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“Håfa Dai, welcome to Guam

“Håfa Dai, welcome to Guam, where America’s day begins,” an affable, young, Asian looking man, said as we deplaned at the Won Pat Airport in Tamuning, Guam. I smiled while he whisked us through customs, the terminal, and baggage claim. He flagged a taxi. I felt exhausted, excited, and extremely thirsty. My legs wobbled after our twenty-six- hour flight from Miami, Houston, Tokyo to Guam.

“Håfa Dai, Where to?” the taxi driver asked. “You look like you could use a drink.” He handed us each a small bottle of water before driving to our waiting residence on a cliff in Tamuning.

In 2007, Mobil Oil Guam, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil Corporation, offered my husband a position as project manager rebuilding facilities destroyed by Hurricane Pongsona in 2002. We sold our home in Houston, packed our belongings, and moved to an island in the Pacific Ocean. So began our three-year stay on the little-known island of Guam.

Before our arrival in January 2007, I thought Guam would be a jungle island inhabited by brown-skinned people and the American military. I expected Quonset huts, shacks, no birds, and snakes that fell from trees. Instead, I found a modern American land of pleasant people from diverse cultures who seemed comfortable together. Oceanfront high-rise buildings housing tax-free ware like perfume, cigarettes, liquor, and designer handbags crowded beside first-class restaurants and five-star hotels along Tumon Bay. I could see a few wooden structures with tin roofs between local homes of boxed shaped concrete, suggesting bunkers with flat roofs.

Instead of living in towns and cities, the Guamanians live in separate villages connected by one road that rings the island. Other roads connect onto that major highway. We’ve driven the entire island in over two hours. Hills, volcanic rock,

At the time, I had no cell phone, but wanted one—just in case I got lost and needed to be found. “What are you gonna do?” my husband asked. “How will you tell whomever you call where you are?” 

“I’d say: I’m stuck on the road somewhere on this island next to a jungle full of green trees.” We both laughed, but I bought my first cell phone.

We lived in an air-conditioned four-bedroom apartment on the twelfth floor of a fourteen-story building on a cliff called Oka Point. From my east window, I saw many white homes and shops of the villages Tamuning and Tumon. At night, the towns lit up red, orange, and yellow against the black sky. Stars and a moon shone above. Watching the night turn into day brought an array of colors to the island where “America’s day begins.” From my western window, I looked over the Philippine Sea.

I watched pods of dolphin jump, and on most days, saw various tropical fish swim beneath the pristine turquoise water. Because we were on a cliff at the point of Agana Bay, I could see the village of Hagåtña. Using my binoculars, I saw Nimitz hill and the naval hospital.

Sunsets on Guam changed with each day. Various hues of blue, violet, yellow, orange, red, and white melded together before our eyes. As dusk arrived, the sun sank into the blue water of the Pacific Ocean. As its yellow light disappeared into the sea, a green streak flashed on the spot for less than a second. I have waited, watching for this phenomenon known as the “green flash,” but have rarely seen it. When I did, I clapped my hands and shouted, “Wow!”

According to Cornell University: “This fleeting spectacle is caused by the refraction of sunlight, which is significant at sunset and sunrise when the light travels through more of the Earth’s atmosphere. The atmosphere bends the sunlight passing through it., separating the light into its unique colors, much like a prism bends and splits sunlight into rainbows.” Try as I did, I never captured this magical moment on film.

Map of populated places in Guam

Guam is a dot on the map of the world. This dot measures 212 square miles, about 30 miles in length, with a width of 8.5 miles. The island is the westernmost territory of the United States and 15 hours ahead of the Eastern Seaboard Time Zone. Hence, the slogan “Guam, Where America’s Day Begins.”

Guam lies 500 miles north of the Equator, so the weather stays at a comfortable 85⁰F year-round. It is one of five United States territories. English is the primary language spoken. Children attend American schools. It has a fascinating history dating back four thousand years and serves as the headquarters and central military defense station of the South Pacific. At the time of our arrival, the local population totaled 158,875. Today, in 2020, the population hit 169,000¹.

We became close friends with many of the local people, through a game called geocaching¹. The basic idea of geocaching is to locate hidden containers called geocaches and share our experiences online. It is an outdoor activity in which hunters can discover the natural beauty and history of Guam. My husband and I took part in many such adventures exploring Guam, the tourist, and some locals never see.

Boonie Stomping, another activity we took part in on Guam, is a gathering of hikers who walk across Guam with a guide to various out-of-the-way places, discover hidden spots in the jungle, hills, and valleys of the island. Every Saturday, Guam Boonie Stompers offers an inexpensive guided tour to a variety of destinations such as beaches, snorkeling sites, waterfalls, mountains, caves, latte′ sites, and World War II sites. My husband, the adventurer, joined men, women, and children for these hikes ranked easy, medium, or strenuous. He met Dave, the leader, at Chamorro Village on Saturday or Sunday when for $2.00, people joined for these hikes. Afterward, he’d drive me to the sites so I could also engage in them.

Guam is closer to Asia than to the United States and affords a strategic influence on world peace. According to news reports in 2020, both Naval Base Guam and Anderson Air Force Base have merged into one command as the Joint Region Marianas. There are more than 6,000 military troops and 7,000 of their dependents living on the island. Because my husband retired from serving in the U.S. Army, we visited both bases. We also became friends with both sailors and airmen and their families.

Welcome to Guam, Håfa Dai. Sit back, enjoy this island of paradise.