Friday, September 7, 2012

Going, Going, Guam

 That vague outline of green above the wing through the haze is Guam.
After this picture, we were forced to turn off the camera...lame.
It is an old saying and one we’ve heard our entire lives:  if it seems too good to be true…. well you know the rest. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, let’s begin at the beginning…..

If you are reading this blog, you probably already know that we are currently in Guam.  Last spring, Nick was offered a job as a law clerk for the Supreme Court in Guam, a U.S. Territory in the Pacific Ocean, near the Philippines and Indonesia.  After months of planning, preparation, waiting, moving, and farewell visits, we began our adventure on Tuesday, September 4, 2012.

Our last weekend on the U.S. mainland was a busy and wonderful Labor Day weekend including: Friday night Tigers game and dinner in Greektown, Saturday night watching Michigan vs. Alabama alfresco on the big screen in Big Matt’s yard, and Sunday the Mahanic family’s annual Bocce Tournament, with lots of packing, last minute errands and visits with family and friends peppered in-between.    On Monday, we said goodbye to Nick’s family.  Amanda’s mom drove us to Chicago, where along with Amanda’s sister, Alaina, and cousin, Sadie, we spent our last night in the continental U.S.

Our flight left Chicago O’Hare at 7 a.m. for San Francisco.  It was on Virgin America Airlines, which is by far the most comfortable domestic coach flight experience we’ve ever had and was relatively uneventful.  We arrived in San Francisco around 9:30 a.m. local time.  

Us after travelling for approximately 42 hours.
The next leg of our flight was on Singapore Airlines, long renowned for their service, comfort, and flight attendants.  Our flight left at 2 p.m. local time and right away we were very impressed; it took all of 15 min to board a plane that easily seats between 350 – 400 people.   To be fair, the plane was not completely full, but still…very efficient.  We lucked out and had a three seat row to ourselves, making a 14 hour flight a bit more comfortable.  We spent the flight eating, drinking, watching movies, playing games, not sleeping, and learning Japanese.  Chizu is map and gyuu nyuu is milk….you’ve always wondered, right?  We landed in Korea at 6:30 p.m. local time, on Wednesday, September 5.  All the while, we were talking about how smooth everything had gone, what good luck we’d had, and all our plans for our overnight camp-out in the Seoul airport…we should have known better than to tempt fate.

Our plan had been to spend the night in the relatively new Incheon Airport, which has comfortable chairs and clean, first-class facilities.  However, we had to exit the controlled area of the airport to collect our bags and check in for our next flight. We discovered that, while you can check-in online 24 hours in advance, you can’t do that in-person, or at least they wouldn’t let us do that until the next morning.  So we had the choice of spending our 14 hour layover sleeping on hard, wooden benches in the check-in area or going to a hotel.  We chose a nearby hotel, and were excited for the prospect of a shower and the ability to stretch out on a bed, something we had not originally anticipated.  However, it would have been more comfortable to sleep on the wooden benches.  We suppose we can now say we actually went to Korea, having left the airport.

Finally, the next morning, we departed for Guam at 10 a.m. local time on Jin Air, a local Asian discount airline.  We discovered that unlike in the U.S., you are not allowed to bring your own drinks on the flight.  This was explained to us after we had already entered the jetway, during the boarding process. We had both just finished large coffees, and with nowhere to dump our water, we were both forced to chug the contents of two recently filled Nalgenes.   We don’t recommend this for a pleasant flight experience.  We were literally the only white people on the plane.  It was a bit less comfortable than the other flights, being basically Asia’s Airtran, but even then, we got frequent drink service and a bento box lunch (or was it breakfast? by then we’d lost track and it involved some kind of fish, so….?) on a 4 hour flight, which is more than you can get on any domestic flight in the US.
The noodles tasted like garlic pesto, the meat patties like Swedish
meatballs, tuna rice balls, kim chi, and apparently a flan-like substance.
42 hours after departing Chicago, we landed in Guam at 3:30 p.m. local time.  We were greeted a large sign reading “Hafa Adai”, (pronounced half a day) which is Chamorro for “hello/welcome/etc.”  

Chamorro, as an aside, is the name of both the local ethnicity and language.  We were met at arrivals by Nick’s to-be supervisor, Danielle, and another co-worker, Erica.  They drove us back to our new apartment.

Since landing in Korea, and up to this point, things in general had been going less well.  You might call it uncomfortable, but that sometimes happens in international travel.  However, this is where things began to go seriously wrong.  The apartment itself is nice enough, but small.  Upon inspection, the apartment had not exactly been properly cleaned.  The walls and floors were dirty, insects, dead and living, had taken up residence everywhere, gecko droppings decorated the kitchen, and the garbage can was overflowing with, uh, garbage.  A ceiling tile in the bathroom had rotted away and collapsed.  The light fixture in the living room dangled precariously from the ceiling fan, supported by a single wire.  Amanda, curious as to the working condition of the light and air conditioner, began fiddling with switches and remotes. 

To no avail.  

Due to a communication snafu, the power had been turned off a week before.  Do you know what happens when you have no air conditioning in a hot, tropical environment?  Mold.  Lots and lots of MOLD.  Specifically: on the shower curtains, bedding, linens, towels and, most disappointingly, the mattress.  Still thinking to herself, “It’s okay, we can get this taken care of,” Amanda was quickly running over scenarios in her head.  Then Danielle asked the million dollar question: If there’s no power, is the water even on?

It was not.

This meant that we could not stay in the apartment until we had working utilities and sealed our decision to stay in a hotel for the night.  In fact, Danielle informed us that even if we wanted to stay there, she wouldn’t let us.  We grabbed our carry-on luggage (which we had just commented on how glad we were not to have to lug around anymore…..again tempting fate…you’d think we’d learn, right?), loaded into our new car and followed Danielle.  Fortunately, a former Days Inn was located just up the road, and had budget-friendly rooms.  The staff was very friendly and helpful (something that you will notice will be a constant in subsequent posts), though the rooms and furnishings had seen better days.  It was clean and had working power and water, which is more than we could say for the apartment.

After dropping off our stuff, we ventured out to find dinner and visit Kmart for some essentials.  This is advertised, as we probably mentioned to you, as the “World’s Largest Kmart” (more on this in a subsequent post).  By the time we had finished our errands, it had gotten dark.  It gets dark very quickly on Guam, one minute it is light and dusky, the next the sun has been seemingly swallowed by a black hole. All of this by 7 o’clock at night.  During our trip back to the hotel, which was no more than 5 miles, we discovered another problem: our car.  We lost the radio 4-5 times, we lost power steering, and we stalled twice.  Nick theorizes that it appears to be an electrical problem precipitated by the use of headlights, as we have had no difficulties driving during the daylight hours.  An alternative theory is that the fates had conspired to drive us insane and were throwing obstacles at us to test our breaking point.  Amanda champions this theory.  Luckily the second stall-out was in the hotel parking lot.  Throwing our hands up in frustration, we trudged up to our hotel room.

At this point we had only been “on island”, as the locals say, 8 hours. As we drifted off to sleep, we restlessly considered all of the things we had to get done on Friday: sign the lease, get the power turned on, get the water turned on, get cell phones, get cable and internet, get a PO Box, get our Social Security verification letters from the SSA (needed to get a driver’s license), get our licenses, transfer the car title, get car insurance, and get a bank account.  Determined to wake up early and get everything done, we fell asleep, wary but optimistic about the productivity of the long day ahead.

As this post has gotten a bit long, the harrowing story of our first 36 hours on Guam will continue in our next post.  Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion….plus rain, concrete stairs, and gigantic man-eating spiders.


  1. Man-eating spiders!? Is there no end to terrifying animals on that island? I thought that brown tree snakes and giant crabs were PLENTY to worry about!

  2. Glad to hear your keeping up a positive attitude--it's all part of the adventure. There are any number of bromides to help you through the rough patches--"It's Always darkest before the dawn", etc. but I ran across an old Trojan proverb the other day: "No matter how appalling can still get worse." Roll with it! We look forward to your next post, and we are anxious to learn how the man-eating spiders on Guam evolved to be so gender-specific.

  3. When your mom and I had our 32 hour lay over in Seoul, on our return from Bali, we stayed in Seoul. All I remember about our room was the toilet, with multi-sprays and heat settings. Too bad that your room didn't at least have that amenity. When visiting friends in Taiwan about ten years ago, they pointed out that many Taiwanese do not drive with their headlights on at night, in the belief that it uses more gas to do that. Maybe there was some truth to that after all! Anyway - enjoyed your blog and look forward to reading more about your adventure.

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