Heptune presents:

What's It Like to Live on Guam?

by Brenna Lorenz

Are you planning to move to Guam, or looking into a job here? Or are you just curious about what life is like out on a small island in the middle of the Pacific? These pages are intended to answer your questions!

Click on the thumbnail photographs to see the full-sized annotated pictures. All photographs on these pages were taken by Brenna Lorenz and Mike Pulte.

Contents:

Guam's Climate

    The temperature here is pretty constant throughout the year; it's almost always fairly hot (in the high eighties, Fahrenheit). It feels hotter than it actually is because of the high humidity. It gets a little cooler (a few degrees) in the "winter," that is, around January through March. It is never cold or even close to it, although people who have lived here awhile complain they are freezing on those rare days when the temperature drops down into the 70s. The only way to get cold on Guam is to go into places with air conditioning. Some places go nuts with AC. My classroom at the University of Guam, for example, is so cold that students have been known to come to class wearing parkas and gloves.

    Guam has two seasons, the wet season (July - December) and the dry season (January - June). For people accustomed to temperate zone climates, the differences between these seasons are subtle. Some years we have a wet dry season or a dry wet season, making the distinction even less obvious. During the dry season, the winds typically intensify. These are the trade winds. The weather may be dry enough so that the grass turns brown and we get a lot of brush fires. Intermittent streams may dry up. During the wet season, we get rain several times a day.

    Even during the rainy season, Guam is mostly sunny. It is rare to get those kinds of days where the whole sky is gray and overcast and it rains all day. Usually our rain clouds are small, intense packages that dump their contents torrentially and then move on. The rain is pleasantly warm, although if you are on your way to someplace air-conditioned when it hits, you may not appreciate the shower.
Thumbnail of thunderhead.
    Although Guam doesn't get as hot as many places in the United States interior get during the summer, the sun here is more direct, and therefore more dangerous. It is easy to get sunburned here, and skin cancer can be a serious problem.

For a current Guam weather report, visit the National Weather Service Office, Tiyan, Guam website.
 

Typhoons

    People sometimes call Guam "typhoon alley," because we get hit by them so often. A typhoon is the same thing as a hurricane.

    I have been told that Guam gets hit by an average of one typhoon every eight years. I don't know if that figure is just plain wrong, or if we are living in special times, but since my family moved to Guam in 1991 we have been through at least a dozen. Most of these have been little typhoons, or ones where the eye missed us, but a few of them have been very serious storms. The last one we experienced before leaving Guam was Supertyphoon Paka, which hit us right before Christmas, 1997.

    Guam is exceptionally well-prepared for typhoons. Homes are concrete bunkers built to withstand the winds. It makes for ugly architecture, but after going through a typhoon or two, you wouldn't have it any other way! Furthermore, people are well-educated about how to prepare for typhoons. The government issues warnings of incoming typhoons, and many people enjoy "typhoon tracking" by plotting the locations of the eye of the typhoon as the positions are announced on the radio. Predicting the time and place of arrival of a typhoon is tricky because they move erratically. Predicting how big the typhoon will be when it hits is also tricky. With Typhoon Omar (1992), we were told to expect a "banana flattener" or small storm, and it turned out to be a monster. Other storms have turned away and missed us at the last moment. On several occasions, schools were canceled, the typhoon missed us, and we all had a beautiful, sunny holiday.

    We usually get two or three days warning that a typhoon may hit us. We make sure that we are well-stocked with canned food, drinking water, batteries for flashlights and radios, and fuel for stoves. We put up storm shutters or cover the windows with plywood, pick up fallen coconuts around the house, and put away anything that might be blown away during the typhoon. We fill up our bathtubs and garbage cans with water for flushing the toilet. We clean every bit of laundry we can find and wash all the dishes. Pregnant women go to the hospital because the low pressure associated with typhoons can induce labor. Stupid people head to the beach to go surfing on the big waves brought in by the typhoon. Thumbnail of palm trees being blown by the typhoon. Nervous boat owners move their boats to the harbor of refuge and tie them up as well as they can. Some boat owners stay on their boats for the storm. People concerned about the safety of their housing go to the typhoon shelters that have been set up in the public schools. Everyone else goes home and waits. We listen to the radio as the storm moves in. The winds gradually pick up until they are screaming and moaning like a jet about to take off. The power goes off. Sometimes it comes back on again, but usually it's off for the duration of the storm. We get out the fluorescent lamps or the Coleman lantern (although the latter is smelly and hot), and look for things to do that don't require electricity or much light. Even if it's day outside, the storm shutters make the house dark inside. We listen to people calling in to the radio station, describing what the storm is like for them. We occasionally risk a peak out the bathroom window (no shutters for that one), although if it's night, there is nothing to see. We check the windows and doors to make sure that no water is coming in. The typhoon is actually somewhat fun until the water starts to come in. The typhoon drives water against the house with the force of a fire hose, and water comes pouring through any existing crack, such as the space under the door. Almost everyone has at least some water come in during a big typhoon. When the water starts to pour in, we get out the buckets, the mop and the towels and mop it up as fast as we can, while trying to figure out how to seal (or reseal) the crack. After awhile, our arms ache from wringing out towels. All those nice clean towels that we washed before the storm -- all are used up trying to keep the water under control. People calling the radio station describe windows being blown out, tin roofs peeling off, storm shutters being carried away, air conditioners being blown into the house, all followed by torrents of water. If we're lucky, the radio station succeeds in staying on the air, because that voice in the dark is very comforting.

    When the eye comes, we go outside and look around, even though we know we're not supposed to. Omar's eye crossed us during the day. It was not a completely clear eye (it was cloudy), but the eye was a profound relief after the pounding of the typhoon wall. Outside, the wind blew in gentle little gusts. We looked around, marveling at the damage around us: the shattered and topless trees, the big sheets of tin lying around. The bedrock hummed and vibrated beneath our feet. Butterflies came out (from where???) and fluttered around. Our neighbor, a retarded man, was outside moaning, "Oh, no, oh, no..." His fruit trees had been devastated. Vegetation (called "storm salad") was plastered all over our house.

    When the other side of the eyewall hits, the winds are coming from the opposite direction. This can Thumbnail of the same trees blowing in the opposite direction. be good or bad depending on how your house is situated. Our house is a duplex, so we have one windowless side. We have taken our hits during the first half of typhoons, and our neighbors got it for the second half.
Thumbnail of the upside-down house.
    Afterwards, when it's safe to go outside, we go out and look at the damage in the neighborhood. After Omar, our post office was gone, a neighbor's mobile home was upside down, and utility poles were snapped in two. After Dale, a fairly small typhoon, boulders had been deposited on the roads by big waves. Paka took down our neighbor's cinderblock wall and drove a large piece of debris Thumbnail of cars destroyed by the typhoon. through a friend's car and demolished it. Several of our neighbors lost the roofs of their homes. Listening to the radio, I heard the publicity director of the University of Guam announce that the third floor of the Science Building was gone. My office is on the third floor of the Science Thumbnail of the cars from another view. Building! I was eager to check this out, to see if I could rescue any of my books or files, but I couldn't get there for awhile because the roads were impassable with downed trees, utility Thumbnail of post office destroyed by the typhoon. poles and wires. When I finally got there, I found that he had exaggerated somewhat. My office was still there. In fact, it was completely dry and untouched. But the two classrooms on that floor were destroyed.
Thumbnail of college classroom destroyed by typhoon.
    Then comes the really dreary part of the typhoon: the recovery. People made homeless by the storm have to rebuild. On Guam, most homes come through relatively okay, but homes with tin roofs take a beating. People try to dry out their rugs and blankets inbetween the rains that move through. The power is off islandwide, of course, but a lot of people have generators. The generators are noisy and smelly Thumbnail of utility pole snapped in half by the typhoon. and very annoying to those of us who don't have generators. With power off, there is no refrigeration, no lights, no air conditioning, no computers. Some people lose water, too, but after Omar, the government put emergency generators on the water pumps, so most of us didn't lose water after Paka. Unfortunately, some of the emergency generators had been stolen, so some people were left without water.

    Without air-conditioning or refrigeration, the bacteria and mildew in the house flourish, and it stinks inside. The ants invade. The exhaust from the neighbors' generators fills the house with terrible, headache-inducing fumes, made worse by the smoke coming from other people burning garbage. It becomes worth the time and effort to drive for forty-five minutes to get a cold drink with ice in it.

    When the power comes back on at last, it is too glorious for words.
 

Location

    You cannot imagine how far away Guam is from North America until you fly there with a toddler.

    Guam is south of Japan, east of the Philippines, north of Indonesia and just far, far away from everything, located in the western Pacific about 13 degrees north of the equator. It's the southernmost and largest island of the Marianas Island Arc. The island chain forms part of the eastern margin of the Philippine Sea.

    If you travel here, you may fly from, say, San Francisco to Honolulu. That part of the trip takes almost six hours. Then you fly from Honolulu to Guam. That takes about eight hours. Another possibility is that you may be routed from San Francisco to Narita Airport in Japan. That takes eleven hours. From Narita to Guam is three and a half hours.

    From Guam to Manila, in the Philippines, is about two hours. It's a little more than five hours to Bali. If you just want to go to Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia just south of here, that takes just a little over one hour. If you're not very ambitious and you just go to Saipan in the Northern Marianas, that takes a mere forty minutes.

    Right now the best fares for travelling to Guam are through China Airlines.

Check out this map from the U.S. Navy Public Works Center to see where Guam is located.

Geography

    Guam is about 30 miles long and of variable width, about 8 miles maximum. To drive from the southern end by Cocos Island to Ritidian at the northern end takes about two hours. It can take a lot longer if you adhere to the speed limits (45 mph is the maximum legal speed on Guam), or if there's road construction (there always is), or if you get behind a school bus (they seem to run 24 hours a day), or if you get behind someone who has filled up the back of his pickup truck with sand and is dragging his rear on the road, sparks flying, sand blowing off, and the tires flattened by the weight. (Hauling sand is a popular road activity on Guam.)

    The northern half of Guam is a high limestone plateau dipping gently westward. If you are near the edges of the plateau, you see towering cliffs, beautiful reef, and a few white or pink sand beaches in the embayments. The drives down the cliffs to these northern beaches take you through beautiful limestone forest terrain. The jungle is rich with cycads, palms, ferns and pandanus.
Thumbnail photo of a pandanus tree.
    Up on the plateau, away from the edges, you wouldn't even know that you're on an island. The land is flat and dreary, overgrown with tangan-tangan, an ugly little tree that was planted on Guam after World War II to cover the denuded land and prevent erosion of the exposed soil. The tangan-tangan took to Guam in a big way, and has taken over the island. It's a scrawny little tree with small leaves like a sumac, producing masses of small brown pods that make the tree look half dead. Northern Guam is also densely populated and overdeveloped with the ugly little concrete bunkers that we live in here because of typhoons. Some of the dreariness is mitigated by the flowering trees and shrubs that people have planted in great abundance: plumeria, bougainvillea and hibiscus, and the wild plants such as chain-of-love, philodendron and poinsettia.
Photograph of Malachi in front of a tangan-tangan thicket in our back yard.
    Southern Guam, on the other hand, is beautiful. It consists of rolling hills and mountains, higher in the south and the west than in the north or the east. The southeastern side of Guam has tall ridges and pinnacles of limestone, in places almost achieving haystack topography. In the west are the tall, jagged cliffs of volcanic rock and red clay. The volcanic rocks are covered with sword grass, forming a barren and beautiful savanna, carved by streams and cascading with waterfalls. The population is much less dense in the south and the villages are prettier.
 

Getting Around on Guam

    Guam is just a little island, a little fly-speck in the Pacific... or so it seems until you want to go from one place on Guam to another. Then you realize just how big Guam really is!
    If you are going to live on Guam, you have to have a car, unfortunately. The roads of Guam are overcrowded and consequently in fairly poor condition, and there are always construction projects disrupting traffic in the busiest areas. But there aren't any other realistic options for getting around on Guam.
    There is a limited public transportation system, but my students tell me that the buses run infrequently and irregularly. You have to schedule your life around the public transportation system, and then have a back-up ride in reserve.
    It would be lovely to be able to get around Guam by bicycle, and there are people who do it, but bicycling on Guam is truly dangerous. There are no bicycle paths, and most of the roads have no shoulders. There is just no place to ride a bicycle except out in the middle of heavy car traffic. There are two kinds of cyclists on Guam: the children who cruise the small neighborhood streets but for the most part stay off the main roads, and the adult sport cyclists, most of whom are aggressive Statesiders who ride in the middle of the main roads and obstruct traffic. The latter engender so much resentment among car drivers that many cyclists complain that they have been deliberately attacked. Another hazard to bicycling on Guam is the high incidence of drug-impaired (alcohol and ice, mostly) drivers on Guam's roads. Drunks pick off a lot of cyclists. Yet another hazard is dogs. Guam has a very large stray dog population, and they believe that cyclists were placed on Earth just for their enjoyment. Guam would benefit enormously from the construction of a system of bicycle paths. A lot of people would bicycle if it were safe, and it would help reduce the car population on Guam's roads. But, with the current economic crunch, the prospect of building bike paths on Guam is virtually nonexistent.
    Many of the same problems that beset cyclists on Guam also apply to pedestrians. There are some areas with sidewalks, but not many. A distressingly large number of school children walking to their bus stops have been struck down by cars, as have several joggers. Pedestrians must travel with large sticks to beat off dogs.
    In spite of the fact that Guam suffers perhaps more than its share of drunks and hotdogs, we also enjoy an exceptionally large number of generous and accommodating drivers. Guam's drivers are always willing to let another driver into or out of a tough spot, and it is commonplace to see three lanes of heavy traffic stop to let someone make a left turn out of some business on Marine Drive.
 

Government and Status

    Guam is a territory of the United States. This means that Guamanians are disenfranchised U.S. citizens. The U.S. Constitution applies on Guam, as do all federal laws, but Guamanians have no voting representation in the electoral college for the selection of the President, and no U.S. senators. Guam is represented in Washington by one non-voting congressman in the House of Representatives. If you move to Guam and register to vote there (which you can do immediately, if you want to), you can vote in the local elections. If you move from Guam to one of the 50 States, you can change your voter registration to your new location with no problem. Guamanians are full-fledged U.S. citizens, except for the lack of representation. Guam uses U.S. currency and the U.S. postal service with U.S. postage, has access to U.S. federal funds, uses the U.S. court system, and flies the U.S. flag. Guamanians carry standard U.S. passports.

    Guamanians pay U.S. federal income taxes using standard U.S. 1040 forms. However, all federal income tax moneys collected on Guam stay on Guam and go to maintain Guam's local government. Property owners pay property taxes, but there is no Guam sales tax. For more tax information, visit Guam's Department of Revenue and Taxation website. If you earn part of a year's income on Guam and part of it elsewhere, there is a tax form you have to fill out that enables the government to divide up your taxes between the U.S. and Guam.

    If you work for the Government of Guam, then you have a choice of having either Social Security or GovGuam Retirement Fund payments withdrawn from your paycheck.

    Guam's local government includes a governor elected for a 4-year term with a 2-term limit, a somewhat confused judicial system (they are battling over whether the Guam Supreme Court has precedence over the Guam Superior Court, or vice versa), and a Guam legislature that includes 15 senators elected island-wide every two years, with no term limits. In addition, each village has an elected mayor. Guamanians use the United States two-party system, with Democrats and Republicans, although the parties are only loosely modeled on their mainland counterparts, policywise.

    If you are planning to visit or move to Guam from the United States, you should obtain a passport. Even though you may be simply traveling from one part of the United States to another when coming to Guam, you will be required to go through immigration and show your passport when coming to or leaving the island.

Surviving on Guam: the Economy

    Guam's economy is based on three main industries: tourism, the military, and employment in a Government of Guam agency. That last includes the courts, the utilities, the schools, the police, the hospital, the university, and many others, so you can begin to imagine how big the government is.

    We just were told that unemployment is up to 15% here on island, and some people are saying that that's a low estimate. In March 2002, Standard and Poor's lowered Guam's bond rating to a BB , which is below investment grade. There are four main problems. (1) Tourism is 'way down because of the Asian economic crisis. Japanese and Korean tourists have been the backbone of the tourism industry here, and now they can't afford to come. (2) Military spending is down here as it is everywhere in the United States, and several of our bases have closed. (3) The government is continuing to spend money as if it still has plenty, except on education, which has borne the brunt of the budget cuts. (4) The GovGuam retirement system, which is used by most GovGuam employees instead of Social Security, eats up a vast amount of Guam's income.

    In 2000, the Guam Legislature imposed a hiring freeze on GovGuam, coupled with an incentive-to-retire program. This caused a vast migration out of GovGuam of many vital workers, coupled with the inability to replace them, and created open war between the Legislature and the former Governor Carl Gutierrez, who wanted to be able to hand out patronage to his supporters. The hiring freeze was lifted for nurses, teachers, and other essential personnel, and frayed in other agencies as well. In 2002, as revenue shortfalls continued and conditions have become more severe, the Governor proposed a 10% across-the-board pay cut for all GovGuam employees, and when the measure failed, a layoff of government workers began. The Governor proposed laying off about a third of GovGuam employees.

     During the first quarter of 2002, individuals were declaring bankruptcy at an unprecedented rate.

    If you are living on Guam and you do have a job, the main problem you encounter is the staggeringly high cost of living on island. The good news is that it isn't as bad as it was a few years ago. So many people are leaving Guam now that rental and real estate prices are dropping steadily.

       The prices of gas, groceries, and utilities continue to rise, however.

    If you are looking for a job on Guam, you might want to check out classifieds at the Pacific Daily News website, and look on Trader Horn Online. Also check out www.jobsonguam.com.

Housing:

    Guam's homes are typically small concrete bunkers reinforced with rebar to withstand typhoons and earthquakes. These homes are not terribly attractive as a general rule (although some of the wealthier homes on Guam are pretty), but they are functional. Both real estate and rentals on Guam are expensive, but these prices are coming down as the population of Guam declines. Land is sold by the square meter!
    For real estate and rental listings, see the classifieds at Pacific Daily News and Trader Horn Online, and check out the real estate agencies listed at Open Directory Project.
    Our experiences renting on Guam were good except for our last residence. If you are thinking of moving to Ipan, and want to know a house and landlady to avoid, e-mail me.
    Some things to consider before buying or renting on Guam are:

Surviving on Guam: Health and Medical

    Which do you want first, the good news or the bad news? The good news? Well, the good news is that Guam has no malaria, no rabies, and no mysterious and horrible tropical diseases such as yellow fever, sleeping sickness and so on. Occasionally a case of dengue fever turns up, but as I understand it, the afflicted people seem to have caught it off-island. There is a certain incidence of leprosy among the immigrants from the Federated States of Micronesia, which you may be in danger of catching if you get intimate with someone who has an active, untreated case. The worst public health problem here is tuberculosis, and that problem is world-wide. There is also a high incidence of diabetes here, as well as a high rate of teenage pregnancy. (The first American baby of the year 2000 was born here on Guam to a fifteen-year-old girl.) But this is supposed to be the good news part.
    The other good news is that there are a lot of world-class doctors working on Guam. Of Dr. Tablante, the eye surgeon, one friend of mine said that even if he lived in Massachusetts, he would fly back to Guam to have eye surgery from Dr. Tablante if he ever needed it again.
    The bad news? First of all, there aren't nearly enough doctors to serve the population of Guam. If you need to see a gynecologist or other specialist, you make your appointment three months in advance. The clinics run mostly on a walk-in basis combined with appointments. Either way, you may wait two hours to see your doctor, and at some of the large factory clinics, you may never see the same doctor twice.
    More bad news: there aren't enough technicians to run medical equipment such as mammogram equipment. It's hard to get scheduled for one. And Guam has a shortage of the equipment itself. Even when you do manage to get tested, the results often take a long time to come back, if they ever do come back. Most analyses have to be performed off-island.
    More bad news: the civilian hospital, Guam Memorial Hospital, is not accredited. If you are in the military, however, there is an accredited naval hospital. Recently conditions at Guam Memorial Hospital have gotten much worse as more and more of the experienced nurses have left for better jobs elsewhere. The hospital is suffering such a severe nursing shortage that they've had to close infant ICU and the surgery ward. Public Health has been forced to cut back on vaccinations, dental care and outreach programs.
    If you look at the obituaries, you will see that an awful lot of people die young here. My guess is that people die young because access to medical care is so difficult on Guam.

Click here to see more links to Guam medical information.

Surviving on Guam: Education

    Guam has 26 public elementary schools, 7 middle schools, and 4 high schools. We also have the Guam Community College, and the University of Guam, both of which are public institutions. In addition, Guam has a large number of religious private schools, including Catholic, Episcopalian, Seventh Day Adventist, Baptist, and generic "Christian." We used to have a fine little Baha'i school, but it closed in 1999. A few years ago, the military established a separate Department of Defense school system for military dependents. This was done because the public school system on Guam is so awful.
    Yes, the school situation on Guam is just plain awful, and unfortunately there is no good news/ bad news here. Okay, I'll try to find something good to say, and this is it: there are some good teachers, even excellent teachers, here on Guam. Another good thing is Guam's Gifted-and-Talented (GATE) Program, but children get too little time in it for it to do much good. But even a little is better than nothing.
    If you have a child in the school system, that child can expect to be bullied, sexually harassed, and beaten up. In most of the schools, nothing is done about these problems, or if something is done, the procedure usually involves punishing the victim along with the bully. This leads to even more bullying, because the child who is basically well-behaved is afraid of getting into trouble, and therefore fears to lift a finger to defend him or herself, whereas the bully doesn't mind getting into trouble at all. If the victim seeks help, he or she gets into trouble for tattling. It is the publicly stated viewpoint of many teachers here that teasing and bullying are normal parts of childhood that make the victim stronger and teach children how to get along with other people. Some teachers even side with the bullies, claiming that their victims deserve what they get. The rule of thumb here is that nothing significant will be done to curb a bully until he puts a victim into the hospital. A few of the private schools attempt to control bullying.
    If the child is in middle school or high school, that child can expect to witness classmates mating, gambling and doing drugs in the school bathrooms. Bathrooms are also places to go to get beaten up.
    The teachers are underpaid in comparison with mainland US teachers, and on top of that have to endure a higher cost of living here. The schools are chronically short of textbooks, library books, toilet paper, school supplies and copying equipment. Teachers end up having to supply their classrooms out of their own paychecks. Some science classrooms have no running water or no electrical outlets, making it difficult to impossible to conduct labs. Some of the high schools and middle schools have bizarre class schedules with classes lasting only thirty minutes. At the secondary school level, the standards for teacher certification are very low. Teachers are not even required to have a bachelor's degree in the subject they are teaching. Absenteeism among teachers is very high. Sometimes teachers simply vanish. The GovGuam fiscal year ends at the end of September, so many teachers retire at that time, a month into the school year. There is no money in the budget to hire substitutes, so the kids are either watched by a school aide or sent to the cafeteria for the period.
    Vandalism of schools has continued to be a significant problem. Many teachers have lost years worth of accumulated teaching materials.
    Not surprisingly, Guam's standardized testing scores rank along with Washington DC down at the bottom of the national pile.
    So, what do you do if you have a school-aged child? Well, some parents agree with the trial-by-fire approach (or have no other choice) and send their children to the public schools. Many children are capable of educating themselves in this environment in spite of the school system. Chances of your child's survival are improved if you can get your child into a classroom with a good teacher. The problem is, to get a certain teacher, you have to have connections. The same applies for sending a child out of district to another public school. You can do that if you have connections. You can also improve your children's chances of surviving public school if you spend a lot of time tutoring them in the evenings, and enroll them in martial arts classes.
    If you don't have connections, but do have money, you can try the various private schools. There are no secular private schools on Guam. The closest thing to it is St. Johns, the Episcopal school. But tuition and fees there will run you almost $10,000 per year. The other private schools run about $2000 per year for tuition, but they are very strongly religion-oriented, which is perfectly okay if you happen to belong to that religion, but is less palatable if you don't. Many of the private schools have even lower standards for teacher qualifications than do the public schools. All-in-all, the private schools don't seem to be a whole lot better than the public schools.
    If you belong to the military, you can send your child to the Department of Defense school, which has a pretty good reputation.
    The only other on-island solution is homeschooling. A lot of people do it here, including us.
    The school system in place here is probably the number-one injustice being perpetrated against the people of Guam.

    Note: A great many people have written to me to say that this discussion agrees with what they or their children have experienced. One person wrote to say that he was beaten up and urinated upon almost daily in high school. A few people have written to disagree with what I have said, and to question on what I have based my statements about Guam's schools. It is this: My children both served time in Guam's schools, as did the children of hundreds of friends and acquaintances. The above statements were based on our and their experiences.
    Some people apparently do come through the Guam school system unscathed. If you are one of those - congratulations! I've just never met any of you personally, and this account is based on the experiences with which I am familiar. Like my friend whose nephew was hospitalized when another kid drove a pencil through his skull. Like my daughter who was sexually harassed in fourth grade at Yigo Elementary. Like the nine-year-old girl who "couldn't join any of the gangs because [she] was the only Brazilian there." Like the daughter of a colleague who couldn't use the bathroom at school all day because it was too dangerous. Like the son of a Chuukese friend who was beaten up daily for the crime of being Chuukese... 
      Like the 10-year-old girl was beaten to death by two classmates on the way home from school.

    So, if your children are among the lucky few who thrive in Guam schools, perhaps you can teach them to be gentler and kinder to those who are being abused. If you are a teacher at a Guam school, be more alert and sensitive to what is going on among your students, and don't tolerate the bullies. And if you think that everything at the Guam schools is as wonderful as a few of you claim, you are either part of the problem or are totally oblivious to what is going on around you or your children. Ignoring problems does not make them go away. Acknowledging that a problem exists is the first step in dealing with the problem, and that is the main reason this education section is on this website. NO child, not one single child, not even someone else's child, should have to suffer abuse in school.

The University of Guam (UOG)

    In our family, we had two UOG professors and one UOG undergraduate, so this is based on our own experiences. UOG has between 3000 to 4000 students, and almost 200 faculty. In 2000, the WASC Accreditation Agency placed UOG on probation. After two years of extensive restructuring and addressing of problems, UOG is off probation and is fully accredited. Check out the UOG website.

For students:

    Students can get a good, solid, relatively inexpensive education at the University of Guam. Most faculty members care deeply about their students (something that was extensively commented upon in the recent WASC Accreditation report), the class sizes are small, and students get a lot of personal attention. Because of the small class sizes, professors can afford to assign a lot of writing, research and hands-on projects. Many UOG undergraduates get practical experiences that other students wouldn't get until graduate school. The University has an open admissions policy. Students with weak backgrounds in math and/or English can catch up to the college level with developmental courses.
    The University of Guam has a solid biology program with an excellent record of getting its graduates into medical school, veterinary school, and graduate school. (I would advise you to take freshman chemistry somewhere else and transfer the credits, however.) Biology students have the advantage of studying in a tropical environment with reefs that provide a natural laboratory. The biology department also boasts a world-renowned herbarium. For graduate students, the Marine Lab provides a world-class marine biology program, although it has been gutted recently due to faculty attrition. (One can hope that the departing faculty will be replaced, but prospective students might want to ask about this.) The graduate Environmental Sciences program is also excellent.
    For students interested in the Pacific and/or Asian area, UOG offers courses in Tagalog, Chamoru, Chuukese, Japanese and Chinese languages. There is a Micronesian Studies program for graduate students, and both grads and undergrads can select from a variety of courses in history, sociology, anthropology and philosophy that specialize in issues pertaining to the region.
    The nursing program is very good, fully accredited, and offers students unusual opportunities for hands-on experiences because nursing students are used to take up some of the burden created by Guam's severe nurse shortage.
    The communications major, the anthropology major and the theater major are another three excellent programs. UOG's theater department offers four superb productions per academic year.
    The problems students will face going to UOG are as follows:
    The cost of living is high, and transportation options are limited. There are a few small dorms.
    UOG has no major in geology, physics, or engineering, The chemistry major was gutted when its premier professor retired. (The chemistry major is still available, but is not nearly as good as it was.) European language offerings are skimpy. There's no Latin, Russian or Greek, and although German is on the books, it is seldom offered. You can't get more than one year (2 semesters) of French.
    Advice for students attending or thinking of attending UOG:

For faculty:

    UOG is an alluring place to teach because of its exotic setting.
    The students at UOG are wonderful. Their academic backgrounds tend to be poor, but they are good-natured and pleasant. Many of them are very dedicated and hard-working. You may have the pleasure of seeing a lackadaisical student suddenly catch fire when he or she gets interested in the material and figures out how to study. It is a pleasure to work with these students, and a tremendous mutual loyalty and respect exists between the students and faculty.
    UOG has an excellent faculty evaluation program. Faculty are expected to show achievement in the fields of teaching, research/creative activity, and service. UOG is not a "publish or perish" institution. There are many ways of showing accomplishments in the various areas. The CFES manual spells out exactly how to do this, and a faculty member who reads the document, follows its procedures and listens to the advice of colleagues and deans should have no trouble getting tenured or promoted.
    UOG has a good, strong Faculty Union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. The union and the Board of Regents negotiate a contract every few years. A newly fired-up faculty movement has established a faculty senate that has greatly improved the voice of faculty in university governance.
    The dependents of UOG faculty may attend UOG tuition-free after a probationary semester, for the time being. This is a benefit that is negotiated into the contract, and is subject to change.
    The pay scale was very good when we started teaching there in 1991, but it hasn't been changed since then, and now it doesn't compare well with other universities, especially considering the high cost of living on Guam. One interesting aspect of Guam's faculty pay scale is that it is the same for all faculty of a given rank, regardless of academic area. This gives us very well-paid arts faculty, and poorly-paid business faculty.
    The University pays moving expenses to bring faculty to Guam. (This is also subject to change, and you might want to check this very carefully before accepting any offers.)
    If you are offered a faculty position at UOG, you can be assured that you are greatly needed and that your presence will be appreciated by the students.
    Okay, that's the good stuff.
    GovGuam is broke, and the University has not been adequately funded for years. Right now the funding from GovGuam doesn't even cover personnel costs, let alone utilities, supplies etc. Most of UOG's tuition is going to pay back bond issues for constructing new buildings. The University is deeply and severely broke, and the administration has talked about retrenchment.
    Buildings are poorly maintained. The Fine Arts Building was condemned because large chunks of concrete occasionally fall out of the ceiling. No one has been killed -- yet. The building was subsequently "uncondemned" because no funding was available to fix or replace it. The Fine Arts Building is another WASC concern.
    Computer facilities for faculty are minimal. You might get one for your office, or might not. If you do get one, you may have to pay for its repairs yourself. I had to pay out of pocket to replace the hard drive of my office computer when it mildewed. (It mildewed because there was a protracted period in which there was no air conditioning in my windowless office.)
    The library is another major concern. It has limited usefulness as a teaching tool, and virtually no value as a research tool. Journal collections are patchy at best. When money became scarce in 1996 (when the previous Governor was elected) the library lost its ability to maintain and develop its collections.
    Sexism is a major problem in the science division. One UOG biology professor once said, "All women over forty should be rendered for lard." Very funny, yes, and it exactly sums up the way women are treated by a significant portion of the science faculty. If you are a woman thinking of applying for a science position at UOG, you'll need to have a thick skin and the willingness to fight just to get your courses scheduled. Other divisions don't seem to be as bad in this regard.
    So, if you are thinking of coming out here to teach at UOG, there is plenty of good in this University to sustain you (especially the students), but be aware of the substantial problems.
 

The People of Guam

    The indigenous people of Guam are the Chamoru people and their language is the Chamoru language. Approximately 40% of Guam's population is Chamoru, another third is Filipino, and the rest are a mixture of Statesiders, Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Micronesians such as Palauans, Marshallese and people from the Federated States of Micronesia.
    The Chamoru language is an Austronesian language closely related to Malay and Tagalog. Because of Guam's long occupancy by first the Spanish and then the Americans, Chamoru has a lot of Spanish and English loan words. Many common words are of Spanish origin, and this had led people to believe erroneously that Chamoru is just some kind of Spanish dialect or pidgin. But the Chamoru language's grammatical structure and the majority of its lexical items are Austronesian and not European. One unusual feature of the language is that accented syllables are spoken at a lower voice pitch than other syllables. This is the opposite of what we do in English and most other languages, where the pitch of the voice rises when we accent a  syllable. This characteristic of Chamoru gives the language a distinctive lyrical quality that speakers can use to great effect, especially when being ironic.
    You may be wondering if it is possible to get around on Guam without knowing any of the Chamoru language. You can, because English as well as Chamoru are official languages of Guam, and English is universally spoken. However, it is courteous and respectful to learn at least some basic Chamoru if you plan on spending any time here.
    All people of Guam are called Guamanians, whatever their ethnic origin. Do not make the mistake of calling us "Guamians." People here get really touchy about that!
 

Guam Pastimes

    I think it is safe to say that the most popular Guam pastime is the fiesta. Fiestas are feasts, held outdoors, to which everyone on Guam is invited. It is impossible to crash a fiesta because you will be welcomed by the hosts even if they don't know who you are. However, if you do attend a fiesta, it is a courtesy to bring with you a contribution such as drinks, a food item, or paper products. When you leave, you will be invited to take a plate full of food with you.
    Fiestas are held for any and all reasons: birthdays, political rallies, funerals, graduations, novenas, christenings, new house, family reunions and so on. Whole villages hold fiestas on their church's saint's feast day.
    Fiestas are the best places to sample Chamoru cuisine. There is always rice, both white rice and the more festive red rice. Red rice is cooked with achote, a seedpod that gives the rice a subtle flavor and its distinctive color. There are usually flour tortillas and corn tortillas, cut into little triangles, and if you're really, really lucky, someone will have made fadang tortillas. These are made of flour from ground-up cycad seeds. The seeds are poisonous, and the flour must be leached and rinsed several times to get the poison out. Most people these days don't have the patience to make this, but it is delicious!
    There should also be breadfruit, boiled in coconut milk. Breadfruits are big, green lumpy things that grow on large and magnificent trees with huge, complex leaves. I am told that here in the Pacific islands, the breadfruit leaf is a symbol of life. The breadfruit tree produces both a male and a female fruit. It is the starchy, fibrous white inside of the female fruit that is cooked for the fiesta. It resembles potato slightly, and has a mild flavor and a lovely texture.
    Usually one has several types of barbecued meat, especially chicken, and some fish in one form or another. At a really big, fancy fiesta, there might be a whole roast pig. There will also be kelaguen, usually chicken kelaguen. This is made of raw or cooked chicken marinated in soy sauce, lemon juice and boonie peppers. If you are really, really, really lucky, someone will have made octopus kelaguen. Heavenly stuff!
    There will be salads of the usual varieties (macaroni, potato and so on), and dinner rolls. And desserts, usually of a large variety, and maybe some soup. My number one favorite is a sweet coconut soup called ahu, especially when it has been made by my colleague, Dr. Juan Fernandez. He makes the best ahu in the world!
    Aside from food, fiestas usually have music if the purpose is happy, or a service if the fiesta is associated with a wake, or speeches if the fiesta is part of a political rally. There will be lots of little kids running around, and dogs chewing on chicken bones or anything else they can get. People take turns swishing flies away from the food with paper plates. People stand around eating, chatting and laughing. Children greet their elders with a kiss of respect, and mothers pass their babies around. Sometimes the host will bring out a karaoke machine. That's when I leave!

    Another favorite Guam pastime is politics. Elections here are hot, intense, close-up and personal. Guam gets the best voter turn-out in the United States.  In a population the size of Guam's, about 160,000 people, you are bound to know at least some of the candidates personally. If you don't know the candidate, you probably know the spouse, a child, a sibling, a parent, or a neighbor. And if you don't know the candidate, it is very easy to meet him or her -- just go to any fiesta or funeral during election time and you'll get to meet lots of politicians!
    The politicians plaster the island with signs and bumper stickers. People mount huge billboards in the back of their pickup trucks, and loudspeakers blare out cheesy campaign songs. The politicians hold "waves" in which they and their supporters occupy a busy street corner and wave as people drive by during rush hour. People honk their horns and wave back. Then there are motorcades, long lines of cars covered with posters that form parades that can be miles long. They drive by slowly, while the people in the cars honk and wave.  These motorcades encourage and enliven the candidate's supporters and infuriate the candidate's opponents. When your own candidate has a motorcade, it is a measure of the level of support for him or her. When the other candidate has a motorcade, it's a nuisance that interferes with the flow of traffic. During an election, there are endless rallies, fundraisers and fiestas. The tensions build, the radio talk shows are full of hot talk, and the newspaper is plastered with full-page ads featuring lots of mud-slinging and posturing. Finally it is election day. All around the polling places, the candidates set up tents full of food, signs and supporters. All day long, candidates drift through the tents, kissing people and shaking hands, trying not to get fed yet more food, and hoping to snag a few last-minute votes. Sometimes a few fights break out. You can't buy alcohol on election days, but people know this, so they stock up the day before. After the polls close, people stay up to watch the returns on TV.  It takes the next year to recover, and then it starts all over again because elections happen every two years.

    Another major Guam pastime is going to K-Mart. They say that our K-Mart is the biggest one in the world. I don't think they're referring to floor space, but to volumes of sales. K-Mart is adored here because they really brought prices down on the island when they opened a few years ago. They have so much stuff that you can't get anywhere else on Guam, like women's clothing larger that size 8. They also have a large cafeteria which becomes a hot hang-out in the evenings.  K-Mart's parking lot is full from morning to late evenings when they close.

    Other Guam pastimes include hanging out at the beach, driving around in oddly modified pickup trucks, cockfighting, hauling sand in one's pickup truck, burning trash, and painting non-moving objects with the reigning governor's campaign colors.
 

Crime

    Most violent crime here is either drug-related or is related to family violence. The violent crime rate seems to be about on par with other United States urban areas.
    Drug abuse, especially use of methamphetamine ("ice"), is a big problem, and results in a high level of theft, burglary, robbery etc.  It is one of the most debilitating problems on Guam.
    Break-ins are extremely common, especially of cars. If you frequent beaches or hiking trails, you can expect to have your car broken into from time to time. It doesn't help to leave the car unlocked, because the thieves don't stop to check if the door is open; they just smash the window immediately. The best defence is to drive an ugly, old "Guam bomb," since fancy cars get hit more often than ugly old ones. You can also judge the relative safety of a parking area by the amount of broken car window glass on the ground. If you see a big pile of it, it's best to park elsewhere or leave someone behind to guard your vehicle.
    Car theft is also a big problem. Certain vehicles, such as Toyota trucks, are particularly popular among car thieves. The thieves take the stolen vehicles apart at "chop shops" and sell the parts.
    By far the biggest problem with crime here, however, is that the judicial system is essentially non-functional. There aren't enough police officers or employees in the Guam Prosecutor's office. If you report a crime, police will come and write it up, but that's as far as it will go. (No one has been prosecuted for shoplifting for many years.)  Most cases are dismissed by the Prosecutor's Office because their allotted time runs out before they can get to the cases.
    Nevertheless, Guam is not a particularly dangerous place. Normal precautions generally suffice to keep people and property safe.
 

Pets

    Boonie cats and boonie dogs abound on Guam, and are available for adoption from Guam Animals in Need (G.A.I.N.). It is also possible to get kittens and puppies free from friends, or find them wandering around abandoned on the street or beach. Veterinary care is easier to come by than human health care, and the wait is shorter for your pet than for you at your clinic.
    If you want a pure-bred animal, they can be purchased from a shop or breeder, but they are extremely expensive.
    The rules for bringing pets to Guam have recently changed, as of February 2001. Guam is rabies free, and to keep it that way, a four-month quarantine had been imposed on all dogs and cats brought onto the island. This quarantine is extremely expensive and uses up a significant portion of an animal's life. The recent relaxation of the law allows some dogs and cats to be in quarantine for 30 days instead of 120 days if: (a) the animal has received 2 rabies shots 6 months apart and within 90 to 365 days of departure, (b) a microchip is imbedded in the animal by a certified laboratory, (c) a rabies blood test has been conducted by an approved lab 90 to 365 days before arrival, (d) the animal has a health certificate verifying the vaccinations, blood test and microchip, (e) the owner has obtained an entry permit from the Department of Health and Social Services, (f) the animal has passsed another rabies blood test upon arrival, (g) the pet is older than nine months old, and (h) the animal remains in home quarantine another 90 days after arrival. If these conditions are not satisfied, the animal will have to remain in the quarantine kennel for the full 120 days.
    The entry permit costs $60 per pet. There is only one official quarantine kennel, and they charge $815 to $1025 for the 30-day quarantine, or $1285 to $2125 for the 120-day quarantine. Military personnel get a 20% discount.
    Flying with pets is also complicated. Airlines will only accommodate a certain number of animals per flight. Animals flying overseas must spend a certain amount of time in a kennel mid-trip to recover, and can only fly if the air temperature at departure time is within a certain range. All this may result in your animal's arrival being delayed for several days.
    Taking an animal from Guam is less complicated than taking one to Guam. Since Guam is rabies-free, no quarantine restrictions apply when taking an animal out of Guam.
    Get important information, including the address for obtaining a pet entry permit, at the Guam Customs and Quarantine Agency website.
    Also refer to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service brochure, Traveling With Your Pet.
    More information can be found at Continental Airlines: Live Animal Policy.

Proceed to Critters of Guam, all about the animals that share our island.
Onward to Tales of Guam, with information about our earthquakes, our plants, and some of our beaches.
And on to More Tales of Guam, a new page with more beach information, with more to follow.
And now we have Microscopic Critters of Guam, where you can read about our spectacular microfauna.
 
 

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Published 3/25/99.
Updated 4/4/02.
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