April 2015


Two of Five Down: The Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands

Abandoned HotelWith all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Guam under my belt, it occurred to me that I might as well go for it all and visit all of the inhabited US territories – there are five of them, including Guam and, this week’s stop, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands.

Abandoned BuildingIt wasn’t until I was at the CNMI Museum that I learned that the CNMI was a possession of Germany between 1899 and 1916, when Japan forcefully took the islands from Germany. Strangely, I might note, I don’t think any German that I’ve talked to even knew the islands existed before I brought up the fact that I was going to visit Saipan.

Saipan SunsetRegardless, I had an interesting week on Saipan.

Banzai CliffSaipan is a tourist destination for people from Korea, China, and Japan – with a smattering of Russians. There are, of course, US mainlanders here, but they fall into two distinct camps: military (the vast majority) or screwballs like me.

Honestly, I am hard pressed to come up with a reason to come here unless you like World War II (Pacific Theater) history or cannot afford to go some place nicer.

What’s here, geared for the dominant group of tourists, are enormous resort hotels, many of which are obscenely expensive.

Bird Island LookoutWhat the tourists do is beyond me: none of the beaches that I visited were unusually or especially nice, they were just beaches of mediocre quality. Most of the sites around the island are WWII oriented – and while I’m sure many Japanese tourists like to pause and remember their ancestors who committed suicide at Suicide Cliff, these activities do not take that much time. There’s diving (if you’re into that) – and I hear it’s good.

Suicide CliffThe island does seem to have an unusually large number of Ford Mustangs (given the population of about 45,000 people) – all of which are in very bright primary colors and rented to tourists, who drive around with the top down and selfie sticks sticking out – or if not with a selfie stick, their gopro camera is attached to the car somewhere visible.

Abandoned Resort ComplexBut that seems to be it – when it comes to tourist shit.

On the flip side, there is an undercurrent of poverty and broken dreams here – which I suspect the happy-go-lucky Asian tourists don’t necessarily notice. Abandoned buildings abound and the average age of cars (not counting rental cars) appears to be around 10 years.

Joy BeachtelMaintenance of buildings and streets seems, at best, shoddy. The nicest, best, maintained building that I’ve noticed around town is a McDonald’s.

I closed out my trip with a quick stop at the Thursday Night Market – a tourist oriented, locals attend, fair held along the ocean front. With a plethora of food choices, one won’t come away hungry, or broke. There are also some stands selling local art (I wasn’t even tempted) and others selling cheap clothing.

Thursday Night Market, Garapan SaipanIt’s safe to say that I’m happy to have visited the CNMI, but if I were looking to vacation in this part of the world again, I would probably choose Guam.

Or, to be frank, stay in either Taipei or Seoul for a little bit longer.

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