ARRIVING in Guam for the first time last weekend was a new lesson in traveling. Like any sojourn to a foreign land, a new interesting knowledge is added to my never-ending quest to learn.
“Hafa Adai” is the general welcome we received upon arriving at the Guam airport. Hafa Adai means in the Chamorro dialect as “Hello!” Or as they say in Hawaii, “Aloha!” Welcome, my friend! It is pronounced as Half-a-day. Curious, isn’t it?
Guam is a US-organized territory situated in the western Pacific Ocean, with an area only of 540 square kilometers. It is not one of the 50 States of the US. But being a territory of the US, the residents by birth are considered American citizens. They are under the US Postal System, US Border Control and under bugetary support of the US, and you need a US Visa to enter.
The citizens of Guam are headed by a governor and their president is Donald Trump. Although they are not allowed to vote in US national elections, they are allowed to send delegates to the Republican and Democratic national conventions and they have a lone representative in the House of Representatives in the US Congress, albeit that representative cannot vote in final passages of laws.
Guam is an exciting island territory located east of the Philippines, and is three and a half hours by plane from Manila. It is two hours ahead of the Philippines by time and is 18 hours ahead of time as to California. That’s why the residents of Guam say there’s where the first “Good Morning, America!” comes from.
It is a very clean and organized place whose ethnic population is 37 percent Chamorros, 9.4 percent whites, 1.4 percent Japanese, 2.2 percent Koreans and 26.7 percent Filipinos! Yes, more than a quarter of the registered citizens are Pinoys, and add to that the Pinoy tourists, then you have so many working in the hotels and tourism sector, in the transportation and construction industry.
In fact, more than a majority of the hotel staff, mall cashiers and sales clerks that I met are Filipinos.
And speaking of sales clerks, Guam has a range of huge malls with international product labels. Their K-Mart is the biggest in the world, in addition to Guam’s Micronesia Mall, Agana mall and the Guam Premier Outlets which hosts Macy’s and Payless and Ross, with shops like Prada and Louis Vitton and Chanel and Ferragamo.
Tourism indeed is the biggest income source of Guam, with the thousands of US military personnel and their families contributing second to their economy.
The capital of Guam is Hagatna, although the premier tourist district is Tamuning where the hotel row of Tumon is located by the coastline of the Pacific Ocean. English is the main language with Chamorro also spoken by most locals.
The weather is very much like the Philippines and the food are a mixture of local delicacies and a huge number of Korean and Japanese and Chinese restaurants. Japanese consists of the biggest number of tourists per year such that all hotel and mall and store labels and public signages have Japanese language characters on them, and everywhere you go you see Japanese tourists abound. They are also the biggest spenders.
Although there are thousands of Filipinos in Guam, the general environment is calm and clean, no jeepneys, no traffic, no loud motorcycles, no strewn garbage and no dogs loosely roaming the streets, no beggars nor streetkids, and no street food like in Hong Kong or Bangkok.
The malls and shopping stores prices are very low as Guam prides itself as a shopping haven. No casinos either except for a few Bingo places. And food is relatively cheap, although the currency is the US dollar. In any shopping mall foodcourt, a set of meal of rice and two viands with side-dish is just eight dollars, or P400, as compared to food prices in Japan or Singapore.
Without going into a sad commentary of our home country, Guam is a place much like Hawaii. A perfect vacation destination for the haggard Pinoy. It is safe and inexpensive, a healthy environment and slow-paced culture.
However, compared to Palawan or Boracay or Bohol or of the many Philippine tourist spots, Guam would surely pale in comparison in many aspects. And to Hafa Adai, I would also exclaim for the Philippines, Mabuhay!