Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Essence of Guam

Polutan and Beer by Wayne-K
Polutan and Beer, a photo by Wayne-K on Flickr.

I traveled to Guam last week on business to meet with a few corporate customers, departing the San Francisco International Airport on Monday morning and arriving in Guam on Tuesday evening. My coworker and I stayed in the Marriott in Tumon. Although I have family in Guam, I usually stay in a hotel with the rest of the sales team because we frequently have customer dinners and activities in the evenings, and logistically, it makes it easier. After three days of meetings, I checked out of the hotel and headed to visit my brother in-law for the weekend.

JR lives in Barrigada, where he runs the business he took over when his father passed away a few years ago. Tumon and the house in Barrigada are like two different countries, seemingly thousands of miles and several decades apart. Nestled in the South Pacific, Guam is known as the “poor man’s Hawaii” for Asian tourists and continuing this analogy, Tumon is like the “poor man’s Waikiki.” Tumon has a number of large US hotels, like Hyatt and Marriott, high-end stores, and nice restaurants, each catering to the Asian tourist. In contrast, the house in Barrigada is off the main road and off the beaten path. Behind the main house is a “barracks” where the workers reside. The barracks is a rather humble structure, adjacent to a little forested area.

The last time I was in Guam, I felt a bit alienated at the house. As the only non-Filipino and the only non-Tagalog (Filipino language) speaking person, I felt largely left out of the conversations. This time, I tried harder to interact and communicate with the group. They struggled at times putting their thoughts into English and I struggled at times trying to understand. We did, however, manage to bond, using the common glue that brings different cultures together – lots of Bud Light and soju!

On the first night, I sensed I was being measured up and watched (although probably not the case). After a lot of beer and several rounds of soju (Korean liquor), one of the guys asked JR in Tagalog how I was doing. JR translated and I told him I was doing great. Ansel Adams recalled a story in his autobiography of a client who wanted to hire him for some commercial photography work. The client’s well-known methodology was to bring in the photographer and share a number of rounds of brandy before negotiations. The idea was to get the photographer intoxicated such that he would agree to a more favorable fee. Ansel, aware of this tactic, stopped by the local restaurant before visiting the client and ate a large, greasy hamburger, with French fries dipped in mayonnaise. The coating of fat in his stomach would slow the absorption of alcohol into his system and give him the upper hand during the negotiations. After multiple rounds of brandy, the client ended up intoxicated and Ansel Adams got his desired fee. In similar fashion, I ignored my high cholesterol and triglycerides, and consumed large quantities of pork ribs and chicken. After a case of Bud Light and three and a half bottles of soju, there were three people passed out, and JR and I left at the table...doing great. We polished off the bottle of soju and went to bed.

The next night, the guys prepared a traditional Filipino dish, banana heart sisig. Joel lashed a kitchen knife to a broom stick and secured two banana hearts from the trees in the back. Billy then prepared the dish, with chili peppers from the yard, onion, pork, garlic, and vinegar. I enjoyed watching them prepare the simple meal on the small butane stove outside the barracks and thoroughly enjoyed the meal. Billy was surprised I tried the dish and was even more surprised I liked it. The onion, garlic, and vinegar are common to a number of Filipino dishes, so the flavors weren’t anything different than I was already familiar with.

I think the best way to gain acceptance with unfamiliar people, especially while traveling, is to eat and drink with them. After a couple of nights of Bud Light, soju, and great local foods, I felt a part of the group. Chris asked if they could call me Kuya Wayne – Kuya being a Filipino term used as a sign of respect to an older male relative or family friend. As a non-Filipino, I took this as an honor, a sign of being accepted into the group.

Guam isn’t about a fancy hotel, sunning on a white, sandy beach, or dining in an upscale restaurant. It isn’t taking a tour bus to Talofofo Falls, having a hamburger at Jeff’s Pirates Cove, or visiting Two Lovers Point. The true essence of Guam, or the essence of any location, is quality time spent interacting with the locals, in their humble homes, eating the local foods, and really getting to know the people and their culture. I had a great time in Guam, but now that I'm home, it's time to work off the five pounds I gained...the diet starts tomorrow!

Here are a few photos from the trip.

The Barrigada Barracks
The "barracks" in Barrigada, where the workers reside.

Chef Chris
Chris cooking up a local favorite.

Hanging Out with the Boys
JR, Chris, and Joel

Two Dogs and a Ford
Two Dogs and a Ford (AKA, Three Dogs)

Last Night in Guam
Last night in Guam (in a Filipino bar)

Under the Table
One of the dogs that roams the property

Things I Photograph While Drinking
Things I photograph while drinking

35/52 - Hanging out in Paradise
Old school clothesline

Lighting the Mosquito Repellent
JR lighting a pallet to keep the mosquitoes away

Tumon Bay (from Marriott Hotel)
Tumon Bay at night

Tumon Bay
Tumon Bay

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