Monday, December 13, 2010

Turkey Time and the Return of Television

Unlike in the U.S., November 25th on Yap was just another Thursday. If it wasn’t for Mike’s co-worker greeting him with a “Happy Thanksgiving” in the morning, the holiday might have gone by completely unnoticed. After this reminder, Mike decided to wish the locals he came across that day a Happy Thanksgiving. About half of the people smiled and replied, while the other half just looked at him with a puzzled expression.

For dinner that night, to get into the spirit of things, Miranda cooked an excellent Cornish game hen (a surprising and unexpected find at our local grocery store), with stuffing and mashed potatoes. Even though it wasn’t a turkey, it was still pretty good.

On the following Saturday, one of the longtime ex-pat residents of Yap invited the entire American ex-pat community on the island over to his house for a big, potluck Thanksgiving dinner. In addition to the many local food options like taro and breadfruit, there was a huge spread of all the typical American Thanksgiving dinner entrees. There were two giant imported turkeys, homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, local yam dishes, cranberry sauce (which was a big hit, thanks to Miranda’s Mom who shipped us several cans in a recent care package!) and several different kinds of stuffing. We both ate more than our fair share of food, which was absolutely delicious. After dinner, we sat around and chatted, resting our appetites before digging into a variety of desert options.

Even though Miranda and I were not able to spend the day with our families this year, it was nice to get together with so many of our island friends who make up a very close-knit, family-like group themselves. Considering how important local customs and traditions are here, it was an enjoyable change for us to celebrate our own Thanksgiving Day traditions of expressing thanks, eating good food, and sharing good company.

Speaking of things we’re thankful for… we finally decided to get cable television! Now for the average reader back home I’m sure this mustn’t seem like a big deal at all, but for us, after nearly a year without television, it was a momentous occasion.

You see, when we first arrived on Yap, we made the conscious decision not to get cable. We would watch far too much of it in Seattle. We thought now that we’re on a beautiful tropical island, we won’t need it. Moreover, people we knew who had gotten the service complained about the lack of channels and overall poor reception. There was also the issue of needing to buy a 10 to 15 foot pole and somehow attach it to the side of the house in order to elevate the antenna above the jungle canopy!

Recently though, FSM Telecom rolled out a brand new digital television service that seemed promising. It only cost $25 dollars a month for 26 channels, and the technology had advanced beyond needing to jury-rig an antenna pole/lightning rod to our house. So, after much debate on the topic, we decided to go for it. After a few weeks reacquainting ourselves with the magic of television, we couldn’t be happier.

For the most part, we have a choice of three different viewing genres. #1: Old Television. We can watch the major US network feeds (ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX) out of Honolulu, Hawaii. The catch is that these channels are about two weeks and 8 hours old, meaning that in the evening here, we can watch what normally would be shown in the afternoon in Hawaii, like soap operas and infomercials. #2: News. We can watch an astounding array of news channels. CNN and BBC are our favorites, because they’re played live, allowing us to stay up to date on all the world events. We also get English language news channels from Russia and Korea, and the middle eastern news network Aljazeera. #3: Nature Documentaries. We can watch two National Geographic channels and the Discovery Channel (though the audio is about one second out of sync). Back in the States, we’d watch a fair amount of 'animals eating other animals’ shows, so having these channels available was a welcome surprise.

We’re still getting readjusted to the convenience of instant-on entertainment, even with all its Yap Island quirks. Like shows that play one day, and are mysteriously on again two days later. Our theory is that once the tape ends, they just play it again until the next one arrives by mail from someone sitting in Hawaii diligently recording everything with their overworked VCR. Also, shows don’t start at any regular time. One night, they’re on at 5:00 pm, and the next night at 5:22 pm. Also, previews for upcoming shows tell us to “tune in this Sunday” that never seems to arrive. The random, haphazard scheduling makes every time we turn on the TV something of an adventure, like back in the day, before Tivo and DVR’s. Of course, if all else fails, we can always turn on TMC for a selection of black and white movies, or the Lotus network, an Asian channel that plays decent American movies, just with Cantonese subtitles.

After almost an entire year without TV, or turkey, we’ve learned to really appreciate and be thankful for all the luxuries that life has to offer. Sometimes, it’s the little things that provide the most comfort because of their familiarity to us in this often strange environment.  

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