One of the contrasts between Shenyang and Saipan that was brought to my attention a year or so ago was from a traveler who visited the island for more than 30 days and bought herself a pair of white walking shoes while touring.
"The walking shoes stayed white in the duration of my stay," she said, "but after a day upon my return to Shenyang, the dust it swiftly accumulated was so much that I had to consign it quickly to the washing machine. Even then, I could not retrieve its original whiteness back."
She did not exaggerate. Shenyang’s dependence on coal and its all pervasive emissions is evident all over, and the unabated construction boom is turning and swirling the Good Earth around, adding dust to the soot.
In all of my Oral English classes, as part of the students’ assigned self-introductions, they are asked to speak of what they will do five years after university. Almost invariably, the urge to travel elsewhere, possibly to the southern island of Hainan, or to the mountaintops of Kunming, Sichuan, or Xizang, is universally planned with the common rationale of going to "where the air is clean and the sky is blue."
This struck me as very revealing after reading the report on Jerry Tan’s presentation at the Rotary Club of the impending start of Saipan Air, initially between the CNMI and Japan, and later, to expand into China, and probably Korea.
To paraphrase the irreverence of political consultant James Carville’s much-quoted Clinton presidential campaign slogan, "It is the air, stupid!"
We add as well, the land and the sea, too!
The natural resources of the islands of the Marianas remain its most attractive asset, even more than the diversity of its population and the display of the technological and cultural heritages of each.
Our decade-long sojourn on Saipan inured us to the still relatively pristine state of the islands' air, sea, land, and sky. To be sure, we decried the proliferation of algae in the lagoon, the failure of human zoning mindset in land development, the disregard of natural processes such as water tables and catchments in the service of the profitable turn, but we were never unappreciative of the bounty that resilient Mother Nature continues to endow the terrain, compared to other places where we lived before.
On the other hand, our experience was not unlike almost two decades before when I floated one lazy afternoon in the Marshall’s Wotje lagoon in the early '80s with a snorkel and hardly a human creature in sight but in the company of a baby shark that was too small to be threatening. I was oblivious to the care of the world (I was there for the late Trans Atoll Service Corp. and personally visiting a Peace Corps volunteer’s hut that was equipped with solar panels to power a small refrigerator full of beer-my responsibility-and ham radio) when a disposable baby diaper came into view.
There I was, imaginally and transport-wise, far from the reach of "civilization," yet the tentacles of commercialized plastic and chemical use popularized in my century already preceded my arrival.
Saipan Air as an airline venture provides the Commonwealth the opportunity to reflect on the state of its sea, land, and sky, for Saipan will have to operate as an end destination rather than as a transit one, Guam notwithstanding, if it were to flourish. In fact, that would be the only reason I could think of that Tan Holdings would be putting up the service, unless it is just an investment to be profitably sold off later to a larger corporation.
I will assume that Jerry is going with the former reason, given that “alliances” has become the airline industry’s way of allowing small, medium and large service operations and geographical coverage in the industry.
We laud the vision for the airline. We are gladdened more for the opportunity to inventory the state of what is the Commonwealth’s "selling point," the reason folks would temporarily venture into our neighborhood, the freshness of the air, the integrity of the marine life, and the clear sky. It is not too late to see ways of really conserving and managing our once pristine land and fresh water sources.
Actually, sustainably managing our natural resources is the easy task. It is the wily human factor that somehow remains more of a curse than a blessing. If the common processes of resource, production, and distribution define our economic existence, the issues of communal order, judicious and transparent equity, and relevant social services define our organizational needs. Our political structures are too clannishly archaic and confrontationally oligarchic to be of any use. Broader participation in decision-making is the order of the day!
Then, there is still the old notion that visitors are a necessary evil, to be tolerated while being exploited. That’s a cultural issue, and at least, it can be dealt with without dependence on federal and/or foreign intervention.
Saipan Air. We shall be smart to keep it clean and fresh-the environment and the airline. Why, I might even become a travel agent! Dong Bei gets awfully cold in the winter (half of the year!) and China’s industrial heartland has the renminbi to show for it. Bed-and-breakfast to five stars, here we come!