All posts by Rok-y Road

Co? Teaching?

“From there, you submit the form in secret to your school. It’s none of their business what you said on this. That’s nice because it’s really the only time our opinion will be noted. From here it will be up to the school, co-teachers and metropolitan office of education.

So what are we doing? Absolutely staying (if we can). We worked for over a year on paperwork just to get here. to be Staying for only one year would be foolish. We only just got settled in, we have some great students, wonderful school, a great apartment. Things are comfortable.”

-November 2014

These are the comments I made the first year when I was handed the intent to renew form.

DSC02638“It’s none of their business what you said on this.” Is an interesting thing for me to have said. I filled out the form, sealed it, wrote my signature over the seal and handed it in. What I didn’t include in the November 2014 blog is how my coteacher and principal ripped it open to read what I had wrote. Then had the audacity to bring the form to me and say I had filled it in wrong.

The part I did wrong on this private form asking for my opinion was about co-teaching. How often do you co-teach? I marked “never.” Co-teaching means working together on lesson plans, deciding what to do as a team, and working together in class.

There are hundreds of ways to co-teach. 50/50 split of the class (teach half the students one week or for half the time), 50/50 time split – I’ll teach for 20 minutes then you teach for 20 minutes. Really coordinated “back to you” newscaster type co-teaching “And now on to Yewon with the grammar. Back to you…”

So hundreds of ways. And I don’t do any of those ways. I don’t co-teach at all. I just (sometimes) have someone in the room. Having another person in the room is not actually co-teaching. It’s just being in the same room.

The first day I met Andrew and went to my school I was told outright “you lead the classes, the Korean teacher stands in the back and is in charge of discipline.”

So it was up to me to completely

  • create my own curriculum
  • create my own lessons based on the curriculum
  • create games and activities to reinforce the lessons
  • introduce all the lessons
  • introduce all the games
  • and act as proctor, referee, and scorekeeper on these games

While my co-teacher

  • stands at the back and manages discipline.

Except they don’t do that. What the co-teachers actually do is

  • “forget” to come to class. No joke I’ve had coteachers come running in with 5 minutes left, or two days later pop in to say “sorry about XX class. I just forgot.” That’s how little of a priority my class is to them
  • Use my class time to work on personal issues. They take students out into the hall to lecture them about uniform violations, bullying, problems at home. This is great but it’s really not the time or place for this – the students have 30 minutes in the morning and 30 more minutes in the afternoon for this. Why during my class?
  • Do their own work – they bring their whole laptop to play on/work on during my class. Sometimes thinking to look up and make sure the class is listening.
  • Read a book – continuing education? Nope, fiction books for fun.
  • Play on their phone.
  • Talk to the students. Some coteachers now pull a chair up to the kids just talk and laugh with them.

This last goes one million percent against what they’re supposed to be doing. They’re supposed to keep the kids focused and listening, instead they are encouraging kids to keep their backs to me and just turn to talk to their friends.

Let’s say I have a good co-teacher who doesn’t bring extra work and has the good grace to stand through my lessons. Even this co-teacher doesn’t help with discipline. The class is getting loud and rowdy and some are even walking around the room to shove friends around. This co-teacher will just stand there. They still won’t even quiet the class or put the kids back in their seats.

So without sounding like I’m complaining I really need to drive it home that I’m doing everyone’s work for them. I had to create discipline systems to try to keep the students in their chairs/not fighting. I have to shout for quiet or send kids to stand in the back (next to the coteacher as a hint). I’m doing all this other work and the one job they have – discipline- they don’t even do.

So I marked “never” on the co-teaching form and they told me – after opening my private evaluation  – I needed to change it to “always”. Being the good little girl I was, I did. If my beloved school asked me to jump I always asked how high.

Well it turns out they were doing this to avoid getting in trouble. To  illegally collect payment for classes they didn’t attend. They have a minimum amount of classes to do a week (much lower than my 22 – they have to do 18). If they don’t do this 18 they should calculate their payment based on the work they actually did.

So by requiring me to mark “always” they prevented an investigation on the school that would have

  1. punished them for not attending classes
  2. stopped paying them for the classes they didn’t actually work
  3. caught the school having me illegally alone in the classroom
  4. punished them for not co-teaching.

The thing is – I’m an assistant. Everyone knows I don’t have a teaching license or degree. My contract says I’m supposed to help them in class.

The contract says:

“Assist Korean teachers with their English class(es) and/or jointly conduct English class(es) with Korean teachers, and/or lead extracurricular activities or English camps.”

So at best I was supposed to work together with the Korean teacher. The only time I should be leading classes (the only time I can legally be alone with students is during after-hours like summer/winter camp or “after school classes”).

So all this boils down to- my school has, for lack of a better word, been taking advantage of me. I was hired as an assistant to help them and instead have become a regular 9-5 teacher who grades everything, plans everything, leads everything. This class we’re supposed to do together has become their break-time. They  know they’re not supposed to be doing this which is why they had me change it on the paper the first year.

And the second year.

Enter this year-  I thought I would press my luck by saying “seldom” on the form (that’s being generous). My minder forgot to look at my privately sealed envelope this year and it made it to the office of education who began to email me about its contents.

Will the school get into any trouble for me being illegally alone in class? Will anything good come of this? Unfortunately not. Without going into too many details, I’m essentially now a problem child who should’ve just marked “always” like everyone else does. We can wipe our hands of that little mistake. (My pen must have slipped, right?)

It’s disheartening. Especially when you look back at that quote at the top – “we have some great students, wonderful school, a great apartment. Things are comfortable.” That whole post from 2014 talked about how nice me coteachers were to me. And how happy I was to work at school.

Now I’m overwhelmed. I never had the training to be a lead teacher. I teach 850 students – I have loads of paperwork I have to do to keep 22 classes straight. Which classes are ahead or behind? Which ones have played which games? I’m managing 850 human beings who don’t speak the same language as me. When there are fights in my room or discipline problems or god forbid bullying – I’m still doing that work, too.

I’m not trying to sound like I’m complaining. As lazy as they are I truly believe these three years would have been completely miserable if I had tried to force them to help me. If we had had to coordinate times to meet. If we had had to work together to make all the lesson plans and games. I’m sure there would have been many arguments or conflicts of ideas.

So I’m not complaining. I’m just sad that it will end like this. Classes are done in less than 30 days and I’m sick to death of the “co” teachers. I feel stretched thin, overworked, and a little taken advantage of. What’s worse is they are starting to complain about the quality of the lessons “why can’t you do this extremely complicated lesson you did last year?” or even have the nerve to ask me “when you leave I need to get all your lessons”

All of my lessons? All the lessons I worked 5-10 hours on. I love making my lessons beautiful but I also work really hard to add complicated things to explain grammar points or keep the kid’s interest. My powerpoints are all huge labors of love.

And since no one helped me it reminds me of a story about a little red hen who asked her friends if they wanted to help her bake some bread. I’m not sure if these people who forced me to lie on their behalf and have used my classtime as a breaktime or funtime or cafe-time to chat with students – if these people should really have my lessons. Won’t it just encourage them to keep being lazy? Won’t it mean they just continue to be rewarded for the way they act with our classes?

I know life isn’t fair. But I might have to insure life isn’t fair for them – by keeping or deleting my lessons. Is it unfair the students? To not have access to fun or interesting lessons after I’m gone?

Wasn’t the class-time we’ve wasted all these 3 years unfair for them already. When the co-teacher could have made the class go more smoothly or reduced bullying – wasn’t that unfair for them?  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen low level student’s heads whip back to see where the Korean teacher was. They don’t understand a concept or a word or what I’m saying and they look for help. They look to the person who is supposed to be helping me – and helping them – and that person is reading a book in the back.

It’s unfair for the students that they have these sad little people as teachers. If I choose not to give the teachers the lessons then hopefully they can be inspired to re-create them or to work harder to try to make them on their own. Plus it goes both ways- a fun powerpoint does not a good lesson make. My fun game or pretty powerpoint is not enough when there is an asshole delivering it.

 

For now, it’s almost over. I’m stretched as thin as I can be. I’m counting down not the days but the hours before I can come home. When I can stop worrying about the quality of classes all day and all night. When I can stop doubting myself. When I can feel like a human being rather than a “foreigner.”

What was the point of this post? I never post anything because I’m afraid it will be misunderstood or whiny. So here’s a post. Maybe it’s whiny. It will be almost certainly be misunderstood by people older than me who lived through a different work world and have never experienced Korean culture. Also it’s for the people thinking of doing this job. Who think it might be cushy or that you’ll have support and help. You might not. Or for others who are happy working alone and not getting help from your coteachers. I was fine with this, too, until only a few days ago when I realized it was illegal and I have been cheating myself and my students out of help.

Have we learned anything? Stand up for yourself – maybe?  Speak up. Ask more questions- hey why do you want me to change it? Why did you open my private paper? Know your rights – I didn’t know it was illegal to be in the room alone. Maybe also don’t work so hard. Powerpoints shouldn’t take 5-10 hours to make. They’re probably too pretty and too well done.

My final note is this – I wrote a blog. Haven’t done that in a while. Hooray. Enjoy.

And: 86 days. 19 hours. 35 minutes until those wheels leave the tarmac and we’re off for new things. We’ll have brains in our heads (with all these new exciting life lessons) and feet in our shoes. We’ll point ourselves in any direction we choose and we’ll use our mouths to make words to say “I’m not doing all this work alone” if we ever do this again.

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Election Lesson

I did an election lesson in 2014 with my after school club (8 kids). We talked about all the interesting things that were on the ballot across the US at the time – limiting high capacity weapons, limiting wolf hunting, Colorado’s pot laws, class size limits, start time for schools, and something about moonshine in the deep south. It was nice for me to research what the country was up to and it was fun to do a lesson that held their usually fickle interest.

Part of the reason we have this job is to expose this hyper homogenized country to the world around it – telling them that American students don’t take their shoes off at school blows their minds. It blows our minds they can’t imagine a different world or a different culture other than their own. Also South Korean/US relations are very high. 84% of Koreans have a favorable opinion of the US. One of the most favorable countries out there. They were very invested and interested in our election. Both of us made election lessons to present the candidates and most importantly the electoral college. We wanted to explain this stuff to them directly – not them hearing misinformation from just their news. Which was very pro-Clinton. I also wanted to explain what ifs – and boy was I glad I did. Regardless of who won I wanted them to understand the electoral college so they could understand American politics generally – not just for this election.

If they could vote 82% of Koreans would’ve voted for Clinton. At the same time they agree more with Trump’s immigration policy, abortion and gay marriage ideas. But they don’t know this because their media doesn’t really report on it. Just that Clinton is good, Trump is bad. My students honestly cannot see Clinton as anything other than a demigod. We didn’t see any of the candidates as demigods or really anything so we gave a very impartial lesson not saying anyone was worse or better than anyone else.

My lesson went like this: Talk about why we’re having an election – how many years our presidents can run and how many terms. Korea, if you were wondering,  is a 5 year term with no reelection. So we establish Obama’s time is up. Then we talked about the day of the election. This was surprising because Koreans vote for a president on different days than general elections. Also they don’t even vote for local issues and don’t even have vice presidents. So we spend a while comparing the differences.

We go over what the parties believe in, who the candidates are, and what kinds of people vote for different parties. dsc06138

Then we did the electoral college. It was  a massive generalization but we called it “points” rather than what it actually is. It’s easier to say “Colorado has nine points” than explain it all out.

Every time we’ve ever talked about the electoral college with people who speak English as a second language- a Bulgarian, a Spaniard and some Koreans – they have shut down to the idea of the electoral college. Wait-wait-what?? It gets so bad they start to doubt their English language skills.

So the students looked on in confusion and horror as we talk about how the “points” are based on population and that you only need to have the highest percent of votes in a state to win all the points. They understood it and understood how someone could win the popular vote (Gore) and still lose the election.

Practice with Maps

To help them understand I would hand out a map that has the state names and “points” so the kids could see for themselves. It also breaks the lesson up because they love guessing and looking for states like a massive game of Where’s Waldo. “I’m from Colorado, find Colorado” 35 heads bend down frantically searching.

I  ask for the states that have the lowest or highest points and the whole group huddles together around the map frantically searching. The best/most interesting part for me is them having to say the state name. Sometimes I say “how many points does Arizona have?” but other times I ask open ended questions “which states have the least?” which leads to them having to say state names.

It’s easy to forget these Spanish or Native words go against common English pronunciation rules. So here have been my favorites.

Uh- lack- suh (Alaska)

Floor-e-tah (Florida)

New Jahr-es-sea (New Jersey)

  • Mick-high-gan.
  • Mick-huh-gen
  • Mik-hi-jan?  Clever kids knew Gs can sometimes make the Juh sound.

North Cahr-o-lean-uh. North California (false sight word- starts with a C and ends with an A)

  • Pen-is-sel-van-e-a.
  • Pen-es-sylvania.
  • Penis-sill-vahn-nia. Oh dear.

And if it’s completely indistinguishable WYyyyyyyyy….. It’s probably Wyoming.

  • Wee-oh-minjjj
  • Whee-oh-mang
  • Mine. (Maine)
  • Mean-y
  • Mah-ee-ne.

O-eeyo (silent H ohio). They crack up when I say O-Hi-o because it sounds like “Hi” and thats funny for some reason.

  • Eeeeeee-no-zzu (sometimes they see Illinois as three upper-casein a row)
  • Eye-len-ohs

Delaware, Vermont, Dakota, Colorado, Texas are all fine.

One kid, bless his heart, had the map upside down. I was asking for Florida’s “points” and he was looking at the entire hook that is New England as all of Florida.

A picture of Florida – “what is this state?” “Gun.” No Jinsoo, it’s not Gun State.

Student Questions

After it’s all said and done I open it up for questions. Some stumped me. Take a minute and think if you could answer them without googling it.

They’re fascinated by Clinton being married to ex-president Clinton so we often go down a rabbit hole of spouses.

Who is Trump’s wife?  Melania.

Who is Johnson’s wife? Kate Prusack. I guess they actually aren’t married yet.

Who is Stein’s husband? Richard Rohrer – a doctor, I guess.

How old is Trumps daughter? Has two, 34 and 23

Does he like his daughter? Um. Yes? (I don’t know how to answer this).

Is his daughter a new mother? Ivanka has 3 children, one was born this year, so yes?

How old is Trump? 70

How old is everyone else? Clinton 69 / Johnson 63 / Stein 66

How old are all the spouses? Trump’s wife 46 the rest I don’t care about

Why didn’t the two other parties debate? This is a fantastic questions because I never brought up the debates so she must have known a lot from home/the news.  They didn’t have the percent needed to vote.

Who are you voting for? They can ask me that. I answer them honestly – Gary Johnson. We told them he won’t win but that that was okay.

What happens if they don’t get 270 points? 

Do you actually know the answer to this? I didn’t initially.  We don’t cover this stuff in school because it was never really pressing. I had heard a rumor online about the Supreme Court- people were outraged because “un-elected so called justices would make the wrong decision.”

But this is not true. If a candidate doesn’t get 270 points because of 3rd parties or if there is a tie what happens?

The vote goes to the House of Representatives – they choose from the top 3 people who got the most votes.

The House currently has 435 people with a republican majority. BUT they don’t get 435 votes. They each get 1 vote per state. So Texas’s 36 folks would have to debate over where their 1 vote goes, as would California’s 53 people, Florida’s 27 people, etc. Wyoming, Alaska, South/North Dakota, etc would have 1 person casting 1 vote.

So it would take a while for large states with multiple representatives to debate and compromise. They may not feel obligated (and they’re not required) to vote for their state’s majority/popular vote.

IT GETS BETTER. If there is a tie then the Senate gets to independently pick the vice president from the 2 who had the most votes. Yeesh. So we could have a mix of parties.

IT GETS EVEN BETTER. The House of Representatives gets 50 votes so we could still have a tie with 25/25. And how many people in the senate? That’s right, 100. So another tie.

IF no one can choose a president by around March we would have the Speaker of the House act as our president until we could get our stuff together.

IF the senate can pick the vice president before the house can pick the president then the vice president becomes acting president until they can make a choice.

What do I tell the kids – they don’t know about the systems they only know Korea has a parliament. So I basically say that the “parliament” would decide and tell them the parliament is mostly red. Generalizations.

What happens if the state is exactly 50/50?

Oohhh boy. If the exact number of people voted for Trump/Clinton in, say, Colorado. Who gets the 9 electoral college “points?” – an excellent question.

We probably wouldn’t know about the tie initially because every vote counts and they don’t stop counting the votes until mid-December. There would also most certainly be a recount or two to double triple check that that literally just happened.

This has never happened and it’s up to each individual state what they want to do. That’s what the government says but they have a big fat if. IF the state has rules in place IF they have a plan for it then they will follow that plan. If. I’m willing to guess many states don’t have a plan.

Federal law would let that state vote again but with a smaller ballot A or B. Not ABCDEFGHIJKLMNO or P with an option to write your own name in at the bottom.

Some Earthquake Facts and Rumors

Last Monday (September 12th) we were hit with 2 earthquakes, then this past Monday (September 19th) we had another. All of these we felt  even though the epicenter was 108 miles away from us. In the biggest one our air conditioning unit was shaking, the toilet water was sloshing around and while I was sitting on the floor I was rocked so much I almost tipped over. It was unnerving.

The big one was supposedly the largest earthquake Korea has ever experienced (they’re saying a magnitude 5.8. Maybe.) So we’ve got questions. And every time we write up informative stuff about our travels people seem to like that. So join us as we answer our own questions (and probably some of your own questions).

Remind me what those earthquake numbers mean again?

  • Great: Magnitude is greater than or equal to 8.0. A magnitude-8.0 earthquake is capable of tremendous damage. The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that destroyed Japanese cities in 2011 was a 9. 
  • Major: Magnitude in the rage of 7.0 to 7.9. A magnitude-7.0 earthquake is a major earthquake that is capable of widespread, heavy damage. Think the earthquake in Haiti
  • Strong: Magnitude in the rage of 6.0 to 6.9. A magnitude-6.0 quake can cause severe damage. Equador was hit by one of these earlier this year. 
  • Moderate: Magnitude in the rage of 5.0 to 5.9. A magnitude-5.0 quake can cause considerable damage. This was us
  • Light: Magnitude in the rage of 4.0 to 4.9. A magnitude-4.0 quake is capable of moderate damage. This was also us
  • Minor: Magnitude in the rage of 3.0 to 3.9. Also us. 
  • Micro: Magnitude less than-3.0. Quakes between 2.5 and 3.0 are the smallest generally felt by people. Us as well. 

Source 

Some Facts:

North Korea did an underground nuclear test on September 9th which showed up as a magnitude 5.3 “earthquake” in the area (their biggest test yet).

September 12th at 7:44 an earthquake hit 11 km SSW of Gyeongju Korean sources report a 5.1 while USGS reports 4.6.

September 12th  8:33 pm an earthquake hit 8 km S of Gyeongju. Korean sources report a different location. Korean sources also  report this earthquake at 5.8 or 5.9 while the USGS reports it as a 5.4. They say this is the largest earthquake that has ever hit Korea in the history of monitoring earthquakes.

In Seoul (the complete opposite side of the country) the earthquake is felt as about a 2 or low 3.1.

22 aftershocks in the magnitude 2 range hit the Gyeongju area that night alone and I read somewhere (but can’t find the source!) that over 750 small aftershocks have hit since then.

4 nuclear reactors were shut down for the night. Trains stopped for a while in case of more aftershocks.

Monday September 19th 8:33 pm an earthquake hit 14km  (Korean sources say 11 km) SW of Gyeongju. Korean sources report 4.5 while the USGS reports it as 4.9.

shakes

So there is a map of all three of them in the lower right hand corner. We are just under the “U” of South Korea (I put a tiny white dot).

Those are all the ones we’ve felt. But there have been a lot more that people in the area (mainly the 2nd largest city of Busan/Pusan) have felt.  On September 21st there was a 3.5 which we didn’t feel. There have also been loads of earthquakes near us/near Japan since last week.

Why are Korean sources saying a different place and different numbers from USGS?

I’m not exactly sure why they have been reporting different locations and in the grand scheme of things I could care less if the epicenter was 8 km or 11 km from the city. There is a network of geological monitoring stations around the world. After an earthquake they compare notes and look at all the information again – from there it can take days to decide on a final number. The numbers the Korean sources reported on were probably from older news reports (from that night) while the USGS numbers I  were studied and decided a week after the fact. It’s not a matter of the Korean seismographs being in Korea an detecting a higher number while the USGS seismographs are in the US so they saw lower numbers. That’s really not how it works. The Korean news was just trying to put the news out quickly. I think the newer numbers are more accurate but we keep seeing “5.8” in Korean news. I think it’s just really exciting to say a large number.

 Can we expect another earthquake on September 26th at 8:33?

The craziest thing is that the earthquakes occurred exactly a week apart to the exact minute. September 12th at 8:33 and September 19th at 8:33. This has everyone all excited. And scared.

As I write this it is 7:20 pm on September 26th so if the pattern continues we’ll have another earthquake in an hour and thirteen minutes. We’ll see.

As far as anyone knows this is a crazy coincidence.

There are a lot of earthquakes in our area, is it earthquake season?

Unfortunately there is no such thing (or else it would be easy to prepare). As far as any of us know tectonic plates don’t give a hoot about weather or seasons. Recently a study came out that said earthquakes might be influenced by full moons. The first set of earthquakes were 5 days before a full moon and the most recent one was 3 days after a full moon if that means anything to anyone. But it seems to be a coincidence like everything has been so far.

Is Korea even prone to earthquakes?

3 Years ago when I looked this up the answer was basically no. Most people who blogged about living in Korea said they were super rare and never happened. There certainly had never been deadly ones. Well deadly ones in recent history.

Korea has records going back to 2AD about earthquakes. Between 2 AD and 1960s? (somewhere between the 1950s and 1970s  was when the first seismograph was installed) there were around 1,800 earthquakes. Let’s say roughly one a year. So yes, there are earthquakes here.

They have records from the 700s and 1000s about earthquakes that collapsed the-best-technology-anyone-had-at-the-time buildings. So they were deadly but probably more deadly because of the construction and safety measures of the times. And I want everyone to take a minute and appreciate the differences in our countries that Korea had kingdoms and these huge wars and was about to make a moving printer press while people in the US were just starting to get good at making jewelry. The fact that Korea even has written records of earthquakes is a big deal.

 

Basically no deadly earthquakes and nothing very high that we know of. If you remember that super huge horrible earthquake+tsunami in 2011 that killed so many people in Japan – that earthquake was freaking massive. So massive it moved the entirety of Japan over and shifted Korea a little bit. Korean scientists suggested Korea (the whole thing) shifted somewhere around 2.5 centimeters to the east. Seoul shifted 2.11 cm while Daejeon shifted 1.96 cm to the east. So scientists speculate that the 2011 earthquake finally put Korea in a position to start having larger earthquakes. All of this is speculation.

  • Year 2 to the 1960s(?)1,800 recorded earthquakes.
  • Missing some data….
  • 1990s – 26 earthquakes
  • 2000s -44 earthquakes
  • 2010-2014 – 58 earthquakes

The number is going up.

Korean scientists say that earthquakes happen only in places they have happened in the past. Which is why so many scientists are suggesting that all the activity in Japan – especially 2011- has shifted Korea into a situation where it’s not safe from earthquakes. So now that we’ve had a big one we will start having more and more. They say.

The only question I’m interested in is did North Korea cause those earthquakes!?

It’s easy to think this with North Korea conducting its largest ever test then 3 days later South Korea has their largest earthquake ever. Not to say coincidence for the third time but it looks like it is.

That being said no one knows as much as they would like about earthquakes. In our research we’re getting a lot of different answers to this question.

The short answer is that it didn’t cause an earthquake but maybe possibly perhaps conceivably triggered one that was going to happen anyway -earlier than it might have happened. So in a way North Korea could’ve spared the South from some major destruction if the earthquake happened in a few years but on a bigger scale.

Underground tests can trigger earthquakes, but only in the immediate area (think around 6-20 miles), and only on the same day. The North’s underground nuclear test was 310 miles away and 72 hours later.

The United States did a big underground nuclear test in 1965 in Alaska. People were super worried it would trigger earthquakes in the San Andreas Fault. It didn’t. It did cause seismic activity in the area for a while. But it didn’t trigger anything outside of the area or for a very long time. This test was a 7.0 while North Korea’s was 5.3.

Earthquakes can trigger other earthquakes. Even across 1000s of miles. They can – sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. An already stressed fault is passed by by the sheer energy of another earthquake and it sets it off. Or when a fault ruptures and puts a bunch of stress on a nearby fault which sets it off (this seems to be what people are suggesting the 2011 earthquake did – shift that plate over a little bit into Korea’s space and now that plate is all pissed off and crowded. And ready to rupture? Or maybe it already did?) But those are real live earthquakes, the kind that shift whole plates. Not explosions.

If you want to worry about something worry about Baekdu Mountain – an active volcano on the border of North Korea and China. It’s proven an underground test of around 7.0 would absolutely trigger an eruption that would kill us all and bury everyone in the area under 4 inches of ash.

Are we in for more aftershocks? What about foreshocks?

We felt 3 earthquakes  4.5, an hour later  5.8, and a week later 4.9. So it seems it was: foreshock – main event – then aftershock. But you can’t really label anything until everything is finished. And we might not be finished. After that massive 2011 earthquake Japan had 9,500 aftershocks (as of 2013, I don’t have any data after that).

So it could be that we will have little earthquakes all the time. We could have big ones all the time. We could have a super huge one that rips apart cities in southern Korea.

A professor of geology said “Aftershocks sometimes last for more than a year. The worst quake that took place in Gyeongju shook fault lines and we don’t know how surrounding fault lines will move around … We don’t know whether the latest quake was an aftershock or a precursor to bigger quakes in the years to come.”

Can all those little earthquakes prevent a big one?

No. A cool fact is it would take 42 million earthquakes at magnitude 2 to release the same energy as a magnitude 7. So the 700 some-odd eeinsy weensy ones haven’t even scratched the surface.

The juiciest rumor yet: did South Korea conduct underground nuclear tests in retaliation/practice or as a show of force against the North’s recent test?

No questions are stupid questions. So let’s address this.

The way this rumor goes is this – the current president Park GuenHee’s dad was the president/dictator of South Korea in the 1960s. He had a little nuclear program of his own for a while. Gyeongju (where the earthquakes have struck) is the center for Korean nuclear power and nuclear…stuff. So people think it was Park Junior showing off daddy’s power or using family legacy to mess around with nuclear…stuff. So this conspiracy theory certainly is juicy with family drama, legacy, birthright, and nuclear tests.

But stupid.

First of all the dictator’s nuclear dabbling was shutdown by the US. So there isn’t even nuclear stuff to play with. If you want to go tin-foil hat and say there is stuff the south has stockpiled then lets look at some real facts. The earthquakes were really really deep. The USGS says about 10km deep. The world’s deepest mine is not quite 4 km. So unless the South has some really deep secrets (literally and figuratively) nope. Also explosions and earthquakes appear on seismographs differently. So everyone at a geological survey station who looks at the charts would know immediately if its an explosion or earthquake. Unless you rumor gets really juicy with the US and South Korea working together to dig massively deep mines, report earthquakes falsely and then silence any poor geologist who speaks up. Nope. Nope. Nope.

How’s Korea handling their largest earthquake to date?

I’ll leave a quote here:

“It is so shocking that there has been no changes to government safety protocols even though we went through MERS and the Sewol crisis,” said Rep. Won Hae-young of The Minjoo Party of the Korea.

It’s a political mess. Finger pointing galore.

No one is doing anything. We haven’t had any drills or talked about it in schools. My coteachers are still under the impression the best thing to do is put a book over their heads and run outside (good luck).

Something like 4,000 people called the fire departments when it happened. People as far away as Seoul called emergency numbers to report… what? Exactly?

The actual people of Gweongju (where it happened) had a lot of structural damage to walls, a few people were injured mostly by TVs falling. Lots of broken glass and damaged groceries. But no one died.

Pictures were posted of people playing on phones in the middle of elementary school fields. That’s basically the safety plan.

We have a problem with everyone thinking you have to run outside immediately. Like while the world is a shakin’ you make a run for the field. That’s a great way to get pitched headfirst down some stairs or have some ceiling tiles fall on you.

If you learn something new today learn this – the Triangle of Life is a lie, ignore that doorframe crap. Just get under a desk and hold on and stay there. When it seems safe to go then go. But don’t try to calculate a triangle of safety beside a desk when you could just go under a desk. Don’t stand in a doorway when you may just fall over anyway. If you’re in bed stay in bed. The end. You just learned what to do.

What’s sad is that the teachers haven’t been trained, thus the students are at the mercy of idiotic adults who will tell them the wrong thing (like how when the ferry sunk the adults said to stay in the cabins where all the students then drowned).

One person quoted saying “For me, I have no idea about what to do when the quake strikes. The government should prepare measures to promptly inform the public of how to respond in emergency cases” You can see the confusion with people calling 119 (you can guess what that number is) to ask what to do. No one is prepared.

Our earthquake drills at school (we’ve had one this year and it was back in April) have involved going to the gym and sitting in lines based on class. This is so stupid. All those heavy gym lights that could fall on everyone? The worst part is our doors are chained shut with a huge chain. No one could even evacuate if they wanted to. A fire, an earthquake? Someone with a gun or knife? We aren’t going anywhere. It’s just going to take a Columbine or earthquake of massive destruction before anything will be changed for school safety.

Korea’s mad at the government but quietly slipping into complacency and apathy. The more time that passes since the earthquake the less people are worried. The less they want emergency systems or plans. There are all these stupid rumors about how people knew the earthquake was going to happen because of a smell in the city. A smell?!

In short: no one is educated. We’re all operating on rumors. No one will push for education or better measures. No one wants to be educated, we all want to think about these funny ideas about the North or the South.

At the same time there isn’t even enough education. On the grand scheme of things scientists don’t really know that much about earthquakes.

Fortunately the risk is fairly low where we are and we can only hope that no more earthquakes, or anything, happen in this innocent little peninsula.

What We Did Part 2

Day 5?

We had heard about this cool beach up north called Ritidian Beach that’s a wildlife preserve so we decided to just drive up there and see what it was. The cool thing about Guam and driving is that there are only a few major roads so you can just start driving and you’ll probably get where you’re going just with common sense.

We picked up breakfast – spam and rice and Chamorro sausage and rice and ate it on the beach.

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We have absolutely no pictures of the ocean but we saw some of the most amazing fish. Most of the fish from finding nemo, some really friendly guys that were always in a pair – they came up to our hands if we extended them. Really hope people haven’t been feeding them! We snorkeled for 2 hours in some of the most clear blue amazing fish-heavy waters we’ve ever been in.

We were pretty darn sunburned again even with frequent applications of supposedly-water-proof-sunscreen. So we spent the rest of the day indoors and had carrots and ranch for dinner.

Day Whatever: My birthday!

We were pretty conflicted on what to do for my birthday. After a somewhat disastrous breakfast at Dennys we decided we wanted to be alone. The crippling-introverts we are were not doing well with being surrounded by people who could understand us. Call us crazy- we haven’t been in an English speaking country for 2 years! We’re used to having open conversations whenever we want. A bad habit but a habit we’ve become accustomed to. It’s also somewhat of a coping mechanism. The Koreans draw a deep line in the sand that leaves us as outsiders. This can actually be  nice for introverts – so while it was so so wonderful to talk to people in Guam and be understood it was also uncomfortable. This will be a huge problem when we move back in February.

What I wanted for my birthday: to be alone, to relax and recharge. So Chris took us on the best hike of isolation from Cetti to Sella Bay. This is the one Chris fell on before we changed our minds and did LamLam.

It ended up being one of the best hikes we’ve ever been on and probably the best in Guam.

freshwater creek draining into the ocean
freshwater creek draining into the ocean

In the picture below you can see the two bays

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The hike starts at the top and you descend further into the jungle across the same creek a few times then you’re deposited right onto the beach – then you walk along the beach to the other bay.

Its a really rough beach, not the kind tourists lounge on. It’s covered in vines, decaying/sprouting coconuts, trash, and half the sand isn’t even sand. Half the sand is huge knobs of coral or just blackened volcanic rock with deep blue crystalized bits (don’t know my rocks anymore). It’s really beautiful how wild it is. It was also very secluded. It was nice to sit on a beach where no one else was for miles and just watch the ocean.

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The other thing that was cool was the hermit crabs absolutely everywhere. It was just us and a million crabs.

We also enjoyed seeing a progression of how palm trees grow, from the coconut falling to sprouting to getting bigger and bigger to eventually being a tree to decaying and falling over and all the other coconuts repeating the process. I decided if I wanted anything for my birthday it was a fresh coconut which was basically impossible with our lack of beach/ocean know-how. Still we had fun lobbing rocks at coconuts, attempting to climb the trees, and whacking at the low hanging ones with bamboo. We made the discovery of the day – besides an old 90s cellphone washed up on the beach (and a pair of scratched up Oakley’s) we found a 9 iron that even had a neoprene case. I don’t know if it was left on the beach or somehow found it’s way from the water onto the beach but it was ours to whack at coconuts as we saw fit.

Here’s Chris demonstrating the technical way of smashing a coconut against rocks. DSC05520

The trick is to not do it this way because eventually the coconut will leave the end of the 9 iron and go into the sea where you can’t get it back. Hypothesis- this will work. Findings- this doesn’t work at all. Science complete. Free spider-web-clearining-golf-club that we used for the rest of the trip.

Day The Next Day: it was a Friday

We had to give our rental car up because we were changing hotels from an isolated hotel to a hotel right on the beach. We figured we wouldn’t need the rental car after Thursday because we would be on the beach/downtown.

So we gave it up reluctantly and caught a shuttle downtown to our new hotel. The new hotel was called Holiday Resort and was mostly for Asian tourists – like everything else in Guam. It was almost alarming to be surrounded by Koreans, house slippers and ramen again.

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This hotel was much more expensive but had this amazing balcony facing the should-be-sunsets. We had coffee on the balcony every morning and beer and coconut water every afternoon after hikes and adventures. On the weekend all the locals came out and basically lived in the gazebos on the beach blasting awesome reggae music from their cars and boomboxes. This really set the beach-y mood.

Our favorite part of this hotel was we were right next to Guam’s only zoo. Some people online said they hated this but we enjoyed the resident donkey braying. Some other bird who didn’t like to be challenged by the noise would go off screeching over the donkey (also if the reggae music got too loud he would screech). It was pleasant to us – the only animals we’ve seen in Korea are magpies and house centipedes.

Saturday

We snorkeled and it was really weak compared to the amazing things we had seen at Ritidian. We felt hobbled without a car. So we rented one that night so we could get back to the adventuring. Time without a car: 30 hours.

Sunday

We drove all the way back to Ritidian to see a big fat “closed” sign on the outside. From this day forward we were in a “high waves and small craft advisory”. There was a typhoon near us – so the waves were high and it was supposed to rain. So bad, in fact, that the weather channel advised against hiking . The waves were high and the water clarity never cleared up but it actually never did rain so we could keep hiking/driving.

We drove to Gun Beach where there is actually a big fat gun rusting away on the beach. If you walk behind the gun there’s a secret path to a more secret beach.

The waves were so high you had to time it to get across the bridge without having the water spray/hit you.

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On the other side was a massive Asian tour group (surprise) but other than that the beach was secluded and beautiful

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The thing at the top of the cliff is Two Lover’s Point. It’s $3 to go fight with tourists to take selfies at the top and read the myth of two lovers Chamorro and Spanish who couldn’t marry so they braided their long hair together and jumped into the sea. We didn’t go there. We walked to the base of it and can confirm that they certainly wouldn’t have landed in the sea as the romantic story goes.

The view from the other side

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Some other day – Fonte Dam

We walked to Fonte Dam which was built in the 1910s-1920s. This is just in the middle of the jungle so it’s unexpected but pretty. Really mosquito heavy. Also some people think it’s not safe to swim in the water or even touch fresh water because of a bacterial disease called leptospirosis or swamp fever, sugar cane fever, mud fever, whatever fever. It has many names. We’d already been splashed by fresh water (apparently you can get it like this too) so we’ll have to see in mid September (symptoms don’t arrive immediately) if we caught it. Probably not.

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1,001 Steps to Taguan Point and Fadian Cove

This was another hike everyone said was amazing  – chance of dolphin sightings and wild coffee we didn’t see any of this but we met a guy trying to catch coconut crabs.

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Still nice to go for a hike with fresh air and good company (not the coconut crab guy) just Chris.

Second to Last Day

We wanted to hike to an old radio tower that had been used just after the war. The directions were basically cross a bridge, go up the hill, walk through sword grass and into the jungle, you can’t miss it.

Which are the stupidest directions ever because there is sword grass and jungle everywhere. So after a lot of false starts hacking at sword grass with the 9 iron (we kept it) walking face first through massive spiderwebs almost landing face first in a wasp nest we said it’s not going to happen.

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This was the first time directions had failed us/we had gotten lost so we were pretty lucky. We were disappointed we couldn’t find WW2 era stuff but we kept hiking around.

We don’t know what this is and no one had talked about it online. There had been a grass fire which revealed it and a bunch of random army looking stuff around it.

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It was half buried under the earth and said “Mag 22” on the outside.

We kept walking along this road because it was a known road leading to the Korean Air Flight 801 memorial. On August 16 th 1997 KAL801 was on approach to Guam’s airport – the pilots were relying too heavily on equipment and some people speculate the Korean culture lead to the copilot not speaking up about problems. Regardless mechanical and pilot error lead to the plane crashing into Nimitz Hill about 3 miles from the airport. 228 out of 254 people died – it’s possible the sheer amount of duty free alcohols helped spread a massive fire that killed many people.

We were hiking around enjoying the view near the memorial but we also didn’t know where the memorial was. That’s when we started finding stuff.

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Some of that stuff, when cleaned off with water or spit was a pretty distinguishable Korean-air turquoise blue. This was a huge surprise to us because we weren’t that close to the memorial. Upon further research we figured out the plane probably struck the hill we were on first before crashing/coming to a stop where the memorial is. I don’t know what airline debris looks like but the signs point to this being part of that plane. It was blue, there was lots of twisted metals and some of it had obviously been charred. We’re certainly sentimental- who wouldn’t be? Holding pieces of who knows what, was this part of a chair where someone died? Also to be holding this tiny little piece of what makes up a massive plane. Something so sturdy that doesn’t even look like it could be ripped into these tiny pieces. It didn’t help that we were only a couple days before getting on our own Korean Air flight back home.

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The day we arrived on Guam was the 19th anniversary of the crash. Actually at the same time to the exact hour of when the plane crashed – August 6th at around 1 am. Because we were flying Korean Air and it’s the same route and times. We visited the memorial a week later -there were flowers and soju cups laid out. memorial

After we visited the memorial we walked back and found some golf balls! What luck! Free 9 iron from the beach and about 5 balls (some damaged from a brush fire) from the golf gods.

Chris manufactured a tee out of sticks because we don’t care about the rules of golf plus we’re pretty sure the club was for a child because it was super short.

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The Last Day

We had to check out of the hotel but we did get to keep the car until 6 pm. From there we had to give it up and kill time until 2 am (!!!!) when our flight left. We didn’t make the rules and couldn’t see anyway around this.

So we were just trying to kill time and enjoy the island for the last time.

We gave the 9 iron back to the earth – some other lucky hikers can use it. Then we just drove around.

I want to give a shoutout to my dad – we were actually able to play the license plate game! Our favorite game while driving. We imagine military families import their cars so we played heartily on the 30 mile island often seeing the same cars with the same plates. In the end we found 16 plates (Arkansas, Texas, Alabama, New Mexico, Idaho, South Dakota, Washington, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, California, South Carolina, Minnesota, Iowa, Louisiana and Virginia)

We gave up the rental car at 6 pm. Caught a taxi to do some waiting-drinking-and-eating at Chilis then waited until 2 am to get our flight back.

 

 

What we did in Guam

Days 1 and 2

The first 2 days we didn’t have a car yet because we were being stubborn and cheap. Also we’ve never really rented a car before, There are just  so many horror stories about renting cars online. So we didn’t. Yet.

We haven’t really seen the sun in a while because we work indoors and also because the sky is blue maybe 1% of the time. The haze and air quality usually blocks it or deters us from even leaving the house. Guam is also the closest we’ve ever been to the equator and we underestimated what that meant. The pictures don’t do it justice and after the 3rd sunburn (with sunscreen that time!) we stopped taking pictures because the shame and feel were too strong.

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PIcture is from my ipod, it doesn’t show how deep red it was

Kaeti here-  I swell a bit on airplanes. I didn’t think about this and  wore my chacos on our 5 mile walk and completely destroyed my feet. I had blisters the size of well you can guess. We bought some duct tape and powered on.

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The tan line from that was pretty great.

The second day our the people at the front desk of our hotel were super upset we had walked downtown  (“what do you mean you walked?!) and told us they actually had a free shuttle so we took that and went shopping downtown in the tourist area. The lack of freedom from the shuttle combined with the sunburn-lets-stay-inside combined with the blisters motivated us to finally, finally rent a car.

Day 3 – Rent a car and drive around the island

First we went to the Asan overlook to see where the soldiers first stormed the beach.

DSC05637 We saw memorials to the soldiers and also the Chamorros who died in World War 2 (pictured in the other blog). Then we drove down to Asan beach where it actually happened.

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Chris and I are suckers for WW2 history but we’re also sentimental. 1,866 soldiers died fighting for Guam, surely some of them on the very beach we were standing on. We thought about that for a moment.

There was a hiking symbol so we thought lets go up and see what that is. It’s Japanese gun embankments and pillboxes! *and mosquitoes.

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This was unexpected. It turns out that there are hundreds and hundreds of World War 2 guns, pillboxes, embankments, and artifacts. In fact theres loads of “unexploded ordinance” that everyone has to look out for when hiking or snorkeling/scuba diving.

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We drove to the nearby Piti Coastal Defense “hike” where you just walk upstairs.  There are 3 guns the Japanese had been planning on using to defend the beaches. They were never actually fired though, and were found a few weeks after the island had been secured.DSC05129

After we went to the Latte of Freedom – we said in the other post lattes are a major symbol of Guam. This is something they’re very proud of. There was a story about what they were and how they saved up pennies to build this Latte of Freedom as the symbol of Guam behind the Governor’s Complex.

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From there we drove around the island more until we found Taga’chang Beach.

It was unreal how beautiful it was. It seemed like a different country like Europe or pictures we’ve seen of New Zealand.

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You can drive down a small road to the actual beach.

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The view from below:

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You could just walk out on the rock and see tidepools. Some people were swimming in big ones, others were fishing.DSC05195

The tide pools were beautiful but scary. We found a nemo-type fish twice (we’re that good). They’re not as vibrant as the movie but it’s the same fish.

No pictures of nemo but we do have pictures of a fish next to an urchin, the clear water… and picture three (bottom left) is some kind of water-centipede horror. Chris spotted it and said “don’t come over here.”  We’ve googled any combo of “sea centipede” “sea worm” “horrible sea thing” and can’t say what it is. If anyone knows what kind of unholy critter it is, let us know.

Finally we saw these creepy things that we didn’t like one bit, no sir, but then realized that they are strange looking star fish (bottom right). You think star fish are fatty, thick, and cute, these are really thin and long and spidery. They are actually called Brittle Starfish which is apt. Only some of them sticks out of whatever hidy hole they’re living in so it looks like a bony skeleton hand coming out of the hole.

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It was like snorkeling with the same horrors (we are not an ocean folk) but without getting wet. Just up to the ankles.

Excuse the shameless pictures from the car widows, I went fully Grammy “isn’t in beautiful the way the sun is shining on that part of the mountain?!” 🙂  I’m not as classy as Grammy is, she at least parks and gets out to take pictures of the mountains, I just snap them from the passenger seat.

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Lush, lush, lush jungles everywhere. There were times when you could see bamboo as thick as a human leg being pulled over, bent, and broken by thick vines and foliage. It was messy jungle. Wet, hot, lush, buggy jungle.

The mountains are covered in sword grass which is sharp (more on that later) but blows in the wind which is absolutely beautiful to see the mountains rippling like some kind of wheat field. Crazy different place.

We stopped at Fort Nuestra Senor de La Soledad  (more pictures on the other blog about the history of Guam)

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Chris has another wonderful example of my sunburn. Mistakes were made. Sunscreen was bought and applied frequently after that.

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And we saw this incredible peach colored hibiscus. Also I’m a sucker for palm trees.

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Day 4 – Hiking

This day we thought maybe we’ll go hiking, but we certainly didn’t wake up that day thinking we would hike the highest mountain the world.

The highest mountain in the world? Surely you’re exaggerating.

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As you can see by my really well drawn chart, from the bottom of the Mariana Trench (or Marianas Trench, both are correct) to the top of Mount LamLam it’s 37,820 feet which is a lot more than Everest which is at a meager 29,030 feet- thats like 8,000 more feet! Obviously that’s not how it works but that’s what people say to make Guam and their hike sound better.

I also included Mt. Jumullong on this chart which every asshole seems to think is LamLam but IT IS NOT!!!!

We were thinking of hiking from Sella Bay to Cetti Bay which is a a hike between two neighboring bays.  We found the trail from Sella Bay, and it was immediately horrible with mosquitoes and the trail starts with a huge drop down a muddy ravine. Chris immediately slipped and fell on the blood-red mud which stained all his clothes (permanently). There was almost no way to start the hike without falling and we didn’t know how much the impossibly slick mud would last.  So we left.

We parked at the Cetti Bay overlook to see if the trailhead for the same hike was easier on that when we saw a sign for Mt. LamLam. Well obviously we’re going to do that, so we just went for it.

This was a crazy hike because of how many terrains we went through. It starts with that blood red sand/mud. It’s actually old volcanic sand and it’s super pretty contrasted against how wonderfully green the rest of Guam is.

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Then you have to go through sword grass which is actually sharp and can cause cuts. We had read about it online and were scared about how sharp everyone said it was. So we brought pants and gardening gloves.

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Then you go into super super deep jungle where it’s immediately 10 degrees warmer, 70% wetter- there’s no breeze. There are strange sounds, bugs everywhere and spiders as big as half dollars with webs as big as a horse. Massive unbelievable webs.

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At the end you have to scramble up very sharp rocks for the last 15 feet. And that’s the false summit (but universally recognized as the summit) of LamLam There is a marker that says “Guam Geodetic Triangulation Station LamLam”, and if you don’t see that you’re obviously on Mount Freaking Jumullong which is, again, not LamLam.

view from the top
view from the top

What’s up with the false summit thing?  The Geodetic Triangulation marks the false summit which is 22 feet lower than actual LamLam but the actual LamLam is surprisingly far away ridge (even though it doesn’t look like it). Between the false summit and real summit you would need a machete, GPS, and probably spider anti-venom because hardly anyone ever goes there and there isn’t actually trail.

It’s a great hike but with a couple problems. One is that there’s a fork in the road left is LamLam and right is Jumullong. Going right is all pretty and wonderful and easy. The left doesn’t even look like a path, it looks like unholy boonie stomping through sharp sword grass.

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The path to LamLam:DSC05321Which is why we can’t condone people taking saying they climbed LamLam when they took the easy way to Jumullong. It was properly hard with all the spiders and sword grass. Slow going work.

I want to pause again to talk about snakes. So if there was any chance at all of snakes being in these horrible thick wet steamy noisy buggy jungles I would’ve been really reluctant to go. There are snakes, there are hundreds and hundreds of brown tree snakes. But they’re nocturnal. Whats really insane about these snakes is that they’re invasive – accidentally came to the island around WW2. Somehow, someway they have killed off all the birds in Guam. So the hiking is super quiet. No birds cheeping or chattering. This is also that’s why the spiders are out of control – no natural enemies, and no competition for food.

On our way down we figured we would march on over to summit Jumullong. To give Jumullong credit, the views were probably better and it was easier. It had 100% less spiders.

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We went to a gas station on the way to the hotel and got 2 liters of water, 2 large coconut waters (natural gatorade) and 2 large gatorades (actual gatorade). And drank all of it. Neither of us have ever sweat so much in our lives, the jungle heat and wetness. With the humidity you never evaporate. It’s crazy.

We rewarded ourselves with the mac and cheetos – that super American deep fried macaroni and cheese with cheetos around it and shared that while watching a sunset.

Guam is supposed to have really spectacular sunsets but while we were there we only saw this one. Not really even a sunset, just some clouds.

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Still, losing out on some of the vibrant sunsets was worth it for all the fun we had doing other things.

The Feel of Guam

We wanted to talk about the feel and the look of Guam because it’s such an interesting mix of cultures and ideas. We had no idea going there what it would be like. The Koreans we had talked to didn’t like it and said it was “too American” which we thought was laughable because it is American.

Reservation Feel

Growing up so close to Ute Mountain Ute, Southern Ute, and Navajo Reservations – we can say that Guam felt a lot like that. Except on an island.

A really cool thing is that people still speak the Chamorro language, it’s taught in schools. We saw an elderly man talking to a young shopkeeper in the language so it’s not dying out and not just taught for show. It’s also on all the history signs (along with Japanese, more on that later)

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The most common thing is Hafa Adai (sounds like “haffa day”) which just means hello but everyone greets you like this in all the stores, gas stations … everywhere. It’s a big deal – written on all the tourist attractions/souvenirs. Basically everything has Hafa Adai written on something shaped like a Latte stone. Which is awesome.

There are loads of cultural villages and like Hawaii there are cultural dances and songs for tourist entertainment.

Poverty Feel

The poverty comes partially from the run-down-reservation feel of it, but also because it’s an island. If you are down on your luck, you can’t just move to a new place to get a job without flying somewhere. To make things worse everything is expensive because it’s imported.

Guam has a very high rate of food stamps, partially because of the island import prices on food but partially because of joblessness.

There’s also a lack of care about stuff that reminds us of the res but also down-to-earth-island-feel. People drive around with cars that are rusted through or the windshield is completely smashed in. People fish where they aren’t allowed because it’s their only source of income, people destroy the reef to make money with fish. Many of the homes are pretty run down.

Of course it’s not all like this- here is what the average residential neighborhood looked like

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The worst thing was the trash. They have a massive dumping problem. We drove off the beaten path and found the most amazing dumping grounds, hundreds of old TVs and even some new broken plasma screens, laptops, coffee makers, a refrigerator, a car door, a bag full of children’s toys…

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The final bad part was all the feral dogs. I’m sure this is a mix of poverty/res and also island. Pets get out or are abandoned and reproduce so there’s quite a population of feral dogs. There’s obviously not a trap-neuter-release program going on with them.

Asian Feel and Catering to Asians

Another interesting thing about Guam is that there really are no western tourists (besides Russians from Vladivostock). Everyone who is western (i.e. not Asian) are probably in the military, so everyone assumed we were a military family and were very surprised when we said we were tourists. “Why?” was actually asked a few times. Why fly from the USA over Hawaii to visit this little 30-mile-long-island?

Of the 1.1 million people visit Guam a year, 71% are Japanese, 14% are Korean, 4% are from Taiwan. American tourists supposedly make up around 3% of this but we imagine they’re counting military families more than just normal tourists. The rest of the numbers go into small percentages of Philippines, China, Russia and others.

Guam is like an Asian-America. All the signs are in Japanese as well as English. The hotel rooms cater to Asian tourists with slippers and baths. There’s more ramen than you can shake a (chop)stick at. And of course with Asian tourists comes the pushy-ness, photography/selfie addictive attitudes (take a picture of me at the Applebees, take a picture of me with this gallon of grape juice, take a picture of me standing on and destroying this coral reef).

It was super interesting to be surrounded by Koreans and Japanese (and some Chinese) but be in America. All the stores had an explanation of the money system – our coins are pretty confusing to people because the dime is worth more than the penny and yet it’s smaller. Most places do it by size. It was also funny to see how they act as tourists – not good. The pot calls the kettle black that we need to understand Korea’s unique culture. There was a lot of expectations that Guam needs adapt everything for them.

Also some places only catered to Asian tourists – there were plenty of rental car companies that only worked with Koreans or only Japanese and an ecotourism place called Fruit World that didn’t even do English tours unless you called ahead. Who knew?

Go to the grocery store and you’ll find American food (poptarts, Ranch dressing, Koolaid,  Reeces and Rootbeer and some Tums to get that all down). But you’re also going to find chips, ramen, drinks, and sauces imported from Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. Every store we went to had kimchi in the refrigerator and a few restaurants had it as a default side dish.

Island Feel

Guam is very obviously an island. It runs on island time where people are late more often than not, and theres a “why worry” attitude about things.

You can also feel it when you go grocery shopping. We didn’t have any milk for the 2 weeks we were there because it’s extremely expensive to get fresh. Chips and everything else were expensive – a bag of Funyuns were about $6. Last I checked they weren’t that much in the US. You could add about a dollar to the price of nearly everything just because of the cost of importing it.

A cool thing is that islands are all about Spam, and Guam is no exception.

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There were more flavors than we could imagine or had ever heard of- in this picture there’s Hot and Spicy, Portuguese Sausage, Turkey, Jalapeno, Tocino, Chorizo, Teriyaki, Black Pepper, Lite, 30% less sodium, with bacon, and normal. That’s 12 different kinds of spam.

Something islands always seem to have are wild chickens everywhere as well as wild boar.

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Bu they also have a native water buffalo (see muddy print above) called a carabao. We saw a couple and followed one guys tracks on a hike. The boar are probably not to be reckoned with but the carabao are friendly docile guys who just want to munch on grass. The chickens, of course, don’t care about anything.

The last thing that makes it islandy is that the water is not exactly drinkable. At least according to the locals. It tastes like chlorine but we couldn’t get a straight answer from anyone if it’s downright bad to drink or just tastes bad. Either way we bought water or got it filtered from the hotels.  This was a bummer because Korea’s water isn’t drinkable either so we had been looking forward to drinking from the tap like good ol’ America. Interestingly enough there isn’t enough water- the US talked about adding soldiers from Japan to Guam but Guam wouldn’t have the water facilities to handle more people.

Actually while we were there a bunch of wells tested for Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid – something that makes fabrics, packaging and cookware resistant to water, it’s also used for fighting fires. They had to shut down a few wells across the island, and it was a pretty big deal.

Murica’

Guam is all around American.

There’s deer hunting, hummers, corvettes, off roading, American money, American brands, and all kinds of American foods and all those famous fast food restaurants. People are friendly and say hello, people hold open doors, people say excuse me rather than pushing you out of the way. This was amazing after 2 solid years in Korea.

You also don’t walk anywhere. Not because of safety but because it’s your American right, dammit, to drive. People were shocked when we told them we had walked anywhere. People declared it “impossible” to walk from the airport to Applebees (we did it anyway at 1.8 miles uphill with a wheely bag, it’s not that hard).

We had to rent a car because the public transportation, in typical American fashion, is lousy. But a car! What a treat to drive again! We ended up renting 2 cars. The first week we rented a lovely Nissan Versa. We had to give it up and figured we would play on the beach for the weekend. But it was too hard to live without a car. And like we said, its our god given right as an American to drive. So we rented a car again. This time it was a crappy 2014 Nissan Versa Note – which is a hatchback style. It didn’t have ANYTHING, no power locks (lock each individual door by hand), no power windows… their wasn’t even a light, so if it was nighttime you couldn’t see what gear you were in. And if you pulled down the shade things there weren’t any mirrors. Its interesting to us because we had both figured that they had stopped manufacturing cars with manual window cranks about fifteen years ago, but they’re still going strong.

rentalcars

Of course the most wonderful thing was the lack of communication barrier. To just talk to anyone about anything was fantastic.

We couldn’t really get a straight answer/feel. Do Guamanians identify as being American? Yes. Are they American? Yes in passport and citizenship. Many also identify, of course, as Chamorro. There are different opinions regarding mainland interference and the military bases. As we said some people think they should have the right to vote in American elections. Interestingly enough some people we met from the Philippines also said they should be allowed to vote.

Others would be happy with just more representation in congress. I don’t think they really want to be a state, I don’t think they would like the long arm of the US government interfering with marriage laws, gun laws or anything else like that just because of the nature of the place.

They actually join the military (American, obviously) at a higher rate than any US state. Guam is #1 in men enlisting for the armed forces. 14.5 out of every 10,000 Guamanians will join the military. In perspective Montana is #2 on that list with 8 people out of 10,000 joining.

A couple times we saw bumper stickers about how America needs to pay rent for the military bases to the tune of 1.4 billion a year for the use. Another person was talking about the military enlistment and deaths in the Iraq war saying he had felt pressured to join the military because of some “Guam-owes-the-US-for-the-liberation” mind set. I don’t think this is a common feeling but we didn’t talk to too many people about this.

As we stated earlier the military bases cover 30% island which made it a little difficult to travel and meant some famous sights were completely off-limits. We’ve been told this can be good because it’s helping preserve some species that are being over hunted by the whole poverty thing.

Guam’s American side in a few pictures:

mericaA Kmart and Little Casesars- I didn’t even know Kmart was still in business

A “Mac and Cheetos” from Burger King. What is more American than mac and cheese breaded with Cheetos dust and deep fried? Nothing. Nothing is more American than that.

American root beer and pop-tarts but also Asian tea and spam musubi, (A block of rice with Spam on top held together with seaweed) also some local hot sauce. And of course American-style-Asian ramen.

Ranch dressing and fresh veggies!!!

Gas prices at $3.50. Do these compare currently to the mainland?

We got to be red blooded Ameircans for 2 weeks -speak English, drive a car, use our American money/debt cards, eat ranch dressing, sip root beer, use Drive-thrus, and do it all with cheap gas.

Mixed Up

The mixed up side of poverty/island/Asia  is really evident in tipping. The service charge is included at restaurants because the Asian tourists don’t know they should tip. So it’s included. BUT it’s only 10% which is lower than the recommended 15% (more like 20%) so we still had to tip. Or still felt obligated to even though the Asian tourists weren’t. Messy.

My all time favorite thing about the mix of all America and Asia is that (and I’m sorry we don’t have any pictures of this) Japanese shooting ranges. Not like that. Shooting ranges for Japanese tourists.

The advertisements are all in Japanese, the service is mainly only for Japanese tourists to experience guns and gun culture. Because it’s America! Some are wild west themed with cowboys, others go for a Hollywood/American action movie theme. It’s hard to say exactly what was offered. It looked as though the amount you paid depended on which gun, or how many different guns, you wanted to test. $45 seemed to be the base price.

We went to Lonestar Steakhouse (steaks, cowboy art, leather gun holsters on the walls, country music playing, etc) and were the only white people in the whole restaurant. And at a hamburger/hotdog restaurant and we got freaking kimchi on the side!

All in all, we felt a tad out of place, we were tourists, but not Asians, and we were Americans but not military.  But it still felt like home, and we were completely comfortable there.

So last time we told you about what Guam is, and now you know what it feels like to be in Guam. Next time we will  finally write about what we did while we where there.