Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Le Falepule

Last night, eight of us went to the Am. Sam. equivalent of a resort. It was outstanding. Le Falepule is a small inn/lodge (six rooms) built high up in the hills of Am. Sam. A view from the porch.The inside lobby. It is owned and operated by a husband and wife team who also have full time jobs outside running Le Falepule. This means that they do not serve dinner every night, and is more based on reservations and the availability of Isabel (the co-owner) to cook. Based on the stories I have heard, it is easier to get a reservation for dinner at Spago then Le Falepule. Luckily, Sharon was able to get us a reservation. For the main dish, we had chicken curry and shrimp curry along with fresh pineapple and a cucumber-tomato salad. It was really good, clearly the best eating I have had on the lava rock. The Aussies gave it the thumbs up.Everyone ate themselves to capacity and we didn't leave any leftovers.Already looking forward to my next meal at Le Falepule.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Ben's Last Night in Town

Unfortunately, the Argentinians are dropping like flies. First Sebas went to Hawaii for University, Maximo is leaving for Western Samoa soon, and now the youngest, Ben, is leaving for the homeland to start high school.A group of us decided that before he left, we should have a poker night. Ben has attended many a poker nights and has been very successful. While Ben is only 15, I firmly believe we are not corrupting a minor. If Ben actually lost, that would be corruption, but the kid is really good, so it is all kosher. We had one last night to try to win back some of our money that Ben has been able to win from us over the past few months. However, many of us thought that we would just be giving some extra travel money to him.

The game was Texas Hold'em, but it is tournament style - which means we have timed rounds which control the amount of the bids. Nate has a fancy computer program that does all of this for us, I am not sure how it works, but I don't have to know, so that is fine with me. We started with about a dozen people.(not all pictured, I can count). The final two ended up being Maximo and Emily, with Emily winning in a bold bluff calling.Sadly, Ben was knocked out early, guess lady luck was just not with him. However, she gave me a big kiss. I finished third, my best finish yet. Gambling is illegal in Am. Sam. and of course, we just play poker for fun, but if we did for example use a $10 buy-in with $10 rebuys before the ninth round, I would have won 34 bucks. sweet.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Men v. Women

Last night Kim Keyser hosted a Game Night for a bunch of people . Sadly, Mike (her husband) was off-island, but she pulled off a good time even without him. They live in a western style house in Am. Sam. It was very weird to be in a two story house, with real walls and furniture. As the title of the evening suggested, we played a bunch of games. One game, Guesstures, was a highlight of the evening.It is basically a fancy game of charades. For me it was both entertaining and informative on the differences between men and women. While a game of Guesstures might not be the most scientific method to examine the innate differences between the sexes, it does provide some insight. We decided to play men against women. This was the men's first mistake. We played about six or seven rounds of the game, playing to 15 points (one point per correctly guessed charade). The most points the men ever got in a round was 11. The men would normally get perhaps one or two charades a turn, the women were getting about four words. As an example of the men's horrible skill level, we never got the word "downhill" - we kept shouting "hilldown" - not sure what "hilldown" is, but we were convinced that was the right word. I will not even discuss our attempt to get the word "Pipe" - just sad. Meanwhile, the women got words such as "Girdle" in about 2 seconds. Near the end of the game, the women started guess for us, I think they felt bad for us - this was the same round that we got 11 points. While I will not make a guess (or guessture) as to what this all means, I think it provides some evidence that some innate difference exists between men and women. I am looking forward to someone getting their Ph.D. on the differences between men and women using the game of Guessture as the basis of their test. Or perhaps it means nothing and simply that Nate, Randy, Sean, Steve and I are really bad at charades.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Am. Sam. in the Spotlight Again

First it was a battle over the federal minimum wage in Am. Sam. (click here for details). Now it is giving the "vote" to non-state delegates in the House of Representatives. I put votes in quotes because the newly passed bill only allows the five delegates a vote on amendments, not on the final passage of the legislation. Even the power to vote on amendments is restricted, because if the delegates' votes decide the outcome of the amendment, the vote is voided and the House votes again without the delegates' participation. The Republican House Minority leader John Boehner described it as "an outrageous grab of power by the majority, a breach of the trust of the members here." Wow. I would call it a cruel joke. I think saying you only have a vote in a limited situation, and if that vote counts for something, well, it doesn't count is worse then just not giving them a vote on the House floor. However, my favorite part of the entire episode is that Republican lawmakers created this sticker:They wore it during the House debate on the proposal to extend the "vote" to the delegates. Sometimes I really miss DC.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

08F Fizzles

It appears that the cyclone alert it over. The tropical depression 08F never really got it together and passed by our little island paradise. Which of course is a good thing, but what am I going to do with all of this bottled water and candles?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Storm Watch

Last night, I was alerted by a radio bulletin that a tropical depression was about 350 miles northwest of American Samoa. After the Norah Ark rain we had all weekend and this being hurricane season, it made sense. I was not too worried about Tropical Depression 08F - I am use to rain by now. However, NOAA recently sent out a warning that 08F has been nearly stationary for the last six hours. This is not good cause a stationary storm can quickly build up strength. According to NOAA the potential for 08F to develop into a tropical cyclone in the next 24 hours is high. A lot can happen in 24 hours, so I am still not too worried, it might go away, or go somewhere else - who knows. It is interesting to view the satellite imagery.The red + is the storm, the little green outline to the right of it is the Samaon island chain. I guess a picture is worth a thousand words. Not sure if I like all that red. Here is a close up. Can you find me near the line down the middle?But I am most concerned by this graphic from the Navy It is a little small, but you can see our island paradise in the center and a giant "C" coming right at us. I assume the C is for Cyclone and not cookie. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Fight Club

Saturday's entertainment should be filed under things I would normally not do, but for being in Am. Sam. A group attended Last Man Standing II (The Rock's Best of the Best). It is a multiple round amateur boxing contest. I was not sure I wanted to go because watching grown men beat each other is normally not high on my to do list. However, a combination of limited entertainment on island and peer pressure got me to go. I was also intrigued when I saw the ticket. Not sure what the Touch Man Challenge would have entailed, but I think the evening would have been completely different then the Tough Man Challenge that was actually held. Regardless, I am sure glad I went. Without sounding to blood thirsty, watching grown men beat each other (especially in Am. Sam.) is a good time. However, it is a good time more for the comedic value then the actual fighting. It started with the boxers themselves, or at least the nicknames. How can you not cheer for Faitalia "Big Boom" Johnson or Sitino "The Fijian Sledgehammer" Tavisa? Fan favorites included Suma "The Killa" Tupolo and Tolu "Good Samaritan" Lafele. Beyond the nicknames, the boxers' headgear kept coming off in the middle of the rounds. I guess they don't make Velcro like they use to. Of course, the evening would not be complete without the catering dish dinner (one serving) for the people at the VIP tables, which sadly did not include us.
The actual fighting was also entertaining.The contest started with sixteen boxers. I picked Folau "Bobjay" Nofogata to go far, he didn't. Each match was three, one minute, rounds. Which does not sounds like a ton of time, but most of the boxers were sucking wind by Round 3. Which made the final rounds pretty funny, with the boxers walking around not really wanted to fight anymore. For example, we thought the match between Siaosi "Rocky" Misionare versus Ma'a "Knockout King" Peni Galea'i would end badly for Rocky given the size difference. However, the KO King was out of breath by Round 2, and Round 3 was not pretty. In a different fight, we even saw a knockout. After the first round of matches, it was narrowed down to eight, then four and then finally two - Fai "Hulkamania" Fiso v. Siaosi "Rocky" Misionare. Hulkamania was able to pull it out in the end - even with a bloody face - that is dedication. Not sure if I am going to any fights back on the mainland, but if Last Man Standing III is held while I am still on island, count me in.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mr & Mrs Kava Bid Ado

All good things must come to an end, which includes our time with Mr. & Mrs. Kava. After two years on the island, Ryan & Cynthia aka Mr. & Mrs. Kava aka The Wild Palagis are heading back to the mainland. Being one of the more senior members of the Palagi Village community and unofficial pulenu'u (village mayor), Ryan & Cynthia have had a major impact on community life. They were the host of many classic parties which sometimes featured chunky jello shots served on a plastic cutting board (didn't say they were classy, just classic). And of course who can forget the Oscar winning, movie stealing performance of Mr. Kava in the Am. Sam. film classic Pisupo?
They will be back in California for a little bit, but then taking a four month trip around the world. Sweet. If any of the international readers of this blog see them in your town, make sure you say hello and invite them for a drink, you will not regret it. Trust me.

The night before they left, most of the community went over to their place to celebrate, reminisce and pick through stuff they were not taking. I showed up a little late, and most of the good stuff was gone already. oh well. I did get a broom. In addition to reminiscing, we also played Samoan Charades. It uses Samoan words or unique Samoan island activities. Good times. We got together again the next night. Because the Hawaiian flights leave at 11:20 pm, a tradition has developed to say good bye to an off-island traveler. While the flight is near midnight, check in starts around 6 pm. To say check-in is a crazy mess is a big understatement. Samoans travel in packs, and when traveling they take huge amounts of luggage, fine mats, large cardboard boxes and my favorite - large, duck taped coolers. Needless to say, checking in all those people and items can take awhile especially when the luggage tags are hand written. Yes, hand written. So, while the traveler goes through check-in, the rest of us head to Rubbles Tavern for some dinner and drinks. The traveler shows up after check-in and normally has a few hours before they have to head back to the airport. Fortunately the airport is less than five minutes away from Rubbles. It is a pretty cool tradition. Ryan and Cynthia's departure was no different, except that I have never seen that many people at Rubbles for a sendoff. This is only about half of the group. It is clear that they will be dearly missed. By the way, Ryan and Cynthia left last night, and it has rained all day today, like Noah's Ark rain. I think the island is also sad that they are gone. Keep on dancing Mr. and Mrs. Kava! Tofa Soifua and Fa'afetai tele for the memories.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Something Fishy?

According to Republican North Carolina Representative Patrick McHenry something fishy is going on and Republican Virginia Representative Eric Cantor is "shocked" just plain shocked. So what has gotten their knickers in a bunch? The federal minimum wage bill and the "exemption" awarded to American Samoa. What!?! Are hard working Samoans (and Tongans) being exploited by the palagi? First a little background...One of the main industries of the island are the tuna canneries. Starkist and Chicken of the Sea (made famous by Jessica Simpson) pack a whole lot of fish on the island. While being downwind from the canneries (or Jessica Simpson for that matter) is not the best experience, it does employee a significant number of residents on the island (sadly, Jessica Simpson does not employee the same number of residents). Some figures put the canneries (and affiliated services) representing almost 80% of the private workforce.

American Samoa does not follow the federal minimum wage structure, but for the past 30 years has used its own minimum wage structure set by the Department of Labor. It is reviewed every two years and ranges from $2.68 to $4.09 depending on the industry. Dept. of Labor prepares an economic analysis, a consultative committee investigates industry conditions to develop a recommended level for different industries, and the Secretary determines and promulgates the final rates. (the cannery workers make about $3.26 per hour). I am no economist, but this does sound like a pretty good program for an island group only 76 square miles with limited natural resources, small domestic market, limited access to off-island resources (we can't even get lettuce on a regular basis!) and lack of investment opportunities. It also seems to have been working for the past 30 years. If Am. Sam. was included in the federal minimum wage, most people agree that the canneries would be on the next flight out of here (which only occurs twice a week, Rep. McHenry, can you do something about that?).

However, it seems that StarKist's parent company (Del Monte Corp.) is headquartered in San Francisco, which is represented by Mrs. Pelosi, the new Speaker of the House. So, of course, the exclusion of American Samoa from the new federal minimum wage hike is "the hypocrisy and double talk that we have come to expect from the Democrats" according to Rep. Cantor. I guess it doesn't matter that American Samoa has been "exempt" from every federal minimum wage hike for the past 30 years because of its special industry committee program. oh well.

I understand the concept of scoring political points and realize that it would not be the worse thing in the world if the canneries eventually left Am. Sam. and the territory was not so dependent on one industry. For example, Nick Lachey has survived his divorce with Jessica Simpson.However, before Reps. McHenry and Cantor attempt to score political points with the economy of Am. Sam. in the balance, I would prefer for them to make sure they can find Am. Sam. on a map. If they truly want to treat everyone equal, before they tinker with Am. Sam.'s minimum wage, they should figure out how they can get (fresh) lettuce on the island on a regular basis.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Another month, another mainland holiday tentatively connected to Am. Sam. but still celebrated by Samoans. Well, I am not sure if Samoans actually celebrate or reflect on one of America's greatest civil rights leaders during the day, but everyone gets the day off. I decided to do my MLK reflection in the coolest backyard ever.For my avid readers, you may remember me talking about the coolest backyard ever (for my less avid readers, you will have to try to find it in earlier posts, this will teach you to keep up with the blog). Former Assistant Attorney General Don Pitzer use to live in the house with the coolest backyard ever, but now New Assistant Attorney General Moi (unable to spell full Samoan name, apologies) lives in the house. Luckily, we have befriended Moi and are invited to his backyard. Sweet. It was a great day of swimming and relaxing. Special shout out to Nate for showing up with McDonald's for everyone. What a guy. I think this picture best sums up the day (and most days in American Samoa).

Burning Down the House

Sunday's excitement was suppose to be a rousing game of Trivial Pursuit at Ginny's place. However, a phone call from Cynthia changed the focus of the evening. Cynthia called over telling us that one of the buildings in Palagi Village was on fire. Fire!?! We all dashed over to see what was going on. One of the offices in our neighborhood caught fire. I am not sure what the office does. The signs states it the "CFIDD" but then below it is listed as the Community Parent Resource Center. Not sure how the acronym CFIDD translates into the Community Parent Resource Center, but let us focus on the important stuff, like the fact the building was on fire. We could only see smoke coming from the building, but it did not look good. The fire department did react swiftly to get the fire out. However, we were concerned when three of the four trucks drove away while smoke was still coming out from the building. In the end, the last truck restarted its hose and put the fire out. YEAH. I tried to capture the action, but a moonless night, with bright flashing lights made my camera freak out.It is hard to make out, but while the fire department is hosing down the roof, an employee of the power company is on top of the roof looking around. We were waiting for the water to knock him down, luckily it did not. The outside of the building looks okay, but the inside is a bit of a disaster. After the fire was put out, we called the Trivial Pursuit game a draw and went to bed - too much excitement for one night.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Screen on the Green

Many major cities have "Screen on the Green" programs where a movie is played on a large screen in an open area (like a park) and people picnic while watching the movie. The idea has now come to Am. Sam. or at least to Palagi Village. It is easy to do, you just need a borrowed projector, a DVD player, some speakers, the side of house and a couple of Argentinians to set it up. The rain stayed away, and the majority of bugs. Most of us sat on chairs, but I actually got a seat in the balcony. No extra charge, but I did have to carry it from inside and onto the top of the truck. Best seats in the house (or yard). At one point we thought we might get shut down cause the police drove by, but they simply turned on their speakers and wished us a good night. I think it helps when you have the Public Defenders office, a couple Assistant Attorney Generals and a clerk of the High Court in the audience.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

It's Official, Again

First Illinois, now the United States Territory of American Samoa. I am an official lawyer in Am. Sam. This admission was a lot easier - just had to fill out the application - because they have reciprocity with Illinois. Before everyone starts filling out the application, you must be a resident of American Samoa.
Chief Justice F. Michael Kruse of the High Court of American Samoa administered the Oath for the Territory. The oath was a little longer than Illinois, and made me swear that I would defend the United States from its enemies both domestic and foreign. A little random, but I can do that, but I hope I did not just enlist in the military.
Two down, about fifty-four left (including the other territories and DC). Which one is next?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Strangest Tourist Spot in the World

Near the end of my Korean adventure, Eric and I went to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. The USO sponsors tours to the DMZ. Once you get over the fact that the United States has created perhaps one of the most fortified and dangerous areas in the world as a tourist spot, it is a pretty cool experience. The DMZ is about 155 miles long and about 2.5 miles wide and separates North and South Korea. An interesting sidenote is that the area of the DMZ has become an amazing nature preserve. The one drawback is the landmines.The tour starts with a 45 minute bus ride from Seoul to Panmunjeom, home of the Joint Security Area. This is the only place where North and South connect. Is anyone else concerned that Seoul (the capital) is 45 minutes (with traffic) from the DMZ? NQR. The Military Demarcation Line runs right through the Joint Security Area. The Joint Security Area is where negotiations are held between the two Koreas.
Once we got to the DMZ, we were greeted by US military personal who acted as our tour guide. Our tour guide was hilarious and full of sarcasm. Many on the tour did not know if they should laugh due to our location, Eric and I couldn't stop laughing. We were loaded onto another bus and taken to a briefing about the DMZ and the Joint Security Area. Sgt. Naumenkov told us about some of the fun events at the JSA. One was the Axe Murder Incident in August of 1976. At the time, soldiers were allowed to cross the MDL inside the JSA. A group of US soldiers attempted to cut down a tree that was blocking the view between two checkpoints. Within a few minutes, the US soldiers were surrounded by North Koreans. The North Koreans attacked and hacked two soldiers to death with axes. It lead to Operation Paul Bunyan which involved a massive show of US force to cut down the tree. Here is a monument to the slain soldiers. It is on the same spot as the tree. A couple of years later, a Soviet dignitary, while on a tour on the North Korean side, ran across the JSA shouting that he was defecting. He was successful, but one South Korean solider was killed. We then went to the conference room that sits right ontop of the MDL. The raised concrete slab is the DML. We were told that we should not wave or point at the North Korean guards.

Then we went inside the conference room. Behind him is North Korea. We were told that we should not open the door. Here I am in North Korea. I didn't want to get too close to the South Korean guard. We were told that he could cause us serious bodily harm. When asked how the Korean guards are picked, Naumenkov told us that they are picked because they are incredibly attractive and look great in aviator sunglasses. I told you this guy was funny.

This is the Bridge of No Return. It is the bridge were POWs were exchanged after the armistice. Once you crossed the bridge, you were not able to turn back. Hence the name. Right in front of the blue building is the location of the Axe Murder Incident.
Within the DMZ are two villages - one North and one South. The South village (Freedom Village) is actually populated. But heavily regulated. The village is locked down at midnight every night. However, they receive about $80,000 a year (tax free) and do not have to serve in the military. Not sure about the opportunity costs on that one. The North village ( Propaganda Village) is basically empty, but it does have the largest flag and flag pole in the world. The flag pole is 525 feet tall and the flag weighs about 600 pounds. yes, 600 pounds. We also toured the Third Tunnel of Aggression. The North Koreans have dug a number of tunnels under the DMZ in order to infiltrate the South. The tunnels are large enough to allow the movement of an entire division of troops within an hour. Before we left the JSA, we stopped at the duty free gift shop. Yup, the JSA has a gift shop. It was great. In the same breath that I mock it, I buy a shirt. NQR Baby.