“Remember the ‘90’s?”, a gas station sign on Guam opines. Those were Guam’s glory days, when the Japan economic boom fueled construction projects and tourism; and sailors from Ronald Reagan’s 600-ship US Navy spent their paychecks on trinkets and entertainment.
Light and stylish, suitable for a wide range of activities, tropical shirts are ubiquitous in Guam. Designs range from floral, prints, to abstract designs, and shirts bearing the legendary DC-3 propeller plane of the 1930s and 1940s. I have not yet seen a vintage propeller plane fly over Guam’s Apra Harbor into Won Pat International airport; just modern jets bearing the names of United Airlines, FedEx, Cathay Pacific and Korean Air.
The end results of consumerism is quickly evident on a small island. Gas stations and a six-lane arterial, Marine Corps Drive, line the waterfront of Hagatna, Guam’s capital city. Even industrialized and militarized Norfolk, Virginia keeps gas stations on the inland side of Ocean View Avenue. British-owned Diego Garcia, an atoll in the Indian Ocean, sends its “retrograde” garbage to mainland Asia for disposal. In American Guam, household waste too often ends up dumped in priceless and scenic parks. Brochures advertise weekend trips to "unspoiled" islands like Saipan, Chuuk and Palau.
Telling of the harried times of today’s military, coffee shops line the approach road to Guam Naval Base. Locals treat the speed limit- never exceeding 35 miles per hour- as a speed limit. Sailors often regard those signs as mere road decoration, as they whip and zag to work or home. Though our local contractors live on island time, we’re busy; we’ve made Guam just like home.
Then we sing “Old Maui”, an old sailor song. We’re singing about going to a tropical island, when we’re on a tropical island? Nostalgia for Paradise Lost was true even in 1890’s, when French painter Paul Gauguin encountered the Pacific island of Tahiti. As described in “The Art Wolf”: "Papeete -the Tahitian capital- was not the tropical paradise that it could have been in former times, the exotic and mysterious town found by great travelers like the legendary Captain Cook".
Today, Gauguin’s artwork is described as imaginative, even exploitative. So is Tiki Culture- that mesh of Chinese food, lush ambiance, and tropical drinks that once swept America- and is enjoying a comeback in the States. Nevertheless, Tiki Culture can be found in well-appointed Guam hotels. When the co-workers vent frustrations about the job, I recommend: Get on your motorcycle, ride past the waterfront gas stations, and within 15 minutes, find your paradise.