So you are coming to Guam?
When I found out my follow-on assignment from Belgium was to be a small territory in Southeast Asia, I was ecstatic. What is more perfect than living on a tropical island where everything is in English, currency is in dollars and you are just a 4 hour flight to the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea?!
Not surprisingly, Guam is also a huge tourist destination for Japan and Korea being only a few hours away and having the allure of America + a tropical island. You could forget you were physically in Asia except for all the Asian tourists and commercialism in Hangul/Japanese.
If you like to dive, hike and/or have a general sense of outdoor/tropical island adventure – Guam is the place for you. If you are into none of those things … then pick one up or it will be a long ride (if living here). I met two kinds of people while living on this tropical island for two years – the kind that come to Guam and never want to leave, and the kind that are counting down their time to leave. You choose which you want to be.
TRAVELING FROM GUAM
Guam is a tropical island in the middle of pacific. Hopping around Asia is not as easy as you would think given its location, but it is a better location to travel around Asia than Hawaii (which is not close – 7 hour plane ride). The following Asian cities have direct, cheap flights ($300-400 round-trip): Hong Kong, Manila, Taipei, Seoul, Tokyo and Osaka (checkout skyscanner for the best deals). If you get into diving (which is a must) there are also direct flights to normally hard-to-get-to WORLD CLASS diving spots. United is your main carrier for these islands – spots include: Palau, Chuuk, Yap, Kosrae, Pohnpei, Cairns, as well as, the neighboring islands of Tainan (WWII history), Rota and Saipan.
Anywhere else will most likely be a connecting flight. Get used to that one; to get anywhere (including the continental United States) it will take you at least a day of travel.
What does it mean to be Chamorro?
After living in Guam for two years and traveling much of Micronesia, I have a new found appreciation for what it means to be a Pacific Islander. All islands have very similar nuances such as traditional dancing, the love of flower crowns and a sense of remoteness that both preserves the island way of living, but also holds it back from progressing into the future. Yet despite these similarities, Guam stands out from its neighboring islands in many different ways.
First and foremost, Guam is the largest island within a radius of 1,300 miles of open ocean – and you can feel that ocean. Guam is also a US territory and the wealthiest island within 1,300 miles (or arguably more) which makes it a mecca for the neighboring islanders to squat. Guam has also been heavily influenced by the Spanish (16th century – 19th century) which left their surnames, language and an unwavering dedication to Catholicism.
Not advertised often, but a fact – America attempted its own little imperial conquest in the late 19th, early 20th century. With the loss of the Spanish in the Spanish-American war, the US took over the island of Guam (as well as the Philippines) under the Treaty of Paris in 1898. This not only brought the island to where it is today, but caught the attention of a neighboring empire looking to expand its influence.
WWII into Today
Fact: Guam has the highest percentage of people who have served in the military in any one place. This is for many reasons, one being it is about the only way to afford to live on this island, but second and more importantly, due to WWII.
The Japanese not only looked to Pearl Harbor as an easy target to hit initiate a war, they also hit hard in the territorial areas of the Philippines, Guam and Palau. Occupying Guam from 1941-1944, the Japanese are not remembered fondly during that time. Setting up outposts using labor camps and comfort women, Chamorros resisted the occupation as best they could until American forces reached the island in 1944.
When the US finally arrived on July 21st and overrun the imperial army by August 10th, there was no prouder American than those on the island of Guam. Liberation Day (not the 4th of July) is still highly celebrated today with parades, military marches and family BBQs.
Despite this proud liberation moment, self-determination was on the mind of many Chamorros after too long of a history in foreign occupation. In 1950, the Guam Organic Act lead the way for Guam to be an official US territory with representation in congress (though no vote), relative self-determination in terms of its own government, and set of independent laws.
Lingering military presence, though, is still very much a part of the island today. Nearly 30% of the best beaches and other parts of this small island, are owned by the US government. With a strong presence from the Air Force, Navy – and soon to be moving from Okinawa – the Marines, there is no doubt that Guam serves a strong strategic location in terms of military prowess.
The result of this history creates a perfect stronghold for America’s national interests, an expansive jungle, water ecosystem and diverse culture all packed into on this tiny island of 27 by 8 miles.