Thursday, December 21, 2006

Next Stop Korea

For the holidays, I am going to South Korea. I leave tonight for my 22 hour journey from Am. Sam. (via Hawaii) to Korea - can't wait. At first blush, perhaps a bit random, but in fact my best friend now lives in Seoul. He is with the Foreign Commercial Service and works at the embassy. I am not sure what he does - something to do with trade - but I do know that he has diplomatic immunity (including fancy license plates) and now has some important friends.Pretty cool, huh. I will be in Korea for about two weeks. I have a genuine fear of frostbite because it is around 40 degrees in Seoul compared to 90 degrees in Pago Pago. yikes. I did bring a sweater. I am sure that will be enough, right? I think we might go skiing. I am in trouble. Wish me luck.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Samoan Wedding... a lot of fun.
Sharon invited me to escort her to a Samoan wedding on Saturday. Of course I said yes, being a sucker for wedding cake and open bars. It turned out that the wedding was actually in Western Samoa - so it would be a weekend trip off Am. Sam. - bonus! Our friends Ryan & Cynthia and Jeff & Meredith were also going - double bonus.

We took the 8:30 am flight over to Apia. Sadly, we were not able to get a rental car, so we took a cab into town. The six of us were all staying at the Samoan Holiday Hotel. It is a nice hotel, it was clean with solid air-conditioning so it is a five star in my book. Even though it is little far from town compared to the other hotels, they do have a fine selection of Australian gossip magazines from eight months ago. Did you know that Angelina Jolie is pregnant with Brad Pitts baby? We headed into town for some lunch and shopping. We ran into Paul and Barbara who were also going to the wedding. This being Samoa, we were not in a major rush to get to the wedding, because none of us thought it would actually start on time. The bridal shower "started" at 1 pm, but the bride did not show until 3:30 pm. However, the wedding actually started on time. oops. It was a Catholic Samoan wedding. I actually understood most it thanks to my years as a Catholic alter boy. The church was pretty cool, you could tell that it had been there awhile. I enjoyed the velvet/light in the dark Jesus display.The ceremony was nice - bride (as they normally are) looked beautiful. They even had a choir, which (as they are normally do in Samoa) sang wonderfully.The musical accompaniment - a electronic keyboard - was set on "Baseball Theme Music" so the hymns to the music were a little odd, but still worked. After a couple of post-wedding photos, we went to the reception. It was one of the stranger receptions I have ever attended. Besides the Tim's (the groom) brother, nephew and brother-in-law, the eight of us were the only palagis at the wedding. We were sort of a big deal. They placed us at the VIP table - so designed by a piece of paper ripped from an appointment calendar with the word "special" written on it. We also got table service for drinks. We attempted to get our own from the bar, but our Samoan hosts would have none of it. It was weird ordering drinks from a nine year old, but when in Samoa...
Even before the wedding party showed up, the reception was in full swing. The bride and groom finally showed up around 5 pm - we got to the reception around 3 pm. The DJ kicked it. We were very popular as dance partners. The Samoan women wanted to dance and they would not take no as an answer.
Our ladies were also popular... Dinner was eventually served. In theory, this is only for one person. While not the most tastiest meal, I will say it was the most original wedding dinner. I did not get a piece of cake, but I guess others did. I noticed that we were really the only ones who were actually eating our meals. The rest of the wedding guests were carrying the food out to their cars to save for later. I hear that this is a normal practice. The removal of food did not slow down the party or the popping of balloons. The popping of balloons was very popular and at times, turned a bit savage. Eventually the party slowed down. In a sad note, Sharon's wallet was stolen, not sure how or when. Our new friend Angie told us that she would get her Tongan friend to do a card reading and figure out who stole it. On a happier note, Tim told us that we should grab as much beer as possible, because he paid for it all, and would like his friends to enjoy it as much as the random people from the village. The party planner had him buy 90 cases of beer. Our cab drive we met earlier in the day, Triple X, took us back to the hotel with our stash. Sidenote, Triple X was so named by the large decal of "XXX" (from the the famous movie) on his windshield. We hung out at the hotel with Tim's West Virgina relatives. Even Dwight from the TV show "The Office" showed up at the hotel.How cool is that. At the wedding, some people mentioned that there was going to be an afterparty. Our new Samoan friend Jeff picked us up and took us to the afterparty. It was a party, but it turned out that it was not in fact an afterparty for the wedding, but a party for a couple that just returned from Australia. whatever. The highlights of the party was a Number 2 size pig (they come in five sizes), the host of the party, Panoa who introduced us to the "Panoa" - Malibu rum and coconut water - DE-LI-CIOUS and this guy...he opened our beer with his mouth. The beer was not a twist top. ouch. After awhile, we were all fading, but our ride had left for an errand and would return soon. In Samoan speak that could be five minutes or the next morning. Cynthia was able to con our way into a ride with another Samoan couple. sweet. The next morning Sharon and I enjoyed the air-conditioned room. Paul and Barbara had already left for a flight to New Zealand for a three week vacation - super jealous. Ryan, Cynthia, Jeff and Meredith were going to stay for the rest of week in Samoa and go to another island called Savai'i by ferry boat. Since Sharon and I had some time before the flight, they dropped us off (after finally getting a rental car) at Aggie's Gray Beach Resort. Aggie's is close to the airport and is a posh resort in Samoa. We had some lunch and thought about doing some water sports - like waterskiing, but the weather was not ideal for it. We then decided to get a full body massage. Best idea ever. Can't really say much about it, just recommend it highly. Unfortunately, we almost missed our flight, the airline attendant said it was closed, but a second guy allowed us to go. We timed it perfectly, we passed customs as they were boarding the plan. sweet. Overall, a wedding weekend to remember. Best of luck Tim & Ana - thanks for for hosting a great wedding!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Putting the "Christ" in Christmas

I know many back in the states are concerned over the apparent rollback of Christmas - from the fights over Christmas trees in the public square to the switch from Merry Christmas to Happy Holidays. While both sides have valid points, anyone who is overly concerned about the disappearance of Christmas should move to American Samoa. The concept of separation of Church and State has not really taken hold in the territory. Most public events start with prayers. At times it can be somewhat refreshing - realizing that a thick line between the two is not always necessary - but at times it still catches me off guard. The 2006 American Samoa Government Territorial Christmas Program is a prime example.

The Christmas Program is held over three nights and is comprised of Christmas songs and hymns (in Samoan) performed by government employees. Almost every government department performs. My Christmas miracle is that the judiciary does not perform. In the weeks before the program (starting around mid-November) government departments start practicing. The best part is that they practice during the workday, everyday. It is hard to get a hold of a department in the afternoon, many places basically shut down after lunch. Except for the palagis, practice is basically mandatory.
Don't get me wrong, the music is great. I went to the show on Day Two - the rain kept many people away, but it is broadcast live on the public access channel, and it is repeated over and over again.
The Coral Reef Conversation Group - they had some great dance moves. Department of Commerce - a bunch of my friends were in this group.
Even the turtle showed up - It is the year of the Sea Turtle
Sharon, Ryan, Paul, "New Aussie Guy" and Meredith post performance. They really liked their outfits.

Samoans know how to sing - they start at a young age in the church choirs - but it is just different for me to have government employees required to perform in a Christmas (not even Holiday) Program. I think the Governor's invitation sums up my point the best:

"Every year I look forward to the magnificent talent of our government workforce being displayed at the annual Territorial Christmas Program and I am sure this year, again, that all our special choirs will offer a colorful presentation of songs to celebrate the Birth of Our Savior Jesus Christ, I wish you all the gift of faith and the peace of God's love at Christmas."

Amen to that.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Help Wanted

It appears that my little part of the world is having some trouble. First the riots in Tonga and now the coup in Fiji. We were not surprised the coup was successful because a few days before, the military practiced taking over Suva, sort of like a practice coup. I guess they did alright and went for the real thing. However, some good may come out of the coup in Fiji - a reduction in unemployment. It appears the new military regime is looking to hire some people. (click here for the ad). They posted in the local Fijian papers, but perhaps they should think about I am thinking about applying for Minister for Sugar and Investment. I wonder about the health care benefits. Wish me luck.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

World Cup Soccer

In a surprise move, I did not go to a beach this weekend. shocking. Instead, I went to a soccer game. A couple of friends are in a soccer league and the finals were on Saturday. The team is sponsored by Pacific Products - the Argentine family's business on the island. The team won big in the semi-final round. The other team was a bit nasty. They brought their own annoying fan to shout profanities on the sidelines - to the referees and our team - including encouraging her team to kick our goalie in the face when he dove for the ball. She was a sweet lady. Her team actually took her advice and after our team made a really great goal, one player punched our player in the head. Supposedly, the referees did not see it, so no foul was called. The poor vision of the referees to fouls appears to be theme when our palagi team goes against a Samoan team. Through out the game, the players were really playing rough, with unnecessary tripping and hitting as well as a little choking near the end of the game. I think my favorite was that the other team's name is Peace Boys. Perhaps they need to rethink that name. Our team made it to the finals, but suffered a tough loss.
It was another hot day, and I have no idea how they could play in the heat - the game started at 2 pm - and the sun was out in full force. I was sweating a ton just watching them. yikes. I did learn that a beach umbrella does not provide much protection from the sun - got another sunburn. After so many years of having translucent skin, I am use to the burns, but my friends are not - I think they are in worse pain looking at the sunburn then I am having it. oh well.
While I did not go to the beach, I did go to a barbecue on Saturday, so everything is right with the world. The second lesson I learned that day (or actually the next morning) is that beer is not a good substitute for water after a long day in the sun. alas.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Lawyers Celebrate Christmas

The American Samoan Bar Association hosted their annual Christmas Party last night. It was held at Sadie's - which is one of the classier restaurants on island - even classier then Hong Kong House. Niki organized the whole thing, dinner and drinks, and it was a lot of fun and a great end to a busy week at the High Court.

The highlight of the evening was the musical performance after dinner. One of the lawyers organized a pot of money (close to $60) to encourage other lawyers to sing. However, I think it was Alice, one of the High Court clerks, shouting out names demanding that they perform that did the trick. If a lawyer wants to get anything done at the High Court, you need to go through Alice, so you don't want to mess with Alice.

Some of the lawyers had some real talent including my co-clerk Sean. That guy can sing. Other lawyers, not so much, but everyone had fun. One guy even played the harmonica. Alice got the High Court staff including myself to do a musical number as well - it wasn't pretty. We actually won the pot of money - I think it was fixed, forget Alice, no one wants to mess with the entire High Court. I didn't get my cut, cause they gave all the money to another lawyer who just had a baby. Now that is the Christmas spirit.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

One Hot Weekend

I realize that most of the United States is suffering under blizzard conditions, but while it is winter for them, it is summer here - and it is getting HOT. My thermometer inside my house (in the shade). ouch.
Saturday was spent at the Castro's place watching the Island Music Channel on Samoan Cable. Island Music Channel is like MTV when it first came out - when it still played videos. It is also similar to earlier MTV in that most of the videos are from the early 80s and 90s. Awesome. Where else can one see Michael Jackson's Billie Jean, Devo and Tone-Loc without a time machine? Niki also made her famous four layer dip with jalapeno peppers - perhaps not the best food choice, but darn it is good.

The big adventure of the day was the trip to the airport to pick up the Colettis from their New Zealand vacation. The airport is about five minutes from home and they were waiting at the curb, so the adventure was not that big, but it gives a sense of my day if that is my big adventure. Dinner was at Ryan & Cynthia's with authentic pesto sauce made by a real Italian (Barbara). The day was capped off with a party at the Argentine's compound with performers from the Magic Circus as special guests. Brilliant.

Still hot on Sunday so Sharon, Ginny and I decided to go to Airport Beach. It is so named cause it is right next to the airport. It is a little bit of a hike to get to it going through some vegetation and lava rocks including blow holes. - and with Sharon in the lead it is more like the Baton Death March, boy she is fast, but the payoff is worth it. It is a secluded lagoon that is deep enough to swim, even at low tide. After a few hours, we decided to head back and took the shortcut next to the airport fence. My fun fact for the day was that I learned that a water polo ball, if positioned correctly, can be used as an effective floatation device.While it might be hot here, you guys can keep the snow and the cold, and I will just have another bottle of Gatorade and sit closer to the fan.

The Nutcracker

The American Samoan Community College performed the classical ballet of The Nutcracker.

The performance was suppose to start at 7 pm, we showed up around 7:15 - which is early for Samoa. However, for some reason, the entire auditorium (more like a gym) was already filled with people. We got stuck in the back. The first hour featured a number of singing performances, not related to the Nutcracker and relatively random, but welcome to Am. Sam. The show did not start until 8 pm - but it started below stage, not on it, so unless you were in the first two rows, you could not see a thing. They eventually made it up to the stage.

The newspaper indicated that the students had been practicing for three months, almost six nights a week to prepare, so we were excited for a night of entertainment. It was entertaining, but not in the way the ballet is suppose to entertain. More of the slapstick version of the Nutcracker. It featured more of happy jumping then dancing - forget about ballet moves. The winner of Big Man on Campus (see earlier post) was in the production and stole the show, even though he did not have a major role, the audience laughed through most of it. The highlight of the performance (for the audience) was when the grandfather attempted to dance, but fell down. I don't remember that in the last version that I saw, but it was very effective in this one. Due to the inability to see much of anything, the continued usage of cell phones around us, and the constant moving around of members of the audience as well as the chance of heatstroke, we decided to leave at the end of the first act. I applaud the students for their effort, but it was not the best performance of the Nutcracker I have seen, I think the kids should stick to singing, where they got a ton of talent. I forgot my camera to document the production, but below is a picture that should give you a sense of the production.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Pig Whisperer

Sharon told me about this article published about a year ago. Priceless.

By La Poasa

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, Sept. 22) - Some members of the House of Representatives are very close to their pigs and it was one of the reasons the lawmakers killed a bill requiring owners of piggeries to construct pig farms an additional 50 feet away from residential homes.
Currently the law states that no owner or occupant may keep or allow to be kept upon premises owned by him or in his possession or control any pigs, goats, sheep, horses or cattle within 50 feet of any building used for human habitation or as a restaurant food establishment, or school.
The bill initially sought such animal farms to be built 300 feet from residential homes, restaurant or schools, but the committee amended the bill to say 100 feet after a hearing on Tuesday.
After several emotional testimonies from House members who own piggery farms, some quite outraged, 12 lawmakers voted against the bill while only four voted yes. Those who voted yes were Reps. Olo Ropati Atimalala Tagovailoa, Mailo Sao T. Nua, Falema'o Pili, the sponsor of the bill, and Paopaoailua Joe Fiaui, who chairs the Health committee that reviewed the bill on Tuesday.
Before the vote, Rep. Atualevao Gafatasi Afalava said he was so saddened the night before when he visited his pig farm and saw the look on his pigs' faces. "I talked to them and told them they have to understand that whatever happens, it's the law," said Atualevao. "It was very hard for me. I really love my pigs."
Atualevao said that his piggery is 50 feet away from his home and if the law passes, that means he would have to demolish the farm and build it 100 feet from where he lives. He said this would be very costly for the residents, who may not afford to easily abide by the law if enacted. He added that the law right now, which requires pig farms to be built 50 feet from residential homes is good, but government agencies need to be strict with enforcing the law and requiring piggery owners to clean up.
Rep. Gaoteote Palaie Tofau said he too had a conversation with his pigs last night. He said the pigs were crying as if they knew what was going to happen. He also said they seemed to know that they would be put far away from him soon.
Rep. Mapu Puaopea Paopao said we as Samoans consider pigs a vital part of performing our culture. He said we use pigs during fa'alavelave and other traditional matters. He added that majority of those who have piggeries rely on them for their livelihood and it is the enforcement of regulations governing piggeries that needs to be effective.
Rep. Puletu D. Koko agreed with Mapu's comments, adding that many residents will be lining up in court because of violations of this law, something they can't help because they won't be able to afford to build new piggeries that will abide with the new law.
Paopao said the public's health should always outweigh our love for the pigs. He said pigs are carriers of various diseases and the public's health is utmost important. That was the goal behind the legislation.
"I am moved by the emotion and the comments made today," said Paopao. "This is not something taken lightly. It is an important bill and the goal is to protect the public. The committee's work is done so you vote based on your belief."
Rep. Olo Ropati Atimalala Tagovailoa echoed similar statements and said this is for the health of the people.
When the vote came, several members of the House said "for the love for Afalava's pigs," "because I want my pigs to watch TV with me" or "because I love my pigs," they were voting no.
According to testimony on Tuesday from officials of the departments of Public Health and EPA, there are 35,000 pigs on island. The regulations applied to piggeries are costly and capital investment is nearly $10,000.
They say that for them to go out and tell piggery owners to comply is not as easy as it seems. For one thing, they say it's not doable with small piggeries mostly because of the cost associated with abiding by the regulations. Second, even if an owner complies with building a proper piggery, there are health concerns, such as the negative impact it has on the water and ecosystem.
Acting Governor Sialega Malaetasi Togafau said there are some cases whereby residents don't abide by the law. He said some residents won't apply to get the necessary permit with the PNRS board in order to build a piggery because they feel that they can do whatever they want to do with their land.
"They'll say the heck with PNRS, this is my land," he said. "We can enforce the law but there are people out there who think they are above the law."
Sialega said the best approach is for the lawmakers to talk to their constituents about the impact of piggeries to human life and educate them about the process and ways to build a proper and safe piggery farm.
David Farley of EPA suggested that perhaps the Health Committee should establish a subcommittee and have experts from various government agencies sit down and talk about the consequences of having piggery farms established certain feet away from homes and other issues. He said the subcommittee can then come back to the Fono and advise them of what they have found from their research.
Farley said the Fono can then use this information to draft legislation helpful to everyone. "You always have to balance the laws and regulations with the traditions," he said.
Asked about the suggestion by Farley to establish a subcommittee, Paopao said it is a good idea and it's something he is looking into.

September 23, 2005

The Samoa News:
Copyright © 2005. Samoa News. All Rights Reserved

Monday, November 27, 2006

It's Official

I am a lawyer now, at least in the state of Illinois. Chief Justice F. Michael Kruse of the High Court of American Samoa administered the Attorney's Oath for the State of Illinois. For all the waiting, it was a short oath - need to support the Constitution of the United States and Illinois and discharge my duties to the best of my ability. Fair enough, I think I can do that.
I had to borrow a tie from the Chief Justice, did not bring one to the island. oops. But I didn't forget my manskirt. Next step, application to the Bar of American Samoa. No test, just an application. Thank goodness.