My Paradise: Guam: My first taste of the U.S.

My mom and I loved our trip to Guam in 1996. Photos by Aiko Setoguchi
My mom and I loved our trip to Guam in 1996. Photos by Aiko Setoguchi

My Paradise: Guam: My first taste of the U.S.

by Aiko Setoguchi
Stripes Okinawa

In the summer of 1996, my mother took me to Guam, a tiny island sitting on the southern left edge of the Pacific Ocean. The island is known for its military bases among Americans, but for us Japanese, it was known for shining beaches.

Mom booked a late-night flight from Narita, and we arrived on the island in early morning. When we landed at the airport, the island was still asleep, wrapped in dim blue, steamy air. Trees with deep green leaves that stood around the runway were the first ones to greet us.

We soon headed to a hotel that sat just by a quiet beach. Once in the hotel room, Mom opened the window and we soaked ourselves in the morning breeze of the South Pacific.

Even as a 10-year-old kid, I was thrilled to be so far away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. For me, it was the first taste of the United States, and it was paradise: blue sky, shining beach, and a breeze that brought the quiet sound of waves.

Mom ordered room service, and 30 minutes later our breakfast arrived. Placed in front of me was a white box that looked like it could hold a whole cake in it. I didn’t know what was in the box since I didn’t understand English back then and had no idea what she ordered.

As soon as the waiter left our room, I asked Mom if I could open it. Seeing my excitement, she smiled and said, “Sure.” When I opened, my excitement grew stronger. Inside the box were ham sandwiches with white bread beautifully cut into rectangular shapes and a small plastic bag in bright yellow. At the time, I had never seen anyone put a bag of food in a sandwich box, and it awoke my curiosity. When I opened the bag, a bunch of potato chips popped out!

The presentation and the occasion – a bag of potato chips in a box for breakfast – appeared very special to me. Since that day, Lay’s potato chips has been my favorite snack.

During our stay on Guam, I encountered so many never-seens and never-dones – finding lizards climbing walls of the balcony; swimming with fish and taking a nap on the beach; eating purple-taro ice cream, brown breakfast sausages, and a Burger King cheeseburger. They were all so rare, so American, and so paradise for the city girl from Japan.

When I was eating my first bag of Lay’s potato chips on Guam, I was years old, I never imagined I would attend a college in New York. But less than a decade later, I was picking up my second bag of Lay’s, this time in a large size, at a supermarket on Broadway.

In college, I got to learn a bit more about Guam from Andy Nathan, an expert on military affairs in the Pacific region. I also got to hang out with Phil, an amazing friend who is a son of a U.S. Navy sailor.

I thank Mom and Guam for giving me such great first memories of the United States and my future in the country. Guam will always be my piece of paradise.

Happy 10-year-old me on Guam

All smiles after graduating from college in New York. I love New York.

Speakin' Chamorro

Good morning: Buenos dias
Good afternoon: Buenos tatdes
Good evening: Buenos noches
Good luck: Suette

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