People often asked me, "What brought you to Saipan?"
I guess my trip to Saipan was a decade in the making. Since 1984 I made numerous trips to explore the remote Pacific islands and this was not easy with my home base being Colorado. Some islands took a week to get to from Colorado and that was as long as all the flights flew as scheduled. Some islands I visited took seven plane flights and two boat rides.
I had to spend a couple days in Yap each time I went from one outer island of Micronesia to another while waiting for the next missionary plane. This gave me enough time between islands to eat a hamburger, treat my wounds, and get a beer at the bar and grill.
This is where I met Barry in 1996. We had a long talk one evening comparing our travel stories. Barry was a public school teacher in Saipan. "Ever hear of it?" he asked.
"I think so." I vaguely remembered hearing about Saipan in my WWII studies. He gave me the location and description of the lifestyle of Saipan and asked if I wanted to teach there. I thought seriously about it since living there would cut down on my travel time considerably.
We parted ways after our two-hour conversation. I thought that was going to be the first and last time I saw Barry. He was heading back to Saipan the next morning and I continued my adventures around the Pacific. I had no idea that the chance encounter with Barry was going to drastically change the course of my life.
I had to return to Colorado to make enough money to fund my next trip to the remote Pacific. Shortly after my arrival I got a phone call from the Saipan recruiter.
"Do you want to work in Saipan?"
"Ahh..... ahh..... ok."
"Can you fly to California tomorrow for an interview?"
"No way," was my quick reply after just returning from a month of plane flights.
"Never mind the interview, you're hired."
I once again packed my duffle bag that I got in Marine Corps boot camp in 1983. This duffle bag accompanied me on every adventure since. Once again, back to the airport. The tickets that the recruiter sent were from Colorado to California to Hawaii to Guam to Saipan. It wasn't going to be as long of a trip as I was use to but still it would take 24 hours to get there. At each airport the passengers had to wait in line to get their seat assignment. Some of the faces started to look familiar. "Didn't I see you in California?"
"Yes and I saw that guy over there as well," was the reply. By the time we were on the plane from Guam to Saipan everyone looked familiar. We learned that all 23 of us on that plane were new teachers hired by the Saipan recruiter. We were the first and smallest of three waves of new teachers to come to Saipan that year to replace all the foreign teachers recently fired.
There was a bus waiting at the Saipan airport to take us all to a hotel. It was night by that time and I couldn't see any of what was going to be my new home. Most of us were passed out on the bus after 24 hours of airports and planes. I must have been one of them because I can't remember what happened.
The next morning I walked down the street from the hotel. I was afraid to venture too far from the hotel since I didn't even know the name of my hotel and couldn't read many of the signs on the stores. They were written in Japanese or Chinese or Korean. At the time I couldn't tell the difference.
I returned to the hotel and called the number Barry gave me in Yap. He quickly came to pick up my duffel bag and me. "You need to know how to get around Saipan," said Barry as he took a paper napkin at a fast food restaurant where we had lunch. He drew a line down one side of the napkin. The road next to the beach is called Beach Road." He drew another line down the other side of the napkin. "The road going cross the island is called Cross Island Road." He drew a line down the middle of the napkin. "The road in the middle is called Middle Road."
All those roads on one island was more than I was use to but I caught on quick. I stayed in Barry's apartment until I bought a car and found my own apartment.
Half of the classes at the high school were on the second floor of a two story concrete building. The new teachers got the second floor classrooms. There was no air conditioning and the steel louvers on the windows could not open. It was hot. Around half of the new teachers that arrived on the same plane I did caught the next plane back as soon as they saw the school. To me, Saipan was modern compared to the other islands of the Pacific so I fit right in.
I was best man at Barry's wedding. He introduced me to a friend of his wife's friend who I married a year later. Barry was no longer in Saipan at that time. Like so many other Westerners, Barry left island and was not heard from again.
I saw Saipan as a good place to settle down and raise my kids and that's what I have been doing since 1996. I still made some trips to the remote islands from Saipan but the time between trips grew longer each time. Now I consider the 30-minute plane flight to Guam as a trip in itself.
Out of the 23 new teachers on the plane in 1996, only two others and myself are still here. The adventurer in me continues today but now I explore Saipan. See my: http://saipanpictures.blogspot.com/