Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Good Morning, Micronesia!

Mike here, with another report from The Island.

A common thread in most fictional, stranded-on-an-island stories is the need to keep your morale up by staying active and occupied. Whether it’s the Robinson Family building their elaborate tree houses and racing ostriches, Tom Hanks conversing with Volleyball Wilson, or Hurley and the ‘Lost’ gang playing rounds of golf in between visits from the smoke monster, they all need to be doing something fun while waiting for their eventual rescue. While there is no rescue for us here on Yap (and little chance of constructing a homemade raft to float away on), I’ve found that having a few extra-curricular activities really does help pass the time.

To that end, about two months ago, I decided to volunteer as a news reader at the biggest, most popular (read: the only) radio station on island: KUTE 88.1 FM (and it’s corresponding AM channel, V6AI). 

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I got the idea one day while listening to the daily news report, and noticed how the local anchors would say the word “fiscal”  as “physical”, for a somewhat different meaning. After hearing about the “physical year” one too many times, I thought, “This can’t be too hard. Why don’t I give it a try?” As it turned out, I was in the right place at the right time. Since my job required me to have regular contact with the government agency that manages the radio station, I learned that there was vacant position. A couple of phone calls later I was the new news reader.

So now, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 5:00 p.m., I’m the voice of all the news that’s fit to be heard on Yap. It goes a little like this: About an hour before the broadcast, I’ll receive a news bulletin from the Media Division, featuring local news from around the island, as well as reports from across the FSM and the Pacific region. Since most of the articles are either from government press releases or newspaper articles, I usually skim through it a few times, and make grammatical changes and other edits to improve readability. I try to proof-read the reports as best I can, but considering that I’m just a volunteer, sometimes the finished product can still read a little awkwardly. Of course, I can use the excuse that I only read the news, DSCN1137I don’t write it. After work, I head over to the radio station.  It’s convenient, considering the station is a two minute walk from home. The recording booth itself is about the size of a large closet, and is crammed with recording equipment, a computer, and a microphone. That’s about it. Here’s a picture of one of the Media Division employees, queuing up songs for the playlist in the studio.  For days when I’m reading the news, the first broadcast goes out live, but it’s also recorded (with any of my verbal stumbling edited out) and replayed several times throughout the day.

I’ve learned that reading the news is more difficult than it sounds. This came as a surprise, since it’s just speaking the words written on a page. Easy, right? Problem #1: Yapese and Pacific Island names generally are very hard to pronounce. Having heard every possible variation of an easily mispronounced name like my own, I try my best to not butcher the Yapese names too badly. That, and these are the people I live with after all! I’m certain I don’t always succeed, but at least I make the effort. Problem #2: The names of cities and countries in and around the Pacific can be a nightmare. One example, is the little island nation of the Republic of Kiribati, which is actually pronounced “key-ree-bass”. Who knew? Another example, while I’m sure it’s a nice place to live (in fact, it’s one of 2010’s top twenty Most Livable Cities), I nevertheless have a hard time saying the name of Japan’s most populous city on Kyushu Island with a straight face. I mean, really, who wouldn’t chuckle just a little bit when the report includes at least a dozen mentions of “Fukuoaka, Japan”? Say it slowly, or say it fast, it still sounds like an expletive to me.

On particularly rough days, some news bulletins coincidentally consist of little more than compounding Problem #1 with Problem #2 by having whole paragraphs full of people’s names and the places they’re from. I look at those pages, and laugh, thinking someone in the Media Division must be playing a joke on me. To say the least, it can be tongue-twisting at times!

Nevertheless, while I have neither the aptitude for nor interest in a career in broadcasting, it’s still pretty fun. Occasionally, I’ll even be asked by random people I meet around town whether I’m “that guy from the radio”. It’s a nice bit of recognition, so long as it’s not someone telling me I mispronounced their name! At least I could report that everyone should get a physical exam every fiscal year.

If anyone in the States’ is interested in listening to my melodious voice rambling on about Pacific Island issues, feel free to tune in. The radio station broadcasts a live Internet feed at the following location: mms://yap-radio.telecom.fm/v6ai

So, as I sign off all my news bulletins, have a safe… and happy day!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Time Flies When You’re Getting Older

On Yap, the perception of the passage of time expands and contracts in unusual ways.

Particularly hot afternoons can feel like an entire sweaty summer, while the cooler evenings often come and go in the blink of an eye. Most weekdays, we come home from work, eat some dinner, and before we know it, its bedtime (which also probably contributes to our infrequent blogging). Some hours of sleep later, the cycle repeats. On weekends, even when our plans consist of little more than planting ourselves in front of the steady oscillations of our living room fan with a good book or movie, those precious hours are expended all too soon. Sunday afternoons, with its steadily ticking countdown timer to the start of another week, seem to end as soon as it’s begun.

Strangely enough, while the days are slow, months pass by mostly unnoticed except for the changing of the picture on our calendar. This month, it’s a nostalgia-inducing picture of the Fremont Bridge in Seattle, only a few short blocks from our old apartment. Even with the molasses-slow afternoons, it still amazes us that we’re fast approaching the mid-way point of our adventure. We’re not close enough yet to start counting down to the end, but some days it feels like it.

Perhaps this preoccupation with time has to do with our recent birthdays. Miranda turned 29 on August 29th and is ready to enjoy the last year of her 20’s. A week later, Mike turned 33, and continued his inevitable advance towards middle age.

For Miranda’s special day, we drove up north to Maap and had lunch at the Village View restaurant. Because it offers a rare chance to simply enjoy a sandy beach and swim in the ocean, it seems like Maap has become our old-standby destination. DSCN1067The weather  thankfully cooperated, and the food was great as always. One substitution was fried strips of breadfruit instead of the usual French Fries. If not for a slightly orange color to the fries, you wouldn’t know it’s not potato!

For the rest of the afternoon, we sat on the beach and watched the waves crash against the reef far out from shore. Since the tide was in, we waded into the water easily, without having to trudge across expanses of slippery sea grass, slimy sea cucumbers, and the eels that make their home there. After cooling ourselves off in the ocean, DSCN1064 we returned to the mostly empty beach. Aside from us, the only other person was an Asian tourist, likely staying at the Village View resort, which caters to visitors from the Pacific Rim. He was dressed in what could be generously described as a man-thong, and was doing various calisthenics and quite possibly dance moves all by himself halfway down the shore. Resisting the urge to giggle uncontrollably, we decided to give the gentleman his privacy, and returned home in good spirits.

A week later, Mike celebrated his birthday. He spent most of the day alternately counting the increasing number of gray hairs on his head. Just kidding. Mike slept in a little later than usual, and had a completely enjoyable, mostly unproductive day. Later in the evening, we went and had one of our best restaurant dinners since arriving on Yap. We ate at the Manta Ray Bay restaurant onboard the Mnuw (see our June 1st entry), an old sailing ship converted into a bar/eatery. Mike was curious about the recent update to the menu there. Previously, the restaurant featured decent, but expensive, entrees that seemed to add “Manta Ray” to the name for a few bucks more. Manta Ray Chicken and Pasta, is still just spaghetti with chicken. No mantas are included.

However, a few weeks ago the menu dramatically changed for the better, moving away from faux fine dining to focus on simple, bar food made with local ingredients. Gordon Ramsay would likely approve. There are three varieties of fish taco (including an outstanding Cajun spiced flavor) using fresh caught tuna, and a selection of burgers that are so close to what you’d find at a Chili’s or Red Robin, you’re tempted to order a blooming onion or a tower of onion rings. Hint, hint Manta Ray proprietors.

We both enjoyed our birthdays, even if it was a reminder of the passing of time. Looking back at our respective anniversaries of life last year, it seems like we’ve come so far, both literally and figuratively. We can only look ahead, to the future, and to where we’ll be when the next round of “Happy Birthday” is sung.