Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dennis Chan and his Northern Islands

From Saipan Tribune editorialist Jaime Vergara:

Our Northern Islands is actually the title of a book produced collaboratively by Dennis Chan on text and Angelo Villagomez on editing, layout, graphics and publishing. The deft touch of the editor is obvious, but the youth and spirit of Dennis comes through. Subtitled The first expedition to the Mariana Trench National Monument, it chronicles a trip taken by Friends of the Monument after the declaration by GWBush of the surrounding area of Asuncion, Maug and Urucas-the northernmost islands of the Marianas chain-as a marine protected area.

One of the friends funded the trip with the caveat that a young person be chosen through an essay contest to experience the islands and return to tell of the experience to peers. Dennis Chan, 18-year-old Saipan born and bred, won the essay and this book is a coffee table conversation piece that chronicles the journey in words and pictures.

Dennis' staccato narrative from notes in a log/journal notebook handed him at the start of the trip, with the cadence and idiom of the classroom hallways, is given recognizable mainstream form by our erstwhile mayor of Saipan's watering holes, and Saipan's almost Matua with the Matachang service style of 2009 election, now within the beltway habituĂ© of the nation's capital, Angelo Villagomez. The racy tone in the recollection like that of the two-day-old chaffy underwear is ordinary enough, but might in the telling have gotten an “R” rating from Hollywood's MPAA!

Not a few of the younger Chan siblings were in my class at SVES and their dad Norman is known for setting up refined gastronomic fan dian (restaurants, literally, rice shops). Dennis at the International School was once characterized as a “slick talker like a used-car salesman” (with no offense meant to the guys down the car lot, only to admire their marketing skills), and we did get the chance to see him perform in one of the island's debating events. He is an MHS grad.

What comes through loud and clear in the book is that Dennis is no country bumpkin. The urban comfort of globalized Saipan was not missed in his obvious upbringing and Dennis might know the principle of friction, but may not know how to kindle wood were he stuck on an island without any amenities, and his life depended on it.

A queasy stomach got him green by the gills as soon as the waves hit starboard on the navigatinal float Lady Carolina, and on the return from Maug and Uracus through Agrihan and Pagan, side-stepping the patty cakes on the ground and the buzz in the air from the bees and flies, our cosmopolitan dude bedrudgingly started fending for himself.

In one of the book's photos, Dennis holds a huge coconut crab with the mixed expression of “I would love to have this under my belly cooked and relished slowly, but do I have to hold this live one for a frigging picture?” His pose on Lady Carolina in Uracus from the southeast is priceless and would make an excellent resumĂ© promo and an application supplement to an institution of higher education anywhere in the world!

Dennis is currently registered at the Northern Marianas College, our local and only community college. A colleague took exception to his remaining on island when his obvious talents could be challenged more thoroughly elsewhere. In a sense, the two-year associate liberal arts degree from NMC might not be a bad place for Dennis to exercise self-reliance and self-motivity in nurturing his own self-confidence for a larger field elsewhere.

Besides, the social networking that prestigious universities offer their studentry may be useful at spring break in one of the instant “student” towns, but only rarely, unless it is accompanied by aristocratic pedigree, does it lead to an apartment on Park Avenue, or a tenure at Cambridge.

On the other hand, Dennis should not be denied the resources to move elsewhere two years hence, should he so desires. SHEFA and the local Chamber of Commerce scholarship might not be a bad place to start. I would not recommend the poker house as an option!

The awe and wonder in Maug and the circumnavigation of the northernmost island Uracus (Farallon de Pajaros) is the heart of the trip: “There are so many places to see in the world, and I'm sure I'll always say I'll come back, but life, life's got so much to do and other places to go. I may never be in Pagan again or Maug or any of our Northern Islands. The thought is a sad one, but it makes the moment even more special” and the stopovers in Agrigan and Pagan, its humanness. “Pagan, the heights, the vistas, the beach, and all that beauty. I think beauty should be bought in the effort to see it, and so I did. I arrived at beauty; I roamed through it with blistered feet and sore groin.”

Youthful enthusiasm and neophyte adventure jumps out of pages of this book. Now, Angelo needs to get a sequel out from his adult and professional perspective (and encourage colleagues-two professional writers, a photographer, navigators and environmentalists-to produce their memories and recollections as well).

Our Northern Islands
The first expedition to the Northern Mariana Trench National Monument
Dennis Chan

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