Friday, July 16, 2010

Island Tropes

So it seems that I promised a while back sometime last year to make a glossary of the various nicknames that I've given to things and phenomena on the island. Some of them are long-standing, but most of them I came up with on my own. I actually started on this back in January, but my article on crazy things that happen here was cut short by a village-wide power outage with no apparent cause.

Also, I'm a big fan of a site called TVTropes, which is basically a wiki of story devices where the users give names to all the recurring phenomena that they notice. That's sort of what I'm doing here with a lot of these entries.

The Rock/The Island/The Village/AmSam/AmSamoa/The Unorganized Territory- Uh, I think you can figure this one out. No one I've asked is really certain if the part-Samoan wrestler/actor had the "Rock" nickname first, but I'm guessing he got it from the island and not the other way around.

Samoa/Western Samoa/Western/Indie Samoa/The Independent State of Samoa™- The island nation next to this one.

Tales from the Margaret Mead Taproom (TMMT)- A great book by Gary Trudeau, author of the Doonesbury comic strip. The strip had a series in the mid-seventies where the Uncle Duke character was Governor of the territory for a while. Somehow, that lead to Trudeau and a few friends coming down here to stay for two weeks not long after. The book is the story of their experience, interspersed with the comics of the Uncle Duke governorship. I like to reference it a lot. The title comes from anthropologist Margaret Mead's famously wrong book Coming of Age in Samoa, from which the name of this blog is derived.

ASG/GAS- The American Samoa Government. The government of the territory. About 1/3rd of the local population works for them in some branch or other. The GAS nickname was created by Trudeau in TMMT.

LBJ- Lyndon Baines Johnston Tropical Medical Center. The only hospital or even decent-sized doctor's office on the island. It's run by ASG. Try to avoid going there if you can.

Everything's an Import- Probably somewhere around 90% of everything you buy on the island was imported from someplace thousands of miles away. Cars are imported. Lumber is imported. TVs are imported. Furniture is mostly imported. Much of the food is imported (especially the food I eat). Soap is imported. It's weird to buy jelly at the store and think about how it sailed thousands of miles in a container filled with hundreds of other jelly jars just to end up in a sandwich with too much peanut butter.

The Price of Paradise- A phrase, common in Hawaii, meaning that everything is expensive when Everything's an Import. But it's the price you pay for living here. Also, there's a price tag on nearly everything you buy, so that you'll be reminded that you paid $4 for a jar of jelly until the day you use it up and pay $4 for another one.

FOB/Fobling- A person who's Fresh Off the Boat, AKA just got here and blissfully naive of everything. AKA a noob of teh island. I've heard this one used around here all the time, and also saw it in a video from New Zealand. "Fobling" can also refer to the child of a FOB or the kind of English or Samoan that they speak.

Diverse but Not- According to the 2000 census, the island is about 91% Pacific Islanders. But That 9% is one of the most wildly diverse groups of people you'll ever see. There are plenty of Filipinos, Chinese, Koreans, and white people form all over. And I have friends from places as far away as the Azores Islands and Madagascar. And of course, not all of those Pacific Islanders are Samoans. Going by the languages on that same link, about 3% are Tongans. Then again the island is still overwhelmingly one group of people. So it's diverse, but not.

Foreign But Not- I've mentioned this before, but this territory is treated both as a part of the States as well as a foreign country all the time. On one hand, it uses the Dollar, the US military recruits from here, we have most American TV channels, we have McDonald's and KFC, US Mail comes here at the same cost as any other part of the country, and landline phone calls to the mainland count as domestic. On the other hand, UPS and FedEx definitely charge international rates, the culture is very different, we have CNN International instead of CNN US, most websites automatically detect that users here are "Outside the United States" and restrict what video clips we can see accordingly, and the McDonald's restaurants here are definetly the "international" (or "clean") kind.

Not In Africa- I told a lot of people that I was going to American Samoa, and a lot of them said "Isn't that in Africa!?" People tend to confuse Samoa with Somalia. But the majority of people I talked to before I left just knew that it was out in the Pacific somewhere. Similarly, most people here know that North Carolina is a state on the mainland somewhere. Although there was one person who confused it with New Caledonia. I'd feel a lot better if that person hadn't been involved with doing my taxes.

Reverse Door Logic- Plenty of doors to shops and such open the opposite way that you'd expect them to. If you're outside a store and it has a horizontal bar for pushing, then it probably opens outward by pulling. If a door here has a vertical handle made for grasping and pulling, then it probably opens by pushing. And sometimes, no handle at all means you need to cram your fingers in between the door and its frame and wedge it open. And then to complicate things, not every building uses Reverse Door Logic, so you'll never totally get used to one door type or the other. My theory is that a lot of people just hung their doors on backwards and didn't care.

Cashfull Society- Aside from bars and restaurants, I'd say that only about 10% of stores here take credit cards. It's complicated to set them up or something. I only know of one gas station that takes them. And there are plenty of people here who can't be trusted with checks, most of whom have their pictures posted at the front of the stores they ripped off, along with a scan of their bad check for all to see. So around here, cash is tupu, or king. Everyone tries to avoid the banks on government payday, because they lines will be stuffed with people turning their paychecks into cash.

The Washing Machine Effect- All that cash that everyone's using gets circulated a lot, but its not really going anywhere. It's not very likely to leave the island, except maybe in the pockets of someone flying or sailing out. So, just like cash that gets left in the washing machine, it goes around and around and gets worn out. The same thing happens with coins, which seem to stay in circulation here forever. I think I'd seen about five bicentennial quarters in my life before I moved here. Now I see them all the time. I know this whole phenomenon has been going on since at least the time that TMMT was written.

Island Shipping Time- I don't care what the little computer at the post office told you, shipping packages down here takes quite some time. Two weeks if you use Priority Mail, about six if you go with standard mail. Sending something via UPS or FedEx will involve it taking even longer to bounce all over the Pacific Rim (Seriously, it will do something like LA-Honolulu-Hong Kong-Singapore-Apia-Pago Pago) and cost around $100 for even a small package. Go with USPS.

Phantom Television- A phenomenon I blogged about when I first got here, which is about how the majority of cable TV channels are on a two-week tape delay. That's how long it takes for the drives that the shows were recorded on to get here. It's based on the really cool sci-fi idea that TV signals continue traveling forever into the outer reaches of space once they've been broadcast, and how we're looking into past "dead" shows just by turning on our TVs. I've been told that it's one a one-week delay in the CNMI and three weeks in Palau. Since the installation of the fiber-optic cable last summer, they've been switching channels to a live feed from Hawaii one by one.

Outer Rim Territories- My Star Wars-based nickname for all of the US territories and possessions. There are more than you might think.

Island Internet- It's slow. I pay $75 a month for 125 Kb/s. That's standard for homes here. And even that bit of speed tends to vary a lot, mostly on who else is using it. You get used to it.

Awkward International Moment- When a text message of a friend wakes you up at 3 AM because they forgot how time zones work. When you order something from the mainland and they think you're going to be upset because they won't be able to ship it until the next morning. When you're downloading something large with Island Internet from a public storage site and it asks you if you want to pay $29.95 a month to download it faster, because they limit free downloads to just 500 Kb/s. When someone from off-island suggests you pick up a bus schedule, buy something from Wal-Mart, or get up-to-date information from the website of an office of ASG. Basically, anything that makes you have to stop and explain to someone a thing or two about life here.

Always Dark Early- Because we're so close to the Equator, the sun usually sets around 6:30 every day. That doesn't leave a whole lot of daylight for those of us who work 9-5 (pretty much just the company I work for). There's only a small variation in the length of days between summer and "winter."

Two Seasons- I like to say that we have two seasons here: "Rainy" (Nov-April) and "Less Rainy" (the rest of the year).

Unbloggable- When something is best left not blogged about. Usually involves sponsors, something a little too offensive, something that would terrify my mother, or something that's best left unsaid. The Car Saga is a big unbloggable thing that's been going on in my life lately, and a lot of the reason why so many recent entries have been about life here in general and not about what I'm doing.

The Car Saga- Suffice to say that my car's been broken since mid-April and it's been quite a task trying to get it fixed. And because of the Price of Paradise, getting a new one is out of the question. Oh, and a lot of people on online car repair forums think that all islands are small enough that everyplace on them is in walking distance.

The Falcon- My car. Named after the Millennium Falcon, because "She might not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid." That is, she actually runs. Or she did when I named it.

The Nest- My apartment. Named that because 1) It's the parking place of the Falcon 2) It's messy, like a rat's nest, and 3) It's the name of Elon's basketball arena.

The highway- American Samoa 001, the main highway on the island. Don't go thinking it's an Interstate; it's really just a one-lane-in-each-direction deal; basically the equivalent of a state highway. It has more curves than Christina Hendricks.

Aiga Bus- The buses on the island. They're made out of heavily modified pickup trucks, and riding them is quite the experience. Right now they're my transportation to work. I've blogged about them before.

Aiga Bus Uncertainty Principle- I don't think you can ever be totally sure where an aiga bus is headed until it's almost there, but I'm now up to the point where I can predict with 80% certanty where most of them are headed. I think this one may deserve an entry of its own.

Future tropes will be added in separate entries.
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