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July 20, 2011

One of the small perks associated with writing a blog is one gets to pick what one is to write about.  Seeing that I’m never for a loss of words, writer’s block isn’t the issue – rather it’s about prioritization of the available photo inventory…which, quite frankly, has ballooned into the thousands of photos.

Today’s subject?  Saipan.

Saipan is about 200 miles due north of Guam.  With 34 square miles of land it’s about three times the size of Big Pine Key, yet with a population about the size of the Lower Keys at 34,000 – give or take a few people.

With fewer people and a decent size land mass it has a more relaxed vibe than Guam.

We were in the Hyatt Saipan – the nicest resort on the island.  It was picturesque enough, but showing its age – the place hadn’t been renovated in 20 years.

Saipan was, at its peak in 1999, one of the richest of the Pacific islands with $1 billion in exports via 34 active garment factories.  Clothes with a Made in USA label came largely from here during the 1980’s, 1990’s and into the mid 2000’s.  In 2005, the GATT treaty regulating import/export of textiles expired – and the economy went downhill fast.

Now none of the factories hum – and island services are cut to bare bones.

It’s too bad, as there are many things to like about Saipan.

The sand?  Pure white.

The water?  Crystal clear.

The beaches?

Pretty darned nice.

Saipan’s history is interesting, too.  This was a German territory up until early in the last century when it was ceded to the Japanese.  The Japanese considered this to be part of Japan – and at one point prior to WWII, something on the order of 50,000 Japanese lived here, farming sugar cane and trading with other islands. When the war hit – this was the command post for this region of the Pacific, and one of the last islands to fall before the assault on the homeland.

There are many Japanese structures remaining as a result.

Some are still used – this is the Japanese hospital converted into a museum.

The last vestiges of garment industry wealth were visible as villas on the high ridge overlooking the bay.

I liked the backcountry, though.  It seemed a little more pristine than Guam – perhaps the unexploded ordinance has kept people from disturbing it for the past 6-1/2 decades.

What makes Saipan, though, are the views atop Banzai cliff where the last remaining Japanese soldiers purportedly jumped to their death.  The height, the clarity of the air and the indigo blue water are breathtaking.

I felt I could relate with the people of Saipan; they had the American Dream within their grasp, but economics and politics washed it away with the tide.  Let’s hope the same doesn’t happen on the mainland.

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