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Guam: A Picture of the Philippines on American Soil.

Guam: A Picture of the Philippines on American Soil.

This will be my second post about Guam since my trip to the island last June. In my last post (click here for the article), I focused on my experiences with Guam as a tourist destination. Having stayed in Guam for eight days, I’ve noticed how much similar it is to the Philippines. For one, Filipinos comprise 26% of Guam’s total population, second only to the native Chamorros who make up 37%. In fact, Tagalog is officially Guam’s second most spoken language, next to English. Guam and the Philippines also have common culinary specialties such as: lumpia, eskabeche, pancit, and so much more. Philippine independence day is also officially celebrated in Guam. You also can’t tell whether a person is Chamorro or Filipino as both look alike sharing the same anthropological roots. They also have similar sounding names – a Spanish last name, and an English or Spanish first name. Guam’s geography is also similar to the Philippines – a tropical biome whose urban and rural areas are much like a scaled down and compressed version of Luzon. For a Filipino, Guam is a good mixture of the foreign and the very familiar. I found it very fascinating how a tiny island somewhere in the pacific seems but like the American extension of our Philippine archipelago. So I did some research and learned about how far Guam and the Philippines’ common roots go back with their shared and intertwined history. That said, I’m writing this article to share my learnings about the two countries, and my sentiments about how one has become fully American and the other just almost American.

A QUICK HISTORY LESSON

Peopling

About 4,000 years ago, people from mainland Asia travelled east, migrating to Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Certain groups that went further beyond the Philippines were able to settle in other pacific islands which include Micronesia, the Marianas, and Guam. Having common ancestry, these people had a common language and culture, which were then eventually diversified by geography and time.

The Spanish Colonization

The name Magellan is as common to Filipinos as it is with the Chamorros. Ferdinand Magellan’s travels to the South Pacific in 1521 has led to Spain’s colonization of both the Philippines and Guam. Both colonies were then converted to Catholicism, and both were considered important Spanish trading and military outposts. Being situated between Mexico and the Philippines, Guam became a stopover for the galleon trades. Spain sent many Filipinos to Guam, among whom were priests, professionals, laborers, and even political exiles. Many Filipinos deployed to Guam have stayed there ever since, along with other nationalities involved in the galleon trade. Some of the Filipinos who stayed in Guam started intermarrying with the Chamorros, creating a next generation of mixed descent.

The American Occupation and Post World War II

Spanish rule on both Guam and the Philippines ended when the two colonies were sold to the US under the Treaty of Paris in 1898. Both Guam and the Philippines then became US territories, with the Philippines still addressed as “The Philippine Islands”. Many Filipinos still continued moving to Guam at the turn of the century. Some ventured on their own, while others were deployed by the US as workers. After World War II, the Philippines proclaimed independence from the US in 1946, eventually being recognized as the “Republic of the Philippines”, while Guam officially received status of “Unincorporated and Organized US Territory”, of which Guamanians received US citizenship. More Filipinos kept being sent to Guam as contract workers for rebuilding Guam’s infrastructure that were destroyed during the war. Many of these Filipinos have opted to settle and live in Guam after finishing their contracts, eventually becoming naturalized US citizens.

MY THOUGHTS

I’ve felt so much at home in Guam during the eight days that I’ve spent there. With the strong Filipino presence, familiarity of the people, food, place, and weather, it’s literally like the Philippines, but on American soil. Of course it would not do justice to the native Chamorros labelling Guam as such, as they too have their own identity and take pride on their own unique heritage as the people of Guam. But speaking for the many Filipinos who call Guam as home, it is not so farfetched to view Guam as what would be the Americanized version of the Philippines.

Centuries of colonial occupation has left the Filipinos with lots of colonial mindset. The Spanish paints most of our known history, while American influence deeply permeates into our modern culture. There has always been mixed sentiments with regards to the Philippine-American relationship. Unlike Guam, the more established government of the Philippines back then have always pushed for total independence from the US. This eventually led to Philippine independence, making the Philippines a sovereign nation ruled only by the Filipino people. Conversely, Guam’s non-resistance and annexation with the US has made itself officially American.

Having conversed with many Filipinos in Guam, including those who were born there and those who have recently just moved, I can’t help but to compare and contrast in terms of what life is like for fellow Filipinos in both places. In my observation, the Filipinos who have just recently moved to Guam for work are very much happy with their jobs and their status. For them, Guam is the greener pasture and a dream come true. Some of them still have families in the Philippines which they are able to support beyond necessity, while others have already moved their entire families to Guam. Guam’s familiarity also does a good job of allowing them to settle with the least adjustment. Filipino-Guamanians, or those whose roots in Guam traces far back many generations, though still acknowledging their Filipino descent, are much more American than they are Filipino. As locals in Guam, much like their Chamorro counterparts, many of them aspire to move to the mainland US to work and settle. But what’s really interesting to see are the blue collar workers, such as those in construction, drivers, and fast food crew. These people are actually living comfortably with their families, and all within reasonable working hours. Plus, they get substantial benefits from the US government for healthcare and social welfare, including rights and privileges that come with being a US citizen (with certain limitations). All of the Filipinos I’ve talked to said that they can’t imagine doing the same type of jobs, or even just having a job in the Philippines, and keep the same living comforts they have in Guam.

In contrast, back in the Philippines, blue collar workers aspire to be able to work abroad just to be able to provide for their families or live a comfortable life. Some in the middle class pursue moving to greener pastures such as Canada, New Zealand, or the US. It is an undeniable fact that the Philippines has been gaining economic traction for the past decades, and it would not be unthinkable to see this country rise within this century. But just out of fascination and curiosity, it’s but natural to wonder – what if we had taken a different turn? What would the Philippines be like today if we had continued to be part of the US instead? This controversial issue has always had mixed, emotional, and contrasting opinions, but I think my trip to Guam may have painted a vague picture. Two places with intertwined history took different turns in the middle of the century, taking with them the destinies of their people. One now benefits from the status and economy of a first world country, and the other takes pride in sovereignty.

I look forward to the day when the Philippines becomes a first world country. Perhaps in the next generation, or the generations after. Only in those days can we be able to claim that choosing sovereignty was worth it, and that we as Filipinos have made it happen for ourselves. But while those days have not yet come, we can only be proud of our independence.

 

 

Hafa Adai! Welcome to Guam!

Hafa Adai! Welcome to Guam!

Hafa Adai! (pronounced as “half a day”) Or “hello” in native Chamorro language, is the official welcoming greeting when visiting Guam.

Coined with “Where America’s Day Begins”, Guam is a small island in the pacific that is part of the United States’ unincorporated territories.It’s got every bit of that tropical island vibe, mixed with American goodness. It’s a very small island, about 3/4 the size of Singapore, and you can drive around the island’s perimeter in about six to eight hours. Visitors in Guam go mainly for 2 reasons: beach, and shopping.

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Last June, we got to visit this beautiful island— thanks to awesome airline deals matched with credit card perks. We stayed in Guam for seven days. We allotted our first four days for city activities which include tours and shopping, and the last 3 days for the beach.

TAMUNING

Days Inn Tamuning ($ 65++/night)

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We stayed in Days Inn Tamuning. It’s a good place if you’re on a budget. It’s far away from the the main attractions, but they do have a complimentary shuttle service shuttle that takes you to the different points of interests. The shuttle follows a tight schedule for pickups and drop offs so visitors using the shuttle should plan their daily itineraries well as not to miss the rides.

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Guam Premier Outlets

A good walking distance from the inn, and also one of the direct stops of the shuttle is the GPO or Guam Premier Outlets. This is where big name clothing brands give crazy discounts. They offer discounts in almost all ways imaginable. If you missed on a discount, just wait awhile and another discount will soon pop up.

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The GPO has a good selection of food stalls at the food court. We would frequent this place as it can be quite expensive to have to eat in restaurants all the time. The food court is where you can save cash on necessity meals.

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There’s a also a movie theatre at the GPO and movie ticket prices depend on the time of day.

TUMON

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From Days Inn, we would take the shuttle headed to Guam’s most touristy area, which is Tumon Bay. This is where the high end hotels, fine restaurants, and luxury shopping malls are situated.

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The Shuttle drop off is by the DFS Galleria which is conveniently located at the the heart of Tumon. Almost every building in Tumon is either a shopping complex or a hotel. You don’t have to be a shopper to enjoy the place. Just strolling and exploring is as much fun as it is already. You’ll also never run out of good places to eat whether you’re looking for a quick tasty bite or some fancy dinner.

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Take note though that public transportation in Guam caters more for tourists so bus itineraries are mostly for the touristy hot spots. So if your hotel is located somewhere obscure, it would be difficult to get around without a courtesy shuttle service or a car rental.

GUIDED TOUR: RIDE THE DUCKS ($ 35)

I booked two guided tours that would take us to the highlights of the city: Ride the Ducks, and Turtle Tours.

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Ride the ducks is a city tour wherein you hop on this amphibious shuttle called the “duck” as it goes around the city. There’s a voice recording that explains the surroundings as the duck moves around the city. The tour is mostly a city sightseeing drive by so you don’t get to leave the duck until it’s over.

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What makes this a unique experience is that at the last part of the tour, the duck would get off land and head to the sea, hence making use it’s amphibious feature. The driver then lets each passenger drive the duck around the water before the returning home.

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Another thing to add to the unique experience is that passengers are given duck call whistles and are encouraged to blow them along with the onboard “duck” themed music.

Ride the Ducks is a simple tour with a fun and unique gimmick and we did enjoy the experience.

GUIDED TOUR: TURTLE TOURS ($ 28)

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Turtle Tours offers many kinds of tours. We chose their city sight seeing tour which is a typical guided tour where you hop on a bus and a tour guide explains the points of interests around you. Except for a very few places, this tour differs in itinerary from the Ride the Ducks so booking both would not be redundant. It also stops at certain highlights where tourists can get off, take pictures, and have a more immediate appreciation and experience of certain places.

The tour took us to Historical landmarks. Guam’s history has three highlights: the ancient period, the Spanish occupation, and the World War.

Fort Santa Agueda

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One of the places that we got off was Fort Santa Agueda, a Spanish period site.

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Despite being called “Fort”, don’t expect huge fortified structures. What’s to see here are some very few monuments, historical plaques, and some canons.

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It’s the canons that would be the visual highlight of the place since they are situated at top of a cliff where you can have a beautiful overlooking view of the island.

Pacific War Museum

The World War site we visited was the Pacific War Museum.

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The museum has a collection of World War artifacts like defunct weapons, vehicles, equipment parts, uniforms, and all other things gathered from the Pacific War.

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They said the vehicles here still run, in fact, they are even paraded to the public on certain occasions.

Latte Stone Park

The Latte Stone Park is an ancient history site.

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It showcases late stones which were used as foundations for early buildings and structures during ancient Guam.

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These things vary in size, but for the most part they’re about a little taller than the average person.

Two Lovers Point

The Two Lovers Point is like a blend of pop-culture mixed with a bit of “history-ish” legend.

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What it is basically, is a cliff overlooking the ocean with lock hearts all over the fences, with an interesting legend behind it.

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The legend goes that during the Spanish times, there was a girl who fell in love with boy but they cannot marry each other since the girl was from a Spanish Family and the boy was a Chamorro warrior. The girl was arranged by her family to marry a Spanish captain, but instead, ran off with the Chamorro warrior. They were then chased to this cliff, and instead of being captured, they chose to jump and died together.

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By the entrance are tablets that illustrate the legend.

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There’s also a huge monument representing the legendary couple. No one knows for sure if this story is true or if the couple really existed, but nonetheless it makes the place a very interesting visit.

THE ROAD TRIP

We wanted to do more exploring of the island so we decided to take a car rental. That way, we can visit the places where no public transportation goes to.

War in the Pacific

Scattered along Guam’s coastal roads are War in the Pacific sites.

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These are World War II sites located along the shores.

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They are usually small military outposts and gun stations used by the US during the the war.

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There are actual defunct canons and artillery in these sites, as well as some historical descriptions of the place.

Fish Eye Marine Park ($ 24)

Along the coastal road is the Fish Eye Marine Park. This isn’t hard to miss as the entrance is just right by the side of the road. You get a discount on the entrance fee if you have a car rental.

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It’s a small underwater observatory where you can see marine life from underwater without getting wet. The walk to the observatory itself is unshaded and can be really hot on a sunny day. It’s best to wear sun protection like caps, or better yet, make use of the umbrellas by the entrance that could be borrowed for free.

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The place itself is pretty small though. Once you get down the stairs, that’s pretty much it.

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It’s just a circular room surrounded by windows so you can see the marine life outside.

Viewing Points

Continuing to drive along, the road lead us to the more rural parts of the island. The scenery turns from beachside to countryside. It’s an uphill-downhill drive across valleys, and what’s to watch out for are the viewing points.

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Viewing points are certain spots in the mountainous areas of Guam where you can have a great view from an elevated perspective.

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These are usually marked with a sign, a brief description, and some structures.

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They are scattered allover and are good spots for some quick photo ops.

Talofofo Falls ($ 12)

Our next destination was the Talofofo Falls.

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The falls is inside the Talofofo Falls Park which you must enter before you reach the falls. The falls itself just small, but there are other attractions inside the park to make the visit worthwhile.

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There’s a small museum at the park which showcases Guam’s history from the ancient times to the present days.

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Also are some rides and a horror show which we didn’t bother getting into.

But the other main attraction here is the Yokoi cave.

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The Yokoi cave is a small dug out hole used by a former Japanese soldier during WWII where he hid for years, not knowing that we war is over.

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What’s amazing here is seeing how small the cave is and how such a man could survive years and years living in such cramped spot.

We were able to circle Guam’s perimeter in about 6 hours.

TUMON BAY

Of course, none of the Guam trip would be complete without hitting the beach! Islands in the Pacific will always boast pristine, powdery, white sand beaches that meets turquoise waters. Guam is no exception. There are many beaches in Guam, as it is surrounded by them, but one we opted to go for and stay in was the famous Tumon beach. Since Tumon is the touristy part of Guam, Tumon beach is the prime beach destination.

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Guam Reef & Olive Spa ($ 200++/night)

We stayed at the Guam Reef and Olive Spa Hotel. It’s one of the premier hotels by the beach front.

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There are plenty of great beach front hotels in Tumon Bay, but what made me choose Guam Reef is its pool area.

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The pool area is situated on a ledge, giving you a great elevated view of the beach.

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The poolside bar is also pretty chill and serves free food at certain times of the day.

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It’s the perfect spot to hangout at take a sip of your favorite cocktail.

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It’s also a great place to catch the sunset while wading on the water.

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The room is very spacious and the balcony offers fantastic ocean views. No better place for the morning coffee.

Tumon Beach

Since it’s a touristy beach, there are plenty of tourists around the area. But the numbers are still good though. Plenty enough just to keep a lively vibe and few enough to not make it look too crowded.

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The beach has a long stretch of sand. Walking bare feet is a must as to feel the powdery goodness caress your toes.

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The water is very clear and has a turquoise hue. The sand stretches from the shore very gradually so you still get shallow depths of swimming pool calm water even when you’re already very far from the shore. Take note though that this beach is a little reefy in some areas, so it’s best to be careful when walking in the water as you’re likely to step on some coral pieces. Also, since it’s reefy, make sure to get some snorkeling gear as there are good coral formations and some fish schools that can be seen spread across in pockets.

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There are still plenty of things to see and do in this island paradise, and clearly seven days are not enough to be able to check all of them out. But the seven days we’ve spent in Guam make for a truly unforgettable experience. We’ll definitely come back!

For a video montage of our Guam trip highlights, check out this link —>