Thursday, January 28, 2010

Did I Just Meet the Future Tesla?

It is science fair season here on Saipan for the grade schools. I actually only joined one science fair in my life while growing up on Guahan. I honestly didn't think that the teachers gave us enough time to really sink our teeth into the experiments so I was often unmotivated to do it for school. I always wanted to be "scientist." My mom could never get the concept of being a scientist as a career, so she often teased me that I'd only end up being a "sayang-tist": sayang meaning "too bad" or "what a pity" or "what a waste" in Tagalog.

I usually had my own thing going on anyway, so I don't feel like I missed out on much. I do however, encourage the kids that I know to learn the scientific method and discover the magic of science for practical reasons.

My BFF's son, DJ, asked me to help him with his project this year. He wanted to see if you could predict a person's height by measuring their feet.

DJ already impress me each time we hang out in nature as he absorbs most everything I tell him. He usually has a hundred questions about everything.I know that the kid is smarter than me, because you see, I have a weakness in math. I love the concepts of geometry and physics, but I have to work on them for a long time in order for me to grasp them. DJ had to deal with measurements, ratios, fractions, and decimals. It was so impressive to see him get into the project and crunch the math like a bag of sembe (his favorite Japanese rice crackers). DJ got selected as 1 of the 3 that would represent his class for the entire school, but unfortunately did not place in the overall judging. I'm so proud of him though!
San Antonio Elementary School Science Fair
I also had the privilege to be a judge at San Antonio. Who can resist right?SAES' mascot is the gamsom. I often tell kids that I do not eat gamsom because it is such a shame to eat such a smart creature.
I had to judge 12 projects with a 1 page (front & back) scoring sheet with 6 criteria, and 31 categories that include, "Does the project follow the scientific method?" to "Has the student acknowledged help received from others?". I didn't think that it would be so extensive! but I had fun anyway as I tried to judge fairly.

These kids has a lot of brain power I tell you. June, Ruth, Jiana, Mary Kay, Davina, Patty, Mae, Christina, Czarina, Jazmine, Tichina, Christian, John, Robert and Reyna Fe: you all did a great job! Thank you SAES!

The Renaissance (Little) Man
My buddy, Hayden Lucas Scott is growing up too fast. He is already tech savvy already at the age of 1.5 years. He also likes the hook on Solja Boy's Churp (..."kiss me through the phone...I'll see you later on"...).

(Sure his phone is pink, but that's just 'cause he has a busy, stressful lifestyle eatin', sleepin' and poopin', but he understands color psychology. Pink = calm). Dig?

He already understands concepts of Physical Science......the importance of not only being smart but looking smart...
... can identify his seasonal shorebirds by their foot prints...... notes the composition of sand being an avid psammophile and naturalist.
When one spends a lot of time in nature, one becomes a naturalist. Once a naturalist then one elevates one's self eventually to a naturist. It is the evolution of the man of science: The Renaissance Man!
I am sure he'll make me regret this when he is older. I love you, DJ and Hayden.

Ti napu.

The Beachcomber.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

From Legend Retold

I have been following different sources on the U.S. Military expansion of Guahan. There are a lot of great articles, speeches on video clips, and other resources online so that one can follow along what is happening in the southern-most island of the Marianas. There are a great deal of voices that are making their concerns known through different avenues, and I am a bit worried that I am not hearing enough voiced concern here on Saipan, Tinian and Rota regarding detrimental effects that may occur due to the expansion involving the Northern Marianas. The usual sentiments mostly address how good it would be for the economy if there are is a market to whom we could sell our crops to, to lease land, and an extra population whom would visit the Commonwealth to expand tourism dollars.

A public hearing for discussions on the CNMI Draft Environmental Impact Study (D-EIS) )was yesterday. I couldn’t attend because it was in the morning. Also, a newspaper article said that it would be presented on Saipan yesterday the 27th, and then contradicted itself saying that it was on Friday instead at the end of the article (No time was given neither by the way). I heard about 50 people attended but also heard that there were no voices of concern about possible harm. An online version of the D-EIS is supposed to be put up today on the Commerce website .

Here is a video clip that I found on several blogs about the buildup. This happened recently in the village of Santa Rita and was attended by about 316 people. The clip has about 4 women sharing their concerns.

There are a lot of good materials coming out of Guahan and I will most likely link to them a little at a time. I did however make some new connections online with a few bloggers that are using good story telling and art for activism that made me think whether I should be contributing more to the discussions.

Drea of Waiting for Wonderland has this wonderful allegory that compares the Chamorro legend of a giant fish that was eating Guahan in the days of the ancients. The women are the heroines of the legend which is a reflection of the respect and empowerment that the ancient people have for women and their role in society. She wrote:

Sleepless in Wonderland: The Real Big Fish
As a child growing up on Guam, I heard many legends. Some I learned at school and some my parents told me. One legend that has been on my mind this past month, is the legend of thebig fish that ate Guam. You remember the legend, don't you? It explains why Guam is so narrow in the middle. As I was told, many many years ago a very large fish was eating away at our island. Many strong men tried to stop the fish, but none succeeded. At this time, the young women of Guam had beautiful long hair. One day the women decided to weave their hair in to a net. With the net made from their hair the women caught the big fish and saved the land and people from the monstrous fish.

The reason this legend has been on my mind, is because I've been looking at many maps of Guam recently. Yes, our island is narrow in the middle, but I've also noticed that there are many parts of our island that is innaccessible to the people of Guam. It's as if the big fish has returned. This big fish is feasting on the graves of our ancestors and land that is lush and beautiful. Sometimes this big fish spits out the the land, returning it to us, but by that time much of the land is contaminated.

What will our island look like 4 years from now? How much of it will be contaminated by the big fish? Where will we be 20 years from now? Will we be telling our grandchildren the story of the fish that annhilated our island?

We must gather together, like the women in the original legend, to defend our home, before there is nothing left to defend.

Her soul sister Nella of Resolution Tree added an illustration to the story of a Guahan that is “eaten up” by the “big fish” that is illustrative of DOD occupied land in 1991.


I thought that I should attempt a political cartoon in homageto not only their creativeness but mostly due to their sincere concern for the future of Guahan and its people.

I also already have one sketched with a CNMI angle in which our people is represented by a hand readily handing over the islands of Tinian and Aguijan in a food bowl to the “big fish.” I hope it turns out good enough to start the gears working in our thoughts.

Aguijan from Tinian.

Are we really so eager to turn over Tinian and Aguijan? I love Tinian for how peaceful and beautiful it is. Aguijan is historically important as well, being the last place of resistance during the Chamorro-Spanish Wars. Here is a story about offering Aguijan as an “alternative” to Guahan. Here is a clue to an environmental impact that is already forseen if Tinian is taken over.
Let us talk stories about this again.

Ti napu.

The Beachcomber

Monday, January 25, 2010

I am already up there with Steiglitz, will you be my O'Keeffe?

Nobody sees a flower, really, it is so small.
We haven't time - and to see takes time like to have a friend takes time.

- Georgia O'Keeffe

Ti napu.

The Beachcomber

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pick Up a Brush

I got tired of Saipan’s graffiti problem. I got tired of the citizen of Saipan not doing anything about it. I bought 2 gallons of white paint from the hardware store. They cost about $15.00 each. I had a roller brush and a paint pan in storage. I figured I can start simply with just these things. I ventured out during the Christmas and New Year holidays, either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. I figured I should give a little something that everyone might enjoy: well, surely not the taggers. Or maybe not the property owners who had different colored walls, nor the Public School System and their yellow bus stops. I figured if they really cared, the graffiti on them wouldn’t already be more the six months old.

Graffiti is a disease of a broken society. I read in the Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell about Wilson & Kelling’s Broken Window Theory. It states that crime is an inevitable result of societal disorder. If a broken window if left in disrepair there is a perception that no one cares and no one is in charge. More broken windows will follow and so will the sense of lawlessness and anarchy. Graffiti and public disorder are invitations to more serious crimes since the bad seeds of society see the neighborhood already as victims, unable to defend themselves from lawlessness (who will also, by the way, do nothing to interfere with crime or to help the law).

Saipan is small enough that if graffiti goes up on morning, it should be down before the next. Once a wall is painted over or reclaimed, it must not be lost again. Seems like a simplistic pipe dream to reduce disorder and crime? I know it is just one small piece of the equation, I assure you. But it is the one thing I know that I can do.

There are more to be covered up and taken down. I know you know where they are. Buy a gallon of paint. Dust off your brushes and paint rollers. Time to reclaim what is ours.

Ti napu.

The Beachcomber

Monday, January 18, 2010


It may surprise some of you that a non-drinker would have a blog entry about an alcoholic drink. Yes, this is all about tequila and no matter what preconceived notions you may have about it, I hope you give me a chance to explain my curiosity about this particular drink that inspired me to write and quite possibly do more.

I also hope you consider my geeky humor in all of this, by the way, and also consider that I have given up drinking since 1991. Although I may have had some lapses within 19 years and the occasional sip for a taste (usually wine), I've been a pretty straight arrow.

First off, I think I’ve always been somewhat of a highbrow when it comes to drinking. Call me a snob or whatever, but I honestly can’t stand the local love of Budweiser (or on Guam, Miller) for the mere fact that it is a drink, just to get you there per se: inebriated and forgetful of life’s troubles for a few hours.

A spin-off to this peeve is when I am off-island and there is a variety to choose from (from micro or local brews, or anything imported really) that are available, the people that I am with still go for the Bud. Product loyalty? Fear of the unknown? I don’t know. I do know that sticking with the familiar is boring! Have a little adventure! It’s a beer! Aren’t you curious? Wait a minute. I suppose I shouldn’t really judge since I am the one holding the Diet Pepsi.

I don’t think I’ve really been a fan of beer (by the by, before giving up alcohol, I thought Coors was smoother than Bud or Miller). I liken this to my emulation of my father at the time, who actually preferred vodka. To my father, vodka was a drinking man’s drink: clear, strong, and pure.

As a man of science, I am also intrigued by the process of making vodka. The distillation process has to be exact- 100% sterile or else the brew would go putrid (comparable to exacting laboratory conditions). So again, vodka was pure and classy if you will; from potatoes, rather than a weed-like vine. Plus, if you want to be able to chat with the Russian gals at the end of the bar about Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, you aren’t going to impress her with an open can of Bud (trust the geek in me). Real men drink from a glass (at least, that’s how I take my soda anyways).
"What about wine and wine tasting?" you may ask. Wine maybe a little too highbrow for me! Given that personal history, and science backing up my curiosity, I started wondering about Mexico's indigenous spirit, tequila.

Tequila is made from the agave plant, a desert succulent. Long before the Europeans came to America, the Aztec people fermented agave into a drink called octli, or more popularly, pluque. The drink we know today as tequila was actually produced in the 16th century near the town of Tequila (est. 1656). The Spaniards had run out of imported brandy and resorted to producing spirits via local means.

Here are some introduced agave species at Tototville used as ornamentals. The broader leaves belong to Agave americana while the thinner two-toned leaves belong to Agave angustofolia.
Tequila is produced from Blue agave (Agave tequilana) but I do not think we've got examples here on Saipan.
This towering beauty is the flower spike of the Agave americana, also known as the "century plant" because it takes a long time for it to flower. Unfortunately, this agave is supposed to be a monocarp, meaning the plant will soon die after blossoming. You can see this beauty now at the San Jose intersection.

Tequila is one of a few drinks that has an actual ritual- it is known as “tequila cruda” where you lick the back of your hand behind the index finger, pour some salt on the moisture, slam down a shot, suck on a lime wedge, feel the burn, wince and say loudly, “Aaaaaarrrrggggggghhhhhh” (also called the “lick, sip, suck ritual” ). Tequila cruda is supposed to be for the uninitiated or newbie who may not be used to taking tequila straight or by itself.
I read an article in Esquire Magazine that fueled more of my curiosity. According to the article, the authors observed (although totally subjective) that:
  • Tequila tastes good, and different brands and types have complex flavors to be experienced (I am reminded of wine here).
  • Quality tequilas do not lead to hangovers.
  • Tequila is not a depressant.
  • Quality tequila can be paired with most foods (Also like wine).
  • Tequila can be a good gift.
  • Tequila fosters "understanding and the forthright exchange of ideas".
Another science that intrigues me is the science of classification or Taxonomy, and tequila fits that bill as well:
  • Tequila may have two unofficial but distinct Classes: lowland and highland. Lowland tequila, according to the article, comes from the plateaus of Guadelajara and generally tastes fruitier. Highland tequila are made from agaves grown in the volcanic uplands of Mexico. It is said that they taste brighter and more acidic, with hints of olive brine and green peppers.
  • The official classifications are: Blanco (can be processed and may sit in any container up to 60 days before bottling). They can also be called blanco or "white" or plata or "silver"; Reposado or "rested" (aged for 60 days to a year in oak barrels); Añejo or "aged" or "vintage" (Aged 1 to 3 years in oak barrels); Extra Añejo or "extra or ultra aged" (aged more than 3 years sometimes with very old tequila mixed in.
If I do get the courage to "let my hair down" to fuel my curiosity about tequila I would find a few examples (notice the grocery shelves and the non-lack of samples here). Then, I would sample them this way:
  • Straight- this will lend to the purest sense of taste.
  • With salt and lime or "tequila cruda"- the salt is supposed to deaden the "burn" and the lime is supposed to enhance the flavors.
  • With sangrita or "little blood"- chilled mixture of OJ, lime juice, grenadine, & hot sauce. This is supposed to be the local's preferrence
  • In a Paloma- a reposado with ice, lime plus rind, kosher salt, and grapefruit soda.
  • In a Margarita- a blanco shaken with Cointreau, lime juice, ice and strained in a salt-rimed glass.
I would really like to conduct this experiment, to find out for myself what tequila is all about. Will the experiment have some altruistic objective to it? To go through the experiment so that I may report back my findings to you? Maybe I do just want to let my hair down.

I'll have to mull that over, sitting here with an open can of cool Diet Pepsi. Okay. I am a nerd. Whatever.

Ti napu.

The Beachcomber

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Record. Research. Draw!

I noticed a vine growing in my friend's backyard some time ago. It caught my eye since the flowers were new to me. I messed up my digital camera a few months ago so I couldn't take any pictures. I remember a long time ago before the advent of digital cameras that I used to record things in a journal. I decided to commit what I saw to memory and draw what I could in a used notebook using a pen and colored pencils.

I took some time trying to remember details of the vine, flowers, seed pods and leaves. After reviewing later, I noticed that there were a lot of inaccuracies in my notes. Oh, well!A few days later, I was able to borrow my friend Ashley's camera but the flowers had all fallen off and the seed pods were all gone! I was pretty frustrated to say the least. I decided to ask the neighbor to see if he knew anything about the mystery plant. Good thing I asked because I found out that he was responsible for my missing samples.

He said that the Filipinos use the plant as a vegetable and the Ilocanos called them bagkobagkong and that the Pangasinans called them, abopoyat. He said that you can simply boil the seed pods and eat them like that. I imagined that they looked liked Psophocarpus tetragonolobus or winged beans (sigarillas in Tagalog; sigidiyas in Chamorro).

A few weeks later, there were more flowers and a few more seed pods. I just had to borrow Ashley's camera again. Recording what they looked like in pictures was just the beginning: Identifying them would take longer I figured.

The flowers.Flowers and heart-shaped leaves (I drew the leaves as a tripinnate incorrectly). The "winged" four-sided seed pods (I noted three-sided incorrectly). More seed pods and leaves.

Fresh leaves. The old ones turn a dull yellow color.
It is a good thing that plants and animals are grouped and classified according to similarities in their parts. The best clue I had to their identity also came from the neighbor who ate them! I didn't have a chance to see the pods mature so that I could look at the seeds, so I asked him if he knew what they looked like. He said that they were like cotton! That was a great clue because I thought that the fruits would contain "winged" seeds like the African tulip or gold or trumpet tree since their pod looked like dehiscent pods (pods that open when they mature and dry to disburse seeds).

I know that milkweeds in the dogbane family had similar structures in seeds and seed pods, so it wasn't long before my Internet searches led me to upon the genus Hoya, or wax vines. This was a whole new world for me because I never knew that they had such a big following. People collect them like orchids and there are hybrids and highly sought after varieties.

I sought the help of Margie, a Swedish mother of 5, who owns a website on Hoyas called that has been online since 1999. She is a collector and an expert with approximately 250 Hoyas in her collection! She pointed out that the leaves of my mystery vine did not come paired like all Hoyas and that they are probably a relative. She also pointed me to Ted Green of Ted's fame comes from the fact that he has introduced more than 1/3 of all the Hoyas currently being traded. He finally helped me identify my plant of genus Telosma! Thank you Ted & Margie!

A few more searches revealed that Telosma flowers are eaten as vegetables but only found one site about them in the from the Philippines. It's entitled Fruits & Vegetables of the Forest and calls Telosma precumbens, babagkong. The flowers are collected and eaten, and the site claims that these wild vegetables are more nutritious than the farmed vegetables (although more expensive). This is most likely the information that I was looking for! It also states that the vine flowers during the rainy months of June through December.

Here is a picture of the collected flowers from that website
(Food & Fertilizer Technology Center for the Asian and Pacific Region).

I also found some information on the Telosma that is eaten as a vegetable in Thailand. It is called Dok Kachorng in the Thai language and here is a photo from a blog showing a delicious looking Telosma stir fried with what looks like garlic and chicken. Looks yummy, right? Well, I’ll have to ask the local Thai restaurants here to see if they ever serve Dok Kachorng!

This photo is from this blog and they have pictorials and the recipe in Thai.

A Telosma native of China and India that has become a favorite lei flower in Hawai’i is the Pakalana, or Telosma cordata. The yellow green flowers are not really known for their beauty but more for their fragrance.

This picture of a gorgeous Pakalana and Pikake lei is from

I found also found a plant survey online done in Guam's War in the Pacific National Historic Park. According to the article, they found Pakalana where the Piti Guns are located, and according to Dr. Lynn Raulerson (my old biology professor! Wootwoot!), they are most likely escapees from someones property that became naturalized there.

A Legend

It is said that the Pakalana’s fragrance becomes more intense in the evening. In fact the Chinese name, Ye Lai Xiang (夜来香), literally means, “fragrance comes through the night”. There is even a Chinese legend that tells of a fierce army that lay siege to a castle. As the day grew late, the Pakalana flowers that lined the countryside leading up to the castle started opening and sending out their fragrance. The later it became, the more intense the Pakalana’s perfume lingered in the air consequently, calming the soldier’s down. By nightfall, the soldiers were disarmed by the fragrance giving up the siege and the castle was, in the end, saved by the Ye Lai Xiang!


Well that is my story about my mystery vine. I hope you liked talking stories with me once again. I also hope that there is inspiration in this that taking notes the old fashion way is still a good way to record things that are important, and that all it takes are observation, some paper and something to write with. Plus, its fun to doodle stuff! I always appreciate a good Star Wars doodle!

Ti napu.

The Beachcomber

P.S. If you want to research more Telosma cordata has other synonyms and many common names: Telosma minor, Pergularia minor, Oxystelma ovatum, Telosma odoratissima, Asclepias cordata, Pergularia odoratissima, Pakalana vine, Tonkin Jasmine, Cowslip Creeper, and Chinese violet. Sorry, but I could not find anything else about Telosma precumbens or if it is another synonym to T. cordata.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

7724: MLK jr

On a bright August day, I had the special privilege to see Martin Luther King, Jr.’s neighborhood, church and library when I visited Atlanta, GA last year. Here’s to the remembrance of a great activist and a man of peace.

The Mahatma- The Great Soul

What footprints do we leave on this earth?
The library

"Behold, the only thing greater than yourself."

Here he rests...
...that we may reflect on his words, his actions, and his life.

The church

The "Stone of Help"
He lived here.

This was his neighborhood

Life continues
“Free at last, free at last
I thank God I'm free at last
Free at last, free at last
I thank God I'm free at last
Way down yonder in the graveyard walk
I thank God I'm free at last
Me and my Jesus going to meet and talk
I thank God I'm free at last
On my knees when the light pass'd by
I thank God I'm free at last
Tho't my soul would rise and fly
thank God I'm free at last
Some of these mornings, bright and fair
I thank God I'm free at last
Goin' meet King Jesus in the air
I thank God I'm free at last”

Many injustices still exist for us to fight. Let us not be content and complacent. We must continue to fight.

Ti napu.

The Beachcomber