Month: March 2014

Night Life Beneath the Pacific

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying looking at the surface of the ocean itself, except that when you finally see what goes on underwater, you realize that you’ve been missing the whole point of the ocean. Staying on the surface all the time is like going to the circus and staring at the outside of the tent.

– Dave Barry

At 2 a.m. Thursday evening, Manny and I went snorkeling. I’d never been in the ocean at night–not really, not beyond sticking my toes in the water and watching the moonbeams reflected in the silver-grey waters. The hubster promised that it’s another world at night, when different creatures venture from their coral reef homes and bioluminescents glow below the surface of the water.

Armed with powerful underwater flashlights, we ventured into the waters of Apra Harbor, Guam. I struggled with basic tasks that made me feel more uncoordinated than normal; even stepping into the shallows made me feel like I was going to wipe out spectacularly.

When I finally secured my gear and stuck my head underwater, I realized how close I’d come to sitting on a big, iridescent, spiky sea urchin.

When we finally got out into deeper water, I got my bearings and shone my flashlight around to see what there was to see. The ocean truly is a different world after the sun sets. Fish that seem grey or brown during the daytime glow silver and gold at night. Shrimp hug the edges of coral, eyes shining eerily in the reflection of your flashlight.

Unfortunately, the experience was one of the more uncomfortable snorkeling sessions ever. My fins were fighting me, my mask kept filling with water, and in the shallows, where it was easiest to actually see the marine life around us illuminated by our flashlights, the water surged and pushed us around, dangerously close to the sharp coral and into each other.

More than once, Manny kicked me in the face or shoulder with a fin while trying to get his bearings, and I’m sure I returned the favor more than once. I think actually diving at night would be preferable to paddling around at the surface.

But the best part of the evening was the moment Manny whipped around and enthusiastically flailed his flashlight toward an elegant, color-changing, squirming creature just a couple of feet ahead of me.  Already a little annoyed at my malfunctioning gear and not yet used to the cool nighttime water, I focused on the beam of light his flashlight was illuminating, and there it was–a foot-long octopus, glowing and changing colors as it retreated from us to its hiding place in the nearest clump of coral.

At that moment, my mask filled with water (again), a small wave pushed me off course, and Manny’s words of advice came to mind: “Just don’t think about all the reef sharks you can’t see behind you.”

Brilliant.

EVERYTHING is irritating (Culture shock: an irrational explanation)

According to Northeastern University (and psychologists everywhere), you can expect to experience four stages of culture shock when you move overseas.

1. Wonder/Honeymoon: Everything is shiny.

2. Frustration: You realize that you don’t speak the language, that even something as straightforward as buying toothpaste can be an exercise in frustrated cultural expectations, and there are no sour gummy worms–or chicken pot pies–to be found.

3. Depression: Unexplained bouts of crying.

4. Acceptance: Realizing that you could maybe live a normal life here.

Handy chart, right? Now you know exactly what to expect, and nothing will faze you. After all, that’s why they hand out charts and similar culture-shock breakdowns to prospective exchange students and those moving abroad. Because if you know what to expect, everything’s easier. If it’s broken down into a four-step process, you can handle it. Or can you?

If you’re like me, your primary problem lies in thinking that you’re experienced enough to be above such culture shock and other similarly pedestrian afflictions.

When I moved to Guam (which is, admittedly, so Westernized that it’s really not incredibly shocking), I experienced something like an odd combination of all 4 stages (and then some extras thrown in for good measure) all at once. It was combined with all the stages associated with being newly married. Good times.

Four-step lists (and seven-step lists, and most other lists) annoy me because they’re almost always gross oversimplifications of the way things actually are.

It probably goes without saying that, when you live in a land of eternal summertime, summer eventually gets old. Instead of dreaming of sunshine, you dream of fall leaves. When the beach is a ten-minute walk away, it loses part of it’s splendor. Not all of it, mind you. Just some–enough to make you wish for snow-capped mountains instead of white-capped waves.

Sometimes, everything about a new culture is just irritating. Like when you go to a mall in Mexico City and realize that toilet paper isn’t a given in every modern bathroom. Or when you step into a Japanese bathroom for the first time and hit every button on control panel attached to the toilet before figuring out how to flush the stupid contraption.

No informational brochure or culture-shock flow chart can prepare you for that.

The Year of Sunshine–a bucket list for one more year on Guam

Since my little rant about bucket lists a few days ago, it became clear that I need to both beef up and clarify my Guam bucket list, because it looks like I only have 13 months to complete it.

The Powers that Be (a.k.a. the U.S. military) have informed the hubster and me that we’ll be leaving our little tropical paradise next March. That’ll add up to just under two years of Guam life–22 months, 600 and some-odd days of summertime. By then, I’ll be so desperate for snow that I’ll probably resort to pulverizing excessive amounts of ice in the blender just so I can build a miniature snowman.

So, with a spirit of uber-excitement at the prospect of living in another beautiful overseas location, and in the spirit of challenging (and fun) bucket lists, I submit: the Guam do-or-die List to end all Lists.

1. Earn advanced SCUBA certification

Since becoming open-water certified last year, I’ve become way more confident in the water–especially in terms of facing swimming things with teeth. Instead of freaking out, my reaction now is usually more like, “Oooo, shiny. Come here, fishy fishy.” But I know I’ve still got plenty to learn. Along the same vein? Before I leave, I want to log at least 60 dives. If we end up in Incirlik, Turkey, next, I don’t think the dive gear will get much use.

Side note: If you like swimming, fishies, and adventure-y things, getting started diving is a fantastic way to indulge your wild side. And for Guam residents, it’s surprisingly inexpensive.

2.  Get started on grad school

I’m in the process of applying for Indiana State University’s Graduate Certificate in TESL right now–a step that would better qualify me to teach English to speakers of other languages. Plus, it’s several graduate-level classes I can apply toward a master’s degree later on, which is one of my real bucket list items. Win-win.

3. Try my hand at cooking Chamorro food

Some of my favorite grub on island comes from the BBQ joints at Chamorro Village, the weekly flea market in Dededo, and the little local cantinas that remind me of the Pacific’s version of a taco stand. Some local favorites–oxtail soup, for example–don’t exactly sound fantastic. Other delicacies like chicken kelaguen and chalakiles sound like they’re worth trying in my own kitchen.

4. Get in shape-ish

They say that Guam is the perfect place to get in shape. In my experience so far, Guam is more ideal for sweating, fanning oneself, and taking photos for Instagram. The eternal summertime often makes me want to retreat into air conditioning more than anything else. But with all the hikes, beautiful jogging trails, and scenic views around here, there’s no reason not to work some purposeful sweat into more of my days.

5. Write.

I’m a part-time freelance writer. Most of my experience has been writing product descriptions, marketing websites, or re-drafting website landing pages for various online businesses. Yes, it pays fairly well; yes, it allows me to camp out at Infusion for hours at a time and know that the investment in gourmet coffee was worth it. Plus, I love writing conversational non-fiction. But before I leave Guam, I hope to write more consistently and more creatively than before–maybe even branch out into fiction. This week, I got a fun article about eccentric geniuses published at Listverse.com, which was an exciting start.

6. Learn German. Or Turkish. Or whateverish it is they speak where we’re going

When I find out where my husband and I will be stationed next, my next step–after wikipedia-ing the country and writing one very excited Facebook post–will be to pick up Rosetta Stone and a grammar book to study the language of our destination. Germany and Turkey are the most likely candidates, but we could end up stationed in the States–in which case, I’ll just keep brushing up on my español.

7. Hike.

Hiking on Guam can be brutal, but it’s worth the blood, sweat, and sword grass. In the last year, I’ve seen waterfalls, soaring cliffs, mountains that look like they were carved from emerald velvet, and water so blue it hurts your eyes. The Best Tracks on Guam clearly details the island’s most rewarding hikes, giving trekkers hints on exactly where they should look to see the stuff that’s so easy to miss. I want to do more of those hikes before I leave–including the dreaded central ridge trail that covers 12 miles of southern Guam’s hills.