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Tropical paradise with a splash of culture
2014-12-03
By Yang Jian

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ROSE San Nicolas picks up an old coconut and cracks open the shell by pressing it hard with a stick. She then uses a hard stone to make a hole in the inner shell. She pours out the milk and uses the stick, which has a sharp knife made of a coconut shell on one end, to quickly scrape out the flesh. She mixes the coconut flesh and milk along with some sea salt. Finally she wraps it in long leaves and begins to steam it in a crockery pot.

Chamorro culture

The 68-year-old lives on Guam and is one of few on the island, which has a population of 177,000, still able to make coconut rice flavored with sea salt in the authentic Chamorro way. Nicolas shares the rice with a group of tourists, grabbing a handful for herself — it smells glorious and tastes even better. She uses the rest of the milk and meat to make coconut oil and sugar.

“In the old days, most of the food Chamorro people ate was flavored with coconut,” Nicolas said.

She has converted her traditional chalet into a tourist attraction, where she shows visitors old customs of the Chamorro people.

The chalet is along the Pacific Ocean and not too far off shore is the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of any ocean in the world.

Archeological evidence indicates that Guam is one of the first places to have been settled by seafaring peoples, possibly from Southeast Asia, over 4,000 years ago. It is the biggest and most southern of the Mariana Islands.

Perhaps best known as home to a US military base and a strategic location against the Japanese in World War II, Guam is a tropical paradise with great beaches, beautiful island scenery and tax free shopping.

And for those who enjoy absorbing a little culture while frolicking in the sun and sea, learning about the Chamorro makes for a nice change of pace.

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Jack and Kane work in the same village as Nicolas. Jack shows tourists how to weave leaves into pieces of art. He can weave a beautiful fish out of the leaves in the traditional Chamorro way. He also makes coconut rice, but admits it doesn’t taste nearly as good as Nicolas’ version. Villagers raise chicken, sheep and spider crabs.

Carlos Paulino, Nicolas’ partner, is a tour guide. The 70-year-old man says he learned how to weave tree leaves into strong rope and how to cook Chamorro bread in a plaster stove from his grandfather.

Paulino owns the Mariano and Ana Leon Guerrero House, which was built in 1901. It has a few bullet marks in the floors and doors that were made by Japanese fighter planes. The house was originally built for a family of 16, all of whom slept on woven pandanus mats in the living room under a huge mosquito net, Paulino says.

World War II

He says the house is a landmark and represents Guam’s modern history.

Over the last 400 years, the island has been administered by Japan, Spain, and now the United States.

The ceding of Guam to the United States as an unincorporated territory after the Spanish-American War in 1898 introduced Chamorros to democratic principles of government and the modern American lifestyle, while keeping them subjects of a sometimes oppressive US naval administration.

During World War II, Japan invaded the island shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. For the next three years, Guam was the only US territory occupied by Japanese forces until the Americans returned in 1944 to reclaim the island.

Nowadays, more than a dozen World War II sites can be visited. Each offers a unique perspective on the war and many are accessible only on foot via hiking trails.

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As a highlight, the Guam government turned a shell crater left by Japanese invaders near the coast into a small aquarium. Visitors can walk through a bridge to the crater and get down to the submarine-like hall to view many fish. Visitors can also go snorkeling here and end up becoming scenery to the visitors inside.

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Island wedding

Couples are increasingly discovering the charm of Guam and choosing to have their wedding on the island.

“Guam has all facilities necessary for a fantasy wedding in the Pacific,” said a senior official with the Guam Visitors Bureau.

Guam has churches, chapels, resorts and all sorts of natural scenery to plan a dream wedding. It has Asia’s so-called most beautiful church, St Laguna Chapel, which was especially built to host weddings with or without religious beliefs.

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Couples can also get married on a beach or a cliff overlooking the ocean. The island’s popularity for weddings originates from an old legend about Two Lovers’ Point.

According to the legend, a wealthy young woman fell in love with a common Chamorro man, but her father arranged for her to marry a powerful Spanish captain.

The lovers escaped and found themselves trapped between the edge of the cliff and approaching soldiers.

They tied their long black hair together and kissed for the last time before leaping to their deaths. They were never seen again.

The place where they jumped is known as Puntan dos Amantes or Two Lover’s Point. The site lures lovers attracted to their story and plenty of others for the breathtaking view of the coastline.

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Airline information:

United Airlines has direct flights from Shanghai to Guam every Tuesday and Saturday at 11:10pm from Pudong International Airport. The flight arrives in Guam at 5:30am the next day.

The return flight takes off at 7:20pm every Tuesday and Saturday and lands at Pudong at 10:15pm. The flight takes about 4.5 hours.

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