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Soybean cake has touched the shores of Guam, an island that sparks memories

posted by on 2009.09.09, under guam, history, journalism
Jeff's Pirate Cove remains a popular bar and restaurant on Guam. Photo source: Copyright Neurostim.NET's flickr photostream

Jeff's Pirates Cove remains a popular bar and restaurant on Guam. Photo source: Copyright Neurostim.NET's flickr photostream


When I spotted Amritha Alladi’s article in The Pacific Daily News about dining options for vegetarians on Guam, I perked up.

Not only did it talk about tofu but it also reminded me that, thanks to the international dateline, this is where America’s day begins – the story is dated Sept. 10, 2009.

I worked for the newspaper for about a year or so back in the late 1990s.

Over the years, many people in the continental United States have asked: What’s life like on Guam?

It’s a place full of rich history and intriguing stories.

I’d typically start out with some map coordinates. Find Tokyo and draw a line south. Find Manila and draw a line east.

When the two intersect, you’ll be in the area of Guam, the former Spanish colony that is about 210-square-feet 210-square-miles in size and a U.S. territory.

Then I usually say that the island is similar to one in Hawaii – there are big hotels, tourists from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan visit and the U.S. military maintains a presence.

That presence can fuel tensions between some Chamorros, who are indigenous, and federal government officials.

When I lived there, some wealthy Filipinos would fly from the Philippines just to go shopping. 

Life, politics and business on the island gave us plenty of work in the newsroom.

We chased. We dug. We questioned. Often under a bright sun and in balmy weather.

Official shenanigans existed. Impassioned speeches on the floor of the island’s Legislature kept me there late into the night.

I recall one time when someone clandestinely taped the cell phone conversation of a governor’s aide who was talking about some controversy and was naming names.

A lawmaker, a critic of the governor, obtained the tape and played it as part of a speech he made on the Legislature’s floor.

His official explanation about how the tape surfaced: He or someone from his office found it in an area behind his office. 

There were several occasions in which rickety-old boats full of undocumented migrants from China showed up on the shore.

People hopped off – only to be greeted by the police. Others landed in steep, craggy coves, temporarily hid in the jungle and made their way to vans waiting for them.

While many of the migrants were caught, held in the island’s prison and later repatriated, I found a safe house and many people with the help of a source.

The interviews lasted into the night – with guys sitting on bunk beds, smoking cigarettes, talking about their lives.

Most of the migrants thought they were going to the continental United States – only to be duped by human smugglers, who demanded thousands of dollars for the voyage on the open ocean.

I’m grateful my editors sent me to investigate labor abuses in garment factories in the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, an archipelago north of Guam and part of the United States.

When we weren’t working, my colleagues and I occasionally visited Jeff’s Priates Cove, an ocean front restaurant and bar on Guam.

The island also is known because a Japanese soldier, a sergeant named Shoichi Yokoi, lived in a cave for nearly 30 years after World War II.

The reason he did this: He was still fighting the fight - and wanted to avoid being caught.

He apparently ate coconuts, snails and eels. He made his clothing from plant fibers.

Hunters found him in the early 1970s.

Later, he told the staff at Jeff’s Pirates Cove that he heard the restaurant’s music and patrons while he was hiding.

The New York Times covered his passing in 1997.

Some of my colleagues went scuba diving.

I liked reading travel books and then driving to areas where Spanish galleons, which plied the waters between the Philippines and Mexico, either anchored in coves or crashed.

Many ships in the area reportedly carried jewelry, Chinese silks, ivory, spices from Asia, as well as gold, silver and Spanish coins. One ship in the region apparently experienced a mutiny.

My sister gave me Oliver Sacks’ book, The Island of the Colorblind, which took him to Guam for research and eventually, house calls. I took it with me to Guam.

I worked with a talented group of journalists on the island.

Many remain at the newspaper. Others returned to the continental United States.

My former colleague, Leo Babauta, lives on the island and runs the popular blog, Zen Habits.

I hope they’re all well.


Hi Brad!
My first visit to your blog; Ri directed me here. Nice to see kind words about Guam written by somebody NOT here (although we ain’t 212 square feet sir) and as the newspaper’s resident foodie. I’ll be snooping around your offerings here.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you but as you probably already know, most things on Guam don’t change. We get older, the faces get wrinkled and the names of the crooks, politicians and business leaders change — but the reality is that it’ll always be same old, same old.

I kicked off a food column for the PDN that started today — “Boy, go eat.” One of these days, I’ll devote the space to tofu.

Take care sir and keep on keeping on.



Jojo Santo Tomas ( September 9, 2009 at 7:08 pm )

Thanks, Jojo.

Yes, you’re correct. I mixed up square feet and square miles.

If the island truly was square feet, my old condominium would have been four times the size of Guam.

I was happy to hear from you and good luck with the food column and life on the island.

brad wong ( September 9, 2009 at 9:57 pm )

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