one year in saipan

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one year in saipanI looked at the calendar today and realized that exactly one year ago was our first day in Saipan. Honestly, I can’t believe we’ve been here for a year already!

one year in saipanIn tribute, we made a List of Saipan tonight. It chronicles the bad, the good, and the quirky of our little island home and is a pretty good summation of our year here.

The Bad

one year in saipan

the best cure for homesickness- VISITORS!

Missing our people– Far and away the hardest part of living here is just being so far away from the people we love. The time difference just complicates this.

Lack of access– Oh Saipan and your limited grocery stores, your crazy shipment schedules, your non-existent healthy food options and your unpredictable inventory. You keep me on my toes in the worst possible way.

The Cost- There are a few exceptions here (they’ll make their way onto The Good list), but almost everything here is just really expensive. Like gas. And restaurants. And power. And food. Almost everything, actually.

Power outages– I remember feeling extra inconvenienced to occasionally lose power for an hour or two in Denver. Oh how glorious that schedule would be to me now.

one year in saipan

havoc from Tropical Storm Bavi

Natural disasters- We’ve weathered two typhoons, one tropical storm, an earthquake and several wild fires this year. No thank you.

Pests- We are winning the battle against rats and mice and cockroaches. And totally losing the battle against the ants. Ugh.

Humidity (and it’s partner mildew)– Sticky. And smelly. And more smelly stickiness. Did you know that clothes mildew if you don’t wash them often enough? And that leather mildews? Crazy, right?

The Good

saipan color runThe time together- Combine Adam’s much lighter work schedule (and all of his time off) with far fewer commitments and you have yourself some seriously fabulous family time. I am in love with that part of our life here.

one year in saipanone_year_in_saipanThe beaches- We thought it was going to be beautiful here, but the natural beauty has surpassed anything we imagined. The beaches of Saipan are pristine and empty and wonderful. And the chance to see sharks and octopi and sting rays and sea turtles and a million different kinds of tropical fish is pretty great too!

The people- Moving to Saipan creates an instant bond with, you guessed it, anyone else who has moved to Saipan. And I can’t say enough great things about how helpful Adam’s staff at the clinic (all locals) has been to our family this year. We love the people here!

one year in saipan

Old Man by the Sea

one year in saipan

Forbidden Island

Hiking- It is hilarious to me that we moved from the outdoor paradise of Colorado and then found our hiking groove on a tropical island, but we did. We mostly hike in sandals or watershoes, carrying a beach bag full of snorkeling gear. Totally hard core.

one year in saipanOur house- Renting a house sight unseen is a risky venture, but one that turned out great for us this time! Even though driving up our driveway in rainy season resembles four wheeling in Moab, the fact that you can see the ocean from every room more than makes up for that. And since it’s so expensive to run our AC, we cherish our breeze-y hillside.

one year in saipanone year in saipanTravel- The chance to visit Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia were some of our favorite parts of last year. And our on-the-docket trips include South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and an epic New Zealand road trip. So exciting. We love having the chance to explore a whole new part of the world while we’re here!

one year in saipanSeafood and local produce- Since tuna, mahi mahi and wahoo are all local, and since seafood is so very cheap (about $2 a pound if it was caught that day), we eat TONS of fish here! We’ve also loved trying the local produce- five different kinds of mangoes, coconut as it’s own food group (so cheap and plentiful), soursap, dragon fruit, local pomegranates, starfruit, guava, mountain apples, Japanese sweet potatoes, the list goes on. And remember our chocolate making adventure from the local cacao pods? So fun!
one year in saipanThe Quirky

A blast from the past- Living in Saipan is like stepping back in time 25 years. The internet speeds rival those from our high school days, businesses do paperwork on actual paper (remember carbon copies? Totally still a thing here), people shop for airline tickets at an actual travel agent, most people still don’t have smart phones (and why would you- see my note about the internet), GPS is not even a thing. And we’ve heard more 80s and 90s music than we have since, well, the 80s and 90s.

Appliances- Our washer sometimes makes our clothes dirtier, our dryer requires a special 10 minute rotation between ‘air fluff’ and ‘low heat’ in order not to burn things (aka- we hang dry almost everything), we have to turn off our hot water heater when we are not using it and our dishwasher’s “light” cycle is three hours long. Oh the adventures.

Expired food-  I don’t think stores are allowed to sell expired food in the States, but they totally are here. And the outdated section is my best tool for helping keep our food budget in check. This means that our diet is a hybrid between farmer’s market and the expired food section. It’s funny. Also, I should note that we seriously never have bad experiences with outdated food. Turns out “best by” really means “will stay good wa-ay past this date.”

The hoop jumping- Everything is done in person, never over the phone (or heaven forbid online). And I’ve never in my whole life had so many things notarized. And all of the systems are notoriously inefficient. And island time is a thing. These factors combine to make seemingly basic tasks like obtaining an ID a seven stop, multi day process.

one year in saipan

the state of our speedometer more often than we’d like

The driving- Let me just say this- if you struggle with road rage, Saipan is not the place for you. Getting behind the wrong neighbor can extend your 10 minute commute by 20 extra minutes. It’s pretty much Adam’s nightmare every time he gets behind the wheel.

The proliferation of mustangs, hummers and selfie sticks- Also hilarious photoshoots on the beach or posing on the aforementioned mustangs. The tourists add a whole new dimension to this island, that’s for sure.

The wildlife- We have a couple of giant species of spider here (have you heard of huntsman spiders? Guys, the first time I saw one of those, I screamed out loud). And if you open a door or window at night, the chance of a gecko falling on you is about 80%.

Getting directions- Because there are no street addresses here, getting and giving directions is an exercise in ridiculousness. And not just to people’s homes- listening to the guys on the radio giving directions to local businesses is great. The use of poultry (chicken farms, rooster cages, chicken roosts) as geographic markers is also hilariously common.

one year in saipanOur overall summaries of this year-

Adam’s- “We are more flexible than I thought. Also, the tropics with no AC is hotter than I thought.”

Kirstin’s- “Our life in Denver was more overcommitted and stretched thin than I thought. And I love living on an island just as much as I thought.”

one year in saipanBurke’s- “Legoland was more awesome than I thought.”

Piper’s- “I love snorkeling and swimming more than I thought.”

one year in saipanI can’t wait to see what Saipan Year 2 has in store for us!

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30 Comments

  1. Living in Saipan creates an instant bond with anyone else who has ever heard of it! Including those crazy people you met in Hong Kong. 🙂 André proposed to me on that rock on the right side of your Old Man photo. Sweet memories … except when the poor guy cut his knee on the rock when he did the whole get down on one knee thing. Our Commissary here sells some expired food here, but it’s because so much of it is frozen for the trip from the US. Maybe it’s the same over there?

    1. I love it that Andre proposed to you there! Also, meeting y’all on a bus in Hong Kong was a hilarious addition to this adventure- one I’m super thankful for. 😉 And maybe the freezing extends the life of food? Whatever the case, we are not even a little bit nervous about buying expired food anymore. 😉

  2. Great post and Fabulous photos! There are definitely way more “goods” than “bads” about spending a couple of years (or just one!) here. So glad we’ve been able to share our year with your family!

  3. Where is the house you are renting? That shot of your back yard looks really similar to the view from the backyard of the house we own on Capital Hill. We moved to Tokyo.

    1. Hey Beth- yep, we live on Capital Hill. Must be a similar view to your home. Hope you’re enjoying Tokyo!

  4. I love that you have captured all the beautiful and quirky things about the island . I do wish that you had mentioned the plight of the dogs and cats. For us that was the only thing that we couldn’t get past no matter how wonderful life was. It’s hard to appreciate beauty when you are surround by emaciated animals and people that actually speed up to hit animals crossing the road.

  5. Been here 5 months into a two year contract, what a fun read and just about dead-on for everything we’ve learned about Saipan!

  6. Hey, from the picture, it looks like y’all are living where we lived when we were there in the 90s – the Pangelinan house in Papago. Is that right?

    From the rest of your description, it seems like not much has changed. What a great adventure y’all are in for. We stayed 10 years, and one of these days, we’ll come back!

    1. Hey Ben- how fun that you guys were here! We live in Capital Hill, so not the same house, but we must have a similar view.

  7. Saipan and the entire CNMI is a magical place. Loved my time there, miss many people I never thought I’d be so far away from

  8. Thank you for bringing back many wonderful and quirky memories! My husband and I spent the summer of 2011 on Saipan as short term missionaries with Living Hope Church of the Nazarene. We, too, are hikers and enjoyed exploring many of the island’s trails. If you haven’t been swimming in the Grotto yet, by all means, do! That was definitely a highlight for us. As far as food is concerned, it sounds like grocery shopping hasn’t improved any. I still laugh about the huge displays of Spam! I had no idea that it came is so many varieties! Supper at the street market on Thursday’s was another highlight for us and we loved the Pad Thai at Wild Bill’s. Well, I could go on and on, but again thanks for the memories.

    1. Elaine, we love the grotto! And isn’t the wide variety of Spam crazy? Wow! Glad you enjoyed the post. 😉

  9. i met so many wonderful friends when I lived in Saipan! I never thought I would miss it, but I do! We had wonderful care of our pets by Ed at Paradise Vets office. Susan, his wife, is a delight and heads up the theater group. Jill Arenovski is the Stampin’ Up person. We always met at Coffee Care to stamp, then had lunch there. I met one of my dearest friends there and have remained good friends since! The house in which we lived overlooked the island of Tinian. Yes, the power outages were tiresome and the electricity was soooo expensive, and the termites swarming were awful, but all in all live there was peaceful and uncluttered.

  10. My mom has lived there now for 27 (?) Years. That was a 2 yr contract also. 😉
    We just got home from a 3 wk visit ourselves. Flew in during a tropical storm and left on the tail of another. We brought my dad’s ashes out to the new veteran’s cemetary. It’s great it’s there now. I think he prefers it over the cold Idaho snow. I much prefer the DRY weather tho. I was damp, head to toe, for 3 wks!!!
    Yes, the animals. If another vet (or 18) could relocate to Saipan, they would have a better chance. And someone that people can afford. We pay $30 at our local shelter to spay/ neuter our animals. No wonder there are so many strays at $200-300 a pop on $aipan.
    Have fun and enjoy your time there!!! I know we always do. Take home a glass ball or 2!

    1. So fun that you just came to visit Melissa- we’ve had a ton of storms lately. We will definitely enjoy the rest of our time here!

  11. I lived and worked in Saipan for 2 years in the 90’s. I worked for the CNMI PSS. I remember all those things. The expired food comment made me laugh. My first taste of Mahi Mahi was amazing. The typhoons, super typhoon, earthquake, and tsunami threat all in my 1st 6 weeks had me seriously thinking of going back home to Chicago. The introduction to bugs, daily power outages, and not being able to drink the water, getting a PO Box number and drivers license really made for some scary experiences for a city girl. However, getting to travel throughout Asia was amazing and amazingly safe! The experiences and wonderful people and friendships I made are priceless. Even after 20+ years, I will always cherish my Saipan friendships and experiences.

  12. We use to say as a joke that the only Americans that move to Saipan are running from something or total misfits. I kind think of myself as misfit.

  13. Loved all of your comments and reflections! We lived in CNMI in the 90s and this was a great trip down memory lane! Is the Hyatt brunch in Garapan still as amazing as it was when we were there?

  14. Your comments are dead on. I lived on Guam over 35 years ago and even though we returned to the states, and I had a great career with lots of global travel (and several returns to the Marianas and Micronesia) I still look back at those days as the greatest adventure of our life. Yes cockroaches the size of your thumb, wolf spiders as big as a fist (guarding that all important water heater on/off switch), hermit crabs in the driveway, jaf jaf, green shoes, termite swarms, typhoon, hot office buildings and (before the advent to universal air conditioning… with its own set of musty problems), power outages (and now ugly concrete hardened power lines), and traffic… especially when school lets out. Balance that against all the good, our landlord who rented our tin house, limitless starfruit, shaddock and avocados, green coconuts for the picking, all welcome with bananas at three dollars a pound “(then), fiestas, and sunsets. But it was remote then ($2 dollar a minute phone calls through RCA, no internet, TV programs from LA (a week later) and while airfares to Asia have dropped to $800 from Chicago, its still expensive as ever to get to the Marianas. Yes I would retire (and am thinking about it) there….. but don’t think I could put my wife through that again. Like they say, it’s not paradise, but it can be. Just don’t look at the bleach bottles on the beach.

    1. haha, love your take. we always say that saipan has two modes- paradise and death trap and not much in between. 😉

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