipan is only a 40-minute flight from Guam and it, too, is American and extremely popular with Japanese and Korean tourists. We stayed at the Saipan Hyatt for two weeks and hated to leave. The hotel has a beautiful beach well-protected by a reef, a wonderful free-form pool surrounded by a tropical garden, and excellent dining options. It is walking distance to the American Memorial Park with a WW II War in the Pacific Museum, the weeklystreet fair, and duty-free shopping.

John and I not only enjoyed our days in the sun but we also visited three schools – Brilliant Star Montessori School, Whispering Palms private school, and Camacho Elementary School where we did a power point presentation on schools around the world. We enjoy visiting schools and meeting with the students. But the most fun was participating in an outreach program organized by the Hyatt. They brought in 28 high school seniors for a program on promoting tourism. Since Saipan is an American commonwealth they obviously speak English and follow the American curriculum.

Just a short walk from the Hyatt is the American Memorial Park and museum where we learned more about Saipan’s position during the War in the Pacific. The battle was intense and losses were great for such a small island. Unlike, Guam, which was American before WW II, Saipan and nearby Tinian were Japanese terrorities. At the north end of the island are Banzai and Suicide Cliffs where over 20,000 civilians killed themselves rather than be captured by the American troops who had been demonized by the Japanese military. Attempts by American soldiers to assure them they would not be mistreated basically went unheeded. The same awful situation occurred on nearby Tinian Island.

One day we flew to Tinian which is only a few miles from Saipan – a 15-minute flight including taxi time. We rented a car and drove to North Field where the Enola Gay and Bock’s Car B-29 bombers took off to drop the atomic bombs on Japan. We didn’t seen any other people or vehicles. Tinian is smaller than Saipan and a very quiet place. North Field has overgrown with only small glass coverings over where the atomic bombs were housed plus some memorials dedicated to groups who served on the island. In 1945 it was the world’s busiest airport. I was surprised that such a landmark event in history has not been taken care of; in fact, there is talk about doing away with the entire site.

Also on the island are the amazing latte stones called Taga House. They that are some of the largest in the Pacific. The 20-foot high stones are said to be the pillars which supported the home of the chief. Once again we have encountered massive stone structures that made us wonder how people could have mined, transported and erected such huge stones without our modern methods. There are usually three replies to our inquired: the people were giants or they had supernatural powers or they don’t have any idea.

The Saipan weekly street fair is just steps from the Hyatt. It was an opportunity to sample local food and to see traditional Chamorro dance performances.

Today Saipan is a wonderfully serene island surrounded by a tropical ocean. Airfare is expensive from Central New York but we used our frequent flyer miles to create an add-on trip from Tokyo.