Sunday, January 31, 2010

Moving Homes

Hey all.  Just wanted to let you know I am moving this blog to a different site.  The new address is:  There is a detailed explanation as to why (if you care) there.  I will be messing around with themes, extras, etc but I will still be posting.  Please subscribe there.  Thanks for following.

Friday, January 29, 2010


Vitarelli, educator, advocate, Pacific great, passes.

Tourism could be hurt by U.S. Military buildup (not to mention the reef that will be cleared).

Climate Change and the Death of Tuvalu.

I bet you didn't know Pohnpei is a surfing hot spot. Not many do.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Staying Connected

It's hard to believe it has been nearly three years since my trip to the Pacific. It's hard for me to imagine the gorgeous greens and the humid heat of the islands as I look out the window at the snow and ice. It's on these days, these frigid, Northern Michigan in January days, that I feel so far removed from the Pacific. Not removed in terms of proximity, I know where I am. Rather, these days remind me of the contrast between life in the Pacific and life in Michigan.

With that being said, I am amazed at how many islanders actually call Michigan home, even if
only a surrogate. I can remember how surprised I was to find out there was actually an Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies program at the University of Michigan. I was even more surprised, if not bewildered to find out that there was not only a community of Pacific Islanders at the University, but they were authentic. What I mean is they were not haoles from Hawai'i, but they were Tongans, Fijians, and even a Pohnpeian. It blew my mind. It was through these people, and through the APIA Studies program that my passion for this particular part of my heritage grew. In fact, I don't think I would have made the decision to cancel my flight home from Hawai'i to fly to Micronesia if it were not for these people.

But that was then. Now I am somewhat removed from this community at the University, saved only through facebook chats with a few of my former professors turned friends. I can't help but feel somewhat alone in my islanderness. I have my brothers here, but they don't seem as in touch or in tune with the Pacific. My dad, admittedly has been "white-washed". (Is it okay to use that term?) However there are islanders here. I've met Samoans, Fijians, there is even some talk of Hawaiians. I think the problem for me is I have no sort of relationship with these people. Even if I did, how much could we actually share? I mean it's great to have Ploynesians, Melanesians and Micronesians, but is seems we are all too consumed with our lives here to know what's going on in the American Lake. (Thanks for the term Damon.)

So what do I do? I can read the news and blogs focused on the Pacific. I can try to make real connections with the islanders here while checking in with my friends in Ann Arbor. I can blog. So if you know of any good news sources, blogs, events or people, let me know. In the meantime, check in here. I'll try to update frequently.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Pacific Links!!

US Military gain is Guam's Loss (Spotted at

60 Minutes bring football donations - Some people loved it, some people hated it, but either way, the 60 minutes piece "Football Island" is bringing in donations for local football teams.

Speaking of Polynesian football players...Tongans play football too!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Micronesia 2009

If you are in the Seattle area this Saturday and feel like absorbing some Pacific Island culture check out the University of Washington's Micronesian Islands Clubs "Micronesia 2009: Reaching Out...Beyond the Reef." Tickets are $12 for UW students and $15 for general admission. Get your will call tickets at 5:15, but not sure where the event is being held.

Check this site out for more details.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Today I attended a general meeting for the Micronesian Islands Club at the University of Washington. First I must say it was great to meet some Micronesians. I have a feeling there is more than a handful here in Seattle, it is just a matter of actually finding them. It is made up mostly of Chamorros, but it was great to connect nonetheless.

At the meeting I found out that George W. Bush recently designated three new areas in the Pacific as marine national monuments -- Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, and Pacific Remote Islands National Monument -- ensuring that these areas shall receive the highest level of environmental recognition and conservation. As a result, destruction or extraction of protected resources within the boundaries and commercial fishing within the boundaries of the monuments will be prohibited. Furthermore, recreational fishing, tourism and scientific research will be prohibited without a federal permit. The designation means that Bush will have protected more square miles of ocean than any person in history.

My thoughts? I am not fooled. I am all for conservation of the Pacific and the environment in general and I hate commercial fishing. With that being said, this is President Bush. Bush has been far from an envrionmental advocate. In fact, one of his last executive orders was to roll back a standard set into place over a hundred years ago by Teddy Roosevelt protecting our national forests from new roads. Additionally, according to the Presidents proclamation, "The prohibitions required by this proclamation shall not apply to activities and exercises of the Armed Forces (including those carried out by the United States Coast Guard)". This would include bomb testing. This rule also hurts the livelyhood and traditions of the native people of these islands by not allowing them to fish in their own waters.

I really doubt that these three designations are intended to do what they are proclaimed to do. Here's to hoping I'm wrong.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

"It just feels right"

I received a refreshing call from my Aunt Kimiya a few days ago. It is always nice to hear the messages she leaves in Pohnpeian. It doesn't quell my nostalgia by any means, in fact it just fans the flames, but I need it.

We caught up, talked about NohNoh Kiniya. My Aunt had to take her to Honolulu and they spent some time on Hilo. She told me that when she was there "it just felt right". It must have been great to be on an island, hear the language, and be around the people.

I need it.

I'm stuck here in Richmond, in the Pacific-like humidity, the Guam-like poverty, but instead of seeing palm trees and the Pacific I see concrete, abandoned buildings, and the James River. I sit in the office all day, so I have to tan...and as much as I hate to admit it, it messes with my psyche.

Look at that tan...

I really feel like I'll end up in the Pacific. Maybe not Pohnpei, but at least Hawai'i. It just feels right. I have my medical examination for the Peace Corps in a week, so hopefully things will be all set for a Pacific program. Seattle looks like my next stop between here and the Peace Corps. The nice thing about that is there will actually be some Micronesians out there. I really need to find a community. Not sure how my tan will do though, haha.

I really miss the Pacific.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Pohnpei: Final Reflections (9 Months Later):

Preface: At the beginning of my time on Pohnpei, I thought I did a decent job of updating this blog; I was eager to share every single thought and every single moment of my Pohnpei experience. And while the same can be said about my time on Hawai'i and Guam, Pohnpei held a special place in my heart (and DNA) that made my enthusiasm to share my experience that much greater. It was a new place that I wanted to share with everyone.

But as time went on and I became more accustomed and comfortable with Pohnpei, the experience became much more personal. While I still wanted to share and update, I didn't devote as much time to updated JPB.

My plan was to post a reflective and insightful conclusion of my time on Pohnpei, but that never happened. My laptop broke down, I spent more time outside of Kolonia, and I just quit updating. The following post will be the reflective, insightful conclusion of my trip. I feel it is much different today than it would have been if I would have posted it on my last days on the island. My memories are less vivid now, 9 months later. However, there are still parts of my experience that are, in a sense, me.

Final Reflections: The purpose of my trip to Pohnpei was much more about discovering and exploring that side of my heritage than having fun on a tropical island. I really wanted to learn what it means to be Pohnpeian: the culture, language, daily life, etc. Even more than those aspects, I was in search of something unknown. I was in search of some sort of enlightenment, insight, or perspective that I was certain would appear to me as an epiphany one unsuspecting afternoon.

The only problem in searching for an epiphany is that there is no spontaneity, nothing unexpected. So instead of being hit with a waterfall of perspective one day, I was showered with it daily. Living and existing in a world completely different than my own helped me to understand exactly what kind of life I had. It uncovered all those things in life that I take for granted: privacy, electricity, running water, food, etc. For example, I learned about the value of food and the value of a variety of food; I pretty much ate rice with tuna, chicken, or pig every meal.

It is hard for me now, as I write this, to remember everything I learned. As I have become reaccustomed to the life I lead here, my perspective has almost completely dried up. In fact, it really isn't until I revisit my old posts that I am fully reminded of my just-learned perspective. I try the best I can to practice the lessons learned while on Pohnpei. I don't like to be wasteful with food, water, or electricity. I remember some evenings in Pohnpei not having electricity - electricity is pre-paid (like cell phone minutes), so once you have used up what you paid for you have to go buy more. We had to conserve energy the best we could, and this usually meant not using any during the day. I feel that this sort of conservatism is instilled in me; I try to turn off lights when I leave a room, turn of the TV when I'm not using it, etc. So while I didn't come to any life-altering understanding, I started to see things and enjoy things in a different light from my day-to-day experiences.

As far as my heritage: Did I discover my roots? More than I could have ever imagined. It seemed a daily occurrence that I met family. Whether it be at a restaurant, gas station, or just family stopping by Aunt Judy's house (where I stayed in Kolonia), I met family. In doing so, I learned where my family came from, where they are, and where they are going. I would have my Grandma explain to me how each person was related, and this explanation was often accompanied by stories of what he/she does, who his/her parents are, etc.

Some of my family members I got to know better than others. Of course, I stayed with my Aunt Judy, Uncle Sosarrio & their kids Stephanie, Chubby, Stargel (pictured right) and Arrwo. I interacted with them daily and really got to know their personalities and who they were. I also got to know Angela (although I am unsure if she is a distant aunt or cousin). I spent a lot of time at the cafe where she works and also spent a few nights out at her house in U. And then there was the family in Kitti. While they were only family through marriage, their hospitality, warmness, and genuine sincerity is something I will never forget. I spent a lot of time living with them and thus was able to really get to know them. I'll never forget my afternoons swimming with the children in the river or playing basketball. I'll never forget eating with Grandma, Mooka and Judis & co., or sleeping side-by-side on the floor with this people. When I was in Kitti, they became my family.

It should be of no surprise to me know just how much family I met; Pohnepi, and, more specifically, Mwokilloa are small islands, relatively speaking. On top of that, because there are three kinship groups (immediate family, extended family, and clan) on the island, the word "family" encompasses a large amount of people. So even if it was an 8th cousin through the clan line (matrilineal), they are still family and should be treated as so. Of course I didn't understand this upon arrival, and so upon searching for my roots (or just hanging out) I really discovered that my family tree was enormous and contained many roots.

I also discovered the roots of a local pepper plant in Sakau (prepared left). I miss the "clank" of the sakau being pounded and how relaxing the sound was. I miss the mouth-numbing, peaceful feeling I got from drinking sakau. Of course I didn't drink sakau for its narcotic effects. Sakau is a defining part of Pohnpeian culture. Sakau is so distinctly Pohnpeian that I wanted to drink it. When I drank sakau, I felt Pohnpeian.

At the conclusion of my trip, I wanted to feel like I became more Pohnpeian. Did this happen? Yes and no. I had the opportunity to stay with family throughout my whole Pacific trip, so instead of staying in hotels and living like a tourist, I got to live like a local (somewhat) on each island - although much, much more so on Pohnpei than Guam or Hawai'i. This meant I got to live like a Pohnpeian: I slept on a mat on the floor; I ate with my hands; sometimes I showered by scooping rain water out of an ice chest with a pan; I used the bathroom in an outhouse when necessary. I felt much more like a Pohnpeian than, say, the diver I met who was staying at the Village Hotel. He still got all the amenities afforded by staying in a hotel. He was, as my Aunt Kimiya has said, "in the lap of luxury", relatively speaking. And compared to my Pohnpeian-ness (for lack of a better term) before my trip, I felt much more Pohnpeian. Indeed, I learned much more about the culture and what it meant to be Pohnpeian in the every-day-sense.

At the same time, I began to feel more American. I realized that in the here and now (or there and then) I was living and acting like a Pohnpeian, but that isn't the way I have lived or will have lived upon my departure (and, indeed, it is not how I live now). It's not that my desire for Pohnpei or my connection with it had diminished - in fact it had manifested exponentially - but, rather, I realized that I am more American than I had previously thought. The way I think and live is much different than the way a Pohnpeian thinks and lives. This should be of no surprise, I grew up in America. In fact, I would say my Dad is more American than Pohnpeian now because he has been living and assimilating in the U.S. for years. This isn't a judgment about which life is better or worse, it is just the way I felt.

Nostalgia hit me hard this winter. Having to endure sub-zero temperatures and months of grey and snow left me hopelessly craving the island I loved from the moment I stepped out of the Pohnpei International Airport (and into the bed of a pick-up truck). The days since my visit have long passed, and unfortunately I have forgotten many of the names, places, and events that made my trip the best experience of my life. But I am thankful for having the opportunity to fulfill a dream I'd had my entire life, and I hold dearly those memories I still have: Memories of seeing Nan Madol and all of its megalithic glory; Memories of snorkeling with reef sharks and manta rays; Memories of swimming in rivers and under waterfalls; Memories of sitting and talking with my Grandma as we took turns pouring pan-fulls of water over ourselves in search of any sort of relief from the heat and humidity. I could go on and on.

It are these memories, perspectives, and personal growths that made my trip to Pohnpei the most unforgettable time of my life.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Haka

Maybe its the weather. Maybe its because I am teaching a geography class and they are doing a unit on Asia and the Pacific. Or maybe its because its because there seems to be a lot of mention of the Pacific lately (see Survivor: Micronesia below). But whatever it is, I have been on a Pacific Islander kick lately. I really miss the mountains, sunrises, and beaches of Hawai'i. I miss the canoe house and family of Guam. And most of all, I miss the language, heat, sakau, simplicity, heritage, and culture of Pohnpei! It's so hard not to think of these things when I'm shivering cold, slipping up my ice-laden driveway.

To quell this nostalgia, I look at pictures from my trip, read my old blog posts and visit Pacific-specific (say that 10 times fast) websites.

One of my favorite thigns about the Pacifc is the Haka. The Haka is a Polynesian dance that is mostly thought of as a pre-war dance however they are not exclusively war dances. However, the Haka is very powerful, and I'm not sure there is anything that gets me more pumped up (for what, I'm not sure). The All-Blacks (New Zealand's rugby team) and University of Hawai'i football team do their own pre-game Haka to get them up and to intimidate their opponents. However, the Haka is a very important part of Polynesian culture and each dance has a culture or historical significance so some take offense to non-Ploynesians performing the Haka.

Survivor: Micronesia

For the 6th time in 16 seasons, the CBS reality show Survivor returns to the Pacific. The innagural Pacific Survivor was in 2002 for its third season: Survivor: Marquesas taped in Nuka Hiva. Following Marquesas was Survivor: Vanuatu (2004) in Efate; Survivor: Palau (2005) in Koror; Survivor: Cook Islands (2006) in Aitutaki; Survivor: Fiji (2007) in Macuata; and Survivor: Micronesia (2008), once again in Koror, Palau.

I can't tell you how many friends facebook-ed me or asked me about Survivor: Micronesia. When I first heard about it I was upset that I missed casting (although me being Micronesia probably wouldn't have given me enough merit to be casted because this seasons theme is "Fans vs. Favorites", of which I am neither). I was ready to devote my Thursday nights to this season until I found out they are taping in Palau again. While Palau is part of the geographic area Micronesia, it is no longer a state in the Federated States of Micronesia. Compare it to (hypothetically) Survivor: Americas, but the taping is in Venezuela and not America (as in USA).

So, while it is cool that Micronesia and the Pacifc become little parts of pop culture, I don't really have any connection with Survivor: Micronesia. In fact, I'd say I have more of a connection with last seasons, Survivor: China because my friend and former wrestling teammate Mike (Frosti) was on the show (made it to the final eight)!!!

I'll save my judgement on the show until I actually see an episode.