Saipan — After Typhoon Soudelor battered the island in Aug. 2015, someone complained, on Facebook, that the most horrible thing that had ever happened to her life (she was in high school at the time I think) wasn’t deemed worthy of global wall-to-wall media coverage. “Where’s CNN?” she asked. “Why aren’t we on CNN?”
Don’t even get me started on Typhoon Yutu.
In the 1990s, the alleged labor abuses involving guest workers were supposed to have “damaged” the NMI’s international “image.” Nowadays, Saipan’s casino investor, Imperial Pacific International, has replaced the long-gone garment industry as the latest bugaboo, and it’s “another blackeye,” some said. Every bad thing that happens here, especially involving the casino, is supposedly ripping our already tattered reputation abroad.
Cue the violins.
To be sure, there are jurisdictions or countries where only bad things and events seem to happen all the time — s**tholes, to quote the verbally facile U.S. president. It is difficult for such places to attract a lot of tourists and/or investors.
But if you read the news from all over the world every single day, you are bound to realize that the Marianas, Guam included, where the typhoon season lasts seven months each year, are among the most pleasantly livable islands on God’s green Earth.
In Feb. 2013, in Tumon, Guam, a deranged young local resident drove his car into a crowd of tourists, crashed into a convenience store, got out of his vehicle and attacked bystanders with a knife. His victims included an eight-month-old baby, a three-year-old toddler and an 81-year-old man. The murderer killed three tourists and injured 11 others. Horrific news. How would it affect Guam’s tourism industry? In Feb. 2014, the Pacific News Center reported that “2013 ranks as the 4th highest year ever for visitor arrivals on Guam…. Guam welcomed 1,334,497 visitors in 2013], 26,462 more than in 2012. That is a 2 percent increase. It was the best year for visitor arrivals since 1997.”
Two years ago, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un — a “crazy fat kid,” said Sen. John McCain — threatened to nuke Guam. Now that earned worldwide news coverage. The BBC at that time quoted a Guamanian as saying, “A lot of people here feel like Trump is the guy who might actually press the button.”
You read that right. Some American citizens on Guam feared their president more than the foreign dictator who was aiming nuclear missiles at the island. For its part, the New York Times reported that “Visitors have continued to pack the hotels, beaches and shopping malls of Guam in recent days, showing little concern about recent threats…. ‘It’s so much safer than South Korea, maybe five times safer,’ ” a South Korean tourist was quoted as saying.
How many still recall that in Nov. 2009, a few days before the NMI gubernatorial election runoff, a 42-year-old contract worker from China fatally shot four locals, including two toddlers, and injured at least nine Korean tourists before committing suicide on Banzai Cliff? The incumbent governor was re-elected. Four years later, the NMI tourism industry finally came back to life.
I am not saying that one thing caused the other. Which is pretty much my point. There will always be bad news everywhere, and not a lot of us will always remember each and every one of them — just the most recent or the most appalling. But then something just as bad or worse will happen somewhere soon.
Says science writer Steven Pinker:
“News is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen. We never see a journalist saying to the camera, ‘I’m reporting live from a country where a war has not broken out’ — or a city that has not been bombed, or a school that has not been shot up. As long as bad things have not vanished from the face of the earth, there will always be enough incidents to fill the news, especially when billions of smartphones turn most of the world’s population into crime reporters and war correspondents.”
To stay informed about the Marianas, read NMI and Guam news. To remain sane (because you will find out that it is much much worse elsewhere) read the international news.
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Zaldy Dandan is editor of Marianas Variety, the NMI’s oldest newspaper. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org