Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Saipan

  
  

"As we stop we can see four children thrown off. They were pleading with their parents not to kill them. It seems that the children had more faith in us than did their parents. There were about fifty in that group - it seems that there are about ten left. One who apparently is a leader is yelling at the rest I can't make out what he's saying but it is obvious that he's telling them not to surrender. The people look down at the rocks below and see their friends moaning down there. Just about then one of them grabs an infant and tosses him off. That seems to have been a signal because they all start jumping off. In a couple of minutes it's all over. The whole bunch lies down below either dead or dying."
  - USMC Pvt Guy Gabaldon on the events of 8 July 1944

In Saipan, I felt as if we were on Pacific World War II history tour moon as it seemed to be a theme! The remnants of the war we had seen on land and below the water in the various islands had been fascinating. Saipan was equally as interesting as Chuuk,and Peliliu but for different reasons.  Although the sea and beaches were beautiful, the Banzai Cliffs where hundreds of families of Japanese civilians leapt to their tragic deaths were poignant and added an edge to the beauty of the island. The smashing waves crashing into the cliffs were terrifying. Peering over the edge the sheer desperation going through the minds of the Japanese people who jumped to their deaths was palpable and horrifying. 

The name "Saipan" evokes notions of an steamy exotic, far flung island at the edges of empire where the local rules are at risk of being mired and twisted into an odd state slightly incomprehensible to an outsider.  Over the last five centuries Spain, Germany, Japan and the USA have variously been the distant colonial power over this speck in the Pacific.

With the other islands of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, Saipan is part of the USA.  But it has indeed operated in the shadowy hazy edges - with practices like local bigwigs setting up sweatshops employing foreign guest labourers shipped in and paid pennies an hour with their passports held by the bosses and subject to forced abortions.  All to crank out clothing at a minimal cost for high street shops with bold "made in the USA" labels sewn in.

Dodgy.

So dodgy that the US Federal government has come in in 2009 and has shaken up the way that the CNMI has handled their labour and immigration practices - effectively taking control of CNMI immigration policies.  Which is a good thing.  Most of the sweat shops have closed down.  However, the price is an island with the carpet pulled out from under its economy.  So to speak.

Nevertheless, tourism's the ticket now - and we certainly did enjoy sneakily punking into the Hyatt Regency's beach and bar...  Feeling the nice soft puffy white sand between your toes makes everything okay!


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