Friday, February 29, 2008

Kite Festival Tomorrow

Here comes our much awaited event!!!........

3rd ANNUAL MARIANAS WIND KITE FESTIVAL
and CULTURAL FOOD FAIR
Tomorrow,
Saturday, March 1, 2008
10:00 am – 3:00 pm
@ The
American Memorial Park
Central Ball Field


Witness the thrilling kite-flying demonstration
by the Korean Kite Fliers,
colorful kite parade,

and
exciting kite-flying contest.
And there’s more……
Savor the delectable taste of our cultural food
We don’t want you to miss this fun-filled event,

so come and fly your kite with us!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Kite and Food Festival on Saturday, March 1

The Kite Festival and Cultural Food Festival will be on Saturday at American Memorial Park from 10 AM to 3 PM. It's free. If you want to enter the contests, there is a $5 fee. Kites will be for sale at the Festival if you don't have one. There are a couple of champion kite flyers from Korea who will be there and in fact, in preparation they are putting on a kite making workshop.

The workshop is free and will be on Thursday, Feb 28 and Friday, Feb 29 at Brilliant Star School form 4 - 5:30 PM on each day. Everyone is welcome.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Northern Nausea

I've spent the last hour doing research on anti-nausea medications, more specifically those related to motion sickness.

I got an invitation from a boat captain to take a trip up to the Northern Islands. I'm dying to go again, but I get horribly seasick. I went up about 13 years ago. We went to Anatahan, Alamagan, Pagan and Agrigan -- all the inhabited islands. Most of them had about 5-10 people living on them. They are beautiful islands -- absolutely spectacular, mythical. They must be some of the most remote and untouched parts of the world. I bet most of them have had less than 100 humans visit them over the past 100 years. This trip includes Maug, which is the summit of a volcanic crater. This is what it looks like from the air.


My last trip was a five day trip, and I spent those five days hanging over the side of the boat "feeding the fish." I took all the anti seasickness drugs, but I managed to break through them, while still suffering from all their side effects -- my mouth was dry, I couldn't see, I couldn't pee, and I was puking my guts out. I was a sight to behold, drapped over two bags of rice with my head in a bucket. When I returned, and people asked me about the trip, I would say, "It was a once in a lifetime trip." But I so want to go again.

Apparently there is some drug out of Europe that sailors use a few days prior to their trip and about three days into the trip that kills the nausea and seasickness. It's not approved in the US. I'm trying to find out more about it, but no luck yet. I don't even know its name. If I can figure out this seasickness thing, I'm going back to the Northern Islands.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

How did you end up in Saipan?

We all have it: the story we tell when someone asks, “How did you end up in Saipan?” I have a short version that goes something like this. “I always wanted to work internationally. I sent letters all over the world, ended up in Samoa, then a year later moved to Saipan.” It’s the version I tell when I meet someone. But I thought there would be some value in writing down the long version. The Saipan story is part of everyone’s Saipan experience, and it’s also part of my kids story of how they ended up in Saipan (actually, ended up being born and growing up in Saipan.)

I’m fascinated to hear the other stories out there, short, long or medium versions. So, I’m turning this into a game of tag. I’m tagging Angelo, Jeff, Boni, Bev, Brad and Bree to write about their Saipan stories. If you grew up here, what took you away, and why did you come back? If you just left, or are leaving, add that to the story too. Tag three more people to write their story of “How did you end up in Saipan?”

***

I’ve always wanted to work internationally. I grew up in a Bahá’í family, and there were two messages positive that infused my childhood. One was that the highest station for a human being was a life of service to others. The second was that it was a praiseworthy act to leave one’s homeland to serve in a place where one is really needed. The possibility of living internationally was something I grew up with. It was actually something I aspired to.

In the winter of 1992, as I was finishing my ophthalmology training, I was also in the midst of a huge personal crisis, wondering what would be the next step in my life. I prayed and meditated a lot, but I didn’t get very far. At the time, my sister, who is an attorney, was working at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, in the Holy Land. So, I went there to pray and meditate some more, and also to have a chance to consult with some people who might have some insight to share with me.

My sister set up appointments for me to spend time with various individuals with experience all over the world. Many told me, “Oh, you must go to this place. The need is very great!” and depending on to whom I was talking, the place may have been Eastern Europe, Russia, anywhere in Africa, India, or South America. Finally, I landed at the desk of Don Rodgers, a Canadian Artist who had been in Haifa for many years. He shared with me his own experience of being a struggling artists, and being told by his peers to stay in Canada and focus on his art, but he decided to let go of that paradigm, and managed to become an internationally acclaimed artist while still living where he wanted to live, and serving in the way he wanted to serve. When I asked him, “Where should I go then?” He said, “Send enquiries all over the planet. Give the Force some options to work with. (He actually said “Holy Spirit.”) You will be guided.” That gentle conversation in Don Rogers office at 4 Haparsim Street in Haifa turned my life.

I returned to Chicago, and began to send letters to NGO’s and Government Health Departments around the world – Africa, Asia, the Pacific, South America. But even though I was sending these letters, I was still hesitant. I wasn’t yet sure that leaving America would be my path, and so at the same time I continued to interview for the Retina Fellowships I had applied for earlier. My own residency program at Northwestern was holding a fellowship position for me, and needed me to let them know so they could pursue another candidate for the position if I didn’t want to take the spot. Time was running out.

I was starting to hear back from the hospitals around the world. Everywhere wrote back saying, “We’d love to have you. We cannot pay you a penny.” Thanks to my parents, I was lucky enough to get out of medical school without any debt, so I didn’t need a high paying job, but I did need to make some money. There were two places that could pay “subsistence” wages – a hospital in the Caribbean, and the LBJ Tropical Medical Center in Pago Pago, American Samoa. I found an ophthalmologist who had been visiting the hospital in the Caribbean every year for 20 years, and he didn’t recommend working there full-time. So, I was left with the job in Pago Pago. It was a bit familiar to me because seven years earlier, after my first year of medical school, I had spent a summer working in a dispensary on the outer island of Tau, and had spent a morning at LBJ.

But I still wasn’t sure if I should get further education or go to Samoa. It was winter, and I stood in a little bookstore under the El station in Chicago, opened a book, and on one page were the words, “Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life you will regret the things you did not do more than the things you did. That was it for me. I thought about those words and knew that I had to go overseas. I also realized that if I did a Retina Fellowship, I could get too specialized for the jobs available in developing countries, and I could also get stuck in America – stuck with a high-paying ego stroking job, a nice house, the white picket fence – the golden handcuffs. That night, I booked my ticket for Samoa. The next day, I let the fellowship programs know that I was withdrawing my applications.

I finished my training on June 30, and three weeks later I boarded a plane for Pago Pago. Tears welled up in my eyes as the plane left the ground. I knew it was big move. I was scared of the unknown. I didn’t known if I’d be coming back. “What am I doing?” I thought to myself.

The year in Samoa was phenomenal. There hadn’t been an ophthalmologist there in ten years, so I was incredibly busy, doing all kind of complex cases, and getting the kind of experience that people only dream about in their first jobs. It was also a year of discovery – I made some of the closest friends of my life there; I found my wife, Mara, there; and I found parts of myself and a new way of life there.

By the end of my year in Pago Pago my friends were leaving, some of the equipment was breaking down and there wasn’t a prospect of getting it fixed quickly. In the meantime, I had fallen in love with the Pacific and started to explore other possibilities – teaching at the medical school in Fiji, working in various health departments, etc.

Straub Hospital in Honolulu has a Pacific Island liaison office, and the liaison officer, Dr. Henry Preston, would travel throughout the Pacific touching base with various health departments. So he knew a thing or two about healthcare in the Pacific. When he stopped in Samoa, I asked him for advice on which countries or jurisdictions might be ready for an ophthalmologist. Many of the islands were, and are still, dealing with basic health care issues like immunization, and the resources are not available for more specialized areas like ophthalmology. Henry recommended I check out Saipan.

I had sent Saipan a letter in the initial round of inquiries a year earlier, but Saipan wasn’t ready at the time. This time, they were eager. So, in August of 1993, I took a month to travel to Saipan from Samoa, visiting hospitals and Bahá’í communities along the way in Fiji, Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Kosrae, and Pohnpei. It was a trip out of National Geographic.

I was initially hired by the CNMI government on a one month contract as a consultant – to treat patients, but to also look at ophthalmology needs in the CNMI. At that time, the place was flush with money, and the hospital had been bringing a couple of ophthalmologists here from San Diego, and paying them insane amounts ($500,000 for five weeks work – I saw the check with my own eyes). I offered to work full-time for half that amount, but of course, there were ceilings on government employees so that wasn’t a possibility, even though it made complete sense.

Anyway, my consulting contract was renewed a couple of times while the government worked to create a full-time position for an ophthalmologist, and within a few months I was hired as an employee of the Commonwealth Health Center with a usual salary.

I enjoyed my work there, and during those five years I built The Center for Eye Disease at CHC. It was fun. I published a couple of scientific papers, attended conferences at the CDC, and worked on public health issues. But, there was a limit in terms of how much I could improve things. The hospital couldn’t budget for the more advanced technologies I needed to raise the level of care, and each year there were worries as to whether or not funding would be available for my position.

By this time, Mara and I had decided to make Saipan home. (We had both left Samoa at the same time in August 1993, she heading off to Honolulu to start her Masters of Public Health, and me to Saipan. She moved to Saipan a few months later, in December and completed her MPH by traveling back and forth to UH. We got married here about a year after she arrived. That’s another very complicated, but happy story.) In making Saipan home, we realized that because of the funding issues it would be difficult to have a sense of security while working for the government. So we both quit our jobs (she was working as the epidemiologist for the Division of Mental Health at the time), and opened Marianas Eye Institute. That was ten years ago. And that’s the story of how we ended up where we are in Saipan.

I have a couple of other “Saipan stories” that I am asked about every month or so – “How did you come to open a school?” and “Four kids?!” Those stories are for another time.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Days Like This

The kids are off for two days this week because of parent-teacher conferences. Here is what my day looked like yesterday.

  • 3 AM: Child 4 awakens. I can't get back to sleep. Welcome to the day.
  • 5:45 AM: Drive to Garapan for 6 AM run. Running buddy sleeps in. I'm too tired to run alone. Drive back home.
  • 7 AM: Drive to San Jose for radio interview with Harry Blalock on KZMI for Kite Festival March 1
  • 8:30 AM: Parent-Teacher Conference for Child 1
  • 9:15 AM: Go to the office to examine patients I operated on yesterday
  • 10 AM: Take Child 3 to dental appointment
  • 11 AM: Take Child 2 and 3 to ENT appointment, get X-rays, schedule hearing test.
  • 12 PM: Drive Child 2 to San Vicente to play with a friend.
  • 1 PM: Arrive back in Garapan for 1 PM meeting
  • 2:30 PM: Take Child 1 to jewelry making workshop
  • 3:30 PM: Parent-Teacher Conference for Child 3
  • 4:30 PM: Prepare to take Child 1 to dance class. Child 1 decides not to go, no arguments from me. I lie down to take a nap.
  • 6 PM: Wake up, eat, drive to Garapan for 6:30 meeting.
  • 8:30 PM: Meeting over, Mara and I drive to Hyatt to walk in the gardens and chill. Get tour of new spa. Very nice.
  • 9:15 PM: Get home, end of day, good night.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fast Approaching Fast

It's a little over a week away from the beginning of the Baha'i Fast. It's a period of 19 days, from March 2-20. Unlike Lent and Ramadan, it is fixed to the solar calendar, and falls on these same days every year, ending on March 21 with the Baha'i New Year -- the vernal equinox.

The Baha'i Fast is a period of abstaining from food and drink (yes, drink too) from sunrise to sunset on each of these 19 days. You get up before sunrise, eat and drink, and then don't eat or drink again until the sun sets. I've been observing the Fast since I was 15 years old. It's not meant to kill you. You're exempt if you're younger than 15, older than 70, pregnant, nursing, menstruating, traveling or engaged in heavy labor. It's meant to be a period of turning inward, of spiritual recuperation, self-reflection. It's also meant to be a time of heightened awareness of the suffering of the poor.

It's an important part of the year for me. It's not easy to be sure. In fact, even Baha'u'llah, the prophet-founder of the Baha'i Faith, described it as being "outwardly toilsome". The hardest part for me isn't so much the NOT eating, but the eating. I often don't feel like eating much in the mornings, and by the evening, I'm pretty tired and don't want to eat. But I do allow myself to eat things during this time of year, that I wouldn't otherwise eat. Like chocolate. And ice cream.

I think one of the greatest lessons of the Fast for me over the years has been practicing self-restraint. It seems like an impossibility to not eat when you're so hungry, or drink when you're so thirsty, but you learn to practice self-restraint for a higher good. The absence of that single virtue -- self-restraint -- seems to be at the root of so much of the corruption in today's world. Self-discipline. It's a way of exercising mastery over that most unwieldy of creatures, the self.

Anyway, I'm starting to get ready for the Fast, mostly just by thinking about it, and thinking of the areas of my spiritual life that I'd like to pay focused attention to during this time of the year. Many years, a friend will fast with me for a day. I invite you to join me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Middlesex


It's not often that I get a chance to read a novel, but as I boarded the plane in Hawaii, I ran to the bookshop and picked up the first book that looked decent. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides. It is one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read. It's also a winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Here is a passage that picks up with a child answering the door during the burning and pillaging of Smyrna by Turkish soldiers in the early 1900's. The family is hiding in their apartment, while the father, a physician, has been out to tend to a neighbor.

***

When they hear knocking, they jump. Stepan goes to the window and looks down. "It must be Father."
"Go. Let him in! Quick!" Toukhie says.
Karekin vaults down the stairs two at a time. At the door he stops, collects himself, and quietly unbolts the door. At first, when he pulls it open, he sees nothing. Then there's a soft hiss, followed by a ripping noise. The noise sounds as though it has nothing to do with him until suddenly a shirt button pops off and clatters against the door. Karekin looks down as all at once his mouth fills with a warm fluid. He feels himself being lifted off his feet, the sensation bringing back to him childhood memories of being whisked into the air by his father, and he says, "Dad, my button," before he is lifted high enough to make out the steel bayonet puncturing his sternum. The fire's reflection leads along the gun barrel, over the sight and hammer, to the soldier's ecstatic face.

***

Here's the beginning of the Amazon review:

"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974." And so begins Middlesex, the mesmerizing saga of a near-mythic Greek American family and the "roller-coaster ride of a single gene through time."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Two Polls

There are two polls on Congressman Joe Camacho's website.

  1. Land Ownership in the CNMI
  2. Federalization of Immigration

Head over to his site and make your opinion known. Click here.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

My Alma Mater


I just received the alumni magazine from Northwestern University, where I did my undergraduate degree, as well as my ophthalmology training. I miss it. I miss the vibrant nature of a center of higher learning. I miss the opportunity to hear people that are on the cutting edge of their fields. I miss learning about new ideas. Well, maybe. I just remembered that a few months ago I went to a presentation by the Humanities Council by an academic archaeologist about the clay pots of the Mariana Islands. After about five minutes, I realized I had learned all I really needed to know about clay pots. The rest of the lecture was painful. The speaker was great, mind you. But the topic wasn't, shall we say, "captivating" to me. I suppose if I were at the University setting, I'd choose my lectures more carefully, (just as I now do with the Humanities Council lectures).

When I started my undergraduate career, I had visions of becoming a biomedical engineer, and I started out in the college of engineering. After the first year, I decided there was more to life than circuits and molecules, so I took a hard swing, transfered to the College of Arts and Sciences, and double majored in comparative religion and biology. The current issue of Northwestern magazine has a fascinating article about one of the folks who didn't transfer out of biomedical engineering, but who has gone on to develop what is now, the world's first artificial limb that is controlled by the brain. Nerves from the brain send signals to electrodes in the artificial arm, so when you think, "I'm going to bend my arm", the artificial arm bends. How cool is that! The full article is here. Check it out. It's a fascinating read.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Fantastic Fantasticks



We went and saw this production of the local theater group last night. It was excellent. The story was entertaining, and the acting and singing were quite good. Apparently, the Fantasticks is the longest running musical in history. And I had never heard of it.

Anyway, if you have a chance, catch the last show -- Sunday, February 17 at PIC. Dinner is at 6:30 PM, with the show starting at 7:30 PM. Tickets are $30 per person

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Getting My Bearings

Over the last six weeks or so, I've spent two weeks in Bali, a week in Guam, a week in Hawaii and a weekend in Australia. My head's been spinning a bit. I've sorted of felt like I've been floating, out of touch with my home and what is going on with my friends. I have one more short trip to take this month, and then I'll be staying put for a while. But I've been so disoriented that at times I haven't been aware of what month it is.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Home from Australia

Mara and I spent the weekend in Cairns. It was the first time we've taken a trip without the kids. It was beautiful. We did a lot of that thing that parents with four young children rarely get a chance to do. Yep, that's right. We talked. We talked in complete sentences. We talked without interruptions, carefree, like when we were young and had the house to ourselves. We talked everywhere. We talked lying on the bed. We talked on the couch. We even talked on the balcony. It was hot.

Cairns is a great city, and having been there a couple of times before, we felt no pressure to see anything. We just spent our time walking around and eating lots of great food. But ouch, the declining dollar was painful. In the past you could buy an Australian dollar for sixty cents. Now, it costs pretty much a whole US dollar.

We spent one evening with old friends from Saipan, Jane and Glenn Bolton-Bound. Glenn is still making a living jumping out of airplanes with a tourist strapped to him. The next time we go down there, I think I'll jump with him. I trust him to get me down alive.

I'd post some pictures, but I can't find the cable to download them from the camera.

The Critics Have Spoken

Angelo has started this blog tag where you're supposed to review five blogs, and then those five blogs review your blog, and tag five others, and on and on. He reviewed my blog with this single sentence:
Marianas Eye: If reading the Saipan blogs makes you want to scratch your eyes out, this is the guy who can put them back in for you.
He's been publicly bugging me to review his blog. I generally consider a "review" as something more substantial than a sentence, so I'm not up to review five blogs. I was tempted to review Angelo's blog as such:

The Saipan Blog: A blog about Saipan, that is occasionally worth reading.

But, despite Angelo's lame-ass review of my blog, I'm going to do a decent review of his.
The Saipan Blog is one of the two blogs that I read every day. You can generally count on new content on a daily basis. The posts are diverse, interesting, and have excellent subject-verb agreement. He covers topics that reflect the eclectic nature of the man -- topics such as the environment, local controversies, and scantily clad chicks. More than anything else, you get a sense of how much one person, possessing dedication and drive, can do to change his hair ... I mean the world... to change the world. A dedicated blogger, community member, and a role-model for aspiring environmentalists, Angelo's blog is informative, entertaining and inspiring. (There, happy now?)
I now tag Angelo to write a real review.

Saturday, February 2, 2008