The Mouse That Roared

I know you are all probably following along at home, but in case you didn’t know, the 2007 Pacific Games have started in Apia, Samoa.

This has actually been a big deal everywhere I’ve been this summer. In Samoa, all the streets in Apia had banners for the games and every day in the paper there were stories about game preparations. I was eating dinner in Samoa one evening and there was a table of representatives from the Olympic committees from various pacific countries having dinner. Listening to their conversation, I got the impression most of the national organizations were really half-assed operations. That really should come as no surprise if you think about how small most of these places are.

The events at the games are for the most part normal, with a few exceptions:

  • Bodybuilding – Why this is a “sport” is beyond me. If you think about it however, it makes as much sense as diving, synchronized swimming, rhythmic gymnastics, and figure skating.
  • Netball – I really think Netball is dumb. See my previous posts from New Zealand. It’s basketball for girls, working under the assumption that girls can’t play basketball.
  • 7s Rugby – Honestly, the quality of competition in this event would be world class. Probably the only event they could say that about in these games other than weightlifting. I’d expect Samoa and Fiji to meet in the finals.
  • Va’a (outrigger canoing) – A real sport native to the region. I remember seeing in Samoa gigantic outrigger canoes that would seat over 20 people.
  • Archery – Not surpising as an event, but the Prime Minister of Samoa is competing.
  • Surfing – Everyone on the Tonga surfing team is from the same family.

If you have ever watched the Olympics opening ceremonies, you’ll always notice the tiny countries. They usually have an Olympic contingent of one or two people, and that one guy is holding the flag. The TV commentators will usually say something about how awesome it is that these little countries are here and basically treat them the same as you would competitors in the Special Olympics. (Awww, isn’t it great that the Cook Islands are here?? Give them a hand everyone! What great competitors!)

Well, the mouse has roared.

There is one particular sport which the countries of the Pacific are really good at. Weightlifting. There is a guy from Nauru (approx. population 12,000) who won a bronze medal at the world championships. Last week, a lifter from Micronesia, Manuel Minginfel, set the world record in the 56kg class.

I really think one or more of these island countries is going to bring home some hardware from Beijing in 2008.

Here is the current medal count so you can follow along at home.

Final Thoughts on Guam

As I previously mentioned, I had no preconceived notions about Guam. Having nothing to compare it with, I sort of used American Samoa as a benchmark.

American Samoa is a US territory, but it seems very subdued about it. You will see American flags flying here and there in American Samoa, but it is first and foremost Samoan. Much of this is due to the fact that Samoa is in the middle of nowhere and not next to anything. There has been little opportunity for them to be influenced by others.

Guam is nothing like American Samoa. Nothing. Guam is part of the USA and they hit you over the head with it the moment you walk off the plane. The airport has several “WE SUPPORT OUR TROOPS” banners. Outside the airport is a huge line of American and Guam flags. There is a greater diversity of fast food restaurants and chain stores in Guam than you will find in most US cities of similar size.

The roads are built like American roads. Guam has the only four lane roads I’ve seen in the Pacific, save for small stretches of New Zealand…and I think there might be more four lane roads on Guam. I actually experienced traffic. Not bumper-to-bumper, moving-at-a-snails-pace traffic, but significant traffic nonetheless.

I’ve heard of some cities (in particular Christchurch, NZ and Victoria, Canada) be called more British than the British. I think Guam might be more American than America.

This is due to the enormous military presence on the island. There is a naval base, an air force base and a marine camp on the island. Next year another 8,000 marines will be moving here from Okinawa. But for the military, I don’t know if Guam would be anything like what it is today.

Yet, there is another part of Guam that you also can’t miss the moment you leave the plane…..the Japanese.

When Americans leave the country for vacation, they will usually go to Mexico or the Caribbean. This is to be expected due to the proximity of those places to the US. Likewise, Guam is a big tourist spot for Japanese. 90% of the tourists to Guam are from Japan. If you go into the downtown area where the big resorts are, almost everything is in Japanese. It is a lot like Waikiki in Honolulu. Also like Waikiki, there are a ton of gun ranges right in town. At first, you might think thar the large number of gun ranges in Hawaii and Guam are due to the military bases, but you’d be wrong. The Japanese love shooting guns. They can’t do it in Japan, so its a popular thing to do when you come to the US. (Some of the signs for the gun ranges in Hawaii are funny. They have a gun in a full combat outfit with an M-16. If you read what you get to shoot, it’s mostly .22’s.)

I went to one of the popular attractions on the island: Talofofo Falls. Its just a few waterfalls on a small river, but there is a small amusement part that was built up around it. While most of the attractions on the island cater to Japanese tourists, this place seemed REALLY Japanese. As I was walking around I sort of figured out why.

If you recall your Gilligan’s Island history, there was an episode where they found a Japanese soldier who didn’t know the war was over. That was based on several true stories of soldiers found in the Pacific who had been in hiding for years after the war was over. The most famous case was of Shoichi Yokoi who was found living in the bush in Guam in 1972….28 years after the end of WWII. The real attraction of the park wasn’t the waterfall at all. It happened to be the location of the cave that Yokoi lived in. Yokoi is a Japanese hero. There is a small Buddhist shrine built on the location. The name of the gift shop in the park is “Yokoi’s Store”. Hardly any mention of this was in the English language signs or brochures.

One other way that Guam is different from American Samoa is the people. The natives of Guam are the Chamorros. They only account for about 40% of the population of the island. They are heavily Catholic and most of them have Spanish last names.

The US picked up Guam as a spoil from the Spanish-American War, along with the Philippines. It became a Spanish colony almost 500 years ago and was used as a station for ships traveling to and from the Philippines. Unlike the Philippines, Guam never opted for independence.

Unlike the Samoans, the Chamorros have been mixing with different people who have come to the island for hundreds of years: Spanish, Americans, Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans. I haven’t heard much Chamorroan spoken in Guam, even in conversations between locals. In fact, most of the people here have American accents.

Geologically, Guam is the southernmost island in the Marinas Island chain. Ethnically, they are the same as the Chamorros in the Northern Marinas Islands, but historically and politically, they have been separate for a long time.

I think if Guam were closer, there would be a lot more tourists from the US which visited. It is an interesting slice of America plunked down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.