Sunday, January 22, 2012

Stamps Of Micronesia

DSCN2240A while back, one reader from Spain left a comment asking that I send him a letter with some Micronesian stamps. He’s collected them from all around the world and wrote a blog about it. I checked it out, and was impressed at how many stamps he’s received from all across the globe. 

If you’re interested, here’s a link to his blog: “Letters On My Mailbox”.

After I sent him a letter (which hasn’t yet arrived or has yet to be posted), it got me thinking that Micronesia has some pretty unique stamps.

Just for reference, to mail a letter from here to the U.S. costs as much as it would to send a letter domestically within the U.S. That’s because even though Micronesia has its own stamps, we’re still serviced by the U.S. Postal system (we’re in U.S. Postal Zone 8 – hence the name for this blog!).

Back in the States, I wouldn’t care at all about the stamp I’d affix to whatever credit card payment was due that month. Later in life, when stamps became stickers, I’d care about them even less. I’d hardly look at the little picture of the Liberty Bell or Bald Eagle or thin Elvis Presley or whatever. No one writes letters anymore anyway. Email, texting, Facebook, and all the other mediums of a modern, tech-savvy society are far more convenient for simple communication than that quaintly archaic relic of a bygone age: the postal system. 

Since people actually still send letters here, over the past two years I’ve amassed a decent collection of stamps as a colorful reminder of Micronesia. I’m no professional philatelist by any stretch of the imagination, but whenever someone gives me one, or an interesting looking stamp comes across my mailbox, I’ll often cut it out and keep it.

As you’d expect, many of the stamps showcase the unique flora and fauna in Micronesia, like more varieties of banana than you’d think even existed.

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And there’s stamps about fish:

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Miranda and I once ate a fish that looked suspiciously like the one pictured above.

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And there’s stamps about birds:

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The constant screeching and chirping reminds me all the time that many species of fowl call the jungles of Yap home.

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While I’m certain the majestic antics of the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher or the Purple Sunbird provide hours of entertainment for the avid bird watcher, I’ve never seen one. However, I am quite familiar with the Gallus Gallus or Red Junglefowl, also known as the “island chicken”.

DSCN2232I photographed this fine specimen one afternoon when a water company pickup truck parked in front of my house on a service call in the neighborhood. As workers snaked out a particularly clogged pipe, this rooster clucked away in the back, ominously tied to what looked like a barbeque grill.

But I digress.

Other stamps advertise Micronesia as a hip, adventurous tourist destination. It should be noted that I have never, ever been surfing in Micronesia. I have heard rumors that it is done on the island of Pohnpei though.

Surfing Stamps

DSCN2257Just like back in the U.S., there are stamps featuring the “founding fathers”.

This is one commemorates Petrus Tun, the first Vice President of the newly formed Federated States of Micronesia.

He was elected to the Congress of Micronesia, and served as Governor of Yap. He was also appointed as Yap State’s representative during the negotiations on the Amended Compact of Free Association between the U.S. and FSM, which established diplomatic and financial ties between the two countries.

 

This series of stamps commemorates the “20th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations Between the Federated States of Micronesia and the People’s Republic of China”.  Strangely enough, I’ve yet to come across a stamp celebrating the Amended Compact. I will keep looking.

China Stamps

Well that’s about it for this action-packed blog post about the wonderful world of Micronesian stamps. Hopefully at least one reader enjoyed it!

Here’s a few more, just for fun.

Shells Stamps

Butterfly Stamps

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Temporary Reverse Culture Shock

By: Miranda, stateside

I am lucky enough to have gotten to come home to the states for a Christmas visit this year. After two years of living on Yap it has been quite a shock to be thrown back into the Western World. Not only is it hovering at 40 degrees, a shocking 40+ degrees cooler than I am used to these days, but also I have returned to a place that is the same, but different all at the same time. It’s ok, because I too am the same but different.

After 24 hours of (time) travelling, arriving just 5 hours (by the clock) after I left Yap, I got teary when the plane touched down at Seatac International Airport. I am home. The tears may have had something to do with the playlist IDSCN2121 created for the occasion. It is filled with tunes that make me think of my home (Hello Seattle by Owl City) and songs about going home (Homeward Bound by Simon and Garfunkel). It also may have had something to do with being awake for some 36 hours straight and the stress caused by travelling half way across the world alone.

I have been lucky enough to not have to experience Yap alone, always having Mike at my side to take the hits as well as celebrate the joys. I haven’t felt alone in such a long time.  Living in Yap’s culture commands that I take a back seat, as a woman, so I haven’t done a whole lot that’s makes me feel independent in awhile now. Flying thousands of miles away from him was very difficult. This trip has been the most time we have spent apart since meeting in 2003.

DSCN2079After such a long time away from home it was such a relief to step foot onto something familiar. I had told many people after I booked my ticket that it would not be a reality that I was going home until I stepped foot in “my” airport. I couldn’t have been more right. That moment when I came up the escalator to see my eager parents waiting for me with huge smiles was priceless. I have spent my time here seeing many people who I love and who love me. I have roller-skated, eaten, cuddled with our cats, and observed home with fresh eyes.

 

During my visit here I have been able to DSCN2059compare and contrast how both I and my home have changed. My mind keeps going back to that blog post I recently wrote about what our new normal is on Yap. There are things here that now don’t seem normal, or at least harder to navigate, after living in another culture. There are also things that are completely new to me that did not exist when we left. It is difficult to see some of the things we have missed, especially when it comes to milestones in loved one’s lives. We have missed weddings, babies being born, and friends moving away. Seattle (and Bremerton) has changed some too. There are new buildings and some old ones are gone.  Seattle has it’s own Hard Rock CafĂ© now! There is, what I think, a beautiful suicide barrier on the Aurora bridge that I am sure has saved at least a few lives since it’s installation. Downtown has grown and changed, but still has the same feel that I love.

Some things only seem like they have changed, but then I realize it is me that has changed. I couldn’t help but noticing all the couples holding hands, kissing, and wrapping their arms around each other. I am no longer used to seeing public displays of affection. People on Yap rarely hold hands, hug, or *gasp* kiss in public. It is now startling to me to see people doing this openly in public, especially those that take it a little too far! Every day I drive Mike to work, and before he gets out of the car I glace around real quick then give him a quick kiss. It feels scandalous every time!

The abundance of choices in the stores here in the statesDSCN2035 is now completely overwhelming to me. I stood with my mouth open for five minutes just trying to decide which toothpaste to buy. This happened with most purchases I had to make throughout my trip, including choosing which menu item to order at restaurants. Not only are there too many choices within each decision, like toothpaste, but there are products I have never even seen before, like these bicycle helmets. To me, these seem fairly bizarre, but keep in mind my “normal” is so different now.

Along with products I have never seen before, there are new technologies or traditions that are foreign to me. It was sometimes a challenge to navigate these for the first time. Since we left there is a new type of street signal. It took me a few intersections (and angry motorists honking at me) to understand that a blinking yellow left turn arrow on a light at an intersection means that left-turning cars may turn while yielding instead of waiting for their own green left turn arrow. Another new thing was that in Seattle there are now three waste containers in all fast food restaurants. Instead of just one garbage can, there are now also a compost and recycling can next to the garbage can. Of course I was happy to see this, but often stood in front of these cans contemplating where all my left over items went. There is very limited recycling available on Yap, so sorting recycling is something I have not done in awhile.

When I am out around town here I keep expecting to see someone I know anywhere I go. On Yap I do without fail. Here at home, when I see the same car as someone I once knew I assume it is them, even if they don’t live here anymore. On Yap you can recognize a car driving down the street as your friend’s from afar and then when you pass each other is is customary to wave. I have had to think DSCN2058twice before waving at cars that are the same make, model and color of people I know here. When I enter a store or restaurant I expect to see a familiar face somewhere. Even if it isn’t someone I know well, I always recognize at least someone everywhere I go on Yap. I have craved the anonymity of a larger city many days on Yap. Some days I just want to go to the store, get what I need and get home without being recognized, seen, or stopped by someone I know. But now that I am here, I feel weird not having that happen. I didn’t know a single person at Pike Place Market. There were thousands of people there, how did I not know any of them?

I actually enjoy, and currently miss, that all the cashiers at the stores, the tellers at the bank, and even the guy at the gas station know me. They may only know me as “AG’s wife” but they still know who I am. I am always seen as a person before a customer with pockets full of money. The latter being how I feel here. Store staff here only want to help me find something so I will buy it, not because they want to help me with what I need. Maybe when we move back we will have to live in a smaller town, or I will make a greater effort to get to know these workers I see on a regular basis. It does help that there aren’t endless numbers of employees at each establishment. I have to say it makes me smile every time when I walk into our bank and the teller, whose name I do know, smiles and greets me with a “Hello Mrs. Nigrey” before I even get to the counter and hand her my deposit slip with my name on it.

It was great to see Seattle and how it has grown and changed during our absence. I wandered aroundDSCN2052 the city with a goofy grin on my face taking pictures of things that typical tourists wouldn’t even notice.  this picture is of the viaduct, which since we have left has begun to be torn down. I stopped at a few tourist spots that I had always taken for granted, like Pike Place Market, Westlake Center, and Fremont, our old neighborhood. I drove by our old apartment, where we lived for six years and was a little uncomfortable seeing that someone was living in our old apartment! How dare they?!?

As for changes I have noticed in myself, I am much more comfortable with going with the flow of things compared to when I left. DSCN2147This was built out of necessity of learning how to live with what you have, not what you want. Being more easy going creates less stress in my life and allows me to listen and observe more. I am a little more quiet because of this, but it is a quiet confidence. I am definitely more confident. I can handle just about anything that is thrown my way these days *knock on wood*. 

With all this being said, there really is no place like home, especially during the holidays. After coming here and being reminded of the fast paced life we left behind to live on a tiny tropical island, I have reaffirmed what I miss the most- the people that I love, the comfortable feeling that familiarity provides, and good food. I have spent time with many people who I have known at various stages of my life. I felt it in my bones who I am and where I come from. I gathered strength and courage to return to our tiny island where things are always tropical, but aren’t always paradise.

I have roller-skated, eaten a variety of foods that I have missed and craved enough to have dreams about, saw DSCN2130 - Copya movie in a theater, and I have cuddled our cats. I have remembered what shivering feels like.  I have gazed at the Cascade and Olympic Mountains with wonder. I forgot how big and beautiful they are! I have forgotten how beautiful my home is, and how the people I love contribute to that beauty. Even the rainiest days in Seattle are bright when you are surrounded by marvelous people who know you well, and understand you. I will miss them all, and instead of saying “good-bye” I will settle for “see you later” because these people are everywhere I look if I look hard enough, especially if I look in the mirror.

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Thank you to all of my friends and family who housed, fed, and loved me during my visit. Who listened to me tell parts of our story on Yap, and who let me hug them a little longer than they felt comfortable with, I have been waiting too long to hug you quickly! I can’t wait to do it again!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Ringing in 2012

This month I’m celebrating not only the closure of 2011, but also two years on Yap. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m amazed at how even though the individual days pass so slowly, the months and years just slip by.

Two years. Sometimes I don’t even believe it myself.

Anyway… on New Year’s Eve, a bunch of the ex-pats decided to celebrate by having dinner together on the ‘restaurant boat’ Mnuw, moored next to the Manta Ray Bay Hotel. As expected, a variety of food and beverages were consumed, and everyone seemed to have a good time. At midnight, someone declared that we should all jump off the upper deck of the ship into the water. I was ready and willing to make this leap into the unknown, but at the last minute, the management informed us that the tide was too low! Oh well, maybe next time. Perhaps this is the year that I finally will accomplish this feat of bravery and/or foolishness.

About a week later, Governor Anefal and the Executive branch held a post-Christmas and New Year party. Members of State agencies were invited, along with the other branches of government, and all the resident ex-pats. The venue was at Sunset Park in the municipality of Kaday, a picturesque spot on the western coast of the island.

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It had been raining off and on for the past few days, so it was a relief that the weather cooperated. A steady breeze from the ocean-side helped keep everyone cool and the mosquitoes away. Out on the horizon, tubular waves arced rhythmically before crashing onto the reef.

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The party officially began at 10am. Knowing that ‘island-time’ means a certain flexibility in when things actually start, I arrived about forty five minutes after. I figured that I’d still be fashionably late. As it turned out, I was one of the first guests to show up! Eventually others trickled in, and we all helped set up folding chairs borrowed from the Dept. of Education.

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Everyone took notice when a truck pulled up almost to the edge of the stone embankment above the water.

DSC00111Loaded in the back were two giant coolers, freshly filled with ice and Budweiser. Even though it was well before noon, cans of beer were immediately passed out.

More people started arriving, and chose seats on folding chairs, or ancient-looking stone picnic tables, or wherever shade was available.

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People chatted while fixing chews of betel nut, interrupted only by frequent offers of new cans of beer. Coconuts were also distributed, after harvesting them from a nearby tree.

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The Governor arrived, and sat with other senior members of government. They gathered around big bottles of tuba, and drank from cups made from coconut shells.

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DSC00121At one point, I took a walk around the park. I watched this little residence, a lookout for illegal fishing in that marine protected area, bob gently on the waves. Aside from the commute, I thought that would be a pretty fun job.

Kids played on a weathered swing set, under the watchful eye of a group of mothers who were sitting nearby. I noticed that more of these stone tables were scattered around, and I wondered about their history.

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There was also a koyeng-like structure, but built without the usual benches. I’m guessing it’s for storing canoes or kayaks, perhaps to ferry the lookout to his marine observation post?

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DSC00136Before lunch, the Governor gave a short speech, wishing everyone a belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. He welcomed all the assembled guests, and even gave special thanks to the ex-pats, who are far from home during the holidays. I can certainly appreciate that sentiment!

Afterward, everyone helped themselves to the trays upon trays of food arranged on a long line of tables. On one side were salads and local food like taro, banana, and tapioca; on the other were several varieties of meat. There were platters heaped high with piles of beef ribs, chicken, fish, and hot dogs. Everything was barbecued to perfection. The head of the table was reserved for the guest of honor: A 180 pound, leaf wrapped, pit-roasted pig.

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I learned that some of the organizers of the party stayed up the entire night cooking it. I fully respect their dedication to the traditional culinary arts, as the pork was really excellent.

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The meat was tender with a slightly smoky flavor, and surprisingly lean. I ate heartily and even saved a few bones for Peanut, which he thoroughly enjoyed.

The festivities continued throughout the afternoon. Events such as an egg toss, and something called a ‘beer belly contest’, were planned. Feeling a little tired and sleepy after my heavy meal, I said my goodbyes and made my way back home. Just in time too, as the first event was a tuba-drinking contest among Cabinet members! After so much good food and even more good cheer, losing that competition wouldn’t hurt my pride, but maybe my dignity. 

I’m sure the party kept going well on into the night, and possibly the next morning.

Looking back, all in all, 2011 was pretty good. It had its changes and challenges, but also adventure, growth, and experiences that have become treasured memories. I can’t even imagine what 2012 will bring. Here’s hoping for a happy, healthy, and prosperous year. 

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Also, that it’s not the year the world ends, as the Mayans predicted.