Guam – It’s Much different than living in the West (Except on Thanksgiving!)
When I first conceived the idea of this post, I thought it would be difficult to describe the differences between living on Guam in the Western Pacific to life in the Philippines, when in all acutality, there are more similarities than not.
As I sit here on Thanksgiving Day in Guam (American Holiday), it is easy to recognize the similarities between Guam and the U.S., and other western countries (Canada also celebrates a Thanksgiving holiday as do approximately 8 other countries in the world). Here on Guam, “Where America’s Day Begins,” the island lives and celebrates according to the American calendar (and then some). But aside from the western rule of law, driving, and living with modern western amenities, the similarities between Guam and western culture pretty much end there.
Based upon the fact that the Philippine culture was long-influenced by Spanish dominance, and during more recent history by American influences, Guam evolved in very similar fashion to the Philippines. Actually between Mexico, Guam, and the Philippines, there are so many cultural similarities, all deeply rooted in Catholicism, that some cultural lines are nearly indistinguishable. When you meld these similar Asian cultures and outside influences together, and then baste them them thoroughly under the tropical sun, you then have “Living in the Pacific!” And when you further subtract the “Americanism” from Guam, what you have left is a Southeast Asian (tropical) culture like no other. When it comes right down to it, culturally speaking, there really aren’t that many differences between Guam and the Philippines.
The Philippines (82%) and Guam (about 75%) are both predominately Catholic countries. Both places hold religion and family closest to their hearts. And just as in the Philippines, Guam families tend to be large. The largest ethnic demographic sees the indigenous Chamorro population at about 38% of the total population. And the next largest ethnic group is Filipino at about 29% of the total population, with whites coming in a distand third at just under 8%. The rest of the population is made up of other Pacific Islanders and lesser percentages of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese and others. The fact that Guam has such a large Filipino community is one driving factor that melds and helps drive the primary culture on Guam.
On occasion, some days I can wake up to the distant sound of a free-range rooster crowing, reminding me that I could still be in the Philippines. Then as I climb out of bed and make my way to the smell of coffee, it becomes clear that I’m living in a centrally-cooled condominium and I can’t recall when we experienced our last brown-out! Actually, almost the entire island of Guam is air-conditioned! (meaning most homes, businesses, restaurants, schools, etc.) In the kitchen, I’m further reminded of which Paradise Matrix I’m residing in by the contents in the refrigerator (not to mention a few frozen pizzas in the freezer). After grabbing my cup of coffee, I then step out onto our lanai that overlooks the pool 2 floors below and I immediately detect the cool, humid (78 Degrees) morning breeze that are the easterly tradewinds that dominate Guam. As I begin to drain my first cup of coffee, a reality sets in that the air I breath is clean and fresh, unlike that of being back in the smoke-cloaked barangay in Samar where almost everyone is cooking up a morning batch of rice over an open wood-burning fire (or trash). There are also no rice fields to burn here and there is no accumulation of diesel fumes that can’t be quickly swept away by the Easterlies. Then I take a gaze at the TV, where the Northeast U.S. is recovering from an early snow-storm. Then the affirmation returns… I do love living in the tropics.
A typical day here for me is spent out and about doing things, whether it be at the gym, the beach, grocery shopping or the one night a week at the bowling alley… or just relaxing. And we always find this same commonality… most everyone seems to be happy to help or assist, and they are always willing to share a smile – Chamorros and Filipinos alike. One thing I have noticed with a fair degree of accuracy is that if you run into an Asian here and don’t observe a smile, they might typically be from the northern climes, like Korea, China, or Japan. I’m convinced that only the tropical Asians smile because they know how wonderful life can be in shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops (not a scientific observation).
Here, like the Philippines, there are always parties – birthday, anniversary, graduation, Christening, retirement, and so on. Then come the fiestas! Yes, the good ‘ole celebration of a village’s patron saint. One major difference in these celebrations between Guam and the Philippines is the amount and quality of food. Most all events here would be considered true “feasts” as compared to a Filipino gathering in the Philippines, and the reason for that is simply this – most everyone here on Guam works and has an income. So that said, everyone contributes and there is never a shortage of food, nor a variety of food at a Fiesta. When attending a typical Fiesta here, you will not only find Lechon (roast pig), you will see roast turkey, roast beef, whole ham, BBQ’d Tuna, Lapu Lapu or other large game fish, BBQ’d chicken, pork ribs, beef ribs, and even more fried chicken. And then there are the variety of keleguens (kinilaw) such as beef, squid, fish, chicken, pork. Then there is the Poki, or raw fish (sushi), red rice, white rice, salads, dinaguan, pancit, lumpia, Lechon Kawali, and all the other popular Chamorro and Filipino dishes and soups. Then there are some more exotic seafood dishes like octopus, turtle, eel, etc. I cannot begin to describe the dessert table except that it is usually long! And there is never a shortage of beer or soft-drinks. In my humble opinion, there is always so much food that it cannot all be consumed, and as such, you will see many people take large plates of food home with them. I can remember a Fiesta once where they actually gave you a “to go” box! When it comes to Fiestas, Guam definitely wins this category hands-down… and that has not been good thing for my waistline (or anyone else who lives for Fiestas). Some days I think to myself that I can’t wait to return home to the Philippines so I can get back on a more normal diet!
Even when we go bowling every Thursday, our league consists mostly of Filipinos with a few Chamorros, and someone is always bringing Palutan or food for everyone. It is hard to escape the food scene here. I won’t even begin to discuss beer and alcohol consumption here. Here on Guam, which is unlike many other Pacific islands (including the Philippines), people tend to give more than take, and they are happy to do so. In the Philippines it’s “Have you eaten yet?” Here on Guam is “Let’s Eat!”
Back to some of the other similarities and differences: The island of Guam generally resembles the Philippines in many architectural ways, where all commercial buildings are constructed of concrete, and some are obviously have the appearance of being ill-maintained, mostly in need of a coat of fresh paint. However, most homes here are also concrete unlike in the Philippines where many people live in wood framed or homes made of bamboo,with tin or nipa-roofs, and or other simple structures. There are sari-sari stores everywhere her but they have evolved over the years into much bigger operations that resemble very large convenience stores. It’s not uncommon to see two or three neighborhood markets within a kilometer of each other. There are also Filipino unique markets in addition to fresh fish markets and farmers markets. Just about every food product found in the Philippines, you will find here, from Bangus to Balut!
The beaches here are not crowded and are generally much cleaner than Philippines beaches. There is NO sanitation dumping allowed into the coastal waters here. And on Guam, there is regular trash removal services. That’s not to say there is not a littering problem here – that goes without saying. Even though there is much less litter here as compared to the Philippines, it remains an education based problem… or lack thereof. Most Guam residents are mindful of littering, with most of the littering done by “other” Pacific Islanders residing here (according to some local sources). All in all, the beaches and coastal waters here are clean with little pollution, the reefs are healthy and are teaming with fish.
Island residents here love their staple foods of rice, fish and chicken. Guam is also home to just about every American chain restaurant imaginable including smaller Filipino, Thai, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Mexican and Vietnamese establishments. Funny how I keep coming back to the topic of food… I think because it is an underlying trait of living here. Or maybe because it is Thanksgiving Day and I have a big dinner on my mind. Yeah, that’s got to be it.
I guess it’s hard to be specific about many things here without talking about food, so I will leave it here. Oh, and because it is Thanksgiving in the U.S., I would be remiss if I didn’t remind those Thanksgiving faithful to not forget to listen to Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant sometime during this special holiday, as I did while writing this post. It’s become a tradition with me and is quite possibly where all this food inspiration comes from.