Pohnpei, Micronesia Bellyaching About the War

This is my last night in Micronesia before I head back to Australia.

Here’s a map of where I’ve been.

Micronesiamap_1

Once again, the blue numbers indicate where I spent each night over the course of the three week trip.

I’m not bursting with stuff to say about Pohnpei. It’s not as traditional as Yap. It’s not as impoverished as Chuuk. It hasn’t got the natural beauty of Palau. It’s just a nice place.

One thing it does have is a movie theater. I think it might be the only one in FSM. I saw Daredevil the other night. Extremely mediocre. Badly cast and badly written.

Pohnpei is the capital of FSM, so it’s got all the embassies. They line the main street in town like a food court.

I went into the US embassy, mainly because I’ve never been in one before. The woman inside told me it was the smallest US embassy in the world. I didn’t have anything to do once I got inside, so I sat around and read Newsweek for a while, then left.

The Visitor’s Center had one of these signs that I dig.

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There’s a great place here called the Village Hotel. It’s one of those ecotourism resorts where everything is built out of thatch, there’s no electricity in the rooms, no windows, there’s rainforest everywhere and it’s all insanely beautiful.

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It’d be a great place to go for a honeymoon or something, but my budget strategy for this trip is to hang out at places like that, maybe have dinner, then get a cab back to my dingy, bargain basement flophouse.

Yesterday I went diving with an interesting bunch of Americans. It’s a funny thing about this place – the tourists you meet tend to be exceedingly well-traveled. I guess by the time you get to Micronesia on your list of places to go, you’ve already gotten most of the other stuff out of the way.

One of the guys came here because he spun a globe and this is where his finger landed. I imagine this region gets a lot of its tourism that way. If you randomly spin a globe, the odds are about one in two you’re going to point your finger somewhere in the Pacific.

The Americans were all middle-aged and very well off. They found it interesting that a guy my age was traveling on his own. One couple took pity on me and offered to pay for my dinner. I was embarrassed that I must have portrayed myself as a scrounging backpacker-type. I sort of politely indicated to them that I didn’t need any charity.

I think I came on a little strong with my opinions about the war. Having been outside the country for so long, I suppose I’m out of touch with the way people feel.

For example: I don’t know where this mentality came from that we have to support our leaders once they’ve committed troops to war. My understanding was that we get to question their actions ALWAYS – more so when they’re putting lives at risk. It seems like a lot of patriarchal nonsense to me. He was a nitwit before. He’s still a nitwit.

And I’ll go a bit farther and say that I don’t go along with this “support the troops” thing either. I’m sick of hearing about it. I’m sorry, I don’t buy the logic that we should all be quiet because vocalizing our opinions will lower the morale of the troops and make them question their actions. That’s a bit of a reach, isn’t it? And is it a good enough reason to silence the debate?

Here’s the thing. I know there’s this unspoken belief that the lives of American soldiers are more important than the lives of people from anywhere else. It’s clear in the way the news is reported. Our casualties weigh more heavily than those of the civilians we’re liberating. But that’s just not how I feel. I don’t care that one group is American and one group isn’t. I don’t put their lives above the lives of others and I don’t support increasing civilian casualties to minimize our own.

Shouldn’t that be right? Shouldn’t that be how we all feel?

I guess I’m just not a patriot. And I don’t know anyone who’s over there fighting. I would certainly feel differently if that were the case. But as it is, it’s all just a bunch of people to me.

Another thing that has me wound up pretty tight is all these friendly fire deaths. Why are we so tolerant of these monumental fuck-ups? I watched that BBC report where the soldier called in an air raid on his own troops, killing 16 Kurdish rebels and the translator for the news crew. I wanted to break the TV. Who are these baboons we’ve sent out into the field? The reporters keep making excuses for these guys, talking about fog of war and all that. They tell us that every war has losses resulting from dumb mistakes and it’s to be expected.

Bullshit. Something is wrong with the system if this kind of thing keeps happening. How would we react if every few days an air traffic controller smashed two planes into each other? It should be the same standard. We’ve got big, powerful bombs now that kill a lot of people when they go off. We shouldn’t be relying on trained monkeys to give the right coordinates.

I’m sure it’s very hard to avoid friendly fire deaths. It’s also very hard to land a 747, which is why we only let people do it once they’re really really good at it. We should have impossibly high standards for this kind of stuff, and we should go apeshit whenever anyone screws up.

We shot down a British plane with a patriot missile. Holy crap! That’s really stupid.

We bombed a bunch of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. It’s no wonder they didn’t come along for this one. Who would want to fight alongside us?

And for God’s sake, when we fire a cruise missile, shouldn’t we be able to get it to land in the right country? A mile here, a mile there, okay. But Turkey? Iran? Saudi Arabia? Jesus Christ! We’re like a drunk playing darts.

So I probably went a little overboard with the nice tourists from Philadelphia. They politely tolerated my boorish ranting. I just had to get it out. I used to vent to my coworkers at lunch, but I no longer have that venue.

At the end of the BBC report, the journalist talked about conversations he’d had with the US troops afterward, and how outraged they were at the soldier who nearly killed them. I saw the same report again on CNN, except — Sh ock and Awe — t hey’d cut out the bit at the end.

Imagine that.

I often start these entries in one place and finish them days later in some other country. Right now I’m on a lay-over in Cairns, waiting for my flight to Brisbane. It’s one in the morning and the airport is empty.

The war lasted exactly the length of my stay in Micronesia.

Why do farts smell different on airplanes? Is it mixing with the chemicals they put in the air? They actually smell worse than they do normally. And you can’t move to escape them. You just have to bathe in the scent.

After dinner with the Americans, I got a ride back to my hotel from a local named Johnson. Johnson was a really nice guy and we ended up stopping at a bar on the way home.

Johnson is 20. He’s married with a 4 month old son. He’s getting money from the US to study for a degree in marine science. He left the island once in his life to go to the neighboring state of Kosrae. He loves cartoons and dreams of one day going to Disneyland.

I just couldn’t get it out of my head how incredibly different Johnson’s life was from mine. In terms of the size of our worlds, it was like talking to someone who’s trapped in a goldfish bowl. It sort of limited our conversation.

Rainier Light is one of the main beers on Pohnpei. On the can is a picture of Mt. Rainier. I pointed at it and told Johnson I’d been there, about halfway to the top. He seemed to think that was pretty amazing.

We talked about Spam. Like most people in FSM, Johnson eats a whole lot of it — often three times a day. I asked him if he knew what was in Spam. He said pig. I told him what parts of the pig. He was very upset.

I talked to a guy in the bar who served in the first Gulf War. He’d spent all his life in Pohnpei before going to Georgia for basic training, then getting shipped off to Saudi Arabia. He couldn’t understand why we were there again. He said people on Pohnpei don’t want to make a lot of noise about it, cause they appreciate all the funding, but they think this war is kind of dumb.

Even though FSM is it’s own country, it’s a protectorate of the US and its citizens are free to enlist in our military. It’s a good way for them to get off the island and learn some skills.

I realized I had a pretty condescending attitude toward the locals. They were way more enlightened and sophisticated than I expected. I assumed there’d be seething resentment toward Americans under the surface, but it’s not that simple. The US liberated the Micronesian islands from Japanese enslavement. We were the first people who came along and told them they could do whatever they wanted. They appreciate that, and they appreciate all the money we pour into their economy to keep them afloat. They’re aware they were doing fine before the outside world showed up to complicate things, but they also know they can’t go back to that. All in all, they seemed pretty level-headed.

I asked Johnson about marriage and divorce on Pohnpei. He said divorce was starting to become popular. White male tourists would show up and have flings with local women, the women would leave their husbands thinking they were going to run off with the guys, and we all know what happens next.

It sounded to me like a bit of island gossip that had been exaggerated to epidemic scale. I asked if local women preferred white guys to other locals. He looked at me like I was a moron. Of course they do. That made me feel pretty awkward.

For my last day on Pohnpei, I went kayaking. It didn’t work out so good. Kayaking is fun when you’re going down a river or navigating around small islands. It’s a drag when you’re out in the big blue sea.

I kind of freak out in deep water, far from any land formations. It’s not the semi-rational fear of a shark or crocodile that bothers me. I get these visions of giant sea monsters bursting out of the water and surrounding the boat – huge tentacles wrapping around me, forked tongues, serpentine eyes and all that unpleasantness. It’s weird, cause in the water I’m fine. In a reasonably-sized boat, no problem. But sitting helplessly on the surface in a teeny-tiny little kayak, I’m paddling for dear life.

I ran into a dive boat with those same Americans from the day before on it. I tied up and had lunch with them, then joined up on their second dive. I was snorkeling on the surface and having a blast swimming through their bubbles. There were millions of the things rising to the surface, and some were so big I could see my reflection as I swam into them. It was a hoot.

On the way back, I got a little lost and wound up overshooting the place where I rented the kayak. Turning around would’ve meant going against the current and I was drained from nine hours of paddling, so I pulled the boat up on someone’s shore, apologized to the family, then walked back to the dock and told them where to get their boat. It wasn’t too far and they didn’t mind.

I nearly missed my flight off the island today. I needed to get a cab from my hotel. I had a list of ten different cab companies. I called all of them. Seven weren’t operating anymore, two didn’t know what I was talking about when I asked for a cab, and one said they’d send a car but it never showed up. My conversation with them went like this:

“Hello, I-”
“AAAAAAAAAAGGGLABLABLAGABALABLABLA!”
“I need a-”
“GABALABABLABLAGABABLA!”
“I’m at Nara Gardens, I-”
“BABALABAGABABLA!”
“I need to get to the airport.”
“ABABLAGA!”
-Click-

I called again after fifteen minutes. Then again and again and again. After about an hour of waiting, the calls were more like this:

“AAAAAAAGABABLABA-”
“Shut up! I’ve got a flight to catch. Get a goddam cab to Nara Gardens now!”
“BABABLAGBLA…3 minutes.”
-Click-

The cab never came. And there wasn’t much else I could do, as there was a tropical storm outside. It was the kind of rain that you stand in for three seconds and it’s like you just climbed out of a pool. There were plenty of cabs driving by on the street, but I couldn’t make it out there without getting pounded. I should also mention that there was no one on duty at the hotel.

Inspiration struck. There was a tarp on the ground outside my room. I threw it over me, ran out in the street, stood in front of a cab and demanded the driver take me to the airport.

It worked. I got off the island. If I hadn’t done that, I’d of had an extra couple nights on Pohnpei.

Before I left Chuuk, Tom the Baptist came by my hotel to give me a video on creationism. I guess it really stuck in his craw that he couldn’t sway me on that point. I kept the tape and I’m going to force Andy to watch it with me while I’m staying at his place.

Here’s a picture of Tom the Baptist.

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At 1am that night, I got a call from the guy at the front desk telling me someone was there to see me. I asked who, but I couldn’t make out the name through the accent. I got nervous and told him I was asleep. I was convinced it was Tom the Baptist out looking for some secular action. Turns out it was a drunk local who had the wrong room number.

The Chuukese aren’t very good with numbers. I had this conversation after using the internet at a hotel:

“You were on for 3 hours. That’s $15.”
“No, I was on for 2 hours.”
“3 hours. You start at 2 o’clock. It’s 4 o’clock now. 2 o’clock, 3 o

13 Responses to Pohnpei, Micronesia Bellyaching About the War

  1. Jennifer Rice

    Wow – read your “dennis miller-like” war rant out loud to Dave and we really don’t anticipate you making many american friends while you travel if you keep that up. It’s not that we disagree with what you’re saying…. it’s just that’s not the kind of talk people have with strangers nowadays. Can’t wait to hear your travel plans and looking forward to more entries. luv jen

  2. Franquista

    Matt, Love your wacky entries. But I still can’t figure out how to make paragraph marks stick in this thing.

    Theory about the dollar sign is that it’s actually US merged together. Therefore there should properly be two vertical bars through the S.

    The thing about the local women preferring the white tourists struck me as funny. C’mon, if you were an island girl, would you pick someone who’s earning $1 an hour or someone who has the potential to earn $20/hour?

    So glad I get to live vicariously through you.

  3. Matt

    Paragraph breaks. Yeah, I can’t get them to work in comments either. DAAANN!! I’ll ask my all-knowing guardian angel if he knows how to fix it.

    Call me crazy, but the Pillars of Hercules thing sounds way more plausible to me than a merged U and S. Granted, I don’t think the S stands for Spain. Would love to find out the full story with that to complete my smarty-pants lecture.

    I wonder if the attractiveness of white tourists has more to do with money or the perception of beauty. It certainly makes sense that they’d chase after tourists with thick wallets, but I also think there’s some serious idealization of Western appearance. After all, we’ve been telling them for years that it’s preferrable to look as much like Brad Pitt/Cameron Diaz as possible.

  4. Lisa Gardell

    Hey! guess what i live in Pohnpei?? and your right, its not as beautiful as Palau, not as impoverished as Chuuk, and DEFINETLY not as traditional as Yap but its beautiful in its rawness and i love it…. i probably saw you but didn’t realize it…. its hard not to notice a strange white person walking around. good luck on your travels.

  5. Rachel

    I love your site. Your travels alone make it worth the read, but it’s the comments that really get to me. You’re just really…open. About everything. I really liked your re-telling of the conversation in the bar. I had a similar experience in Cuba and it WAS akward, and saddening too. Anyway I don’t know where I’m going with this. The thing about the dollar sign is all twisted here. How could S stand for Spain ???? That’s english. It would have been E for Espana. I was taught that it used to be the letters P and S in superposition (for Peso, the old spanish currency), and that eventually the P just sort of degenerated into a bar. Keep up the good work

    Rachel

    P.S. — I agree with you about the war. I’m Canadian and I think you should know that the world sort of loathes your country. Even Canada, and we usually don’t hate anyone because we’re a mix of just about every country in the world (only 6 people in my school have parents who were born in Canada). But yeah, all the countries seem to agree that Americans (well no, Repubicans) are huge imperialist dick-heads.

  6. drew

    I dig signs like that as well, but some of the numbers seem strange since the farthest apart that two points on Earth can be is 12,451 mi. Maybe they’re adding up the distance along air routes or something.

  7. David

    I spent several summers on Pohnpei when I was a teenager on school break. My parents were expats for a few years. Did you ever get out to Ant Atoll? It was so amazing it literally changed my life and made me want to see the rest of the world and not be limited by what I do. I met a friend out there from Oz who was in the same situation as me (although he lived there full time) and we are still good friends to this day. I’ve been to Chuuk and Kosrae, too, but Pohnpei was my favorite becuase it was the largest island with the most to do, especially the atolls. Wish you had more pictures, but I doubt much has changed since I was there!

  8. Lieve

    Not that anyone gives a damn, but (quickly out of my head without google), I would say the word ‘dollar’ comes from the Dutch word ‘daalder’ (pronounced ‘dahlder’), which has been in use up ’til the euro, to indicate 2 1/2 gulden (and probably something completely different in the old days). I guess the word ‘daalder’ comes from the German ‘Tahler’, probably short for the currency in some whatever-thal. But that could well be wrong.

    I totally agree with your ideas on war. I simply can’t understand how a nation can choose to censor itself that way. It’s ‘1984’, but self-inflicted. All that kind of patriotism really makes me think of Germany in the 1930’s. Ouch, that’s the forbidden comparison…

    Hopefully something’s going to change now.

    Love, Lieve

  9. Lieve

    Umm… maybe I meant ‘by heart’ instead of ‘out of my head’. Should be more concentrated. It’s actually the word-by-word translation of the Dutch expression for ‘by heart’. Good going out of my head here.

    But nevermind! And anyway: who gives a damn?

  10. Wild leopard with a sweet bow, and no sense of violation and, instead highlights the beauty of an urban Sweetheart sexy mixed with elegant charm, look even more attractive the full

  11. toa

    Your Map is all out of whack. Yap and Palau are in totally the wrong place. And why would you go to Micronesia just to blather about war. You’re a dickhead mate, I’m glad I didn’t meet you when you were in Pohnpei, the Americans here are generally really nice people. You on the other hand seem like a typical dickhead Australian. We don’t talk about the war in Pohnpei, we’ve lost a few we are all too aware what’s going on. Grow up.

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