Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Hungry Games

By: Mike

If you’ve recently purchased combo sized bag of fast food at a drive-thru (or through) window while sitting in your car, or had someone deliver a pizza or little boxes of Chinese food to your very door for a mere gratuity, appreciate the simple luxury of it.

On Yap, you can either make your own food or eat at a restaurant, and neither option is particularly fast or convenient. 

The closest thing to ‘fast food’ would be the lunch plate shelf at the local grocery store. Every day around lunchtime, shelves sandwiched between the shampoo and snack food aisles are stocked with plastic wrapped Styrofoam plates of food prepared at small restaurants around town. 

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On today’s menu, featured on the shelf below the rolls and loaves of bread, you’ll find a still moderately warm plate of fried chicken or a stir fry of likely pork or chicken, with a side of lumpia (a deep fried eggroll wrapper filled with with vegetables or ground beef), yam or taro, and of course, rice. On the shelf below it are plates of grilled pork or fish, with macaroni salad, yellow rice, and everyone’s favorite, the barbequed hot dog.

Early on in this adventure, I worked up the courage to try a plate from the YCA grocery store, mostly out of curiosity. I can’t say I finished the entire thing, but I suffered no ill effects, and the meal delivered everything it had promised for around $3.50.

IMG_0193Shortly thereafter, I thankfully was introduced to the nearby Oasis Restaurant.  This popular eatery is located right along the main road through town, and is usually packed shortly after the start of the government lunch hour at 11:30am.

It’s not a large restaurant by any means, so it’s a good idea to arrive early to get one of the eight inside booths (one of which is perpetually reserved for special guests of the management), so you can enjoy the cool breeze from their industrial-sized air conditioning unit.

IMG_0194The booths and tables are handmade using local timbers. Some tables even contain a ‘secret’ panel on the top where you could leave a clandestine note for a future customer to discover.  As in most of the best restaurants in Colonia, the walls are simply paneled with local wood, giving a very natural and welcoming feel.

Note:  Those windows aren’t really looking outside. Rather, you can see a cleverly designed piece of wallpaper a couple inches away!

Some outside seating is partially covered, while other tables are exposed to the elements. Mosquitos can be a problem, so lather up with bug spray beforehand.

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DSCN2587During my first few months on Yap I would eat at Oasis so consistently, they would just know to start cooking up a daily lunch special when I arrived. For the amount of food you get for only $5 (recently increased to $6), it’s a deal you just can’t beat.

Today’s special was: an excellent sweet and sour pork and cabbage soup, followed by a well-portioned spicy chicken entrée (although good, it wasn’t particularly spicy), two beef lumpia, a small salad, a piece of local yam and taro, rice, and a bottomless glass of iced tea.

Also popular at the Oasis are the ‘sizzling’ stir fry dishes (fish, pork, or chicken), that send up a plume of steam as they exit the kitchen. With enough patrons ordering these platters, the entire restaurant can quickly be filled with a thick haze caused by so much noisily sizzling meat.

IMG_0192You can even order food from across the street at the quaint, cozy O’Keefe’s Waterfront Inn, and the restaurant will bring it to you. Tables are set up on their outdoor patio, so you can enjoy your food while gazing out at the ocean.

It’s the closest thing to a delivery service that Yap has to offer.

DSCN2574Another of my favorite establishments is the Ganir, on the upper level of the main Yap Cooperative Association building in the center of town.

 

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The food is reasonably priced and pretty good, especially the Philippine entrees like adobo (a spicy curry-like sauce, not to be confused with the chocolatey southwestern sauce of the same name).

My favorite dish though is the Orange Chicken, which looks and tastes exactly as a Westerner would think it should. 

The menu advertises lobster and local crab for only $10, but it’s never been available when I’ve inquired.

The inside restaurant boasts a brand new big-screen television, which is usually tuned to either CNN or the latest sporting event. There are a variety of lunch special entrees, but most are just variations on your standard stir fry.

There’s also an outdoor deck, with a largely unused bar, that gets a strong breeze from the ocean.

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Tilted BoatsIt’s a pleasant place to sit and look out at the water, especially during “happy hours” (4pm to 6pm), when cans of Budweiser and Bud Light are only $2.

This photo was taken from the Ganir deck, on an unusually calm and cloudy day.

 

 

Another restaurant with a good waterside deck is at the E.S.A Hotel (after two years, I still have no idea what “E.S.A” stands for), conveniently located right down the street from our house. The hamburgers are homemade, and there are a variety of soups served in giant bowls that are perfect to combat the common cold. 

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The view across Chamorro Bay is picturesque, and since the restaurant opens at 6pm you’re sure to catch a spectacular sunset. 

However, if you’re looking for a really beautiful mealtime vista, you can grab a bite at the restaurant overlooking Colonia and the nearby harbor at the Yap Pacific Dive Resort or YPDR (formally known as Traders’ Ridge, a name inspired by its ridge top location).

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This hotel was originally called the “Seabee Inn”, and was constructed after World War II and the liberation of Yap from the Japanese. The restaurant and bar areas are actually a restored former Japanese command post!

DSCN2686The architecture of Traders’ Ridge (which locals and expats still call the place, rather than its current unwieldy name) inspired by the style favored by the trader clipper ship captains of the 19th century, and much of the décor features traditional Yapese and Micronesian handicrafts. Looking at the place, you can’t but help wonder if you’d stepped onto the set of the old “Fantasy Island” television show, or perhaps even some secret tropical hideaway for the rich and famous. In fact, the latter is actually the truth, as the place was built with the fortunes of an extremely wealthy individual who invented critical components of the first artificial heart!

The food at the restaurant is good, though too overpriced for the budgets of your average on-island resident. For example, a fairly standard southwestern chicken sandwich (apparently southwestern because they use “herbs and spices” on the chicken) is on the cheap side at $10 with fries, while the more elaborate Burgundy Beef entrée is $22. Specialty drinks such as the Betel-Nut Martini are $8.

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As with most restaurants on Yap, the quality of the food is often inconsistent. Some days you’ll get a perfectly satisfactory meal, while other times you’ll order the same dish that is a pale shadow of your previous Traders’ dining experience. Also, when ordering off the menu, have a backup plan just in case ingredients aren’t available.

That notwithstanding, some of the best food I’ve eaten on Yap was from YPDR. On Miranda’s 30th birthday we had a truly wonderful meal of local lobster and mangrove crab, served out on the “Tree Terrace” area of the restaurant.  It was a memorable experience for us both. The food was absolutely excellent, thanks to the fresh local shellfish and plenty of melted butter.

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Phallic FishOf course, there a few other restaurants on Yap. I’ve previously mentioned the restaurant-boat Mnuw (where the picture below featuring my Yapese basket was taken) and its extraordinary fish tacos. I usually eat lunch during the week at the Yap Marina Sports Bar and Grill where my favorite has to be the Blackened Tuna Sashimi (pictured). I should note that this appetizer usually doesn’t look quite so phallic. There’s also a restaurant on the north coast of Yap called the Moon Rize Café that serves homemade cheese sticks (a lumpia wrapper filled with cheese and deep fried) and specialty Japanese dishes.  

All this writing about food has had the unanticipated effect of making me hungry. So without further ado, happy eating!

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Monday, April 2, 2012

In Memory of Peanut

By Mike, with contributions by Miranda

This is without a doubt the most difficult blog entry I’ve ever had to write.

On the morning of March 12, 2012, I awoke to find that Peanut, my near-constant puppy companion and faithful friend, had died.

It was just a few months past his first birthday.

IMG_0110I don’t need to describe the details of, nor would I ever want to re-live, the horror and shock of finding his body, or the several hours that followed of chipping away at a grave in the hard-packed, rocky dirt of our front yard. Completely overwhelmed by grief, I was so very thankful for the help of a few friends who helped Miranda and I dig Peanut’s final resting place on this island he loved so much. Even now, several weeks later, I find it impossible to write about his death without getting choked up.

People have reminded me to focus on all the good times we had though. It is a very easy thing to do. For both Miranda and I, he had been a central part of our lives here from the moment we brought him home as a little puppy that could easily fit inside a shoebox. With very few exceptions, each and every day thereafter was filled with a special kind of joy as we watched our little pup grow from a chubby, clumsy adolescent into the silly, loving, and handsome dog I’d like to always remember him as.

DSCN2236Without a doubt, Peanut made our lives here on Yap so much better.

Here he is, dragging Miranda around at the beach, after learning that he instinctively knew how to swim. He enjoyed it so much, Miranda and I joked he’d likely swim out to sea. The harness you see him wearing was something we had to get him. Whenever we had him on the leash he would choke himself because all he wanted to do was run. The harness only seemed to add to his powerful tugs as he could put his whole body into it. He knew how to walk nicely with the leash, but sometimes he just got so excited.

He was a bit uncertain about the water at first though. He slipped around on the rocks, and needed some reassurance to leave the shore.

I was always glad to oblige with a little pep talk.

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Peanut’s happiness was just infectious. I couldn’t help but smile at his antics, whether it was chasing chickens and frogs around our yard, rolling around in the grass with his sister Lemon, or proudly following me when I’d walk down the road. I was proud of him too. No matter how frustrating my day was, it instantly got better when I’d come home to see him sitting just inside the front door, tail wagging wildly.

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He loved to ride in the car (evidenced by non-stop drooling as he’d try to stick his head out the window), to chew on anything from his giant box of dog toys (that were usually spread out all across the living room), and could run faster than you’d think such a "husky”  dog would be able to. He would lay fast asleep on the living room floor, and dream about open fields and slow chickens, and we’d watch his paws twitch and his his jaw clench. He was still working on learning how to ‘stay’ and he never could learn ‘lay down’ because he always sat funny, with each leg out looking like an outrigger canoe, making it hard for him to go from sitting to laying. He could sit, and shake, and fetch like a purebred show dog (or at least it seemed like to his puppy-parents who always rewarded him with a treat or a head pat).

He wasn’t pure bred though. He was a Yap dog through and through.

One that was very loved, and who will be so very missed.

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Miranda and I would both like to thank our friends, both on-island and abroad, for their condolences and support. A special thanks goes to a former expat and fellow pet lover who sent us a book called Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant. It really helped. Peanut was a part of our little family here, his loss has affected us profoundly, and we thank you all for being there. 

Miranda would also like to mention YAPS…

Started by American expats and Peace Corps volunteers living here on Yap in 2009, Yap Animal Protection Society, or YAPS, is a non-profit organization with a mission “to protect the welfare of Yap State’s animal population and raise public awareness and provide basic veterinarian service to Yap”. Through fundraising, YAPS is currently trying to raise money to bring a vet to Yap for a few days to provide a clinic for Yap’s animals including spay and neutering, basic healthcare, and to humanely euthanize sick or injured animals. This service is so badly needed because there is no resident vet on Yap, and the local population has a different sense of the value of non-food animals. Pet healthcare is not a major priority.

YAPS is currently accepting donations. We personally know the people who run YAPS, all volunteers, and know that donations will be used appropriately. If you would like to donate to YAPS, visit their webpage at: 

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We don’t know if having a vet here could have saved our dear pup (likely not), but we do know that animals here are in dire need of veterinarian services on a regular basis and a clinic and YAPS is a good place to start.

Here’s a last photo, from Christmas, 2011, where Peanut couldn’t stop fidgeting or looking goofy. As usual.  

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Good boy.